"I'm basically a very lazy person who likes to get credit for things other people actually do." - Linus Torvalds

Dreamlinux 2.2

Wednesday 28th February 2007

Categories: Reviews, GNU/Linux, FLOSS

Configuration

Dreamlinux does not really have all that much in the way of configuration utilities - certainly, Dreamlinux's Control Panel is no YaST or PCLinuxOS Control Center. For instance, if you change your monitor or made an error selecting a resolution when booting the LiveCD, there is no easy way to change the resolution, for instance from 1024x768 to 1280x1024. Similarly, there is no way to easily edit /etc/fstab or the partitions of the hard drive.

The utilities from GNOME seem to be installed, making setting up the network extremely easy, something that you will have to do if you want to use the network at all, as mentioned earlier. Although setting up shares is relatively straightforward using Shared Folders from GNOME, it fails to tell you that the service samba has to be enabled for the shares to actually appear on the network.

Perhaps the only part of this Control Panel that is of any great difference is the "Easy Install" section at the bottom. Here are options that allow you to easily install Google Earth, Picasa, Acrobat, Nvu, Opera and Skype. There is also a button labelled Ati/Nvidia Install. The screen this brings up has options of installing ATI flgrx, ATI Radeon and Nvidia drivers. The distinction between the two ATI drivers is never made apparent, which means that such owners may not have a clue which to choose. However, I can only try out the nvidia option. Doing so gets rid of X and dumps me at a console, but not before telling me to run nvidia-install as root. Of course, this assumes that users don't mind using the command line. Running nvidia-install does successfully install the nVidia drivers from nvidia.com, rather than those in the Debian repositories, and restarts X automatically. While this is a straightforward process, it may be intimidating to those used to the comfort of a GUI.

Plugging in my HP printer does not get it added automatically - instead, you need the menu option "Start CUPS + Printer". Doing this does indeed install the printer correctly, although two copies of the printer with slightly different names appear.

Synaptic is used for package management, which is both an excellent thing and a not-so-excellent thing. Synaptic is reliable and powerful, but it is not the most user-friendly application. While not difficult to use, there are better applications for the 'ordinary user', such as that which is included in Ubuntu. Also absent is any sort of update notifier, which is disappointing - after all, as we're constantly reminded, being protected from the nasties on the web, both programs and people, is critical.

Unfortunately, I must contradict myself here and say that Synaptic was not completely reliable, although it would not seem to be Synaptic itself at fault. Specifically, the first time the repositories were updated, it stopped progressing after a number of files had been downloaded. After hitting cancel, I was informed that bzip2 had returned an error code. After that, the downloads from both the Debian Stable and Debian Testing repositories went without a hitch. Because no locale was set during installation, wherever you are in the world, the same default repositories would presumable be used - in other words, by default, I was downloading packages from Germany rather than the more logical UK.

There are also some repositories that are available but disabled by default. Both should really be enabled by default, but neither work. The first is the repository from which multimedia packages that are not suitable for Debian proper, such as w32codecs, can be grabbed. Whereas nerim.net/debian-marillat/ was once the place for such packages, it has being debian-multimedia.org instead for some time. The second is the Dreamlinux repository, where I'd assume the packages for Dreamlinux-specific parts are kept, such as Engage. However, trying to access this repository results in a 404 error.

Conclusion

Despite the feeling you might have gotten from this article, I really want to end positively with Dreamlinux. It has a nice feel to it, runs smoothly and quickly on my AMD Athlon 1.2 GHz with 384MB of RAM, is generally stable, looks decent without being tacky or sluggish, and comes complete with a well-rounded set of applications that allow you to play virtually any media out of the box. Yet, there seem to be bumps on a lot of roads. The installer appears to be faulty, and fails to asks some rather important questions, leaving it up to the user to setup fundamentals, such as keyboard layout and networking. Engage, while a nice idea, is riddled with flaws. Although some are a question of taste, some definitely addressing. The inconsistent requirement for the root password, as well as the seemingly outdated repositories, add to the feeling that this distribution was not polished enough.

And I think that polish is what it really comes down to. By basing on Debian, a lot of groundwork is already covered - the system is stable, and has a strong basis for package management. The additions by Dreamlinux, such as the codecs and DVD playing, are bound to appeal to many, but Dreamlinux does feel rough around the edges. Sadly, it seems that the advantages of Dreamlinux are outweighed by its drawbacks. Given some tender loving care, Dreamlinux may turn out to be a distribution to watch.

Useful Links