In this post, I describe how I compared 4 distros to run on the old family desktop. For reasons unique to this machine and to my own situation and preferences, Mandriva 2009 won this little contest.
I’m presently auditioning for a new distro. PCLinuxOS 2007 has been the family favorite for the past year or so. Last weekend I went ahead and did an over-massive upgrade. I was anxious to get a look at all the new stuff, but could not for life of me, get past the login screen. It would lock up totally, and there I was stranded. I tried rebooting several times, but could not proceed. The new splash screen looked lovely, but not much good when I couldn’t even sign in. The update must have knocked something out. Lesson learned: update in small increments. PCLinuxOS is looking a bit old compared to many of the other distros in the top 10 on Distrowatch, so it is time. I know the PCLOS team is working on a new release but I’m going to have a look at some others anyway. I could always use the other OS that came with the machine, but I absolutely love Linux, especially for being online.
I’ve downloaded the ISO’s and burned them to the CD’s. I’m ready to compare these newer distros on the family desktop. This desktop is quite old but I’ve tried to string it along as long as I could. It is a 1.8 G Celeron with 632 RAM, a 40 G primary HD and a 200 G secondary HD. It also has two optical drives, a USB 2.0/Firewire card and a video/TV input card. The display is a garden variety CRT. XP SP3 resides on the primary drive and PCLinuxOs resides on the second HD. PCLOS de-throned MEPIS as my distro of choice. Not only was it more attractive and easier to use, the repositories seemed to be particularly deep. Extensive repositories and ease of installing new apps rank high on my requirements for any Linux distro I choose.
So I’m going to set up the tasks before trying any of these, and then blog the results as I go. First, we’re going to run off the live CD for a bit to see what we can do.
1. Boot and load the live CD
2. Detect a USB flash drive
3. Take a screen shot (or two) and save it to the flash
4. Connect to the network via Ethernet
5. Add to this post using Google Docs
6. Watch a Youtube video
7. Play a game
Yes, this is a very superficial review based on live CD’s. If any of these distros sufficiently impress me, I might do an install and do a more thorough job. So let’s get cracking…
Open SuSE 11.1
I knew there would be issues with this machine, simply because it is more than 5 years old. In the case of OpenSuSE, it appears that the integrated video card is the main weakness. Or at least it was a jumbled display that kept me from getting very far. I did try several of the screen options from the default to 800×600 to VESA. Nothing seemed to be working. I’m sure some of you could have done some command line magic to make it work, but I’m only going so far on a live CD. The purpose of the live CD is to see if the program works on my hardware, and in this case, OpenSuse would not. I may try it on my laptop just to see how it looks and does on more modern hardware.
Linux Mint 6.0
In my last article, I tried several distros and several people commented recommending Mint. So this was definitely on the short list. Mint 6 (Felicia) is fresh out, and I weas looking forward to trying it out. However, it did lock up on the hardware I’m testing out now. It goes on the list, along with SuSE to try out on my laptop later. Basically, it cycled all the way through the loading process and then simply stopped doing anything on a dark screen after the login. I rebooted a few times to see if I could catch anything, but it always got stuck on a dark, blank screen. That’s okay, because it reminds me that my hardware is considered dated. Moving on….
Antix with a game and some menus
Finally! Something that ran and worked right out of the box! It might be argued that Antix is a distro made for a machine like mine or older or smaller. I liked the look straight away and it seemed fairly intuitive. Since I was wired in, there was no niggling about getting on line. I fired up the Ice Weasel and there I was. I logged into Google and was able to continue my review in Google docs, no problem. I could have also used the Dillo browser if I wanted. This is a light distro, so it booted fairly fast off the live CD. The screenshot tool was right there. Easy peasy, except when I tried to get it on to my flash drive.
I plugged in my flash drive and nothing happened. So I opened “Media” in the menu and was able to find my flash drive and open it. But getting the picture from the temporary Antix folder to the thimbdrive was a bit of a challenge. I discovered that resizing for a simple drag and drop was not working and neither was copy and paste. I eventually was able to drag and drop from the Antix home directory into the opn flash folder on the task bar. Not elegant, but it worked. I found the game gweled which was an interesting little puzzle game. Check that off the list. Next was Youtube, and Antix gave me no problems there. I had no problems watching a video and my sound worked well, too.
Antix watching Youtube
As a final step, I looked at the repositories, which use Synaptic to manage packages. The collection of programs available was okay but not exceptional. Unlike PCLOS, which had no problems providing Picasa and Google Earth, the Debian repositories are a bit stricter and more selective. I’m sure I could find Stepmania and Frets on Fire if I looked around a bit more, but they weren’t there out of the box.
Antix, like the more robust MEPIS from which it came, is a very capable, functional distro. It reminds me a lot of Puppy Linux, only with a more attractive appearance. A more direct comparison of these twio light weights might be useful.
This is a cousin of PCLinuxOS, and the look and feel are very familiar. How familiar? Well, I’ve been using Mandriva 2008 on my laptop for the past year and the differences are pretty minor. But the question was; would it work as well on the older family desktop? The answer to that is a big YES! No problems with the disply, video or sound. Youtube worked. Google docs worked. TVtime was able to lock on to my video/TV card with no problems. No problems with KDE 4.1 that I could find in my brief overview.
However, Mandriva did not come with any games on the LiveCD, so that is one strike against it. Of course, I already know about the repository situation and while not quite as large as PCLOS, I have seen it grow more generous. I know there are plenty of games to be found if I want but I do want to be fair and point out that one strike, minor as it is.
It makes sense that Mandriva would be well-suited for this particular machine since Mandriva has been geared toward the netbook market where system resources are at a premium. It also is very easy to use for users new to Linux. There is also one other feature that makes Mandriva a good match for this particular machine. This machine is in the family room and is the one used by my two young boys. My 10 year-old is especially into using the computer and is also the most apt to wander into a site he shouldn’t. That is why it is in the family room where we can monitor him, as parents. Mandriva is the only distro that I know of that has any sort of special parental control feature where a parent can whitelist or blacklist certain sites as well as set up a certain time window for internet access. It isn’t terribly sophisticated, but the gesture is very much appreciated. Mandriva may be poised to become a distro that is more family and education friendly than any other distro and arguably more friendly than the other two primary commercial OS’s that people are using. Especially in light of tougher economic times, it really is hard to beat free. There is a paid version that comes with support that is still a bargain compared to what people are paying for more propietary systems.
Open Suse is the most serious and business-like of the bunch, and also the biggest. There is a reason this distro is in the top 2, routinely. I can see this being easily a distro of choice for serious computer developers. I have no idea what happened to Mint today. My guess is that it has moved on and is aiming at becoming a more modern distro and leaving older hardware in the dust. I have run earlier versions of Mint on this machine, but the 4.0 version was not as impressive as Mepis 7 was at that time. PCLOS blew them both out of the water. I suspect Mint 6 is more about the latest and greatest, geared toward people running newer hardware.
Antix was a very nice distro. Not as light as Puppy, but it has a key advantage in having a larger and easier to use repository of other programs. If my machine was any lighter and older, Antix would be the distro of choice today. In fact, I have an old 550 MHz machine sitting around with 256 Mb RAM that would be perfect with this little distro.
But the old family computer is still a good machine, well equipped with all the peripherals I could cram on it. Mandriva 2009 has won the day as being the newest, most powerful and user friendly distro that this machine can handle while being able to detect and handle everything that is attached. I’ll probably be looking at replacing this with a new desktop in the next year or two and Mandriva should help us with the transition as the XP side of the dual boot becomes more and more obsolete.