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A Tale of Two CDs

Posted by evanx on October 30, 2006 at 6:20 AM PST

I got a PC that i wanna setup as a multimedia center. I got a CentOS DVD, but that doesn't have multimedia, so that's how this exercise started. So i was looking for some linux warez. With the following requirements.

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1. A single installable live CD so that i can download it like today, and see if it's works for me and is worth installing. Anyway, linux installs are so quick and easy. Point them in the right direction, slap them on the ass like a donkey, and go get coffee.

2. It must be desktop/multimedia focussed, with either the essential non-free stuff pre-installed, or otherwise easy to install after the fact, eg. with a couple of clicks and no command-line. I'm talking video drivers, MP3 codecs, flash and the like.

3. It must look good. The fonts and colors and icons. I can boast that i'm as shallow as the next discerning consumer, i mean if it doesn't look and feel good, it can't be good. Period.

Clickability

I was using Dapper in Johannesburg, in the sense that my brother's TV setup is a Dapper Drake box. And darn, it looks and feels better than my XP notebook. But it wasn't an easy "clickable offense" to configure that box with accelerated drivers and such.

The Synaptic software installer is heaven for opensource stuff. And Yum and the rest. (It makes Windows EXE's look like 1980s DOS technology. Which of course it is.)

So why not leverage Synaptic for the other really essential desktop stuff like nvideo drivers, Flash, MP3, as well as Frozen Bubble? I mean out the box, without having to Google-trawl the Tips and Tricks sites, and drop into the command-line to reconfigure repo config files!?

It makes me wanna say to the linux vendors, "Dammit to hell, aint ya a dumb ostrich! No offense. It's just that you seem to have stuck your head in the sand like an ostrich. No offense." ;)

But i read that Canonical were gonna provide a non-free repo. Now there we go! They started with Java and got Real. "Excellent, Smithers." Negotiate distribution rights with the nVideo, Flash and MP3 mofo's, and let's get this linux desktop train leaving the frikkin station already!

Test procedure

The acid test is to do what we do everyday. Surf over to YouTube.com, and AllOfMp3.com. And if you get NoTube.com and NoneOfMp3.com, eject the CD, smash it into pieces and throw it in the bin. Darn waste of a perfectly good blank CD.

Results

In a word, um, dismal. Check it out.

RedHat/Fedora - 0/10

A non-starter. Does Fedora have a single live CD coming up? Anyway, Fedora is definitely a non-non-free ostrich, no offense. Fedora will on principle never make it easy to install non-free software. So that's easy, i'll never use Red Hat or Fedora again. Pity because i was a Red Hat man for many years, ie. from 1998 to first half 2006.

SuSE - 0/10

A non-starter because they don't have a single live installable CD on the Novell website (which i found thanks to Google)? Pity cos i hear great things in general about SuSe 10, that it's the best desktop, and Banshee rocks.

Edgy Kubuntu - 1/10

Almost a non-starter. It booted but didn't like my nVidia. I get flashing lines.

Comment: The installer's partitioner needs some usability attention. I got some, um, data on the spare partition, and i wanna know for sure that it's not gonna format this before i continue. It only confirms this later.

By the way, I prefer the Ubuntu browny orangy theme to this blue theme.

Freespire 1.0 - 3/10

Pros: Comes with all the non-free stuff, and their click-n-run warehouse is well done. These guys are way ahead of the curve. Eric Raymond will tell ya that. He's on their board, innit.

Cons: My microphone doesn't work. How do you record a podcast with no microphone!? It works with the same software (Audacity) under Windows XP, so...

Freespire doesn't seem as shiny as it should. I mean the look and feel. They need to up their game in the artwork department. It's not bad, but it's just not up to scratch with latest stuff from Mandriva and Ubuntu. If they matched them, and my mic worked, they'd get the best score today.

Mandriva One 2007 - 4/10

My brother, a professional linux junkie, phoned me up, and said, "Listen to me for once. Download and install MandrivaOne right now, you stupid donkey! No offense." So i downloaded the latest orangy-themed one, not the beta2 blue one you can find screenshots for.

Pros: MP3 and RealAudio works. MandrivaOne's look and feel is great. It trounces Freespire. It rivals Dapper.

I used Mandrake 10 for six months at work, in the past year, and it looked like crap. Obviously those Brazillian honeys they shacked up with, have taught them a few new, um, tricks. It's got a 3D desktop too. But how do you enable it? Cos i wanna check out those wobbly windows!

Cons: No accelerated video for me. Flash doesn't work out the box. You gotta download that tarball from Adoobie and get medieval with the command-line. Like pretty much all linux distros. Not good enough, fails the mainstream-readiness test right there.

Their package manager is RpmDrake. Didn't Connectiva innovate in this space, using apt for RPMs? Anyway, i couldn't find Audacity using this tool. Notwithstanding that, this gets the highest score today, cos it looks so good. Now if Ubuntu liked my nVidia card...

Conclusions


The latest linux desktops certainly look like a hot babe, and while they can definitely steam up any server room, don't expect any flash, vibes or accelerated video on the first, um, install.

Why can't the linux vendors put an icon on the desktop which says "Click here to activate non-free repository and choose some desktop warez to install at your own risk to our software freedom, and at potential legal risk depending on your locale, and we'll slapt get them from a server in a liberal country and install them for you in a jiffy while you wait, how does that sound?"
They are arrogant squanderers, no offence. "Stupid Flanders."

What i'm saying is, make it a "clickable offense" to install essential non-free drivers, codecs and what-not. What part of "no command-line" can't they understand?!

Maybe 2008 will be the year of the Linux desktop. More likely 2009. Because clearly 2007 is gonna be the year of Vista marketing, hype and excitement.

Actually every year is the year of the Linux desktop, not least because it improves pretty drastically every year, and that seems to have accelerated this past year. For me, 2006 was the year that the Linux desktop got better looking than Windows. And went 3D too, innit.

Notwithstanding its mainstream-unreadiness, i think any large company that doesn't give most of their users a centrally-managed Linux/OpenOffice desktop today, is just being silly. For one thing, having YouTube et al not working becomes a feature, not a bug. Productivity will go through the roof! ;)

If you are cutting a hundred or a thousand identical desktops, then it's worth struggling for a few days to get whatever you need working and nailed down on linux. We know everything does work on Linux - just check MythTV for the multimedia stuff for example.

But if you are installing one desktop at home in your valuable spare weekend time, then who needs the hassle? I mean if the vendors haven't bothered to make it easy to install the essential desktop goodies yet, should we waste our time now, or just wait for the next Ubuntu or Mandriva to get it right, and switch then? In the meantime, buy a MacMini - got root, got YouTube :)