Frugalware 1.4 Nexon

I’ve gotten a fair number of requests to look at Frugalware in the past so I decided to take a peek at Frugalware 1.4 (Nexon). Frugalware has always had a reputation for not being very accessible to newer Linux users or those who simply wanted an easy to use desktop version of Linux. This release goes at least partway to making this distro accessible to more users, but more work definitely needs to be done on the Frugalware installer (more on that later).

Frugalware is not as well known as other distros like Ubuntu, etc. So I’ve included some background information below to get you up to speed if this is the first time you’ve heard of Frugalware. Yes, we do get some folks here on DLR coming from other platforms that sometimes aren’t familiar with various distros. So I like to include a bit of background links & information to help give them an overview of what the distro is all about. If you’re a Frugalware veteran you can skip down to the What’s New section of this page.

Frugalware is based on Slackware. Here’s a brief snippet from the Frugalware Wikipedia page:

Frugalware was founded in 2004 by Miklós Vajna. He considered Slackware’s package manager pkgtools too slow, and wanted to rewrite it in C. He was told that it would never be accepted by Slackware, so Vajna started to think about founding a separate Linux distribution. He replaced Slackware’s original package manager, init scripts and build system. As a result, Frugalware was born.

For more background on Frugalware and a list of commonly asked questions please see the Frugalware summary page.

Question:  What branches does Frugalware have?
Answer:  We have a current and a stable branch. The current branch is updated daily, and we update our stable branch around every 6 months.

Question:  What is “The Frugalware Philosophy” about?
Answer:  Briefly: simplicity, multimedia, design. We try to make Frugalware as simple as possible while not forgetting to keep it comfortable for the user. We try to ship fresh and stable software, as close to the original source as possible, because in our opinion most software is the best as is, and doesn’t need patching.

Question:  What is the license of Frugalware?
Answer:  That’s two questions. Most software included in Frugalware have a GPL or BSD compatible license, for more information about a license of a specific package, refer to the LICENSE or COPYRIGHT file in the source tarball of the package. On the other hand, the part written by our team (FrugalBuild scripts, setup, homepage, etc) is released under GPL license. To make it even more complicated, some parts of the setup and init scripts are written by Patrick J. Volkerding. We GPL our additions, but Patrick J. Volkerding’s code is still under the BSD license. For more information, refer to the COPYRIGHT file in the root directory of the FST (Frugalware Source Tree).

Frugalware Site

The Frugalware Site

What’s New In This Release
Here’s a sample of the new features in this release:

  • Updated packages: Linux kernel 2.6.37, Xorg server 1.9, GNOME 2.32, KDE SC 4.5, Drupal 7, Python 2.7 to name a few major components.
  • Missing koffice localization packages are back (they were missing since the integration of KDE4).
  • New LCD font rendering available in GNOME. If you use digital video output, this will improve font appearance.
  • OSSv4 has been added. Feel free to try it out if you have issues with ALSA.
  • systemd is now available as an alternative of sysvinit (see its wiki page for more info).
  • netconfig now supports mobile 3g connections though wvdial
  • Booting from virtio devices is now supported, as long as you use a separate /boot partition. (see here for details)
  • The GUI installer is now part of the default net/cd/dvd installer images, you don’t have to download a separate image to use it.

For a larger list of changes you can view the changelog page on the Frugalware site.

I think that the most interesting thing for average desktop users is the default inclusion of a GUI installer. In the past you would have had to download a particular image to get that in Frugalware but now it’s available to anybody who wants to use it. Most desktop users obviously would probably prefer to avoid a command line installer. So it’s nice to see this added to Frugalware across the board.

Does it mean that Frugalware is shifting from its intent to support intermediate to advanced Linux users as its main focus? I don’t know but I always like the idea of making a distro accessible to more people. As a desktop platform it’s important for Linux to broaden its base so I’m pleased whenever I see distro developers move in the direction of potentially making their offering more appealing.

Hardware Requirements & Installation

Hardware Requirements
I could not find a coherent list of requirements on the Frugalware site. There’s a lot of documentation available, but I could not find a simple list of requirements. If you want to try to dig it up, here’s a link to the documentation page. Perhaps you’ll have better luck than I did. I may have missed it as I have little patience these days for spending time hunting around for something as basic as the hardware requirements.

The DVD install ISO file for Frugalware weighed in at a chunky 4.6 GB. You get quite a bit of software though (see the software section for more details) so don’t let the download size discourage you.

Installation
If Frugalware has an Achilles heel, it’s the installer. It’s very primitive compared to other distros and desperately needs an overhaul to modernize it and make it more attractive and easier to use. The screenshots below walk you through the install, from beginning to end.

Install Boot Menu

Install Boot Menu

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Booting & Login
Here’s what the boot and login menus look like:

Boot Menu

Boot Menu

Login

Login

The Desktop
The Frugalware desktop has three icons on it (Home, Computer and the Trash). I don’t count the Install CD. As I noted at the beginning of the review, I opted for the GNOME desktop since I prefer it to others.

The interface is pretty much what you’d expect in a GNOME desktop environment. The top panel has Applications, Places and System menus, along with the date a few other things. Applications are divided into the appropriate categories and it’s easy to find what you’re looking for to actually use your system.

Desktop

Desktop

Applications

Applications

Themes
All the usual themes are included though there’s nothing special to wow you. And there’s no link in the themes menu to go online to get more of them, so you’ll have to find sites yourself if you want to download more.

