Distro Review: Pardus Linux 2009
This week I revisited a distribution I first wrote about back in 2007, Pardus Linux. It’s developed by the Turkish National Research Institute of Electronics and Cryptography, it has its own package management system called PISI (Packages Installed Successfully, as Intended), and it’s not based on any other Linux distribution, which makes quite a change these days. I was eager to see how it had developed since our last encounter.
Distro Base – Unique (It’s a custom Linux distro)
Packaging – .pisi (Managed by the PISI utility)
Linux Kernel – 188.8.131.52-125
Default Desktop – KDE 4.2.4
I downloaded the International installer CD and not the LiveCD, having made a mistake with that last time I tried Pardus. Things may have changed by now but at the time I downloaded the LiveCD only to discover you couldn’t install from it, it really was just a LiveCD. Booting up the CD I was greeted with a funky looking menu, not the most technical description I know but the design is very slick. You’re quickly prompted to accept the GNU GPL first up. Not all distros ask you to do that but I think it’s a good thing. Most new users will just accept without even reading a line, we’ve all become conditioned to do that over the years by 50 page license agreements. But if one person takes the time to read a little bit and actually learn what the GPL is, I think that’s positive. The next step is to check the integrity of the installer CD, something I don’t often bother to do but I probably should. This took about 5mins scanning the disc and checking, after that you can begin the install proper. There’s a series of screens asking you all the usual questions: keyboard layout, time zone, user details, root password and more. Then it’s time to sort out your hard drive partitions which is always a key facet of any install. The GUI looks nice but I must confess I found it a little confusing at first in manual partitioning. You click on a partition and set it up but if you then click onto the next partition without first pressing apply, all your selections are lost. It took me a minute to work this out and it seems a bit counter intuitive from a HCI point of view. Nevertheless I got to grips with it and I like the way it gives you sensible descriptive labels in the options. Instead of saying / or root for your system drive you choose “Pardus system files”, which might be a bit more obvious to some new users. Plain English is always a winner for me. I chose to make my root… sorry “Pardus system files” partition 12gb as I normally do and formatted it as ext4, the default option. I had to manually choose my swap partition and set it up though, this is often detected by other distributions, even under manual partitioning. I laid out the partitions as I usually do on this machine (Dell XPS m1330n):
12gb / (root) – formatted as ext4 in this case
140gb /home – formatted as ext3
Note: If you’re looking at the slide show and wondering why the partitioning shots don’t look right, it’s because I used a VirtualBox install later to get screenshots of the installer.
With my partitions in order I was only left to chose where I wanted GRUB installed and check over the details I’d entered. I then started the installer on its way and sat back to see how long it would take. It actually presents you with a nice looking and informative slide show about Pardus 2009. I watched it for about 5 minutes until it looped back to the first slide again, but it did make a nice distraction. All in all the installation took about 25mins, not the quickest I’ve ever done but still fairly respectable. The YALI installer itself feels very polished and certainly looks good. Apart from a few minor UI gripes I’d say it’s up there with the best of them. The sarcastic name “Yet Another Linux Installer” appeals to my sense of humour too.
FULL INSTALLATION SLIDE SHOW 43 PICS
Configuring the system:
This release of Pardus comes with KDE 4.2.4 on the desktop and it’s no secret that I’m a Gnome fan, but I’m also an open minded guy and I figured I’d give it my best shot. The first thing you notice on logging into your new system is a tool called Kaptan (Turkish for captain apparently), which aims to help you through the process of personalizing things. It used to be called Kaptan Desktop and I remember joking in previous reviews that he must be some sort of super hero, in fact he looks more like Captain Birdseye for anyone who gets that reference. It might be a UK thing. Looks aside he does his job very well, taking you through a series of screens where you can choose a theme, a menu style, add Internet connection settings and many other things. I found it very cool to be able to make the desktop feel like my own straight away. Perhaps other distributions aiming at the novice user should implement some kind of welcome wizard as well, some offer a welcome pop up with a few references but nothing on this level. It might help people settle in. The default KDE4 menu is something only a mother could love, but she still couldn’t use it in my opinion. Sorry, it’s just too fiddly and complicated, it takes 4 clicks to get down to anything useful. So I chose the Lancelot menu instead. It reminds me quite a bit of the SLAB menu in OpenSuse or perhaps the MintMenu from Linux Mint. As I progressed through the Kaptan screens I chose a theme with the KDE tool bar at the top of the screen and added some information about my wireless network. I also ticked the box at the very end marked “Add Contrib Repositories”. This gives you all the community maintained packages in PISI and vastly broadens the range of available software. I’ll talk more about PISI later. Things were looking good so far but as I tried to go online I realized I wasn’t connected to my wireless network. This seemed odd as I’d definitely entered all my details correctly in the welcome wizard. Opening up the system settings tool I quickly found the “network manager” applet. The wireless profile I’d created hadn’t been saved and I was left scratching my head. It seems much like the partitioning UI I’d misread before, if you don’t click apply before you click next it doesn’t save your data. I entered the details again being careful to press apply this time, I was then prompted for the root password and asked to confirm again. After that the wireless details were saved and the network connection came up fine.
