Thursday, March 25, 2010

Distro Hoppin`: Gosalia BETA

Well hello there, jolly folks! How are you? What have you been doing? Is everything fine? What a weather we're having... What's that you say? Shut the hell up and get to the subject of the article, you bonkhead? Oh. Ok...

Tonight, dear readers, tonight's gonna be a good, good night. \:D/ And you know why? Because I got my hands on a quite (still) obscure distro called... GOSALIA. It's a pretty badass name if you ask me. G O S A L I A. And not only does it sound totally awesome but its origins are even more interesting.

Taken straight from the project's homepage, out of sheer laziness, here's the explanation:

Gosalia is an ancient family surname inherited from the Indian Culture. The history of Gosalia lies in business, like many of the age. Today, members of the Gosalia family reside all over the globe, in countries that include Australia, America etc. Yet, many still reside in their native country, India. As an Operating System for all, Gosalia bases their values on the believes of the Gosalia Family - of peace, friendship and equality.

There is a “Gosalia family”! I wonder if they have some sort of OMERTA code. Doubtful, as peace, friendship and equality are not among the top traits of criminal organizations in Italy, so the comparison ends here. 

The... Ubuntu Welcome Center? :)

I was actually e-mailed by the distro maintainer (which I whole-heartedly thank him for) asking me if I could take a look at his OS. Well, say no more, as I am always on the lookout for possible landing spots during my hoppin` sessions.

Gosalia's logo is a circle. That's it. A circle. Be aware though, it could make you crave a donut or two. Anyhow, it's certainly a good-looking, elegantly designed circle. The overall color theme revolves around what I like to call a sunsetty orange, a color that is very soothing to the eyes.

The Gosalia website is simply great, not only through its beauty, but through the fact that you can learn almost everything about this OS with a few clicks. There's also a quick video overview of what Gosalia has to offer, so props for that. Of course, Forums are also part of the getting-to-know-eachother experience, and Gosalia's team seems to be quite active within the discussions.

Gosalia (codename Madmonkey) is based on the latest stable release of Ubuntu, which is 9.10. Unlike Ubuntu though, Gosalia takes up a hefty 2 GBs out of your DVD. There's only one direct link (UPDATE: THE PROJECT IS NO LONGER ALIVE so the link doesn't work anymore - here's a mirror from Linux Freedom, if anyone wants to try it out) to the ISO (32-bit only) but I didn't encounter any connection problems. The speed wasn't all that great, but neither was it painful. Again, a torrent would have been a speedier choice.

After having completed the burn process I turned off l'ordinateur and proceeded to the boot process. Before continuing on, I should present you its specs:

  • MSI P45-C51, Socket 775 Motherboard
  • Intel CoreTM2 Duo E7500, 2.9GHz, socket 775 processor
  • Leadtek WinFast PX9800 GT, 512MB DDR3 256bit, PCI-E GPU
  • HDD Western Digital 320GB 7200rpm SATA 8MB
  • Kingmax DDR III 3GB, 1333MHz
  • DVD-RW Sony Dual Layer 24x, RAM, SATA
  • LG FLATRON W1934S 19'' widescreen display

I was expecting the regular graphical selection screen that Ubuntu sports for letting one choose either to boot the live environment or go straight to the install. Instead, I had to type what I wanted to do: “live”, “install” or some other options. Nothing to complain about, as all the options are explained. Another thing that struck me was the splash screen loading bar from Ubuntu 9.04 instead of Gosalia's own logo flashing up on the screen. Still, not a problem but it would've been nice for the overall “brand” consistency.

The live environment worked unsurprisingly good so I guided the cursor to the Install icon on the desktop, performed the oh-so-familiar steps to configure partitions and whatnot and I waited. Given the 2 GB ISO, I wasn't expecting to complete the installation process in the shortest amount of time, but it wasn't all that bad in the end: around 20 minutes. 

Booting the system takes around 30 seconds and greets you with a green, sparkly wallpaper. There's a transparent panel at the bottom of the screen which copies Windows 7's style. Sigh... Also, a hidden top panel pops out as you hover the pointer over it. Which I hate, as I always activate it by mistake. Problem solved by unchecking the autohide option. But! That autohide option is accessible through the panel properties window, which can, in its turn, be found by right clicking on an empty portion of the panel, that I sadly couldn't find at all. I spent about 3 minutes pixel hunting... to no avail. Finally, I simply removed the GlobalMenu applet, did my thing, and placed it back on.

