Absolute Linux 13.0.2

I always admire the effort made by developers to take a version of Linux that isn’t particularly friendly to desktop users and tame it a bit thus making it available to a wider audience. Absolute Linux is one such distro as it is based on Slackware. Slackware isn’t exactly known as a “newbie-friendly” version of Linux but Absolute Linux has gone a long way toward changing that perception.

Absolute Linux can be considered a more light-weight version of Linux since you won’t find the beautiful but bloated KDE or Gnome desktop environments on it. Instead you’ll find IceWM, a very fast and light-weight window manager. If you’ve never used IceWM before please keep an open mind about it. It may not be as pretty as KDE or Gnome but it more than makes up for it by keeping the distros that offer it very fast (even on older hardware).

What’s New In This Release
Here’s a list of what’s new in this release:

Gtk themes in, K3B and KDE libs out:

Brasero has replaced K3B and kdelibs, kdemultimedia and arts have all been removed. Gtk themes have been implimented and are changeable via customized gtk-chtheme utility. While we are staying away from the heavy integrated environments, we can still get our lightweight apps to look good and coordinate with each other… changing Gtk theme also changes icewm theme, desktop background (in pcmanfm) and window background for ROX-Filer.

So far there are themes of clearlooks, warm, gray and black. Any contribs most welcome. For background info, check out the /usr/local/bin/settheme script. It is called from gtk-chtheme and the script lets you know exactly what files are being used.

For a more in-depth list of what’s new in this release, see the forum announcement thread.

Absolute Linux features a well organized but rather bland looking desktop.

Absolute Linux features a well organized but rather bland looking desktop.

Requirements & Installation
I looked around on the Absolute Linux site for install requirements but was not able to find a list. Given that Absolute Linux is based on Slackware and uses IceWM as its desktop environment, I think it’s safe to conclude that the hardware requirements are fairly modest and that it should run well on most machines including older ones. However, if you are uncertain and want to confirm that it will run on your machine then you might want to post a note on the Installation section of the Absolute Linux forum.

The install took about 20 minutes or so and uses a a text based installer. Don’t let this frighten you away from trying Absolute Linux though as I didn’t find the install particularly difficult. At one point I had to do a bit of partitioning though and that might throw off some folks that are new to Linux and who aren’t familiar with disk partitioning.

Overall I was comfortable with the install and had no problems booting into my Absolute Linux desktop after it was complete. I would like to see a new, graphical installer used for Absolute Linux though. Text based installers get the job done but they do it in an ugly and primitive looking way. It’s 2009 and I think that desktop users have been spoiled to a degree and probably expect more when they go to install a distro to check it out.

install1

install2

install3

Desktop & Apps
The Absolute Linux desktop is well organized but a bit bland with a light-blue color and no noteworthy wallpaper. I hate nit-picking about the appearance of desktops as each user can obviously customize it to his or her heart’s content.

But first impressions are lasting ones most of the time and I’d like to see Absolute Linux get some kind of definitive brand identity reflected in its default desktop theme similar to what Linux Mint and some of the other distros have.

Take note of the Getting Started folder on your desktop. That folder contains links to information about configuring and using your Absolute Linux system. The default page will load the first time you start Firefox but if you close Firefox you’ll need to go into the folder and load it using Firefox or some other app.

The Getting Started page contains information that covers the following:

The Control Panel
Things To Do Right Away
Set Default Browser
Multimedia Files
Screen Size, Refresh Rate and Fonts
Printer Setup
Software Install & Configuration
Creating User Accounts
Add Software From CD2

Absolute Linux comes with a respectable amount of software, here’s a sample of what you’ll get:

Games
Checkers
Chess
Sudoku Savant
BreakOut
5ball
Anagramarama
IceBreaker
Concentration

Graphics
GIMP
gEXIF
GQView
Screenshots

Internet
gFTP
Firefox
qTwitter
Deluge
Pidgin
Putty
xChat
Mozilla Thunderbird Mail

Multimedia
XMMS Audio Player
SMPlayer Video Player
RecordMyDesktop
Q Video Converter
CD Ripper
Acidrip DVD Ripper
Gcstar Collection Manager

Office
OpenOffice
AbiWord
Geany
Nedit

Adding & Removing Software
In one of my last reviews I got some helpful feedback from a reader who wanted to know about software installation methods. So I’ve added a brief section to the DLR review template so I can cover it.

