Thursday, January 27, 2011

Distro Hoppin`: A Sneak Peek at Bodhi Linux RC

Good day, folks and folkettes! Please, make yourselves comfortable, pour a full glass of your favorite beverage and bring that snacks bowl closer, as a brand new episode of Distro Hoppin` is about to begin.

This time, I'll be finger-talking about a rather interesting project that is in heavy development: Bodhi Linux. I got my hands on an early copy (uuuuu...) of the Release Candidate and I wasn't going to let it slide without sharing the XP with my readers.

Being based on Ubuntu, I expected a full ~700 MB download, but instead I got a tiny 384 MB one. OK, fine by me, but let's see the reasons behind this small size. Obviously, the download + burning of the image didn't take a whole lot of time so I was quickly on board the Bodhi express, also known as the train to Enlightenment. This AKA goes two ways: the name "Bodhi" is Sanskrit for Enlightenment AND the distro's desktop environment IS Enlightenment! You are now enlightened! Ta-da!

The live CD welcomes you with a language selection: English or Espanol, after which you can choose a desktop layout/color profile to best match your current setup: laptop, desktop, netbook, etc. There is even a "bonus" one from developers, called "Fancy", a cool looking but rather nonfunctional design. Each of these layouts have two variants: light and dark, to please just about any set of eyes: morning eyes, 4AM drunk eyes, afternoon office eyes, etc.

I chose the Light Desktop profile and off I went looking for the Install icon. It was right there, in the middle of the screen, sitting patiently within a dock-like bottom "shelf". Once the installer popped up I realized Bodhi was based on the previous stable release of Ubuntu: 10.04.

I am pretty sure I don't have to explain each installation step to you, so I'll just tell you that the whole process ended in about 3 minutes.

After a quick reboot and a pretty dark-green bootsplash (which was a few updates later replaced by Ubuntu's original one - sniff), I was once again asked to choose a language and desktop profile and also choose what icons I want in the quick launch bar at the bottom. Well, how polite! Bodhi is trying (and succeeding) to make you feel like home from the very beginning. Of course, Bodhi has no clue how your home might look like, so instead of force-feeding you its idea of a perfect digital shelter, it gives you a credit card, some tools and lets you build, baby!

Some of the "tools" that will be waiting for you are: the latest Firefox 4 beta, two terminals (normal and root), Synaptic package manager and a ton of tweaks and settings with which you can change just about everything in Enlightenment's behavior. As an example, I really didn't like how the focus followed the mouse cursor, so I took a flashlight, grabbed my army boots and went looking for the corresponding setting. My equipment proved to be unnecessary, as the settings are so nicely arranged and finding what you're looking for is easy as pie.

When I said "some of the tools" up above, I really meant ALL of the tools, as you won't get much else on top of that. What, you want to edit some text? Go ahead and install gedit like I did, you lazy bum! You want to make a screen capture? No, no, no, you first need to fetch a program that will do that. Need to watch a Flash clip? Why, go ahead and install the ubuntu-restricted-extras package and fulfill your dream!

If you feel lost within the Synaptic woods, Bodhi is nice enough to provide a software portal on its homepage, recommending users the best apps within each category. You just need to click "Install Now", "Install", type your password and that's it. So, at the end of the day, you just need Firefox and you'll be creating the perfect Linux environment (for you) in no time. Oh, if you think that using Bodhi on a machine that can't be connected to the Internet would be next to impossible, you're wrong, cause the "Bodhi Software Center" offers customized .bod packages for each application. These .bod files can be downloaded from wherever you have Internet and brought to the Bodhi machine on any sort of removable media. Quick bonus tip: you will have to
right click the file, go to Properties, go to Permissions and check the "Allow executing file as a program" box. Then double click, select Run and you should be set.

The lightweight base package also ensures optimal use on even ancient machines. The few guys who are working on Bodhi state that their OS will run on, drumroll please, a 300 MhZ processor with 128 MBs of RAM and a mere 1.5 GB hard drive. Now that is quite a feat nowadays, considering the fact Bodhi is also a mighty-fine looking specimen. Of course, you can also put some make-up on the natural beauty and enhance it even further: Bodhi is able to run Compiz effects, under the name of Ecomorph. But, it will require you to install proprietary graphics drivers in order to do that, and will, obviously, consume a larger amount of resources.

During my testing, I ran into a couple of problems that I hope will be addressed in the near future: my 3G USB modem was not recognized, though it works just fine on the latest Ubuntu; and the "Install Now" button from Bodhi's online software center stopped working after Firefox was updated to Beta 10. Also, Synaptic threw a bunch of errors at me when I tried installing VLC, but, through the Software Portal, the process ended in success. Oh, and all the grays and whites tend to blend in with eachother so it's quite confusing at times to tell where one window ends and another begins. A discreet border around the them would help a lot!

Enlightened much?

Sure, there are a few critters that need to be squashed before stable release time, but Bodhi is certainly a distro that promises a lot with a little. It is not an OS that can be used as a quick desktop straight from the live CD, as it needs time to get to know you better and viceversa. And once that is done, working with Bodhi will definitely be a pleasure. The ingredients are all there: great speed and responsiveness, user friendly, elegant interface that can easily be customized, up-to-date software and a dedicated team that will surely continue to bring improvements in both stability and usability.

Download Bodhi 0.1.4. The public Release Candidate is expected to show up in just a few days, so do check the project's website regularly.