aptosid 2010-02

I recently reviewed Linux Mint Debian, a very user-friendly version of Linux Mint based on Debian. This time I looked at another distro based on Debian, called aptosid.

Aptosid, for those who aren’t familiar with it, is actually made by the same developers that created the popular distro Sidux. There was apparently some conflict and controversy within the Sidux e.V association that resulted in Sidux morphing into Aptosid. Here’s a brief note that explains the situation:

Important News: sidux is dead, long live aptosid

Contributed by bfree on Sep 09, 2010 – 05:21 PM

As I am sure you are all aware, there have been interesting times for sidux recently.   The bad news is that the sidux project is dead.   The good news is that aptosid has been aptly born like a phoenix from the ashes and will provide a smooth upgrade for sidux systems.   In many ways nothing has changed but our name.

Having declared the last attempt at an election for the e.V. board void while it was happening, the election of a new board is now overdue by more than a year.   The e.V. has also had no official public financial reports and until recently the treasurer was refusing to correspond with the other board members.   There is now also even an internal e.V. challenge to the decision of their last meeting..

Each person you ask will provide a different story of what happened and they are not all lying.   Most of the problems which occurred seem to come back to communication issues, from language problems to personality clashes.   Two entities evolved which could not communicate.   Over time this communication breakdown caused an ever expanding range of problems.

The reality now is that the sidux e.V. seems to believe it owns at least the European registration of the TM for sidux and we have been unable to reach a position where the developers of sidux are able to feel in any way comfortable about carrying on under that name.

So aptosid is born.   Those of you who dist-upgrade will be asked by debconf to change your sources.list files.   Despite what some may have said, we do care about everyone who uses our software, so your system will still be supported there.   You may even find other changes you like.

What has not changed is the primary team behind the development of sidux and we hope that everyone who enjoyed our work and used that system will come join us at aptosid.

sidux is dead, long live aptosid.

Aptosid is available with KDE as its desktop environment or Xfce. Being more of a fan of Xfce than KDE, I decided to go with the Xfce version of Aptosid for this review. Aptosid is available in 32 bit or 64 bit versions.

What’s New In This Release
Aptosid comes with Linux kernel 2.6.35.4 and KDE SC 4.4.5. The new kernel features support for power-conserving AMD and Intel video cards, as well as improved support for wireless networking cards.

Beyond that, there isn’t much to report that’s new in Aptosid. That’s fine though, the real news here isn’t new features, it’s the rebirth of Sidux as Aptosid. It would have been truly awful if, for some reason, Sidux had really died and Aptosid had not been born at all. No worries though, Aptosid is here and we can all let Sidux rest in peace.

Hardware Requirements & Installation

Hardware Requirements
Here’s a list of system requirements from the aptosid manual:

AMD64

  • CPU requirements:
    • AMD64
    • Intel Core2
    • Intel Atom 330
    • any x86-64/ EM64T capable CPU or newer
    • newer 64 bit capable AMD Sempron and Intel Pentium 4 CPUs (watch for the “lm” flag in /proc/cpuinfo or use infobash -v3).
  • RAM requirements:
    • KDE: ?512 MB RAM (?768 MB RAM recommended), ?1 GB RAM for liveapt.
    • XFCE: ?256 MB RAM, ?512 MB RAM for liveapt.
  • VGA graphics card capable of at least 640×480 pixel resolution.
  • Optical disk drive or USB media.
  • ?3 GB HDD space, ?10+ GB recommended.

i686

  • CPU requirements:
    • Intel Pentium pro/ Pentium II
    • AMD K7 Athlon (not K5/ K6)
    • Intel Atom N-270/ 230
    • VIA C3-2 (Nehemiah, not C3 Samuel or Ezra)/ C7
    • any x86-64/ EM64T capable CPU or newer
    • the full i686 command set is required.
  • RAM requirements:
    • KDE: ?384 MB RAM (?768 MB RAM recommended), ?512 MB RAM for liveapt.
    • XFCE: ?192 MB RAM, ?512 MB RAM for liveapt.
  • VGA graphics card capable of at least 640×480 pixel resolution.
  • Optical disk drive or USB media.
  • ?3 GB HDD space, ?10+ GB recommended.

