January 16, 2002

And in this corner, it's 'everyone's Linux'...

Author: JT Smith

- by Robin "Roblimo" Miller -
ELX (everyone's Linux) is almost ready for user-level desktops. The basic package installed easily on the two computers I used to test it. My first install was done at a meeting of the Suncoast LUG in Brandon, Florida. Other members also tried ELX and gave it high marks. We tested Pre-I, a far-from-finished release, and now we're eagerly awaiting ELX Pre-I release candidate-II, which probably won't have most of the bugs we saw in Pre I.

ELX is a simplified, KDE-based distribution that is very similar to Redmond Linux. Both of them have put a lot of effort into making their setup routines and default desktops as Windows-user-friendly as possible, while still including more sophisticated GUI and command line admin tools. And both are succeeding. If anything, ELX is even closer to Windows, as far as GUI- level administration, than Redmond Linux.

Here's a quote from the ELX Web site:

"Users migrating from Windows will find Elx an absolute delight as Elx retains both style and functionality of all goodies they left behind in Windows like My computer, Network Neighbourhood, Control Panel, Set up wizards etc. besides which it also provides tremendous amount of control, liberty, reliability, power and maturity which are inherently associated with LINUX."


Both ELX and Redmond Linux have cut installation choices to the bone; you start with basic functionality and little else. I give ELX points over Redmond Linux for including OpenOffice, along with AbiWord and KOffice, in its default install. But this is a temporary advantage. Joe Cheeks, of Redmond Linux, has told me Redmond is going to include OpenOffice either as part of the default install or as an option very soon.

Both have recent, fully-usable Mozilla versions, including popular plugins. Both use the KDE Control Center and Konqueror as the basis of all system controls, instead of having (visually) separate tools a la Mandrake or SuSE.

Hands-on with ELX
My friend Bill Preece had his girlfriend, Diana, do their first install of ELX, because she has less Linux experience than he does. He said Diana had no trouble at all. "The only question she asked," Bill said, "was whether she should make a boot floppy. I told her no." But then they tried to shut down the laptop on which they'd installed ELX, and it couldn't find a floppy drive and ... hung. With ReiserFS, this was an inconvenience, not a disaster. They overcame the problem by reinstalling as "default" rather than as "laptop." But they also had trouble opening OpenOffice (which I did not).


Jim, one of the Suncoast LUG members who was at the meeting where we first installed ELX, went home and tried it himself later. In an email to the group's list he wrote, "I really like it. It's smoooooooth." He also said, "The 'Network Neighborhood' works really well, and the pop-up windows are cool."

I personally encountered what we might call "inconsistencies" with the install. I tried it over and over (five times) and got slightly different glitches with each try. It always worked pretty well, but not perfectly. For example, during my five test installs, my much-loved Linksys wireless card was detected and installed correctly only twice.

In general, ELX was achingly close to full usability, but not quite "there" yet. But don't forget, this was a very early pre-release version, and no one at ELX claimed it was ready for the big-time. Abhi Datt and his ELX crew assured Bill and me that the bugs we and others spotted (I did not include a full list here) were known and that they were working to correct them.

ELX + Redmond Linux?
Every now and then I have an urge to yell at two separate groups of developers, "Would you guys please get together and cooperate instead of competing with each other?!?!"

I feel this urge very strongly with ELX and Redmond Linux. Each has areas where it is ahead of the other. Each has strengths, each has weaknesses. ELX is based in Hyderabad, India; Redmond Linux in Redmond, Washington, so they have different, probably complementary cultural perspectives. Both groups are run by very smart, very helpful people. And they are making Linux distributions that are, at least from a user's viewpoint, very similar to one another. It would be nice if they could collaborate. Perhaps some of the development resources that are now going into duplicate work could go into user-level application writing or porting, an area where Linux in general -- not just one distribution -- could certainly use help if it's going to attract more Windows users.

More to come...
This is not a full review of ELX, just a "first peek." We'll be looking at ELX again in another release or two, when it's a little more of a finished product. The next version may be ready to download by the time you read this; we hear that it's almost ready. If not, bookmark ELX and wait. It's sure to be along shortly. But keep a close eye on Redmond Linux, too. And don't forget OEone. All three are working hard to make Linux more usable for "the masses," and all three are doing a darned good job.

It's also going to be interesting to see how Red Hat, SuSE, Mandrake, and other distribution publishers react to these newcomers. Will they come out with super-stripped default menu options for brand-new users? Work on making their install routines easier? Move toward closer integration with KDE, Gnome, Mozilla or another desktop? Or will they move toward more enterprise-level offerings, and cede the basic home and small office desktop to the "next wave" of players in the user-level Linux marketplace?


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