September 12, 2005

Review: aLinux 12.5

Author: Jem Matzan

aLinux, formerly known as Peanut Linux, is a strange GNU/Linux distribution. It bills itself as a "Professional Linux Operating System" for advanced users, hobbyists, and new Linux users. However, the distribution has a number of problems that make it unsuitable for new users and unpleasant even for experienced users. It claims to be "professional," yet it's harder than heck to install and configure. On paper, aLinux 12.5 looks like a great desktop distro, but it's lacking in several areas.


The first big problem with aLinux 12.5 is the installation procedure. It appears to be written from scratch rather than taken from another project. While it's refreshing to see a new installation program every now and then, desktop GNU/Linux users need something more user-friendly than what aLinux provides. To begin with, there are so many spelling and grammar mistakes in the installation instructions and menus that they are practically unreadable. The rest of the installation consists of two three-option menus that have facetious, nonsensical descriptions, such as "Oh yes! you'll definitely want this happening at some point, maybe now?" and "This line is for true Linux 83 users."

I stumbled through the installation program three times to try to figure out how complete an aLinux installation. I never did figure out how to install a boot loader using the aLinux installer, and the X11 configuration script did a shoddy job of giving the graphical environment the proper settings. If I wanted aLinux 12.5 to work like a desktop operating system should, I'd have to do a lot of hand-editing of config files.

The good news is that the installation routine detected all of the hardware on my MSI K8T Neo2-FIR Athlon 64 system. However, even though aLinux detected everything, it still didn't know what to do with it. The network was not properly configured despite the proper driver module being loaded.

I also tried a second test system -- one that I use for outing poorly designed GNU/Linux hardware configuration tools -- based on an Intel D915GUXL motherboard and a serial ATA hard drive. The kernel panicked while booting from the installation CD.

I never got one crucial part of aLinux 12.5 working properly. The only boot loader included with the distro is LILO, but I failed to find a default lilo.conf file provided. Rather than spend time looking up the configuration options for LILO and creating my own lilo.conf, I booted from the CD's boot loader. This is actually a documented way of starting aLinux, and instructions are included on the CD for doing this. It probably goes without saying that an OS aimed at new users should install its own bootloader without requiring any major effort from the user.

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Included software

When I finally got to the aLinux desktop, I found a heavily Windows XP-influenced KDE theme. People transitioning from Windows XP would probably find aLinux easy to adjust to -- but only if they could get past the installation hassles.

This release includes a fairly recent version of the Linux kernel ( and the Firestarter Firewall and Xfprot antivirus software. Most Linux users will probably not feel the need for antivirus software, but users who are coming from Windows will probably feel better about having an antivirus package, even if they don't need it.

The aLinux 12.5 release includes an unusually slim selection of desktop software. For browsing and mail, aLinux provides the Mozilla Suite, version 1.8b. For productivity software, aLinux gives the user KOffice 1.4.1 (part of KDE 3.4.1), K3b for CD burning, the GIMP 2.3, Quanta Plus, and XMMS.

While aLinux seems to be aimed at the desktop user, some server software is included as well. Xitami, an HTTP and FTP server, is included with aLinux, rather than Apache. Web and FTP services are started by default, which may not be desirable for security and performance reasons.

A number of "standard" packages that most Linux users would expect -- such as, Firefox, Thunderbird, Evolution, and Bluefish -- aren't included with aLinux. In addition, the only IRC client that comes with aLinux, aside from the one in Mozilla, is KSirc.

Given that most users will probably want to install some additional software, it would be nice to be able to add software via the included Synaptic package manager, but Synaptic is not configured to install any programs that were not included with the CD. So the user is, at least initially, stuck using the standard programs that come with the distribution.

Using aLinux

aLinux's desktop environment is easy to navigate. Many icons for important programs are placed directly on the desktop with names that suggest their Windows counterparts. Kopete, for instance, is labeled "MSN" to signify that it is like MSN Messenger.

One thing that piqued my interest was the fact that the Web browser had a huge number of proprietary video codecs installed for the MPlayer plugin. I didn't see any license agreements, so I suspect that these proprietary codecs were installed in defiance of software patents and restrictive licensing practices -- and, of course, to provide seamless video playback on the Web.

CD and DVD media were not auto-mounted on insertion; neither were USB devices.


If I haven't made it evident already, I didn't enjoy using aLinux 12.5 at all -- I was glad to get it off my test machine.

It's been a long time since I've been this disappointed by a GNU/Linux distribution. The project's Web site set me up to believe that this was a professionally designed desktop operating environment, but it ended up being anything but. It was hard to install, hard to configure, didn't work properly on one of the test machines, and the default applications were poorly chosen. I wasn't prompted to set up a root password or any user accounts, no boot loader was installed, and networking was left unconfigured.

The distribution's default KDE theme is interesting in that it looks as much like Windows XP Professional as it possibly can. That is where, I believe, the "professional" label comes from, because it can't possibly refer to the quality of the distribution. aLinux 12.5 appears to be targeted at desktop users, but its complex installation procedure is totally inappropriate for that audience. Until these problems are fixed, you'd be better off avoiding aLinux and trying one of the more user-friendly desktop distributions available.

Purpose Desktop operating system
Manufacturer aLinux
Architectures x86
License GNU General Public License, although some included packages are proprietary
Market Desktop users
Price (retail) $40 for a CD set. You can download ISOs for free
Previous version aLinux 12.4
Product Web site Click here


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