Installation
The screenshots below walk you through the install, from beginning to end. I downloaded the 32 bit Xfce ISO file, which weighed in at about 500MB. Please note that aptosid is a Live CD distro, which means you don’t have to install it to check it out. You can boot into the CD/DVD and try it out without doing an install.

Booting & Login
The boot menu featured a typical GRUB screen after being installed, but the login screen has a nice aptosid theme to it.


The Desktop
Since I picked Xfce instead of KDE, the aptosid desktop environment I experienced was a bit more light-weight. After booting into my desktop. I was greeted with a number of icons on the desktop including:

Home
File System
Trash
Floppy Drive
CD
aptosid IRC
aptosid Manual

The placement of the icons looks a bit messy and haphazard, but it’s not really that big of a deal. If you want to get rid of some of the icons, you can do so in the Xfce 4 Settings Manager (more on that below).

The IRC icon might of use to some users, but the really useful icon is the aptosid Manual. If this is your first time trying aptosid, I highly recommend browsing through the manual. There’s an enormous amount of helpful information available; the manual is broken down into topic sections and it should help you through any problems you have using or managing aptosid.


Controls
To adjust your desktop settings, click the X button on the panel and go to Settings then Xfce 4 Settings Manager. The Xfce 4 Settings Manager lets you change all the usual stuff, it’s broken down into categories including Desktop, Calendar, Keyboard, Panel, Display, etc. It’s very easy to use, you should have no problems being able to customize your desktop setup for your own comfort.

Wallpaper
The default wallpaper features an aptosid theme. The rest of the bundled wallpaper is mostly Xfce themed, with a few other ones thrown in.

Bundled Software

Here’s a sample of the software included in this release.

Games
Games Available Via Apt

Graphics
Image Viewer
Ristretto
XSane

Internet
aptosid-irc
Ceni
ELinks Browser
Iceweasel
Transmission
XChat IRC
xdg-browser

Multimedia
Brasero
gxine
Mixer
Xfburn

Office
AbiWord
Gnumeric
Orage

Given that I picked the lighter Xfce version of aptosid, I wasn’t bothered by the somewhat more limited software selection. I think the KDE version comes with more. That’s not really a problem though because there is plenty of software available…if you can figure out how to install it. More on that below.

Software Management
One of the worst or the best things (depending on your point of view) about aptosid is its lack of a GUI-based package manager. If you want to install or remove software, you need to use the command line to do it. You won’t find anything like the Ubuntu Software Center or Linux Mint’s Software Manager.

Rather than futz around with the command line, I logged in as root and then installed Synaptic. I prefer to use a GUI, for the most part, when adding or removing software. I guess I’m more of a visual person, I like to see applications listed and I like to be able to choose them using the mouse rather than typing commands at the command line. Perhaps I’m just lazy? I’ll leave that to you to decide.

Sound and Multimedia

YouTube & Flash
Flash was not installed in the Iceweasel browser; if you want to run flash-based content then you’ll need to install it yourself.

Multimedia Applications
Aptosid comes with Brasero,  gxine, Mixer and Xfburn as its default multimedia applications.

Problems & Headaches
One of the things I found annoying about aptosid is the lack of a GUI-based package manager. As I noted earlier, it was necessary for me to login as root and then install Synaptic from the command line. This is obviously not something a newcomer to Linux might know how to do. If you’re expecting the slickness of the Ubuntu or Linux Mint software managers, forget it.

You’re essentially on your own at the command line until you install Synaptic. This is fine for experienced Linux users, some of whom may actually prefer managing software via Apt at the command line, but it’s not good for newer folks or those who prefer the ease and comfort of some sort of GUI-based package manager.

