Thousands of flowers are scenting the air, birds are singing, hills are green and welcoming, and most importantly, a huge break from school is putting similarly huge smiles on students' faces everywhere. The summer is here, folks!!! Aweee! My enthusiasm is a bit fake though, I admit. Why? Well, Since I am out of school, I really don't care about holidays, I have plenty of flowers and green hills a few seconds away on Google Image Search and incense sticks can bring a whole botanical garden right into my nose (and lungs). See? I don't need you, nature!
But! With the summer, a particularly geeky flower evolved into a new, improved one: Parsix GNU/Linux has reached version 3.5 and promises to be better than ever.
Dubbed "Frankie", the latest Parsix release spills over the usual CD ISO size requiring, at its 839 MBs weight, a DVD to fit onto. To be honest, I think I prefer this approach, rather than having the system stripped out of features and popular applications for the sake of keeping it slim enough to be written on CDs. The best example: Fedora 13 comes with absolutely no word processing application out of the box, not even the light Abiword. Not that it's hard to go online and fetch whatever you want, but still! Anyway, back to Parsix. The download mirrors are provided by sourceforge, which equals super speeds, for me at least. There are versions for both 32- and 64-bit processors, so don't think your expensive machine won't be able to use its full potential.
Booting the Live DVD is nothing note-worthy; in approximately 1 minute the desktop was up and running. I rushed my mouse cursor onto that Install icon, chose to configure a new installation (you can actually save a configuration once you make it and simply load it from an external source on other machines, thus significantly reducing install times), went through a bunch of easy steps and enjoyed a cup of coffee while listening to that beautiful trill that was coming from inside the DVD drive.
With the installation complete, I restarted the system, removed the sweaty DVD from the unit and admired the beautiful GRUB 2 high-resolution background that is also the default wallpaper. Unfortunately, the beauty disappears once you press enter and watch the verbose mode describe every step of the OS loading process. Sure, for me, it's much more entertaining than looking at a loading bar, but some will want that. Those who will want some kind of loading animation won't be THAT disappointed, as Parsix fully loads in about 32 seconds from GRUB to a working desktop. Snappy, snappy.
Though in previous versions the wallpapers were very "naturey", this time Parsix decided to look a bit more elegant and classy by welcoming users with a really smooth antique clock. It does have some flower motifs engraved on it so the link between the distro's logo and the wallpaper is standing. The overall brown color scheme is still present and one either likes it from the start or hates it. I will put myself in the first category, but I don't know if I will still stand by this color choice after a few weeks of use.
As for the overall layout, it's your regular GNOME (by the way, it's GNOME 2.28.2, not the latest 2.30 series) one, with two panels - top and bottom - and four workspaces. It does have a few extra elements, like two System Monitor applets showing real-time information about resource usage, specifically CPU and RAM. There are three launchers on the top panel: Home folder, Terminal and Search. I wished to see the Internet browser in there also, as it's surely the most used app.
The first thing I had to do after sight-seeing thorugh the OS was configure the timezone, as Parsix doesn't include a step for that into the installer. That was easily done by pixel-hunting for my country on a map in System -> Administration -> Time and Date.
With the induced fake jet-lag out of the way, I was ready to dig deeper into Parsix GNU/Linux 3.5. One of my favorite features that I would love to see enabled by default in all Linux distributions is the handy "Open in Terminal" context-menu option, removing the need of cd-ing your way through the folder in which you have to be. And Parsix has it right there out of the box. Speaking of which, the terminal has that fake transparency effect enabled, thus making it a bit less boring. The hacker-green font also helps. ;)
Once you open up a folder, another context-menu option appears, and this is something I've never seen before in a distro: "Open in Midnight Commander". Hehe, how delighted will old-schoolers be to navigate through folders at lightning speeds using this tool.
Oh, and let's not forget the included templates in the Create Document entry from which you can easily start working on new OpenOffice documents, spreadsheets or presentations.
If you get bored with the standard theme, Parsix comes with several alternatives, out of which only one is brighter, the rest bearing the same, shall I say, gloomy look. As for wallpapers, aside from the space photo slideshow there are only two standard Debian ones. A pretty scarce selection that could have been a bit larger, considering the fact that space is no longer an issue, a DVD being required anyway. On the other hand, the "Get more backgrounds online" link is right there in plain sight waiting to be invoked.
The Applications menu hosts a really nice selection of programs that will please most users. The root terminal in Accessories, Inkscape and GIMP in Graphics, Firestarter Firewall and GNOME FTP Client in Internet, Fax Manager and Grisbi Accounting in Office, VLC media player in Sound & Video or VirtualBox OSE in System Tools are some mighty fine examples. Of course, I can't skip the web browser, which is Iceweasel 3.5.9 (for those who don't know, it's basically Firefox with a different name :D ), complete with the Flash plugin and Java capabilities. Pidgin will connect you with the social e-world and Gwibber does a mighty fine job handling your microblogging accounts.
If you have a laptop, you will most likely want to connect wirelessly, and if the driver needed is not yet available on Linux, you can easily install the Windows one through the included ndiswrapper GUI app in System -> Administration.
For special effects and proper 3D support, proprietary graphics drivers can be installed, but you have to follow some instructions available at Parsix's webpage. As the first step requires you to enable the Debian Testing repositories, alongside being able to install the needed driver, you will also end up with a monstrous update list, no more, no less than 560.9 MBs worth of updated packages. Weehoo! The convenient Compiz fusion icon lets you quickly enable, disable and change the eye-candies once the video driver is ready to rock.
Parsix 3.5 handles all kinds of multimedia formats perfectly, though it did give me a sort of scare the first time I tried playing some audio files: the volume was up and my speakers were turned on but nothing would come out of them. MP3s, OGG, youtube, nothing produced soundwaves. Fortunately, a good ol' restart took care of the situation and my ears were happy once again.
My HP Deskjet 3940 printer wasn't installed by default, but was immediately recognized when I fired up System -> Administration -> Printing and chose to install a new printer. Sadly, Parsix doesn't want to play nicely with my Samson C03U USB mic and though it does recognize it, it keeps muting it. I unmute it, close the volume control applet, open it again and bam, muted. Hopefully I will get to the bottom of this issue in the near future.
Of course, you can mingle around in your windows partitions for as long as you want, flash drives are automatically mounted and the Internet connection is auto-configured. Even more, those still stuck on Dialup have access to a simple connection interface in the form of GNOME PPP.
gThumb graciously takes care of your image collection and offers a bunch of useful editing functions, as well as a slideshow feature. Though I was a bit upset at the fact that I couldn't flip through the images using the arrow keys or the back/forward buttons on my mouse, a trip to the Help pages revealed that Page Up And Page Down were used for keyboard navigation and the scroll wheel for rodent fans. Problem solved!
To Parsix or not to Parsix?
Though lacking any so-called killer features, Parsix GNU/Linux 3.5 is a solid release and can be used on both home and production machines. There are some weird sound-related issues and the video driver installation process can frighten some more inexperienced users, but other than that, there aren't really any reasons to not take a look or two at this distro.
Aaaand it's a wrap, dear readers. From an autumny, greatbritainy Romania, until next time, I bid you farewell and wish you happy hoppin`!