Next I wanted to see if my Nvidia card was using the restricted 3D drivers or not, the screen resolution was correct but enabling 3D desktop effects failed, so I knew the binary drivers weren’t installed. It turned out this was pretty easy to fix and by typing the search term “nvidia” into PISI I was able to find some kernel modules and drivers quickly. I installed the most recent one I could see, which looked a bit behind the current Nvidia releases but I wasn’t too worried about that. After logging out and restarting the X server a reassuring Nvidia splash screen came up and all was well. I turned on the 3D effects in KDE4 and I have to say they’re very slick. Not quite as heavy duty as the Compiz effects I often use and a bit lighter on resources. It’s nice to see that multimedia codecs, Flash, Java and other such things are included here. I know that’s a philosophical problem for a lot of people and I’m with them on that, but since this distro is aimed at the average user they just want their stuff to work without hassle. We can pitch the Free Software arguments to them later I think, once they’ve had a chance to get their foot through the door. The latest Firefox 3.5 is also present by default.
PISI Package Manager:
I briefly mentioned PISI before but I thought it would be worth taking a more in depth look. It’s the package managing utility in Pardus and it’s completely custom built, using its own package format to boot. No pun intended. The GUI looks quite similar to the utility you get for this in Mandriva with possibly a passing resemblance to Synaptic too. It actually works very well and installing new software is simple, provided it’s in the repos. I found with the contrib repository enabled I had a very respectable selection of software at my disposal. I installed Checkgmail, VirtualBox, Pidgin, Audacity, VLC and much more with just a few clicks. There were some things I couldn’t find however such as Terminator, Gwibber, Avant Window Navigator, gPodder and Tasque. Some of those are Gnome apps and maybe this is the reason, I’ll discuss some of the KDE alternatives I found in a minute. One problem I have with PISI is another slight GUI oversight in my view. It has 2 main views, packages available and packages already installed. This seems sensible and I have no problem with that in principle, but when you do a search for something, such as “nvidia” for example, you have to switch view panes and search again to see if the package you’re thinking of is installed, not installed or even available to install at all. I prefer the way Synaptic shows you all the results in one list with a simple mark next to the packages to tell you if they’re installed or not. This kind of approach to search results would be a big improvement and save time too. Other than that very minor annoyance on my part PISI worked well, kept me up to date pretty easily and installed packages without fuss. You can’t say fairer than that.
Learning To Love KDE4:
OK so “love” might be a bit of a strong word, but for an old Gnome fan like me KDE has never really sat comfortably on my desktop. I found as the week went on though that I got more comfortable with it and found new ways of working. For example I mentioned earlier that I couldn’t find Gwibber in the repos, this is a major problem for a compulsive microblogger, but help was at hand. After some tips from people on Identi.ca (via the web interface obviously), I discovered that the bizarrely named Choqok is the microblogging client de jour on KDE. I fired it up and at first I hated it if I’m honest, mainly because it shows your different accounts in individual tabs and you can’t see all your messages in one go. As I used it more though I got used to this way of doing things and after a while its become natural. It’s so much more stable and quick than Gwibber and with some advanced features thrown in, I was very impressed. Other minor changes were the fact that I couldn’t find AWN and install it from the repos. I may have been able to do so from source but decided to try a different way of working. When I want to open an app now I don’t go to the menu or look for a dock, instead I just press ALT+F2 to call up the run box. You can do this on any system I know but the KDE4 version is very slick. It predicts what you want as you type and has cool animations. It reminds me most of how I would use Gnome Do on Gnome actually. The KDE desktop widgets are something I couldn’t really see the point of at first, I’ve often made jokes that calling them Plasmoids sounds more like something you should go and see the doctor about. I added a weather widget and system monitor though and it started to make a lot more sense. I looked through the variety of widgets on offer and grabbed a Gmail checker for my desktop too. It’s easy to go overboard and fill your desktop with rubbish but if you use them wisely the Plasmoids are very cool and can be useful.