Beyond that, my experience was mostly positive. I did not run into any stability problems, it ran well consistently for me. Aptosid did everything I needed it to do, and I didn’t see any noticeable bugs or burps.

Where To Get Help
Please take a moment to register for the DLR forum (registration takes less than a minute and you can login with your Facebook account if you want); everybody is welcome. You are welcome to post a message in the Linux Help section and we’ll do our best to point you in the right direction. The forum contains discussions about Linux, but also many other topics. Please stop by and say hello when you have a chance.

Drop by the forum to get help, talk about Linux or just hang out.

You might also want to check out the Aptosid manual (available in a number of different languages), the Aptosid forum, and the Aptosid Wiki for more information.

Final Thoughts & Who Should Use It
Aptosid, alas, is not going to win any awards as newbie desktop distro of the year. It functions very well as a very desktop distro for command line junkies, but it is somewhat lacking in slickness when compared to Ubuntu, Linux Mint, PCLinuxOS or a number of others. aptosid could really use some of Linux Mint’s slickness and tools. The complete lack of a useful software manager really hits this distro hard for those who don’t like the command line. That, combined with its partitioning install routine, makes this distro unsuitable for beginners.

Aptosid is best suited for intermediate or advanced Linux users that are comfortable installing & managing software from the command line. If you’re one of those folks, then you’ll probably really like aptosid and you won’t miss not having a software manager.

Those who want a convenient software manager while still enjoying the benefits of Debian might be better served by checking out Linux Mint Debian Edition instead.

What’s your take on this distro? Tell me in the comments below. Visit the DLR forum for more discussions. Visit JimLynch.com for opinion columns.

Summary Table:

Product: aptosid 2010-02
Web Site: http://www.aptosid.com
Price: Free
Pros: Based on Debian; comes with KDE or the Xfce desktop environments.
Cons: Flash isn’t installed by default; lacks a GUI-based software management tool. Partitioning during install routine might throw off inexperienced users.
Suitable For: Intermediate and advanced Linux users only.
Summary: aptosid is a functional but not elegant option for desktop users. It’s best suited for those who wish to use the command line for software management.
Rating: 3.5/5

 



Sidux 2009-02 (KDE)

The excellent distribution suggestions keep coming from Brian Masinick and here’s yet another one, Sidux 2009-2. Sidux is based on Debian and you can download a version that uses the XFCE or KDE desktop environments. You can also opt to download the lite version that weighs in at about 600MB or the full version that weighs in at around 2.1GB. Being the greedy app pig that I am, I opted to download the full KDE version.

Requirements & What’s New In This Release
Here’s some of what’s new in this release:

  • Debian sid, as of 2009-07-14.
  • kernel 2.6.30 (smp, hard preemption).
  • X.org 7.4 (xserver-xorg-core 1.6.2).
  • KDE 4.2.4 (en + de).
  • new, SVG based, art theme created by the sidux art team.
  • offline manual for en + de directly on the disc, online manuals for more languages online at http://manual.sidux.com/ and available via apt; a big thank you goes to the documentation and translation teams!
    Please note that the offline manual is only available on the running live CD or the installed system.
  • many changes for the manual.
  • iwl3945 support (Intel Pro Wireless 3945 chipsets).
  • iwlagn support for IPW 4965 and the IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n part of the Intel Wireless WiFi Link 1000/ 5xxxAGN/ 6000/ 6050 family.
  • at76c50x-usb support for 11 MBit/s Atmel wlan cards (at76c503a, at76c505 and at76c505a).
  • ath5k support for 54/ “108” MBit/s Atheros wlan cards (AR2425, AR5210, AR5211, AR5212, AR5213 and AR5414).
  • ath9k support for 802.11 draft-n Atheros wlan cards (AR5418+AR5133, AR5416+AR5133, AR5416+AR2133, AR9160, AR9280 and AR9281).

