Review: Gnoppix .8.2.2 on Toshiba Satellite 2805-S603
As a LiveCD, it's decent, though its detection of my laptop's hardware is spotty. There are things that I wouldn't have thought any Linux distro in the world could be able to autodetect, but this one does (namely, nearly all of the Fn keys and their purposes), Oddly enough, although I don't really use my laptop's function keys anyway. But the CD otherwise doesn't account for important hardware. It won't initialize my sound card, despite having correctly identified it and having the drivers for it. It interfaces weirdly with my screen, meaning the whole thing is slightly, slightly fuzzed, though that just may be the way the X11 graphical system works with my Gnome desktop. I don't think Gnome or KDE (the other major choice of visual interface) draws fonts and shapes on screen as well as Windows does. And I can't change the fonts in use because I am limited to what's on the CD, which does not include my Windows fonts like Verdana or Arial or what have you (though I can browse to their folder on hda1).
Oh, and there's only one music player that comes with the CD; it's rather like iTunes, but much more limited, I think. In fairness, I think this version of Rhythmbox might be stripped-down for space reasons, though it should still be functional. It can pull up my hard drive's My Music folder, recognize the .mp3s, but it petulantly refuses to play them, saying "no plug-in could be found to play files of type .mp3."
Oh, and even if it did, I can't get sound working. ALSA simply doesn't work. When starting up the CD in expert mode, the bootloader asked me if I wanted to reconfigure my sound options. I selected "Y", but then a message flashed up saying the command to launch the sound config file couldn't be found. What the crap?!?! The same thing happened on the graphics reconfig option. Poorly done, Gnoppix. So it doesn't matter if I choose "Y" or "n" at that point; the end result is that the loader keeps plodding through its tasks.
Well, this is only version .8.2.2. Still, I have audio woes (and the CD lacks alternative .mp3 players that might actually work, like XMMS does on Knoppix), video woes--which are important, since my eyes aren't too good--that I don't think Gnome 2.8 can properly address, lack of fonts (which is a REAL pain when trying to view websites; Gnoppix simply doesn't have Verdana installed, which is the most common font on the internet, and Bitstream Vera Sans & Sans simply look terrible), and an erratic bootloader. I almost forgot to mention that if I let Gnoppix start up on its own, without switching to a verbose expert mode, the visual loader hangs right as the progress bar (familiar to me, as a Windows user) is almost complete, and Gnoppix freezes entirely. I have to kill the power and reboot into the DOS-like "expert mode" screen in order to make Gnoppix work.
My overall impression is that though Gnoppix has some very nice things going for it, its recent switch to make use of the Ubuntu Linux distribution (itself based on the venerable Debian) feels too rushed; Ubuntu, Gnome, and the 2.6 Linux kernel are all poorly integrated. While ordinarily I appreciate the fact that Gnome-based LiveCDs come with a much more streamlined interface than KDE (which has, literally, about 5 different ways to configure the exact same options, all available from the same Start menu), Gnoppix actually needs more variety. It comes with Mozilla Firefox (a nice touch), The GIMP, Gaim, built-in networking support (including Windows-based networks, courtesy Samba), Evolution mail, and OpenOffice. However, in my CD at least, OpenOffice doesn't launch; neither do several other applications. Oh, and Rhythmbox freezes every time I use it after just a short amount of time, especially if I try to connect to any of the internet radio stations featured in its playlist. Yeah, good job on that one.
And I know this isn't because I burned a bad CD image of an incomplete download; I did some very thorough md5 checksums, and the ISO was perfect. When reading some of the bootup text as it flashed by, I noticed that several times the CD referred to directories that didn't exist as it tried to load the operating system; a couple of times it even looked for files under a "/knoppix/" directory. Methinks a Gnoppix programmer forgot to clean up his source files when compiling the ISO, or something.
If Gnoppix were to fully integrate its various pieces, it'd be a better distribution. As it is, my eyes are strained by looking at slightly blurred fonts due to either improper X config (or the fact that it can't be reconfigured, as the files are on the CD) or the way Gnome works. I hope it's not the latter; I don't want to have to use KDE with a distribution, though it does draw fonts slightly better and provides more GUI-based options for changing the visuals. See, it's not just the fonts that are slightly blurred (even when using subpixel hinting for my LCD screen), it's the fact that even buttons and scrollbars and borders are somewhat blurred. Nothing is as crisp, sharp, or as eye-soothing as Windows. Even KDE does a better job, though I have no idea what contributes to this experience. Even the font in this forum entry window is decidedly blurred all over the place; I can't get a single crisp line anywhere. I don't know if this is improper alphablending, lack of it, or something else. I can't hear anything either because sound doesn't work. My laptop's essential internet key doesn't work.
The built-in "eraserhead" mouse does work, as does my attached USB mouse. Internet does work. Rhythmbox, OpenOffice, and my Toshiba's "internet" key (located above my now useless Windows key) and Windows Media Player keys (located above the internet key) do not. Granted, there are programs that let me assign actions to those keys. But there's no way to install those programs. So many possibilities to making my system work for me, but no way to implement them. Oh, if only I could actually tweak Gnome, beginning with changing the color of text when I highlight it with my mouse. Ugh. Anything highlighted disappears into a bright wash of too-similar colors, rendering the selected option/text painfully invisible. All my Gnome woes could probably be corrected with some informative online HOWTO reading and judicious text editing, but that doesn't work for LiveCDs.
Final Gnoppix score: 6/10.