April 11, 2007

Pioneer Linux fails to excite

Author: Mayank Sharma

In November, Techalign released its Pioneer Linux distribution, based on Kubuntu, and available in several paid versions and one free version. I tested the recent Pioneer Linux Basic Release 2 (R2), which is based on Kubuntu Edgy 6.10. Apart from a few minor cosmetic changes and some additional applications, Pioneer isn't very different from a stock Kubuntu.

Pioneer Linux Basic R2 is a live CD, and as with Kubuntu, you can install the operating system to a hard drive once you've booted the live environment. The first boot screen is branded Pioneer, and so is the wallpaper, but everything else, from the graphical bootsplash to the installation script, displays Kubuntu artwork.

Pioneer shares Kubuntu Edgy's Linux kernel 2.6.17 and KDE 3.5.4, as well as OpenOffice.org 2.0.4 for word processing, Samba 3.0.22 for sharing files with Windows computers over the network, Amarok 1.4.3 and Xine 1.1.2 for playing multimedia, K3b 0.12.17 for burning optical disks, and several other applications.

With virtually the same apps, structure, and presentation as Kubuntu, why would anyone want to use Pioneer? A few additional applications might help it pull in some users.

Pioneer includes the Firefox browser, which is probably the most common app that users miss in Kubuntu, and the Thunderbird email client, another app not found on Kubuntu. Pioneer also includes GNOME libraries v2.6.18, which reduces the overhead in installing GNOME-based applications, and also enables the distro to run the Gaim instant messenger.

The most advertised addition in Pioneer is the Automatix2 script, which installs plugins and codecs for viewing multimedia content and certain additional applications, including X-Chat for IRC, BitTorrent clients like BitTornado and Azureus, media players like RealPlayer, VLC, Adobe's PDF reader, Google Earth, Scribus for desktop publishing, Liferea RSS reader, and Opera Web browser. Automatix also installs Firefox and Thunderbird, so Techalign's inclusion of them among its packages isn't a compelling plus. In fact, since the Automatix utility is also available for Kubuntu, Ubuntu, and Mepis, Automatix itself isn't a significant differentiator.

Pioneer inherits Kubuntu's excellent hardware detection abilities. All my hardware, including a dual-core processor, LCD monitors, a PC Card wireless network adapter, USB drives, cheap USB mice converters, and an ATI graphics card were detected and properly configured. The only trouble I had was getting the 1440x900 resolution on a wide-screen 19-inch LCD, which Kubuntu also fails to display.

Pioneer desktop - click to enlarge

Since Pioneer isn't very different from Kubuntu, almost every piece of documentation written for Kubuntu will work without modifications for Pioneer as well. New users will also appreciate Pioneer's forum board, which sees active participation from the development team, and a knowledge base wiki, which has task-oriented how-to articles.

Does it score over (K)Ubuntu?

Using Pioneer isn't any different from using Kubuntu, but there are a few issues with the extra apps in Pioneer. For starters, in Firefox, the search bar in the navigation toolbar doesn't list any search engines. It defaults to searching the Pioneer forum boards. Unfortunately, even this is broken, as the forum URLs which the search bar points to are incorrect and result in a "Page Not Found" error. You can of course add your own search engines from the Mozilla Add-ons Web site.

Secondly, the version of Automatix script included isn't the latest. It's missing several useful packages, such as the Virtual Boxvirtualization software. You can use KDE's Adept package manager to update Automatix or download the latest version and install it manually, but it's hard to understand why you'd have to.

For someone used to doing things under Linux in general and Ubuntu in particular, add-ons like Automatix aren't much bait to lure me away from (K)Ubuntu. The Pioneer developers have done well by choosing a mature distro like Kubuntu as base. Unfortunately for them, Kubuntu is also one of the most popular distributions. Techalign fails to provide any compelling reason to choose Pioneer Linux over Kubuntu.


  • Linux
Click Here!