Image_Picture 10

In order to use Sidux on your system you’ll need to meet these requirements:

    • amd64:

      • CPU requirements:
        • AMD64
        • Intel Core2
        • Intel Atom 330
        • any x86-64/ EM64T capable CPU or newer

         

      • RAM requirements:
        • KDE: 512 MB RAM (?768 MB RAM recommended), 1 GB RAM for liveapt.
        • XFCE: 256 MB RAM.
      • VGA graphics card capable of at least 640×480 pixel resolution.
      • optical disk drive or USB media.
      • 3 GB HDD space, 10 GB recommended.
    • i686:
      • CPU requirements:
        • Intel Pentium pro/ Pentium II
        • AMD K7 Athlon (not K5/ K6)
        • Intel Atom N-270/ 230
        • VIA C3-2 (Nehemiah, not C3 Samuel or Ezra)/ C7
        • any x86-64/ EM64T capable CPU or newer

         

      • RAM requirements:
        • KDE: 384 MB RAM (768 MB RAM recommended), 1 GB RAM for liveapt.
        • XFCE: 192 MB RAM.
      • VGA graphics card capable of at least 640×480 pixel resolution.
      • optical disk drive or USB media.
      • 3 GB HDD space, 10 GB recommended.

Boot Up & Installation
Sidux is a Live CD distribution so you can test it without having to install it. Just pop the CD in and boot up your computer. The first thing I noticed was that Sidux has a very fast boot time when using the Live CD. Before I knew it the desktop had loaded and I was ready to use it. Much faster than certain other distributions.

To get started doing the installation just click the Sidux Installer icon on the desktop and follow the on-screen prompts. At the beginning you will also get the option to install Sidux onto a USB key.

The install is broken into 6 steps (each represented by a tab in the install menu):

Welcome
Partitioning
Grub/Timezone
User
Network
Install

Just click the Back and Forward buttons to proceed through the install.

The installation is mostly very easy but at one point you must use gparted, cfdisk or fdisk to setup a partition on your hard disk. While I don’t think this would throw experienced Linux users off one bit, it might rattle some newbies that aren’t used to dealing with partitions or who might not notice that they need to set up a partition in the first place. The way that it’s set up, it’s easy to miss the fact that you need to push the Execute button to start the partitioning process. That aside, the rest of the install is pretty self-explanatory.

I had no problems whatsoever with my installation. It took about 15 minutes or so for my installation to fully complete. After it was complete, I had no problems booting into my newly installed Sidux system.

Image_Picture 2Desktop & Apps
One thing that struck me about Sidux is how polished it looks when you are looking at the Sidux desktop. This doesn’t look like something that was haphazardly thrown together. There’s a very attractive Sidux logo with what looks like a tick or spider or whatever on the desktop and also a handy Sidux Manual, Release Notes, IRC link and the Sidux Installer (which appears on the Live CD desktop).

The other thing I noticed was that it wasn’t just the boot up speed that was fast, the Live CD desktop performance was quite snappy too. Some Live CD distros can be a bit slow when you’re using them as a Live CD versus having installed them but Sidux definitely isn’t one of those. I found using it as a Live CD to be quite enjoyable in and of itself and I can see the value in using it as such without even doing an install.

The performance after the install was also quite good. Sidux isn’t laggy or slow and doesn’t have a bloated feel to it when you’re using it. It’s quite zippy with apps opening quickly and everything happening without a lot of delay.

