February 25, 2008

Parsix: Persian distro makes GNOME look good

Author: Susan Linton

Last month the Parsix Linux distribution made its 1.0 release after almost a year of development. Parsix is a GNOME-based distro based on the testing branch of Debian GNU/Linux with elements from Kanotix. It makes an attractive alternative to Ubuntu.

Parsix comes as an installable live CD and features GNOME 2.20.3 as the desktop. It hails from Persia, but the language and keyboard default to en_US. When you first boot the live CD, Parsix provides two handy boot options for wide-screen display resolutions. Many distros auto-detect the optimal resolution, but many don't. This approach is a great compromise, and assured that I was able to boot into my desired resolution.

Parsix's hard drive installer is one of the elements it adapted from Kanotix. When you launch it, it displays a menu with entries to Configure Installation, Start Installation, Update Installation, Partition, Load Config, Save Config, and Quit. Choose Partition if you need to set up your disks, but otherwise click Configure Installation to begin. The first screen lets you choose the install partition. The next lets you choose a preferred filesystem. The next few are for setting up user accounts and passwords, including a root password. Finally, you specify the hostname and bootloader placement. Once you finish the configuration phase you're taken back to the main menu. All that's left is to click Start Installation. My installation presented no problems and installed the bootloader as desired. It detected and included a few other operating systems installed on my machine, but not all.

After the install, I was taken to a tidy and uncluttered graphical login screen. The desktop features an unobtrusive and pretty background, attractive theme, charming sounds, hip icons, cute screensaver, and handsome fonts, all of which make for a pleasant user experience.

Hardware

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Parsix's hardware support for my Hewlett-Packard Pavilion dv6000 laptop was a mixed bag. Choosing the widescreen 1280x800 boot option worked as I hoped, and it transferred to become the default resolution for the hard drive install as well. My sound and volume buttons worked upon boot of both the live CD and hard drive install, but I had to do a bit of work to get a wireless network connection. CPU scaling was activated by default, and suspend worked with the proprietary Nvidia graphic drivers, sort of. My laptop would suspend and wake up as it should, but the net connection would be lost and difficult to bring back up. Hibernate didn't work at all for me.

Parsix comes with some graphical configuration tools, such as the CUPS browser configuration utility, PPP Configuration Utility, Network Configuration, and Wireless Net Card Config. It was the last two that I was most concerned with, since my Broadcom 4311 (often identified as Broadcom Dell 1390) isn't natively supported by Linux.

I first tried the Wireless Net Card Config. It displayed a dialog to find and select the Setup information file (the driver *inf file found on a Windows partition), then shot an error stating that my *inf file wasn't an *inf file. Fortunately I was able to use Ndiswrapper at the command line to install the needed drivers.

Out of force of habit, I next attempted to use wpa_supplicant to negotiate the passkey for my Wi-Fi Protected Access network -- unsuccessfully. Remembering that I needed to test Parsix Network Configuration, I opened that utility. It asked some detailed questions that similar utilities I've tested usually don't, such as the MAC address, frequency, and bit rate of the router. Most of these I left blank, but I did fill in the ESSID, MAC address, and WPA passphrase. To my surprise, it then made the wireless connection available upon boot. This is the first time I've seen WPA negotiation fail at the command line yet work through a graphical tool.

For better or worse, all detected media is automounted and receives an icon on the desktop for easy browsing. This includes any new removable media inserted, including CDs. When you click on the icon for an audio CD, Parsix opens Sound Juicer. When you click on a movie DVD icon, it open VLC.

Software

Under the hood Parsix runs Linux kernel 2.6.23, Xorg 7.2, and GCC 4.23. It includes system tools such as System Monitor, File Browser, and Disk Usage Analyzer, among several others.

The Internet menu contains the unbranded version of Firefox, Iceweasel 2.0.0.11, as the Web browser, Balsa for an email client, and Liferea as a news feed reader. Firestarter helps you set up and implement a firewall. You can transfer files using BitTornado, gFTP, and Gwget; access IRC with XChat; and exchange instant messages with Pidgin.

OpenOffice.org, Grisbi accounting, and Efax-gtk are available for routine office tasks.

Multimedia applications appear in the menu under Sound and Video. The apps include Brasero for disc burning, GNOME CD Player, Exaile music player, Sound Juicer, XawTV TV Viewer, and VLC media player. I wasn't able to test the TV Viewer, but all the other apps functioned as designed. I was able to view any video file or listen to music files and disks with the Parsix applications. VLC did the best job of playing DVDs I've experienced in a while. Not only did it play an encrypted movie, but I was treated to a navigation menu as well as the extra DVD features included, such as subtitles, alternative languages, and jump-to-scene. I usually consider myself lucky if I can just watch the movie.

In the Graphics menu you'll find Camarama webcam viewer, Evince PDF Viewer, the GIMP 2.4.3, GQview Image Viewer, Inkscape Illustrator, and XSane scanning program. When you click on an image file, Parsix opens GQview, its default image viewer.

Adobe Flash wasn't included, but Iceweasel auto-installed it. However, I wasn't able to watch any Apple.com movie trailers even after installing available QuickTime libraries and utilities. In fact, after installing the QuickTime files from the Debian repository, Apple.com began crashing Iceweasel.

Parsix includes accessories such as xFarDic (a multilingual dictionary and translator), GnoCHM (a viewer for Compressed HTML help archives), Qemu Launcher (graphical front end for the QEMU emulator), and gedit. It also comes with several small games, such as Gnometris, Same GNOME, Mines, Sudoku, and SuperTux.

If you'd like something not found in your installed Parsix system, you can use Synaptic Package Manager to install anything found in the Debian testing repositories. These, as well as some Parsix repositories, are configured for use when you run the operating system. Parsix doesn't include an applet for update alerts, but you can use Synaptic effectively for checking. With Parsix being based on the testing branch of Debian there were 133 updates available at the time of my review, approximately a week after the distro's release. The upgrade process finished smoothly with no errors or resulting problems.

Conclusion

Overall Parsix is a wonderful Debian derivative and alternative to Ubuntu. Like Ubuntu it is based on Debian and as such uses APT and Synaptic. It uses the GNOME desktop with similar panel placement. However, it comes with more software and better choices, with the exception of Iceweasel, which tends to be a bit more finicky than Firefox. The out-of-the-box multimedia support is a definite plus, but the iffy power-saving features detract from the overall usability. Parsix does not subscribe to the "sudo philosophy" of allowing users to perform tasks as root, as found in Ubuntu, and for me that is an advantage. The Kanotix tools and installer might not be as technically sharp and polished as those found with Ubuntu, but most are capable and not hard to use. On the down side, you must install proprietary graphic drivers manually when using Parsix, which might intimidate new users.

Despite the drawbacks, I liked Parsix. Its beautiful implementation of GNOME and attention to detail make it a solid contender. If you like Debian, Ubuntu, or GNOME but want an alternative choice, you will probably like Parsix.

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