Who's Colonel Panic? Is he any relation to General Failure?

grml - 0.6 - a review

Date/Time Permalink: 04/14/06 11:13:48 am
Category: Reviews

grml screenshot 1

"Dumb Linux down!" That's all I hear these days. Turn it into 'I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-Windows!', eliminate everything about it that's cool, burn it to the ground. The mob does throng in the streets with it's bloodthirsty chant. And in a world where Ubuntu is too Fischer-Price for you, and everybody says it's still too advanced for them, where's a beleaguered hacker to turn?

grml. grml understands me. grml roars in the face of all those Linux-bashers. This feisty little distro was only just born a year and a half ago, but with new releases cranked out at a ferocious clip of 2-3 months, you can barely stay on top of it. It shows a fanatical devotion to the core ideals of the Free Software community. It is, at long last, a Linux distro not for the new adopter, not for those who wish their computing to be bland as baby food, but a distro for the hardcore Linux zealot!

So forgive the outdatedness of this review. Only three months have passed since 0.6, I snarfed and burned it intending a quick review, and instead have taken to it like the One True Grail it is. It's taken me this long to explore all the stuff that's cut out of other distros but is included here, in order to write a competent review. And no sooner do I have the standard three screenshots taken and get around to finally writing this, and I see on distro-watch that 0.7 just hit the Net. However, I perceive that there isn't that much difference between them; everything I have to say about it here should still apply. Cut me some slack, here, I'm not made out of blank CDs and bandwidth, yah know? Sniveling duly done; onward.

grml screenshot 2

Don't be led astray by the screen shots - grml sports all of evilwm, ion3, PWM3, ratpoison (see my ratpoison guide here), Twm, w9wm, WindowLab, and WMI, in addition to the Fluxbox you see here. Fluxbox is the eye-candy, so it's the one I pick for screenshots. But who has time for the desktop when the console's such an exciting show? Web browsing includes Firefox (WITH the most important plugin, the web-developer's toolbar, already installed!!!), Dillo, links, and enough web applications to gag a hippo, in addition to the w3m running transparently seen here.

Hey, uh, you like to code, right? What's your favorite shell? Never mind, grml's got it: Ash, Bash, Csh, Dash, Es, fish, Kiss, Ksh, MirBSD ksh, PD ksh, Pdmenu, posh, Psh, rc, Sash, Sh, tcsh, Zsh. What's your favorite language? Well, with your pick of Python, Ruby, Tcl/Tk/wish, gcc, php5, Perl, and the standard mini-tools like sed, awk, and curl, I'm sure you'll have something to hack on. Editors number past every flavor of Emacs and vi I have ever even heard of, to Jed, Joe, Nano, Xedit, Zile, and Sam. With Sam, the rc shell, 9base, and the w9wm window manager, you can get a pretty decent plan9 emulation going here.

grml screenshot 3

Speaking of emulators, check it out: Altair Z80, DEC PDP's 1, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 15, DG Nova, GRI-909, Honeywell 316/516, HP 2100, IBM 1401, 1620, and System3, Interdata 16 + 32 bit, LGP, SDS 940, VAX, and twin. All on tap from the desktop menu. With docs in /usr/share/doc/simh, viewable with zless. If you weren't an expert on the history of computing before, you will be after fully exploring grml.

Toys? Well, nethack, some text tetris, and various sundry amusements you've seen before. But when's the last time you used flite to make your computer speak? (Use it to record your outgoing phone message; that'll baffle everybody. ) Or generated your name in big ASCII font with figlet? For that matter, use

"figlet [your text] | text2gif > your_text_logo.gif"

to make a fast web banner...

simple logo example

We also have a smooth running aalib with asciiview to turn any picture into ASCII-art. Whoops, almost forgot cowsay and fortune...In fact, I'd put grml on the same level as Knoppix for *number* of installed programs, just with the bloated stuff like KDE replaced with as many small toys as they could cram into that space, which turned out to be a heck of a lot.

Now don't get the idea that things are primitive, here. It's a Debian-based distro, in fact sticks closer to Debian ideals than Knoppix or Damn Small. So anything you want after installing, just apt-get your heart's desire. By the way, we have here Knoppix's hardware detection, but have left behind Knoppix's tendency to be only comfortable on a CD. grml can install both to hard drive and USB, and it's tools for doing so are quite easy.

Do I recommend this distro? Hell, I think it should be taught in schools! But that's just me and my little minority of people who know what computing's really all about. Look for us at the next Hacker-pride parade, where we'll be coming out of the closet with our pony-tails and sandals and intellectual Tshirts and of course, our stubby typing fingers proudly displayed for all the world to see. You can't miss me; I'll be carrying the One True Grail.

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