Hey folks, sorry it’s been a while but I’m finally back with another distro review. I’ve been hearing a lot lately about the new gOS from Google. It’s the OS that comes installed on the Everex Green PCs and they’ve been flying off Walmart shelves in the US. I decided to download it and see for myself if it was more than just a flash in the pan. Here’s how I got on…
Distro Base – Ubuntu 7.10 (which is itself based on Debian)
Packaging – .deb (managed by Apt)
Linux Kernel – 2.6.22-14-386
Default Desktop – Enlightenment E17
I fired up the liveCD without too much trouble but I encountered the old problem I often have with my motherboard. I got a kernel panic after the menu screen and a message telling me that APIC sync had failed. It wasn’t a surprise as this OS is basically Ubuntu under the hood and I get this a lot with Ubuntu on my system. I got around it by adding the “noapic” command to my boot options and then everything was fine.
I loaded the live desktop and proceeded to install via the shortcut, the installer seems to be completely unmodified from Ubuntu so there were no surprises. It did take a really long time to complete though and I had to wait about 30 – 40mins in total. It seemed to freeze at 82% as the status message said “Configuring APT – Scanning for mirror”, I was tempted to abort and try again but after 10mins or so it did continue and complete the install. I’ve had a think about what could have caused this and I can only assume it was a busy server making package downloads slow. It’s not my Internet connection as I tested that on another machine and it was fine. Maybe there were a lot of people installing the OS at the time I don’t know, it reminded me of the problems I had installing Mint so it’s not unique to gOS.
Note: I had trouble getting screenshots with Enlightenment, no matter what I did it wasn’t having it so there’s no real installation slide show I’m afraid sorry.
Configuring The System:
On first login the system asked me for the administrator password and I wasn’t sure what this could be about, I duly supplied it and was then asked to install the Google Toolbar for Firefox, not surprising as this is a Google related product but still I declined and moved on. It’s quite funny because often with gOS you can see the standard brown Ubuntu desktop for a minute while it loads something. This happened quite a lot. I was asked to perform 84 updates to the system after the install and it reminded me a little of the old Windows experience, I was half waiting to be asked for Service Pack 1 or something 🙂 Again the updates were very slow and I can only ascribe this to busy mirrors and bandwidth problems.
The screen resolution was set to 1280×1024 which looks a little funny on my 19″ widescreen monitor and it was using a generic driver, it seems the restricted driver manager you expect from Ubuntu has been removed here. I tried to install the latest Nvidia driver with apt-get but it was a little tricky to setup, certainly not something for a beginner I don’t think. I suppose you have to remember that this OS was designed to be sold pre-installed on a certain set of hardware and I doubt much time was put into making it work on anything else. Why would it be? I tried to use my NTFS drive and found I had to install NTFS-3G with apt and then mount the drive through the terminal to get write support. A year or so ago this would have been standard but these days most distributions take care of this stuff for you. I also found the file manager crashed a lot when I tried to access the drive, it was pretty frustrating all in all.
This was the first time I’d used the Enlightenment window manager and I don’t know how heavily customized this is compared to the standard version but I have to say I didn’t like it much. The file manager is atrocious and that’s not something I say lightly. I found just moving my files around was a complete pain in the neck. Maybe it was because I needed to learn more about the interface, I suppose that’s possible but it really wasn’t impressive. The scrolling icon menu at the bottom of the screen looks pretty nice but quickly started to irritate me. It’s not to my taste. As you would expect with a Google influenced OS pretty much everything is just a link to a website, Google Docs, Calendar, Spreadsheets, Facebook, Blogger and so on are all the main options. You can install stuff with the package manager and it seems that the main Ubuntu repos are available but it feels a bit like an Internet cafe kiosk or something. Is that what you want at home? I dunno.
I tried to load some multimedia and my old friend Rhythmbox did it’s job well as always. That was fine and mp3’s played out of the box. I then moved to video and was disappointed to find that Xine is the default video player. I never liked the interface of Xine much and I find it buggy at best. Why they didn’t just use Totem with the Gstreamer engine like Ubuntu I have no idea but in the end I found the best thing to do was install VLC and just use that.
Ease Of Installation & Setup: 3/5
Community & Online Support: 3/5
I wasn’t that impressed with gOS as you can probably tell from the tone so far, I get the impression that it’s really just meant to be an Internet kiosk type of thing rather than a proper operating system. I found Enlightenment buggy and the system in general was less than stable. It just seemed to me they’d spent a lot of time removing some of the most useful stuff from Ubuntu rather than improving it, almost the anti-Mint in a way. The choice of Enlightenment is a strange one I think, it would have been a lot easier to just customize Gnome with a theme and remove any its you don’t want. I think it would have been more stable but that’s a hypothetical and I’m not expert. I can’t believe it would use more resources than Enlightenment if that was the concern.
As I said it should be remembered that this is made to be part of a package with the Everex PC hardware and perhaps in that setting it works well. The machines certainly seem to be selling well in the states and if it exposes more people to Linux then that can only be a good thing. I can’t help thinking though that this doesn’t really show Linux to it’s full potential. I’ve heard a lot of people saying they think gOS is great for new users but I have to say I’m not so sure. If you just want a platform for running Firefox like an internet kiosk then maybe but it’s not a patch on Mandriva 2008 or Mint 4.0 in my book, even for complete beginners. Maybe that’s just a personal preference and as I said if buying a PC with this on gets more people using Linux then I’m all for it, it really is just the tip of the iceberg as far as Linux goes though and I hope people don’t make the mistake of thinking that this accurately represents the current state of Linux as a whole because it doesn’t, it’s a pale imitation of a full Linux distro for me. Taken on it’s own without the hardware I wouldn’t pick this to install on any system personally, I’ve even heard of a lot of people wiping their Green PCs and putting Debian on instead. Make of that what you will.
Sorry if that upsets anyone but it’s the way I feel, I can’t see what all the fuss is about. Having the massive corporate power of Google behind it will no doubt help to promote this OS and maybe in time it will develop, it is only the first release I suppose but it feels a little too much like a beta to me. We all know how Google loves an extended beta program 😉
DOWNLOAD IT FOR YOURSELF HERE
As always the adventures continue, I have a copy of Zenwalk 4.8 which I think I’ll look at next. I’ve never used it before but I’ve heard it’s an easier to use version of Slackware. Sounds interesting. As usual you’re all invited along for the ride if you like 😉