Themes

Themes

Wallpaper
The default Frugalware wallpaper is rather bland and doesn’t really give this distro any kind of a brand identity beyond the Frugalware log. The other wallpaper that is included is standard stuff so you’ll have to forage on your own to find some cool stuff.

Wallpaper

Wallpaper

Admin Tools

System Management
Here’s what you’ll find to control your system:

System

System

Settings

Settings

Bundled Software

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

Games
Bomber
Granatier
Kapman
Kollision
KSnake
KTron

There are actually quite a few games that come with Frugalware; I’ve just listed a few here. The games are broken down into the following categories:

Arcade
Board Games
Card Games
Games for Kids
Logic Games
Tactics & Strategy

Graphics
Geegie
GIMP
Gtkam
Gwenview
KolourPaint
KSnapshot
Okular
Ristretto
KColorChooser
KRuler

Internet
DBPedia References
Ekiga Softphone
Firefox
gFTP
KGet
KNemo
KNetAttach
Konqueror
Kopete
KPP
KRDC
Krfb
Pidgin IM
Thunderbird
XChat IRC

Multimedia
Brasero
Dragon Player
juK
K3b
Kaffeine
KsCD
Mixer
Movie Player
MPlayer
Rhythmbox
Sound Recorder
Volume Control

Office
Dictionary
Evolution
LibreOffice 3.3
Okular
Xgnokii

Software Management
Frugalware uses the pacman package manager which is labeled in Frugalware as Gfpm (graphical frugalware package manager). Gfpm is most definitely less attractive than the Software Center in Ubuntu or the Software Manager in Linux Mint. You can’t rate or review packages either. However, given that Frugalware is aimed at intermediate Linux users, this is probably not much of a concern to them. Gfpm is quite functional.

You can easily search, see details about a package, files and view a changelog. You can also tweak your preferences to adjust how Gfpm works. So although it won’t win any awards for slickness, Gfpm definitely gets the job done.

Gfpm

Gfpm

Gfpm Preferences

Gfpm Preferences

Adding & Removing Software
It’s easy to manage your software in Gfpm. Just find the package and click on it. Then click the Install This Package or Remove This Package button. A menu will popup that offers you the option to skip dependency checks and/or to download only without actually installing the package. I had no problems installing or removing software.

 

Sound and Multimedia
YouTube & Flash
I had no problems running YouTube videos in Firefox. I also tried Amazon’s Instant Video and it worked perfectly in HD. Sound and video looked great in Frugalware.

Amazon does not seem to note or acknowledge that its Instant Video product seems to work fine in Linux (as long as flash is installed). So I’m happy to note it here since I recently signed up for Amazon Prime and it includes unlimited access to tons of movies and TV shows for $79 per year. I am glad to support products and services that work in Linux and I hope others will consider doing so too.

Amazon Instant Video

Amazon Instant Video in Linux

YouTube

YouTube

Multimedia Applications
Frugalware doesn’t lack when it comes to multimedia applications. Brasero Disc Burner, Dragon Player, various K apps, Rhythmbox and others should meet the needs of most desktop users. There are also additional packages available in the multimedia section of Frugalware’s package manager. The multimedia applications in the package manager are split into two categories: multimedia and multimedia-extras. So check the extras category on the odd chance you can’t find something you’re looking for in the main section.

Multimedia

Multimedia

Multimedia Extras

Multimedia Extras

Problems & Headaches
Overall, there’s not much to complain about in Frugalware 1.4. My system was stable and fairly quick, there wasn’t noticeable lag or instability.

The biggest problem I see with Frugalware is that its installer still lags behind. It’s ugly and comes across as primitive compared to other distributions. I suspect it’s a big turnoff to some desktop users.

Where To Get Help
Please take a moment to register for the DLR forum; everybody is welcome. Feel free to post a message in the forum and we’ll do our best to point you in the right direction. The forum contains discussions about Linux, as well as 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 Frugalware documentation, discussion forums, community page and bug tracker.

Final Thoughts & Who Should Use It
According to its site, Frugalware’s is “…designed for intermediate users (who are not afraid of text mode).” In that sense, Frugalware has very much succeeded in its mission and I really can’t argue with it being geared toward intermediate users. The distro’s site is very up front and honest about it so you should not download Frugalware expecting it to be as slick or easy to install as Linux Mint or other distros.

However, since the developers have taken the time to create a pretty good distribution, I’d like to appeal to the Frugalware developers to take the next step and come up with a better installer. Making the install easier and more comfortable will help expand the reach of Frugalware. This may not be something the developers are interested in, but it’s definitely something I’d like to see.

If you’re an intermediate or advanced user, Frugalware is definitely worth checking out. If you’re a bold & curious beginner and you want to take it for a test spin in a VM, go for it. At the very least you’ll learn some things you didn’t know before and you’ll get a taste of a distro that’s a bit different than of the other desktop distros you might have encountered. If you’re a beginner that is just looking for an easy installer, it’s best if you avoid Frugalware.

What’s your take on this distro? Tell me in the comments below. Visit Eye On Linux for Linux opinion columns and distro quick looks; visit JimLynch.com for other technology coverage.

Summary Table:

Product: Frugalware 1.4 Nexon
Web Site: http://frugalware.org/
Price: Free
Pros: Good software selection; includes LibreOffice 3.3 as its office suite.
Cons: Ugly and primitive installer.
Suitable For: Intermediate and advanced users.
Rating: 3/5