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Belenix 0.4.3 - a review

Date/Time Permalink: 05/13/06 11:07:22 am
Category: Reviews

"Solaris is going open!", the cries rang out from the rooftops only a couple of years ago. Hallelujah! Sun Microsystems is finally heeding the call of a generation of home users telling them to lighten up, already. Maybe Java's next? And then came the idea of releasing Solaris distros for home users just like we do with Linux distros. Which brings us to Belenix 0.4.3.

Back when I reviewed Belenix 0.3, I had plenty of gripes. There's something about my hardware that all Solaris binaries must absolutely hate, despite the fact that I've successfully run everything from Knoppix/ Fedora/ Mandriva/ Slackware/ grml/ Elive Linux distros (to name only a few of fifty) to weird stuff like plan9 and ReactOS without issue. I don't know what it is. I buy my motherboards at the same consumer outlets everybody else seems to use, and I put RAM sticks in there that look normal to me, and I don't even go out to get a video card without first researching it for maximum compatibility. I run AMD chips. I neither make my hardware too outdated nor too bleeding edge. Everything that has "x86" stamped on it always works fine.

Here again, to my disappointment, is a review without screenshots. I'm sure that I could have at least gotten them this time. But I am not a young man anymore. There's only so much I can take of clicking on a menu item or icon, then listening to my CD-drive go "BBBBZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ" for ten minutes while the Belenix sun-god regards me with a toothy, mocking grin from the desktop wallpaper, only to get a window that will freeze up every two or three seconds for the duration of it's usage, which is frequently terminated by a desperate invocation of a kill command just to get things moving again. Even other reviewers have commented on Belenix's performance issues, but I especially am ill-equipped to deal with a slow machine; I go batty. Bananas. Apepoop. Postal.

OK, let's try to cheer up for a minute: are there at least improvements visible since 0.3? Yes! There's enough software on it now to qualify as a fuller distro; due mostly to their grabbing KDE 3.5 in one glob and slinging it on there. The downside being that KDE isn't known to help a laggy system. They're improving this area. They have a few things to add (more docs? more of the GNU userland tools? POVray to go with KPOVmodeler?), but they're coming along. There's a batch of new goodies on there besides KDE programs. If you're (a) running on an IBM Bluegene-L, or (b) an immortal godlike being with all eternity to kill, be sure to check them out.

The enabling of a non-debug boot option helped a lot. At least as far as booting goes, this shaved the ten-minute boot down to about five, which puts it in the same class as Ubuntu or a particularly loaded Knoppix. For console login (recommended!) the *only* login possible is "root", whose password is "belenix", and there isn't even a "/home" directory in existence, so you're root or nothing. It would be nice if this login/password tidbit were printed at the login prompt, since it's the only option anyway.

Even in the console I noticed things a little slow and feature-bare, and that really tells you something. "info" brought up only two nodes, and normally "info" is the first thing I type at a console in a new distro. "info" is invaluable to any first-time user to be able to quickly discover what they have and how to use it. The console fails to recognize extended keypresses; pressing Alt-F2 or "End" greets one only with garbage characters and a beep - and my keyboard should be fine on US-EN encoding. Emacs would be nice; since Emacs' "dired" mode is another fine discovery utility I use to browse the system. "Locate" is another suggestion. I work around lack-of-locate on Live CDs by saying "ls -R / > dirlist" and then grepping the "dirlist" file for keywords, which isn't as efficient. "apropos": it was present! So when I tried apropos to find something, it tells me it couldn't find it's data files and dies. And getting back to pressing "Alt-F2": apparently, not even virtual terminals are supported? You mean I only get ONE console screen? For the first time in my entire life a Unix system is actually going to expect me to SINGLE-TASK???

Believe me, I wish with all my heart that I could have better things to say. I'm still looking forward to seeing Open Solaris grow up, even to one day contend with Linux and BSD. Even though it doesn't make much sense on examination, I've always been a fan of Sun microsystems and even Java. It's *cool* to have an old hand like Sun in the open-source vineyards with the rest of us. I keep envisioning innovations and cross-pollination of ideas; after all of the exciting software to come out of BSD, Linux, and GNU mixing around, it can only get more interesting with the addition of Solaris to the formula. As Technewsworld.com recently asked - "Can Open Source Save Sun?" - we're hoping for everything that it will. There's scads of geeks jumping around and cheering Solaris on; the developers should be swamped with volunteers. Unfortunately, I keep reaching into my stocking every year and pulling out this lump of coal.

Maybe next year, Belenix, maybe next year!

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