Bodhi Linux is gorgeous, functional, and very customizable. It just so happens that's what grumpy old Linux nerds like me think Linux is always supposed to be. Let's take this Linux newcomer for a spin and learn what sets it apart from the zillions of other Linux distributions.
Like Sand Through the Hourglass
Bodhi Linux is fast-growing newcomer to the Linux distro scene. The first release was at the end of 2010, and it has attracted users and contributors at a fast pace. Do we need yet another Linux distro? Yes we do. KDE and GNOME both leaped off the deep end and left users in the lurch. KDE4 has matured and is all full of functionality and prettiness, but it's a heavyweight, and GNOME 3 is a radical change from GNOME 2, though considerably easier on system resources than KDE4. And there are all the other good choices for graphical environments such as Xfce, LXDE, Fluxbox (to me, KDE4 is Fluxbox with bales of special effects, as they share the same basic concepts for organizing workflow and desktop functionality), IceWM, Rox, AfterStep, Ratpoison, FVWM, and many more. So what value does Bodhi add? Four words: Enlightenment, minimalism, and user choice.
The first release of the Enlightenment window manager was way back in the last millennium, in 1997. The current version, E17, has been in development since 2000, which has to be a record. I predict there will never be a final release because that would spoil its legendary status as the oldest beta.
I've always thought of Enlightenment as a flexible, beautiful, lightweight window manager for developers, because my best experiences with it were when it came all nicely set-up in a distro like Elive, PCLinuxOS, Yellow Dog, and MoonOS. When I tried installing it myself I got lost, which is probably some deficiency on my part. Enlightenment is a wonderful window manager that run under big desktops like KDE, and it can run standalone. It runs on multiple operating systems and multiple hardware platforms, and it supports fancy special effects on low-powered systems. Bodhi Linux makes good use of Enlightenment's many excellent abilities.
Bodhi Linux is the creation of Jeff Hoogland, and is now supported by a team of 35+ people. System requirements are absurdly low: 300mhz i386 CPU, 128MB RAM, 1.5GB hard drive space. The minimalist approach extends to installing with a small complement of applications. I suppose some folks might prefer having six of everything to play with, but I've always liked installing what I want, instead of removing a bunch of apps I don't want. There are maybe a dozen applications I use on a regular basis, and a set of perhaps 20-some that I use less often. I don't need a giant heavyweight environment just to launch the same old programs every day. So Bodhi's minimalist approach is appealing.
Bodhi is based on the Ubuntu long-term support releases, and is on a rolling release schedule in between major releases. When the next major release comes out users will probably have to reinstall from scratch, but the goal is for Bodhi to become a true rolling-release distribution that never needs reinstallation.
Killer Feature: Profiles
One particular feature I find brilliant in Bodhi is profiles. Profiles are an Enlightenment feature, and the Bodhi team created their own custom set. First you choose from the prefab profiles: bare, compositing, desktop, fancy, laptop-/netbook, tablet, and tiling. The laptop/netbook profile looks great on my Thinkpad SL410.
The fancy profile greets you with a dozen virtual desktops and a shower of penguins, some of who sadly meet their demise (figure 1.) Then you can customize any of the profiles any way you like with different themes, Gadgets, whatever you want, and quickly switch between them without logging out. So you could have a work and home profile, a single and multi-monitor profile, a travel profile.
Given all the uproar over KDE4 and GNOME, I asked Jeff Hoogland about the future of Bodhi. He explained that disruptive change is not in the Bodhi roadmap:
"The reason for this is the way in which we utilize E17's "profiles". We recognise that a singular desktop setup is not going to satisfy all users and is far from being suitable for all types of devices. In other words if the Bodhi team sees the need to develop an alternative desktop setup for some reason, it would simply be offered in addition to our current profile selections – not replacing them. User choice is one of our mottoes."
Like KDE4 and Fluxbox, Bodhi supports desktop Gadgets (widgets in KDE4) for displaying things like weather forecast, clock, desktop pager, hardware and system monitors, and various controls. It has its own compositing manager, Ecomorph, which is a port of Compiz. This is an installable option and not included by default because it has problems on some hardware. But if it works on your system it's nice because it doesn't need a mega-super-duper CPU to support a trainload of special effects.
Bodhi comes with the Ubuntu software repositories enabled by default, plus the Bodhi repos. You can manage software with apt-get, Synaptic, or the Bodhi Linux AppCenter for installing apps from a Web page. This requires either the default Midori Web browser or Firefox, because they support the apt:url protocol. The AppCenter has package groups like the Nikhila Application Set, which has one of everything: word processor, audio player, movie editor, and several more. You can get the Bodhi Audio Pack, the Bodhi Image Pack, Bodhi Scientific Publishing, and several more. You're not stuck with the packs, but can install any of the individual applications. Applications are also sorted by category, such as Image Editing, Office Suite, Communication, and such.
Enlightenment has a bit of a learning curve, but the Bodhi folks have written a good Enlightenment Guide, and a lot of other useful documentation. I always like to ask distro maintainers why they lost their minds and decided to create their own Linux distributions. They're not the result of magic, but forethought and planning:
"While the idea to start up a minimalistic, Enlightenment based Ubuntu distro was originally my own I recruited team members before we even released our first disc. We started off with myself, Jason Peel, and Ken LaBuda. Today we have nearly forty people who contribute code and/or documentation to Bodhi, not to mention the countless people who have donated to keep our servers running! I have a rough release schedule posted here — and while that outline is flexible, I would bet it will be fairly close to reality."
Enlightenment seems like a natural fit for mobile devices, and Mr. Hoogland has plans in that direction as well:
"I would love to get Bodhi working on mobile devices eventually. We have a functional ARM branch that I have successfully booted on the Genesi Smartbook, HP Touchpad, Nokia N900 and ArchOS Gen8 devices to name a few. Sadly though other than then Genesi all these devices lack some functionality due to closed source hardware. We are simply ready and waiting to get our ARM branch with our tablet profile working on a truly open mobile device (if there are any companies out there interested in producing such a device they shouldn't hesitate to contact me)!"
Visit Bodhilinux.com for good documentation, forums, and downloads.