I used Gslapt to update my system and had no problems downloading packages or running the update.

Unfortunately the tool to add or remove software in Absolute Linux pretty much stinks. It’s very primitive and seems to only list what you have on the system already with no easy way to add additional software other than downloading it separately and then clicking the Install A Package button to install it.

So don’t expect to open the package management app and then start easily adding software to your system. You’ll have to make a bit more of an effort than that and I suspect that that might annoy some folks that simply want to open a package manager and find additional software at their finger tips.

You can use Gslapt to update your Absolute Linux system.

You can use Gslapt to update your Absolute Linux system.

Sound and Multimedia
When I inserted my Superman test DVD I got a popup menu asking me if I wanted to Play, Rip or Cancel. I opted to choose to play it but then got a message saying the following:

“DVD playback is not enbabled” and also “libdvdcss and other multimedia packages may need to be installed.”

So don’t count on being able to simply pop your DVD into your Absolute Linux system and play it without having to download and install some other software and codecs.

If you want to add these additional items be sure to go into your Control Center and click on the Multimedia section. From there click on Multimedia Installer and follow the menu prompts.

I was able to play YouTube videos without a problem. The sound and video worked well and required no configuration effort on my part.

dvdplay1
dvdplay2 What I Liked Most

The attraction to Absolute Linux for me is simply that it’s Slackware geared toward desktop users. I also appreciated the minimalistic desktop environment and the selection of software (which was reasonable but not overpowering).

Problems & Headaches
One problem I had was that it was necessary for me to do a bit of manual configuration to connect to my network. This was a very minor thing as it took me all of about 20 seconds to do it but folks that are unfamiliar with setting up networking might be discouraged.

For some strange reason, the CD Ripper would not start. I had no problems whatsoever with the DVD Ripper but I was not able to get the CD Ripper application to load at all.

One other thing that some might find really annoying is that you must first log in as root to begin using Absolute Linux. After that you can set up your other login ID and password. This didn’t bother me too much personally as I was only using Absolute Linux for this review but forcing people to login as root might bother some folks. It would probably make more sense to be able to set up your regular user ID as part of the installation process rather than after logging in as root.

I’d like to see a much better tool for adding & removing software that contains additional packages that can easily be added to the Absolute Linux desktop. Right now this distro woefully lags behind the ease of use found in the Ubuntus and various other distros in terms of finding & managing desktop software.

The Absolute Linux package manager is ugly and quite primitive.

The Absolute Linux package manager is ugly and quite primitive.

Where To Get Help
You can always post a note in the Desktop Linux Reviews Forum and we’ll do our best to offer feedback or at least point you in the right direction. You might also want to check out the Absolute Linux Install Guide and also the Absolute Linux forum. You may also want to view the configuration help page and the partitioning help page.

Final Thoughts & Who Should Use It
My experience with Absolute Linux was mostly positive. I like the idea of making Slackware relatively easy to get running on the desktop and I think Absolute Linux provides a pretty good amount of value for desktop users. It’s not as slick as some of the other desktop distros but that’s okay because slick isn’t necessarily what everybody is looking for all of the time.

On the whole though I’d recommend this more for experienced Linux users as the install might be a little bit challenging. I encourage adventurous Linux newbies to explore and experiment with it but they should understand ahead of time that installing & configuring it could be a bit challenging for them if they run into a problem.

Summary Table:

Product: Absolute Linux 13.0.2
Web Site: http://www.absolutelinux.org
Price: Free
Pros: Good selection of software, uses IceWM to provide a light-weight desktop environment.
Cons: Install is text based and looks primitive compared to other desktop distributions. Software management needs serious work as some desktop users might want a wider range of software that is available directly from the package management tool.
Suitable For: Intermediate and advanced Linux users. Beginners are encouraged to explore but may encounter difficulties installing & configuring Absolute Linux.
Summary: Absolute Linux provides a relatively easy path to getting Slackware onto your desktop.
Rating: 3/5