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Belenix Live CD 0.3 - a Review

Date/Time Permalink: 03/26/06 05:17:36 am
Category: Reviews


NOTE: The following is now outdated. I have been informed that Nexenta was ahead of Belenix at the time this was written, and further Belenix 0.4 came out something like five minutes after I posted this review, and 0.4 neatly cured nearly every problem I discussed here, most notably by adding another 1.5 gigs of software to the distro. Yes, I promise to visit Solaris again; I wouldn't dream of denying myself the enjoyment. But right now, I need to get these old posts ported from my old blog, and the whole "tour of non-Linux FOSS" thing comes in one big chunk...

I am back from a great safari, dear geekdom, and I have many tales to tell of exotic adventures in faraway lands away from the Great Penguin. All this week, I'll be reviewing Open Source operating systems that are *not* Linux.

A disclaimer: I'm going to soften blows where I can. After all, I'm mainly a Linux user, and each of these systems would be better managed in the hands of a user who had run that system before. I tried hard to pick the best live CD that seemed the most advanced for that platform. And in the case of Solaris, given Sun's excruciating history, I actually want to encourage them in their efforts to go Open Source. Belenix is young, yet, not even going up to 1.0.

So, Belenix. The first thought that I flashed on upon booting this live CD is the jargon file reference to "Slowlaris". Belenix boots slow. I mean sloooooooooooow. I thought Ubuntu was a freight train in low gear, but Ubuntu flies past Belenix. When you're not to a GUI desktop yet, and you're saying "Windows NT would have been up and crashing already!", you know you're talking about slow. I'm told this is partly due to debug mode being turned on by default. But even after booting to a desktop, it performed slower than Fedora Core 4 with full whistles and bells.

Another speed problem is that Belenix doesn't use your installed swap partitions (because, duh, they're Linux partitions), and is super-conservative about using your RAM. It's a disk-access for every mouse-click. I might as well have been sending mouse clicks by telegraph and getting the postcards of the desktop back in the Sunday mail.

"Booting to a desktop" - that only happened on one machine I tried it on. The other machine never actually got there: after nearly an HOUR of watching it buzz at each individual task (starting xfce.......starting panel......starting, ah, um, oh yeah, the taskbar....) I gave up. I tried it again there with just a console boot, and this time it got stuck in an infinite loop noshing on memory errors and disk-read timeouts. My newer machine it had better luck with, but the primary difference between the two is not RAM, but motherboard and CDROM drive. So, it favors LITE-ON over TOSHIBA, and it tends to get lost in the motherboard controllers.

Once again, there are reasons for this. For heaven's sake, this is actually pretty good performance for an operating system that only ran on SPARC workstations for the first 20 years of it's life, and only just tasted x86's in the last couple years. So Solaris on AMD/Intels is still a work in progress, and I'm happy that it's at least begun.

Now for the biggest bone to pick: once I found a machine that it liked and twiddled my thumbs long enough for a desktop to eventually come up, I had my worst nightmare when it comes to trying out distros, what I call "the Ubuntu experience". Where I'm going "This is IT? Where's the REST of the programs? I wasted a whole CD just for this? What did they do with that 696 MB of iso, fill it with air?" No kidding, Damn Small Linux actually comes with more stuff in 50 MBs than Belenix did with 696 (whoops, there's one of those unfair Linux comparisons I said I shouldn't make...). Belenix has:

Xfce desktop, Firefox 1.5 (bare naked, not even a theme tossed in), GAIM, GVIM as the *only* editor, Thunderbird, Bash, a full compliment of x-screensavers(???), Image Magick as the *only* graphics program, awk, rxvt, and Perl. Exactly ONE game: Supertux. DTrace, which is touted as a toolkit to tune the performance of processes, and about which I could care less. It comes with about ten man pages. And about enough console-mode bin-utils to fill a busybox.

No kidding, that's the whole list! Most of the directories are empty. I got tired of reading "command not found" in the terminal awfully quick. Sorry, but I'll put up with just about every other annoyance in a distro, but doing this to me makes me feel like I bought a ticket to Disneyland only to get inside the gates and discover just three rides in it. Besides the Solaris kernel and it's helper applications, every byte on this disk is GNU programs...so why not include some *more* GNU programs? Hello, they're free?

Most disappointingly, considering that this is a Sun derivative we're talking about, is there was nothing having anything to do with Java, Sun's much-prized programming language. A jdk, a Java IDE, even a free pdf book *about* Java would have been nice, here. A whole suite of cool Java programs and toys, even demos, would have been ideal. Since Sun is determined to hang onto Java with such a death-grip, they could treat OpenSolaris as a vehicle to sell Java to the masses - put some nifty apps in it to *show* me what's so great about the language you're trying to sell. So they put Perl on it instead, almost as if to say that Perl were better.

Sun Microsystems...when will we ever get through to you? The rest of us have run ahead and settled the promised land you set out to sail for...and you STILL haven't gotten here! Your first toddling step is OpenSolaris... very good, but if only you'd made that decision 20 years ago and saved yourselves becoming damn near extinct, you could have been in a very powerful position right now...you could have been GNU/Linux with money!

Anyway, that's my first visit to Solaris-land. When it's all said and done, the fact that the Free/Open Source software world has a new open kernel to tinker with and port applications to is a cause for rejoicing. If this were a Linux distro we were talking about, I'd say "I'll check back in a year and see where you're at then." But it's Solaris-land, so I'll make that about five years. If only our childhoods went by this slowly!

For a different opinion on Belenix, All About Linux has also reviewed it.

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