February 5, 2008

Elive distro illustrates power, beauty of Enlightenment

Author: Mark Scheck

The Elive Linux distribution combines beauty with ease of use. Elive is based on Debian and uses Enlightenment as its windows manager, which gives the distribution a Mac OS X look and feel. Elive comes with dozens of easy-to-use desktop applications that just work.

Elive started as a live CD, but now at version 1.0 it works well as a standard hard drive installation. The latest unstable ISO, 1.5, should be released shortly.

I starting booting an Elive CD a couple of months ago so I could show off Enlightenment to a few co-workers. Then my wife got a new laptop and I inherited her old Hewlett-Packard Pavilion N5290, with a 750MHz Pentium III processor, 30GB hard drive, and a paltry 256MB of memory. At first I tried installing Solaris 10 on it, but I could never get the network interface working. Then I tried the latest version of Ubuntu, but it kept freezing in the middle of the install. I finally gave up and installed Elive in less than 15 minutes. The installation has language support for 58 languages. The old laptop now boots faster than my wife's new one running Windows Vista Home, which has a 1.6GHz Celeron M processor and 1.5GB of memory; in other words, it's twice as fast and has six times the memory of the Elive hardware.

Elive comes with many applications. Iceweasel, the unbranded version of Firefox, is the default browser, MPlayer is the video player, Oxine plays DVDs, Streamtuner lets you find Internet radio stations, and XMMS plays audio. Also included are video editors Kino and Cinelerra; sound editors ReZound, ZynAddSubFx, and Hydrogen; office programs Abiword, Xpdf, and Gnumeric;, and graphics editors the GIMP and Blender.

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Since it's based on Debian there's no shortage of additional available software titles, which you can install via the Synaptic package manager. Currently there are more than 19,000 packages available.

You can manage Elive by using the Elive Panel to change display and audio settings, add users, set up printers, and change themes, which control the look and feel of the desktop. Using the panel is a breeze even for newbies. If you hover over an icon in the panel, scrolling text on the bottom tells you what the icon represents. The panel is custom to Elive, and is one of the nice things in the distribution that makes it stand out.

Elive does a great job with hardware support. I plugged in my Canon digital camera and within minutes I had Gtkam working. All I had to do to get my network card working was go into the Elive panel and activate the wireless connection. By contrast it took an hour and a half to wrestle with my wife's Vista wireless network connection.

Still, Elive has some rough edges, notably in its applications. Iceweasel kept crashing unexpectedly; every time I clicked Send in Yahoo! Mail the browser caused a segmentation fault and crash. After searching on the Debian forums, I found that I had to disable a TrueType font setting. Another small problem came when I tried to use the Elive Essence audio streamer under the audio menu; it didn't connect to the server. Getting themes to work also was a bit of a challenge. From the Elive panel you have to go to Look n' Feel, which I looked for in the main panel with the other settings, but instead it's off alone by itself. Then the menu shows you the Enlightenment 16 and Enlightenment 17 icons, but I had no clue which one I was using. When I chose E16 and went to background selector, it would go back to the start of the Elive Panel. Also I couldn't move the Elive Panel around the desktop, which seems like a small annoyance but is painful when you're trying to see what's behind it.

Since Elive has a small core team and only one main developer, Samuel Baggen, who works on the distribution as his full-time job, the project asks for a PayPal donation before you download it.

The Elive forums are highly trafficked, and the distribution also has a lively IRC channel where 20-30 people may be asking and answering questions at any given time.

Despite some minor problems, Elive is a solid distribution that can compete in the Ubuntu/Knoppix space.

Mark Scheck is a Unix systems administrator for IPC Information Systems. He has been using Unix since SunOS days and Linux since Red Hat came on diskettes.

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