Here’s a sample of the apps you’ll get when you install this version of Sidux:

Games
Various KDE Games

Graphics
XSane Image Scanning
Gwenview Image Viewer
Okular Document Viewer
KSnapshot
digiKam Photo Management

Internet
Akregator Feed Reader
Iceweasel Web Browser
KGet Download Manager
KMail
KNemo
Konqueror
Kopete IM
Konversation IRC
KTorrent
Sidux Browser

Emulators
Virtual Box OSE

Multimedia
Dragon Player Video Player
K3b CD & DVD Burning
Kaffeine Media Player
KMix Sound Mixer

TVtime TV Viewer

Office
OpenOffice.org
Fax Address Book

Others
KMouth Speech Synthesizer Frontend
Krusader File Manager
KWrite
KGpg Encryption
Klipper Clipboard Tool
Dolphin File Manager

Image_Picture 11

Problems & Headaches
If Sidux has a weakness for a desktop distribution, it’s in the install routine. It simply isn’t as intuitive as it should be for new users. Experienced users won’t mind it a bit and will have it installed relatively quickly. But newer folks might not understand how to partition their drive and could be confused when trying to install Sidux.

The part where you need to click the Execute button to start gparted (or whatever tool you choose) should be a separate step as some users might go right by it only to find at the end that the install won’t proceed because no partition has been created.

I’d like to see the Sidux developers move quickly to improve the install routine. They might need to step back away from looking at Sidux through their very experienced eyes and then place themselves into the role of complete newbie to Linux. This might help them improve the install routine and make it less potentially confusing to newbies.

Another potentially confusing thing is that there is an entire Debian section available in the app menus when you click on the K button on your desktop panel. Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that those apps are all available. However, it is potentially confusing to newer people as some might not understand why those apps are listed under the Debian folder label instead of being categorized under the regular app categories or why some appear in both places. I’m not going to nitpick this too much but it’s something for the Sidux developers to be aware of and perhaps tweak a bit in future releases. It might be better to eliminate that separate Debian app list and blend all of the apps together in the appropriate categories.

Note that if you want media codecs, flash player or other non-free software then you will have to find and install them yourself. The developers of Sidux are all about free software so you won’t find non-free software available right after you install Sidux. However, the Sidux Manual contains instructions on how to update your apt sources so you can install non-free software easily enough.

One other very minor nitpick. While there is a link to the Sidux Manual on the desktop there is no link to the forum or the wiki. I’d like to see both links placed on the desktop. They might not matter to experienced Sidux users but they can make a big difference to newer folks who haven’t used Sidux before and who might want to ask a question or two in the forum or otherwise browse some helpful information.

Getting Help With Sidux
As always if you run into problems you can always post a question in the DLR forum. I can’t guarantee that we’ll have an answer for you but we’ll do our best. And you should most definitely also visit the Sidux forum, read the Sidux Manual and check out the Sidux Wiki. There’s an immense amount of information out there about Sidux waiting for you to find it. So be sure to check it out when you have a chance.

Final Thoughts & Who Should Use It
I found myself quickly becoming a fan of Sidux. It offers a tremendous amount of value in an attractive and mostly easy to use distribution.

However, I don’t quite feel comfortable right now recommending it to folks that are very new to Linux. For them I recommend Linux Mint as a better alternative. If you’re new to Linux and you just want a taste of Sidux, feel free to download it and use it as a Live CD. You’ll be able to enjoy it without needing to do an install on your system. And if you’re feeling more adventurous go ahead and try to install it but know ahead of time that you’ll need to do a bit of partitioning during the install.

But I heartily recommend Sidux for intermediate to advanced Linux users. For you folks installing Sidux will be a piece of cake and you’ll get a heck of a lot out of your Sidux based system. It’s a great desktop distribution.

Summary Table:

Product: Sidux 2009-2
Web Site: http://sidux.com/
Price: Free
Pros: Very polished distribution for the most part. Provides a good range of software wrapped up in an attractive desktop package. Fast install.
Cons: Install routine might possibly throw off some of those who are completely new to Linux and who aren’t used to using tools like gparted to partition their hard disks. Separate Debian app category listing might confuse new users.
Summary: A very good desktop Linux distribution that provides a lot of value and makes a great alternative distro for intermediate or advanced Linux users.
Rating: 4/5