September 25, 2007

Kind of fond of FaunOS

Author: Susan Linton

FaunOS offers a full KDE desktop system with a comprehensive set of applications as either a live DVD or a live USB flash drive. The USB format is the distro's primary focus. FaunOS is based upon Arch Linux, and ships with Arch's package management system. The more I tested FaunOS, the more impressed I was.

USB memory disks have many advantages over CD or DVD disks. They require no separate drive with movable parts, expose no data areas to become damaged, provide faster operation, and fit in a smaller space. FaunOS offers a current downloadable image at no charge for use on ordinary USB memory sticks. The distribution requires a USB stick with a minimum of 1GB capacity, as the image is 934MB. I recommend using a larger capacity device if you'd like to save your customizations.

In addition to the USB drive itself, FaunOS requires an x86 machine with at least a 500MHz CPU and 512MB RAM. If your target machine isn't bootable from a USB device, you can make a special bootstrapping CD to boot from.

The instructions for installing FaunOS to USB media are simple. Linux old-timers like me might remember using dd to install boot images to diskettes in the infancy of the operating system's development; FaunOS is installed that way. Download the image and issue one command: dd if=faunos-fortytwo-0.3.2-usb.img of=/dev/sdX (where X is your actual device). The process is easy for users and offers a high probability of user success for developers.

One of the main features of FaunOS is its ability to save any and all changes at shutdown. Any packages you install, any system tweaks, any files you create are there upon subsequent boots if you have chosen to save them.

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My first session was restored exactly as I had saved it. However, subsequent saves and reboots didn't apply my new changes. I assumed any changes would be saved to the free space left on my drive, but in actuality changes are saved on the same partition as the image. The free space available on the system partition wasn't sufficent to hold any additional saved session files.

The solution is to resize that partition after the install of the image and before you boot FaunOS the first time. I used fdisk to do that, but you can use GParted, QtParted, or any reliable partition manager. Now all my customized sessions are restored without fail.

I tested FaunOS on my HP Pavilion laptop as well as my homemade AMD 64 desktop, and FaunOS performed its hardware autoconfiguration very well. On my laptop I had to utilize Ndiswrapper to use my Ethernet adapter, and I had to load a few modules to complete powersaving options, but my sound, graphics, and keyboard, and touchpad worked upon boot. On my desktop box, the Internet connection, graphics, sound, and scanner were available at boot. Printer configuration was a two-click setup.

Even before any customizations FaunOS is a wonderfully equipped and pretty system. It starts with Linux 2.6.21, Xorg 7.2.0, and GCC 4.2.1, and includes KDE 3.5.7, OpenOffice.org 2.2.1, the GIMP 2.2.17, and Firefox 2.0.0.6, along with lots of handy software. Some of the applications include Tuxracer, Inkscape, Pidgin, Frostwire, Google Earth, MPlayer, Amarok, Juk, Codeine, and Audacity. It has lots of great system tools and utilities as well. The browsers have all the useful plugins available, and I was able to enjoy multimedia capabilities in them as well as with the desktop players. The only glitches I experienced were with Firefox, which crashed once while viewing what I suspect to be a site with buggy Flash code, and with Beryl, which was a bit buggy on my laptop and completely inoperative on my desktop.

FaunOS ships with two installers. The FaunOS installer installs the operating system onto other USB drives or a "frugal" install onto hard drives. Since Frugal installs are exact copies of the system, like booting the fresh live USB each time, unless the session is saved. In addition, FaunOS includes the Arch Linux Installer, which is a more traditional hard drive installer resembling the one found with Slackware. It installs a complete FaunOS system and the applications in use with your personal customizations found under the same username you're using in the live environment, most likely the default user guest.

Another great aspect of FaunOS is pacman, the Arch Linux package manager. The configuration files have Arch repositories already set up, so pacman is ready to sync and use. The application is similar to Debian's apt-get, and just as reliable and easy to use. Though FaunOS comes relatively complete, I installed a few packages with no trouble. If you prefer a graphical interface, you can install the Synaptic-like front end jacman with the command pacman -S jacman.

Performance is another area in which FaunOS excels. It boots in roughly 30 seconds from boot screen to desktop. At the desktop, applications open within a second or two. Even Firefox and OpenOffice.org open within a few. The menu is instantaneous, the cursor never lags, and window movement is smooth with no artifacts. I also found the system and applications to be very stable. I was pleased with the operation of FaunOS.

FaunOS's community resources include a wiki, which is a bit sparsely populated. However, there is also a discussion forum for information and questions. It appears that the developer himself answers users' questions in a timely and friendly manner.

Two improvements I'd recommend for the project are the ability to ask the user how large to make the initial partition, and whether the user might like to load the saved changes (or even have the chance to save more than one profile). Allowing user input on partition size could save confusion and difficulties pertaining to the saved sessions for the less experienced. Asking if the user might like to use the saved profile would allow the same USB stick to be used across multiple machines without issues such as having a customized xorg.conf overwritten.

As it is, FaunOS 42 is a remarkable achievement, especially considering this is only the distro's second release. It's attractive, with customized wallpaper, modern icons, agreeable fonts, tranparency, and an unconventional panel arrangement. It performs exceptionally well. Hardware support is very good. It comes with an ample and intuitive suite of software. But most importantly, it just works.

 

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