GlobalMenu applet, you say? Yep, Gosalia decided that all windows menus should be placed there instead of following every application, just like it is on Mac OS. Personally, I like them the way they were before, but I think it's only a matter of getting used to a certain layout, rather than one being better than the other.

The Main Menu in Gosalia is quite an interesting one and is called Start Menu 2.2.2. There are five categories to be found once you open it: Favorites – which can be populated by simply right clicking on an app launcher and adding it there, Applications – containing all the installed programs, Computer, Web Bookmarks and Shutdown. As you browse through the different app categories, there are two shortcuts which will always be on top of all the rest: “Browse Internet” and “Email”. There's also a “Recent Applications” button, but unfortunately it does not seem to work as expected. The only applications that appear there are those that are invoked indirectly, through opening a file that works with a certain program. If you go and open say, Calculator, it will not appear in that section. Oh well... Of course, this whole menu can be configured to the finest details, but, overall, I like its default configuration.

The Main Menu in Gosalia

Gosalia also comes with its own cursor which looks kinda nice, except the “busy” Gosalia circle (yes, it's very similar to Vista's) is quite low-res and one can observe the light that's spinning along the circle hitting the should-be invisible box that encapsulates the pointer graphic. Oh, if you don't like Gosalia's default theme,  there are a LOT of others in the Appearance Preferences.

Backgrounds Galore
Themes are not scarce in Gosalia

The first thing I usually do after installing a new distro, is check whether there are any updates available. And boy, were they piling up in the Update Manager. It took quite a while to install them, as downloading was pretty fast thanks to the quality Ubuntu servers that are in Romania and thanks to my ISP. :)

Updates, updates, updates

Once they were done, I restarted the system and wanted to check on my thousands of friends on various IM services. Ok, my 3-4 friends.... on Yahoo.... Sigh. Aaaanywho, Empathy was the only app installed that could connect to Yahoo so I opened it and proceeded to add my account. Typed in all the details, clicked Add and... “Enter password for default keyring to unlock”. Huh? I didn't set that... Tried the root password, tried the user password, none worked. The answer: Gosalia's team remastered Ubuntu with their password locking the keyring. Quite a funny situation. :) Also, more traces of their activities were found in Firefox (history and several usernames – no passwords though, damn :D ). Pretty amateurish mistakes, but I'm 100% sure they won't happen again in future releases.

Oh nooooooooo

As I was unable to use Empathy and I like Pidgin way better anyway, I popped open the “Gosalia Software Center” and called the purple bird to help me. 2.6.2 is the version, three releases older than the current one, but it connected to Yahoo just fine. For voice/video chat, Gosalia bundled the latest beta release of Skype, which also worked perfectly.

Playing Flash just fine
The Gosalia Software Center

Firefox 3.5.8 is the browser of choice in Gosalia and comes packed with all the plugins you'll need on a regular WWW trip: Flash, Java, QuickTime, VLC and also a really nice add-on called DownloadHelper, which lets you even download flash videos either as FLV or straight as MP4. Nice!

As the 2 GB have to be filled with something, Gosalia comes with quite a few extra applications already installed. From Alien Arena in the Games category, to gtkGuitune (now why would anyone include such a “specialty” program in a general-use distro? :D) in Sound/Video and all the way to the great Nvu webpage creator, you will be pleased with the abundance of software. Wine, VirtualBox OSE, a virus scanner and Gnome Do are other fine examples.

For browsing your partitions content, Gosalia made a rather unexpected choice: PCMan File Manager. It works really well, but sticking to Nautilus would've been just as good.

Images are, by default, opened with F-Spot View, which SUCKS for browsing through an album. You actually have to go back to the folder and open the next image. There are no controls for “next” or “previous”. Anyway, changing the default viewer to GPicView takes a few seconds through the Properties window of a picture, saving you a lot of headaches.

