Edit: Unfortunately, the images originally included in this post are gone, because of hosting problems in late 2009. My apologies.
I promised I would give elive 0.6.9 a proper shakedown, and I have fulfilled my promise, with the caveat that this will probably be the last distro-hopping that I do with the ugly little laptop, at least in the foreseeable future. I’m content that I’ve investigated enough possibilities now to settle down for a while.
Ordinarily, this is the part where I do some rambling about how the distro looked, when first installed. I think, instead, I’ll let a picture do the talking.
Like I mentioned earlier, this is a system that’s built around visual impact. And it succeeds, in spite of this archaic hardware. Faded drop shadows. Pseudotransparency with blur effects. Animated glossed menus. A Mac-esque throbber bar with a follower. Shaded workspace selector with miniature embossed icons. Sparkled background effects and transparent system monitors.
Visually this puts everyone else to shame. Ubuntu’s glossified Human theme? Bo-ring. Lowarch’s terminal boot screen? Oh my, how very 1989. Vista’s Aero? Quaint. In fact, I might be going out on another limb, but I don’t know of a more visually appealing default desktop available now. (Feel free to contradict, though.)
And although this is labeled as a development release, I didn’t find anything that wasn’t moderately reliable in the short time I used it. It’s possible that things might have started to fall apart later, but for the immediate term, it was fine.
Response times were on the low end of adequate, but definitely were not stellar for this machine. Grub to desktop, along with a login, took about 1:50. Firefox opened in 17 seconds — no extensions, not a first run. Terminals opened in less than 8 seconds, and other applications were ready in a proportionate amount of time. The network card was installed properly, and the screen depth and dimensions were set correctly without hand-editing — two gold stars for those points.
So in all, I got phenomenal desktop effects without any catastrophic concession to speed — or stability.
So what’s the catch?
Well, I can’t say that this would be the case for every machine, but installation was absolutely horrific for me. It took over two hours for all the copying and configuration to finish from the live environment. And then, there was nearly two more hours for the Debian first-run stuff to finish.
Again, on a faster computer that might not be an issue, but for me it was almost a dealbreaker. I was sorely tempted to abort and try something else … about four or five times. I thought I had to jump through hoops to get Xubuntu installed, but that was a lesser hurdle when compared to the hours I spent waiting for elive to set itself up.
And when it was over, I was left with a lot of material I either didn’t want or couldn’t expect to use. I sifted through some of the installed packages and was shocked at some of the stuff that was installed. It makes sense, I admit: elive is just following the NCLB principle — No Computer Left Behind — and making sure everyone is set up properly. But still: I had modules installed for wireless cards I had never even heard of. And there was more than enough Gnome in there for two ugly little laptops.
There are times when the visual effects are a little overboard, too. For example, the elive control panel utility is a little too Star Trekky for me. I don’t want quite so many boing-boing effects if all I need to do is change the theme, or something else minor. Maybe I just overlooked it, but a Fluxbox-ish style-change-on-the-fly submenu would have been preferable.
At other times elive seemed to get in the way of itself. I couldn’t find a way to shut the machine down without first exiting the desktop, going back to the login, then signalling a shutdown. That added quite a bit of time to the task, and again, that’s not what I really want if I’m just turning off the computer. Eventually I just started giving a shutdown or reboot command from a command line, because it was quicker to open a terminal, su to the root account and type the command.
Perhaps these are all things I might have solved or found in time, but I wasn’t sufficiently enthused by the default environment to keep it around for long. Yes, it’s gorgeous, and yes it’s a must-see distro, but I started to get an itch very early on — especially when I saw all the stuff that had been installed — to try and lighten the load.
So just for fun (because to me, breaking things is fun), I installed debfoster and ripped out about half the installed packages. Which killed it, of course. It wouldn’t reboot and left me with some very pretty error messages on a very pretty framebuffer, and I called it a done deal.
So in retrospect, I give it high marks for being absolutely beautiful. You simply have to try it out to get the full effect, and if you have fast enough hardware to appreciate all the bells and whistles, you might even consider keeping it around. 450Mhz with 2Mb of shared video memory probably isn’t ideal; something with a little more muscle could definitely handle it better.
But in the end all the sparkle and dash wasn’t enough to convince me that I wanted it forever. I like clean, I like fast, I like neat, and so I leave elive to others. Try it live first, give yourself plenty of time if you install, and then maybe keep it. But don’t pass it over without at least looking. ;)