Elive 1.9.35 (Unstable)

Brian Masinick weighed in with another good suggestion recently for a distribution review. This time he recommended Elive so I snagged a copy to check it out. Elive is based on Debian and uses the Enlightenment window manager rather than KDE or Gnome.

The version I picked for this review is the 1.9.35 release which is currently labeled as unstable.

Pay? I Have to Pay For Elive? WTF, Jim!
Before I get into this review, Elive is not a “free” distribution in the sense that it’s like free beer. In the past there has been a charge (in the form of a donation) for you to be able to download the stable version of Elive. Unstable releases remain free to download.

This seems to be changing though as the Elive site now says that you will be able to download Elive for free in the next release and can run it as a Live CD but you will be required to make a donation if you want to install it to your system.

So is it okay for a developer to require a donation to download their version of Linux? Absolutely. I have no problem with it whatsoever as “free software” does not necessarily mean free as in “free beer.” Developers probably spend a significant amount of time on their distributions so it’s perfectly fine if they want to charge some amount or another for users to be able to use their distro.

I understand that some people dislike this idea intensely. That’s fine, there’s plenty of room for disagreement. Suffice to say that if the distribution in question has enough value for you and you wish to purchase it or make a donation then go for it. If nobody makes a donation or buys it or whatever then chances are that distribution ultimately isn’t really necessary anyway as people are clearly using other alternatives. Ultimately it’s up to you to decide if a distribution has enough value for you that you are willing to pay to support it.

With all of that said, on now to the rest of the review.

As I noted earlier, Elive is a Live CD. So just pop it in and boot your computer. Booting into Elive is very quick and you have the option of installing it to your hard disk by clicking on the Install Elive icon on the desktop panel. When you click on it you’ll notice a pop up window will come up with the choice of 3 different experience levels:

1. Auto. Most automatized install.
2. Easy Mode. Just a few questions.
3. Complete Mode. User can access all features of the installer (for experienced users).

I think that this is a nice way of catering to different kinds of users. Power users get more install customizations and newbies are guided to an easier, more automatic install. If you haven’t used Elive before and aren’t sure which option to choose, go with number 1.

I picked option 2 which required me to answer a couple of questions and download the Installer Module. Don’t let this part throw you as it just means that your browser will be opened and you’ll be taken to the download page. Type in the code that appears there then download the module. Then click “Okay” on the popup that will appear and your install will continue.

The install took about ten minutes or so. I was able to use Elive as a Live CD during the installation. I ran into a problem after the install which I detailed in the problems section.


Desktop & Apps
Since Elive uses Enlightenment you’ll find it’s a bit different looking than Gnome or KDE when you boot into it. There are multiple desktop icons that appear in the upper right part of your desktop. Switching from desktop to desktop just requires you to click on the desktop of your choice.

Note the Mac OS X dock-like panel at the bottom of your desktop. Put your cursor over an icon and it gets larger. The default icons are as follows:

Chat IRC
Thunar File Manager
Iceweasel Browser
El Panel
Elive Installer

To access other applications simply right-click your desktop. Or you can left-click your desktop to get another menu that includes applictions but also other things such as file management, terminal, multiple desktops, windows, system settings, system and Enlightenment settings.

Here’s some of the software you’ll get with Elive:

aMSN (Instant Messaging)
Chat IRC
Transmission (Bit Torrent)
Iceweasel (Browser)

Audio CD Extractor
Elive Essence
Sound Recorder

Elicit (Color Picker)
GQview (Image Viewer)
XSane (Image Scanning)

Avidermux (GTK+ Video Editor)
DVD Encoder OGMRip
MPlayer (Multimedia Player)
Webcam Viewer
Xine (DVD Player)

Gnumeric Spreadsheet

Card Games
DOSBox Emulator
Zsnes (SNES Emulator)
Torus Trooper

Edje Viewer
SciTE Text Editor

You can easily download more software by using the Synaptic Package Manager. Just left-click your desktop, choose Applications then Adminstration then Synaptic. Be sure to click the reload button when you run Synaptic so that it checks the repositories for updates & additional applications.

Problems & Headaches
After the install I ran into a very small but annoying problem. At the login screen my Tab key wouldn’t work and I was unable to place the cursor into the password field so I could login. I was able to type my login name just fine but after that I could not, for some strange reason, get my cursor to go into the password field.

So I was not able to use my installed system to test Elive. Such a small bug but such an annoying one. Anyway, I decided to boot Elive in VirtualBox and see how well it worked there. It may have been a VMWare keyboard problem so I won’t hold the login problem against Elive though it is the first time I’ve ever seen it happen.

The install went fine on VirtualBox but I ran into the same login problem. I could not tab to the next field nor could I use my trackball to move the cursor. Oh well. I booted back into the Live CD to finish the rest of the review.

I did not like having to download the Installer Module. While it wasn’t a problem for me it has the potential to throw newbies off or otherwise intimidate them. They may not understand why they are being asked to do this or how to proceed. I think the install routine needs to be changed so that downloading that module is not necessary.

I also did not particularly care for the Elive Panel (Elive’s control panel). When you start it you’ll see three icons and an odd scrolling ticker type thing at the bottom. When you pass your cursor over an icon it tells you what it does by scrolling text in the ticker at the bottom of the panel window. Ugh. I detest scrolling text and I particularly don’t like it in a control panel. It’s not cool, it’s just annoying.

Clicking one of the icons will take you to more choices in the control panel. And, again, if you put your cursor over the icon you’ll see the text scrolling at the bottom. I just don’t like this at all. It would make much more sense to have simple text under each icon so you could easily see what it does without having to sit through scrolling text.

One last gripe, OpenOffice is not installed by default. One of my pet peeves as readers who have read my other reviews know by now.


Final Thoughts & Who Should Use It
Elive has its virtues but I am not going to recommend it for newbies to Linux. The install needs to be streamlined a bit and brought into line with Ubuntu’s. Experienced users won’t be thrown off by downloading the install module but newbies might. It’s just something that sticks out like a sore thumb in a distribution that should be more elegant with it’s install routine.

Experienced users with older or slower computers who are looking for alternatives to the usual distros might find Elive useful, particularly if the Enlightenment window manager holds any appeal as an alternative to KDE or Gnome.

If you have any questions about Elive be sure to visit the Elive discussion forum.

Picture 6

Summary Table:

Product: Elive 1.9.35 (Unstable)
Web Site: http://www.elivecd.org/
Price: Donation required to download stable version (see download page for details & current policy). Unstable version free for download.
Pros: Uses the Enlightenment window manager.
Cons: Control panel (Elive Panel) uses ugly and annoying scrolling text.
Summary: Elive is a unique distribution that offers a potential alternative for those who prefer the Enlightenment desktop environment. The install routine and the control panel both need some work, however.
Rating: No rating as this is an unstable release.

Edit: Fred Flinstone, one of our readers, pointed out in the comments that you just need to hit the enter key to move the cursor into the password field at the Elive login screen. Thanks, Fred. I wish I’d tried that earlier. I think the login screen should be changed though so that using the tab key or a mouse or trackball to move the cursor into the password field is possible. It’s just not necessarily intuitive using the enter key alone. After hitting the enter key, I had no problems logging in or using the installed version of Elive.