Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Distro Hoppin`: Blender-boot 1 Suzanne Beta 2

Distros, distros, distros... Glue a bunch of software together, add your favorite themes, name it "Frank OS" and that's it, you've got your own operating system. Obviously, I'm joking, I know it's quite a lot of effort that needs to be put into such a project. But, from a really high-up birds-eye view, they all can seem a bit... similar. Most of them are general purpose distros, aiming to please a large segment of users. Some focus on a smaller target, like audio artists, pre-school teachers or network administrators testing how penetration-prone are their setups. 

...and then there is Blender-Boot, which is a whole OS wrapped around ONE application: the awesomely versatile Blender 3D content creation suite. The idea itself is enough to raise some eyebrows and gain a good amount of attention. But is it really necessary to have a separate OS for one purpose? 

Well, if you always want the latest version of Blender delivered to you hassle-free (e.g. compiling), then yes, Blender-boot is a good choice. I think its main audience is formed of artists wanting to go open source and have little Linux experience. Just install it (which, being Ubuntu-based, is super easy) or ask someone else to do it and your computer will boot straight into the  Blender suite, hence the name. Of course, puns are always a trait of Linux people, so this distro's developers couldn't refrain themselves from tapping into the other meaning of "boot". Thus, the logo and wallpapers revolve around a... shoe. But it's not just any shoe, it's one that has the familiar Blender eye on top of it and is, of course, orange. 

The Blender-boot ISO is quite heavy at ~850 MBs, but it's understandable, as only the Blender suite is >100 MBs. I would advise you to use unetbootin and an USB stick, in which case the live environment would load up pretty fast. Oh, and the username that you will have to use is "live" with a blank password. Of course, when you install the OS, you will create your own. Blender-boot is based on Xubuntu 11.10, thus the installation process is easy peasy and takes about 15 minutes.

Booting takes around 30 seconds, a very decent performance, as Blender (the app) is set to auto-start every time. Also, a Thunar File Manager window comes up at startup; not sure if that is really neccessary. Oh, and Dropbox (Yay!) is active from the very beginning, asking you to sign in or create an account. 

The Xfce desktop has only one panel across the top of the screen with the main menu button, a few useful shortcuts, the application switcher, the time, volume and network manager, workspace switcher, logout and, a highlight of this distro, the Blender-up button, which, if pressed, looks for the very latest version of Blender and installs it. Of course, you can always update it through the usual Update Manager, along with other software. 

I did experience a fairly serious issue, after a system update and reboot: the window borders disappeared. That usually happened on Compiz-enabled systems, but this had no special effects installed whatsoever. So, I pressed ALT+F2, typed in xfwm (xf window manager) and poof!, my borders were back. I also had to add that command to the startup sequence. I have to remind you again that this is a Beta version, these kinds of problems are almost guaranteed to appear.

I really like the visual theme of Blender-boot, an orange/shiny black combination that is surprisingly easy on the eyes. What I don't like so much is the slightly blurry font rendering, an unexpected issue on an Ubuntu-based OS.

So what does Blender-boot ship with besides the obvious? A few useful accessories like calculator, on screen keyboard, gedit, catfish search, notes, then we have the VLC media player, Chromium web browser (pre-bundled with Flash support; it did have some trouble loading the Blogger interface, but, after a restart, it worked), the powerful Inkscape vector drawing tool and the 2.7.4 GIMP development release (with single-window mode). Apparently, the recently launched 2.8 stable version will be included in Blender-boot 2. 

There's also MyPaint, a truly great drawing app with lots and lots of brushes and tablet support. If you plan on using it with the mouse, go to edit-preferences and select "disabled" from "Mode for input devices". If you aren't sure about saving a particular drawing, you can "save as scrap" and it will automatically be saved to MyPaint's home directory without asking any questions. 

The Guake terminal app is installed and ready to be used and abused with a simple press of "Insert". There is one important absence from Blender-boot's default software stack: an image viewer. I hope it will show up in the final release. Also, an instant messaging app would be welcome too. And if you want to do office work, you will need to install an office suite yourself. 

The volume keys on my multimedia keyboard wouldn't work, so, with a bit of googling, I was able to configure the keyboard correctly. (the commands needed are "amixer set Master 5%-" for volume down and "amixer set Master 5%+" for volume up) Before doing that, I tried going to the sound settings, but, sadly, it won't open. The Canon MP250 multifunctional runs great and the drivers are readily available in Blender-boot's repos.

Will it blend?

There's not much else to say about this distro... I'm pretty clueless about the Blender suite, so I wasn't able to stress it enough and check how stable it is. Either way, this is a project worth watching and I'm sure it will manage to gather a decent userbase once it is released. I think Blender-boot would fit perfectly on a 3D content creation-only machine. Otherwise, you might want to consider removing Blender from the system's startup sequence, as it is unlikely you will want to use it each and every time you turn on your computer. Also, digital arts school labs might benefit from this OS, as it will be easy to be deployed on multiple machines, rather than installing other OS first and then the programs on top of it. 

Download Blender-boot 1 Beta 2 from here and... happy rendering! Thank you for being lured!


  1. A completely fair review thanks, actually very helpful pointing out a few issues I can work on. All the bugs you mentioned should be fixed in Blender-boot 1`s final release. Gimp 2.8 now I have tested It, will be included in the final version of Blender-boot 1. There is a warning at the top of the release announcement about not updating to 12.04, I need to clearly state it elsewhere sorry. The problem you had with Thunar is very odd, I have tested on multiple systems and Thunar does not start on start up, sorry that it did for you. As for the audience its aimed at I agree it is small but it is mainly for Blender fans. I will be personally starting a much bigger project aimed at everyone soon, I will contact you about it when Alpha 1 is ready. Blender-boot is my gift to the Blender community its a lot of work for a small audience but its what I want to do :D Thanks again for this great review.

    1. It has been my pleasure and I'm looking forward to test your future projects. :)
      Yes, a more noticeable warning about the update must be put in place.

      Congratulations for this innovative niche OS and good luck!

  2. Thanks for this review. I have been using and enjoying blender boot as well.

    I am having trouble with missing window borders. Please show me how to add xfwm to the startup sequence. I am a newbie in Ubuntu :(

    1. Hello and thank you for reading!

      Here's how to add xfwm to the startup sequence:
      Go to the menu, point to settings, choose session and startup, go to the application autosart tab, click add, put a name (like window borders or whatever you like, it's not important) and type xfwm in the command field. click ok and you're done. :)

  3. Yepiiiiiiiiii!!! I will try it tonight after reinstalling blender boot. I had to uninstall it after the windows disappered. THANKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    By the way to explain "will try it tonight", it's afternoon in my country (Ghana, west africa)

    1. Hehe, it was afternoon for me as well. You're only three hours ahead of my timezone (Romania).