I even like the Dolphin file manager and I found mounting network shares and saving them was easy. A little more like the old Windows Explorer way of working, adding network folders and such, but it’s easy to do. I used to hate using Konqueror for file management and that was probably one of the major reasons I couldn’t stand KDE. It seemed such an unwieldy beast and it tried to do everything at once rather than just being a file manager. This is an accusation often levelled at KDE itself actually, that it tries to be all things to all people, giving you so many different ways of doing any one task you get swamped and confused. I’ve found it to be like that myself at times in the past and I don’t know if I’ve changed or it’s KDE that’s changed, maybe we both have. I found this much more comfortable and productive. I even scared a few people on Identi.ca by posting that I was really getting into KDE4 now. I’m not 100% converted by any means but I think KDE4 is taking shape after a rocky start, and this is version 4.2.4 not the very latest 4.3 release. It has wet my appetite to try that out and see how it fares. I was impressed at how well the system went to sleep and woke up again when closing the lid. I must have done this 100 times over the course of the week and it never failed me once. Little touches like the KDE plugger applet are also very handy. When you plug in any external device it pops up in the tool bar and helps you get things done. It’s not all sweetness and light though as I found the desktop can slow down and feel sluggish at times, but this problem was pretty isolated. KDE4 is a pretty heavy duty desktop and probably not for a slower machine, but on modern hardware it’s great. It’s fair to say that this is the most fulfilling KDE experience I’ve ever had, and I’ll be monitoring future releases with interest.
I edited a couple of podcasts in Audacity over the week and I found there were a few issues with ALSA. Some things I haven’t seen in a while actually. It seemed to involve Pidgin grabbing the default ALSA device and not letting anything else see it. So when I opened up Audacity I couldn’t get any sound output if Pidgin was running, and it usually is on my desktop. This is not really a criticism of Pardus in any way, it’s a long standing design problem with ALSA. Once a program is using an ALSA device its tied up and that’s it, others can’t use it. On most systems something like Pulse Audio is used now on top of ALSA to solve this problem. I’ve had my issues with Pulse but I have to say having not seen this ALSA problem in a couple of years and largely forgotten about it, I should probably be more grateful to Pulse Audio. I didn’t see the same problems between many of the KDE programs, it seemed to be just Pidgin. The default IM client in KDE is Kopete and I’ve tried that but I still much prefer Pidgin. Perhaps Kopete wouldn’t have had the same sound problems. I found I could fix things by closing Audacity, setting Pidgin to mute sounds and then reopening Audacity. After that it could see the main ALSA device was free again, but it was a bit of a pain.
Ease Of Installation & Setup: 4/5
Stability & Speed: 4/5
Community & Online Support: 3/5
Overall I had a lot of fun with Pardus and it may even have finally taught me the virtues of KDE, which was no small task indeed. After a week or so on this system I’ve been able to do everything I’ve needed to, producing podcasts, writing and getting on with other general dev work, so I can’t complain at that. I like Kaptan, PISI and YALI a lot. There are many great little custom tools here and I think the developers are taking things in the right direction. The fact that its not based on Fedora, Debian, Slackware or whatever else probably endears me to this distro. I like to see people trying new things and when you look at what’s actually been achieved in a short space of time it’s amazing. The packaging system works very well and that’s impressive for a relatively young development.
I did have to work around the lack of some apps I use heavily. I installed Guake to help do things in the terminal without Terminator, and I also managed to install Gpodder from source to get all my podcasts. Gpodder ran very well in fact and this only confirmed my love of Python, it just runs everywhere. There are some things that could be improved in Pardus. I mentioned some of the UI problems I had, this might just be the way my brain works but some things seemed more convoluted than they needed to be. It’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a few tweaks though and hopefully we’ll see this in future. The overall feel of the distro is friendly and inclusive, I like that. There are some good online resources with a forum, wiki and IRC channel should you get stuck, and the documentation is pretty good. There’s even an online beginners guide for anyone daunted by their first encounter with Pardus. With so many other Linux distributions already out there fighting in a crowded market it may be tough for Pardus to find its niche, but they’re doing a very good job. I always have time for people who push the boundaries and try new things, without that attitude we’d never advance. I wouldn’t have a problem recommended this distro to most users and I think perhaps novice Linux converts are the best market for it. It’s going to be hard to compete with the amount of packages and how-to guides out there already for the likes of Ubuntu but in time I think this distro could grow well. It offers something different and in a world filled with Ubuntu remixes and Debian clones a little diversity isn’t a bad thing. If you fancy spicing up your like with a little Turkish flavour give Pardus a spin, it’s well worth it.
DOWNLOAD PARDUS FOR YOURSELF HERE
I was contacted by some people involved with SAM Linux and asked to review it, so I will endeavour to do that next. I’ve also been prompted many times about finally getting onto BSD and I will try to do that too. I’ve had good fun on Pardus and I may look for something that has KDE 4.3 to see if my romance with the desktop is really love, or just a short lived infatuation. You’re welcome to join me next time for the journey of course…