June 24, 2005

My Workstation OS: Foresight Linux

Author: Alex Bucur

The Foresight Linux 0.8.1 distribution showcases some of the latest and greatest software from GNOME. Some of the more innovative things are included, like Beagle, F-spot, Howl, and the latest HAL -- all of this plus some clean default themes and artwork. After using Foresight for an week I decided to use it as my primary distro.

Installing Foresight is easy because it uses the same Anaconda installer used by Red Hat and Fedora Core. Unfortunately you can only choose between the minimal packages or a full install. When Anaconda finishes, you will have a GNOME 2.10 desktop with a 2.6.11.7 Linux kernel, gcc 3.3.3, and xorg 6.8.2.

One of the most innovative applications in Foresight is Conary, a distributed software management system for Linux distributions. According to its Web site:

It replaces traditional package management solutions (such as RPM and dpkg) with one designed to enable loose collaboration across the Internet. It enables sets of distributed and loosely connected repositories to define the components which are installed on a Linux system. Rather than having a full distribution come from a single vendor, it allows administrators and developers to branch a distribution, keeping the pieces which fit their environment while grabbing components from other repositories across the Internet.

Common commands in Conary are conary update packagename (for updating or installing a binary package), conary emerge packagename (experimental updating/installing of a source package), conary erase packagename (removing a package), conary q packagename (for searching for an installed package), and conary rq packagename (for searching for a remote package). If you use it to update a package, Conary will download only the things that are different and not the entire package.

All the packages of Foresight are compiled for i686 architecture, so the distribution is pretty fast. So is booting -- Foresight starts on my machine in 28 seconds.

The desktop

As long as you're a GNOME user, you'll like the Foresight desktop. The default theme is Clearlooks with a nice background. It features the GNOME 2.10 desktop, Firefox and Epiphany Web browsers, Evolution mail, GAIM instant messaging, Gnomebaker CD/DVD burning utility, Xpdf, and Evince. The default media players are Muine and Rhythmbox for the audio part and Totem for the video one. The OpenOffice.org suite isn't installed by default; instead, you have Abiword and Gnumeric. Also included are some games and other applications. Foresight doesn't contain non-free applications such as Flash, Java, and some MP3 codecs, but a Foresight Extras repository maintains those.

Despite all its good points, some Foresight components may not be mature enough for everyday use because all of them are still in early development and don't have all the functionality. I found system stability to be good; except for minor problems with Conary, everything worked fine, and I never had an system crash.

Foresight also lacks a centralized configuration tool like SUSE's Yast, though the Red Hat/Fedora configuration tools are present. I'd also like to see an improved Conary GUI.

The Foresight development team prides itself on having an excellent community of users and an accessible development team that can be contacted is various ways (forum, wiki, and mailing list).

Foresight worked as you'd expect it to for everyday usage. Hardware was correctly detected, and there were no nasty surprises. For normal desktop use, Foresight is a fine choice.

What's your desktop OS of choice? So far, we've heard from fans of FreeBSD,
Mepis
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