The drivers for my NVIDIA graphics card were, I think, already installed but not activated. A trip to the Hardware Drivers section fixed that and, after a quick restart, I was enjoying the great Compiz animations. Unfortunately, Gosalia doesn't remember Compiz's state between reboots and I have to reactivate the effects every time. I can certainly live without them, but there is a bigger problem: the start menu will sometimes decide not to pop up until you re-enable Compiz. Sure, after you activate it, you can safely manually deactivate it and all will work fine. But that's simply too much work to do each reboot. Oh, speaking of reboots, even if I instructed the welcome window to not appear every time I start Gosalia, it does! The nerve on that thing...

The NVIDIA driver awaiting activation

Multimedia playback is a non-issue on Gosalia, as everything works out of the box. Sticking to the Sound/Video category, there are a few programs that simply won't launch: Gosalia DVD Player, Author and Styler. But if you're a multimedia consumer and amateur producer, the contents of Sound & Video will be enough: RecordMyDesktop, Pitivi Movie Maker, Gosalia Media Player (which is actually VLC with a cool theme on top) or WinFF Media Converter.

Some multimedia apps

Of course, for office work, OpenOffice 3.1.1 is present and will fill most of one's needs in this field. 3.2 would've been even nicer, but it's not a tragedy. HomeBank helps you thoroughly manage your finances and seeing it bundled with Gosalia is maybe an indication of our still hurting economy.

My HP 3940 printer works, my HP Scanjet 2100C works too, bluetooth is fine, the Samson C03U was picked up immediately, so hardware-wise, Gosalia is just as good as Ubuntu, no surprise here.

How mad is the monkey?

It doesn't take much to realize that, indeed, Gosalia is in a Beta state. It has quite a few things to set straight in order to make one choose it over the gazillion other Ubuntu-based distributions. If it weren't for the minor quirks and annoyances, Gosalia could've been a sensible choice. The package selection is quite nice, the overall visual identity is pleasing and the team has their ears and eyes wide-open to suggestions and feedback so, with a bit of help from the community, Gosalia has a chance to climb up the distro ladder. 

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Picture-Happy Overview of the Upcoming Ubuntu 10.04

The recently announced visual rebranding of the world's numero uno Linux distribution caused quite a bit of stir among the tech community and led to rivers of tears, both of joy and of sorrow. While some are delighted to observe the total brownlessness of Lucid, others, more nostalgic, fear that Ubuntu is losing its roots and the drop of originality that was brought by the unconventional choice of colors. And to twist the knife even further in, the window controls were moved aaaall the way to the left side, which for some, is just unbearably Mac-ish.

Yes, yes, I have to admit, there are quite a few elements that resemble Mac's interface, including the (otherwise awesome) purple wallpaper, some of the notification area icons and the Ubuntu logo which is now in grayscale, but what's wrong with that really? It's only Canonical admitting that Mac's general design guidelines are the best on the market and hey, let's just take that perfectly fine skeleton and build on it with our own identity. Yes, I would've loved to see Ubuntu come with 100% original, new design ideas, but I will surely not loathe the company for borrowing some, especially when you can't say that Lucid is a shameless ripoff of any operating system; there are still a lot of things to make it stand out of the crowd. Long story short, I DO like the new face of Ubuntu: it's fresh, it's modern, it's futureproof (we're talking LTS here, it needs to be :) ), it's dynamic, and above all, it stopped looking like a 100-year old wardrobe.

Anyway, here's the short visual tour I've compiled with some of the new things that are coming straight to your Ubuntu machines at the end of April.

The two new themes: Ambiance and Radiance

The installer now automatically detects your location. No more pixel hunting weeee :)

A really nice orange loading bar

The new "Featured" category in Ubuntu Software Center

Yes, it's here, folks! Yahoo! Search will now accompany your first instance of Firefox

Adobe has its own little special place within the Ubuntu Software Center

Gwibber is now included by default and will handle most of your social "needs"

The Nouveau driver is activated, NVIDIA's proprietary one is waiting to be unleashed

Users will be able to purchase music straight from Rhythmbox

The resizing rectangle has quite an inspired look
The new chat theme makes Empathy look less boring

Simple Scan replaced XSane

The separate "Social" area

Finally! An easy to use video editor is available out of the box

The newly included virtual keyboard is easy to use and works perfectly

The new volume control applet gives quick access to the Sound Preferences

The new wallpaper in all its glory!