Friday 27th January 2006
So, after that rather long installation, what is the desktop actually like? To start with, it has the panel at the top of the screen, which goes against most defaults in distributions, although this isn't really a bad, nor good, point. There is also an applet at the bottom of the screen, which provides launchers for a few programs, and the KDE menu. I'm not particularly fond of this - it will magnify the icon you hover over, and the others around it, meaning that the icons keep moving around. I'm sure some people will like it, and it does make things look nicer, but I feel it is a bit of unneeded complexity.
The KDE menu itself isn't organised wonderfully either. It can be hard to find the configuration screen you want - there are various sections, including System Settings, System Tools, Utilities, Control Centre, and Settings. For a distribution that should be making life easy, there are a great many seemingly similar menus. Personally, I have no idea when something would go in Settings, rather than System Settings, or Systems Tools rather than Utilities.
Speaking of settings, I couldn't get file sharing to work. In Konqueror, in the properties menu of a directory, there is a Share tab. Within that tab is a button that reads 'Configure File Sharing'. You click it, then enter the root password and... nothing happens. There is also the Fox Control Centre (not to be confused with the Control Centre in the KDE menu, which is for KDE), with a tab called Network Administration. I click the relevant button to set up shares and... nothing happens. Not even a request for a root password. I ended up just using e-mail to transfer files since I didn't have a USB stick handy.
What about adding more packages? Well, the place to start is the Fox Control Centre. I click on the button to add packages, and... I get an error message, telling me 'Configuration is in read only mode'. How useful. From investigation on the Internet, I find that I need to close KSmartTray - I do, and I can now add some packages. It seems unable to connect to certain repositories, specifically Fox repositories, but it uses Fedora repositories without a problem. This allows you to install a much greater range of packages, so there should be something in there for almost any needs.
One final note on KDE is the theme. It is generally a pleasant theme, that isn't overly bright or taxing on my system. The only problem is that it is extremely difficult to read the text in the Window Bar when it is not in focus - the text is a dark grey, while the background is half black, and half dark grey. Also, in applications that use GTK, in the menus, the text is black on a dark blue background. Again, the similar colours can make it difficult for some people to read the menus.
Of course, there are other programs included, which, fortunately, seem to be both recent and stable. I've already mentioned that Fox comes with KDE 3.5, which is the latest version at the time of writing. It also comes with Firefox 1.5, and OpenOffice.org 2. The other packages are fairly unremarkable, such as KWrite and K3b. It would be nice if a few more packages were included, such as the GIMP, GAIM or Kopete. Although normally this could be countered by the ability to install these later, this is made more difficult since package installation does not work on a fresh installation. Besides, these are very popular programs, and are relatively small. Having them there by default would be useful, especially for the user migrating from Windows.
A relatively minor niggle is the quality of English, which is to be expected from what appears to be an Italian distribution. There are some phrases that don't quite make sense, such as "Hardware Monitor: View all the hardware connected, here you can't apply any modify." While this doesn't affect the usability of the system, it will make it seem less professional, and detracts from the overall quality of the distribution.
There are a few positives about FoX Linux. For example, the FoX Control Centre does allow some settings to be changed from a single starting point, which makes management of the system easier. For example, installing a printer was as simple as selecting the make and model. Although it cannot match other similar packages, such as SUSE's YaST, or the utilities found in GNOME, it is a decent enough start.
KSmartTray acts as an auto updater - it notifies of you whenever updates are available. Once I had run the software update manually, KSmartTray started working again once I turned it back on. This makes it much easier to keep the system up to date, and makes sure that you have the latest updates - which is becoming more and more crucial as exploits, viruses, and other assorted nasties constantly appear.
You may have got the impression that I didn't like this distribution... you'd be wrong. It certainly has its flaws, both in installation and when trying to set certain things up. Having said that, it does look different from most other distributions, and makes for a refreshing change. There are some things that I haven't mentioned in great detail, such as the high stability of the system, that are generally expected from modern distributions. By default, the distribution looks quite good, without being tacky or causing a significant performance hit. This can be quite important to some people, since so much can be judged on first appearances. Some of the things implemented, such as the FoX Control Centre, are reasonably useful, and hopefully future versions will prove them to be invaluable. But perhaps that's the most important thing about this distribution: the future.
You see, things don't work fantastically at the moment. The panel can be hard to be use, the auto updater (or, indeed, the manual updater) needs some jiggery pokery to get it going, not everything works, etc. Yet, if they manage to iron out these problems, FoX could become very interesting, and a very good Linux distribution - a distribution that can face others by being different, rather than having to be better outright. Having said that, they will need to have something more special than a different way to launch programs. Right now, I can't really recommend FoX above some of the bigger competitors, such as Ubuntu or Fedora Core itself. I can, however, look forward to watching FoX grow and mature.