It's always interesting, and usually fun, to try out a new Linux distribution. I saw the announcement on DistroWatch this morning of a new release of SalineOS, and I have a bit of free time today, so this seemed like a good opportunity. It has turned out to be both - interesting and fun!
According to their web page, SalineOS is a lightweight and fast open source operating system built on the Debian GNU/Linux repositories. The current version is based on Debian GNU/Linux 6.0, with an Xfce desktop. They offer both 32-bit and 64-bit versions, from their own download page or from a SourceForge mirror. For what it is worth, I found their own download server to be very slow, and the SourceForge server to be quite fast. They also offer BitTorrent download, for those who have and prefer that.
The ISO images are hybrids which can either be burned to a DVD (too big for a CD) or copied directly to a USB stick using dd. When you boot the Live DVD/USB you will end up with a running SalineOS system, that looks like this:
While running from the Live media you can see how it looks and whether it works properly on your hardware before installing it. This can be important, because as SalineOS is based on the Debian "stable" branch, it is running Linux kernel 2.6.32 so it doesn't have drivers for some of the newest hardware. In my case, for example, it works pretty well on my Samsung NF310 (note to Moley: screen brightness is dull when running on battery, control doesn't work, but at least it doesn't go crazy), but on my HP Pavilion dm1-3105ez it doesn't have a driver for the Ralink WiFi adapter, and it doesn't get the Synaptics ClickPad right at all.
Once you have decided to go ahead and install, just double-click on the "Installer" icon on the desktop. The installer is different from any that I have seen before, I assume that they developed this one themselves. It seems more than adequate, if a bit verbose, but after a short time you will have an installed SalineOS system on your disk ready to boot. When you boot that installed system, you will get a desktop that looks exactly like the one on the Live image - even including the "Installer" icon, which I find a bit unnecessary, but just delete that if the clutter bothers you (as it does me).
There have been some interesting choices made in what software is included. With this release they have replaced wicd with Network Manager, which will probably please a lot of people. They have included the Chromium browser rather than the usual Firefox, and Icedove for mail/news. The entire LibreOffice suite is included (version 3.4.3), which is a bit unusual for a "light" distribution. For multimedia playback it has Rhythmbox for music and Parole for video, and fotoxx for digital picture management and editing. I am not familiar with either Parole or fotoxx, so those will take a bit more investigation. There is actually quite a lot more software included in the base distribution, making for interesting exploring.
Getting back to the desktop, as I said it is a pretty standard Xfce system. You can get the application menu by clicking the icon at the left of the top panel, or by right-clicking anywhere on the screen background. The menus are a simple cascading sequence, which give a decent overview of what is installed:
What really caught my eye about this desktop, though, was the relatively large number of icons on the top and bottom panels. Someone has obviously given quite a bit of thought to making the desktop easier and more convenient to use. Here is a closer look at the top panel:
Starting from the right end, those are icons for:
- Quit (Shutdown/Restart/Logout/Suspend/Hibernate) - this is one that I always have to add to the panel myself on most other distributions, so thanks for this! - Clock - Clean - Click this, and it clears the web browser cache and flash cookies. Pretty good idea! - AutoUpdate - One click to download and install any outstanding updates. Good idea! - Network Manager - Battery Status - Click to get to the Xfce Power Manager Settings - Audio Mixer - Click to get to Mixer Controls
In my opinion, that is a good selection of icons and controls - pretty much the same ones that I put on the Gnome panel myself. Now, on the bottom panel there are even more:
Starting from the left end this time, these are:
- Chromium - web browser - Icedove - mail/news - Pidgin - Chat client - LibreOffice - Launcher, leads to all components - Osmo - Personal Organizer - Calculator - Dictionary - Parole - video media player - Rhythmbox - audio media player - fotoxx - digital photograph editor - Xfburn - CD/DVD burning - Catfish - file search - Gigolo - remote filesystem utility - Xfce setting manager - Synaptic (always good to have. always. are you listening, Ubuntu?) - Terminal - another one that I always end up adding myself
Well, what they seem to have done is set up the panels to eliminate the need to go to the Xfce menus most of the time. If you are a panel fan, that can be a good thing; I have seen this done with desktop icons before, but that can make for a very cluttered looking desktop. Having them all on the panel makes things look cleaner, although I can imagine that there will be people who don't like this much stuff on the panel. In any event, it at least shows what can be done, and it is easy enough to remove if you don't like it.
Finally, because I am a stubborn old geezer, I decided to flip these panels around into my preferred Xfce configuration. I still claim that on netbook systems there is a lot more screen space available in the horizontal direction than in the vertical, so why not put the panels on the sides of the screen rather than the top and bottom? Also, if you are going to auto-hide one panel, why not hide them both? With Xfce this is very easy to change, just right-click on either panel and choose "Customize Panel". Then click one of the side segments to move the panel there, and check the Autohide box. Change the panel selection at the top of the window, and do the same again to move that panel to the other side, and activate Autohide. All done! Now, with Autohide disabled, my screen looks like this:
I really like that. I don't understand why the rest of the world doesn't think that is "The One True Desktop", at least for netbooks. Ah well. Oh, and of course when you have Autohide enabled on both panels, and you aren't using them, they disappear and you have a clean desktop to work with. Very nice.
Summary: SalineOS looks like a very good Linux distribution. It installs easily, runs well, and has all the advantages (and disadvantages) of Debian GNU/Linux. If you are looking for a new alternative, it is worth investigating.