February 24, 2004

Review: Lycoris Desktop/LX Personal

Author: Milt Walker

Lycoris Desktop/LX Update 3, released last September, is a Linux
distro aimed primarily at home user desktops. Lycoris has been
widely heralded for its user-friendliness. If newbies can handle
some manual configuration, they may be happy with Lycoris, but it
won't satisfy more experienced users.

I installed Lycoris on my homemade computer with 1.3GHz AMD Athlon
processor, 256mg DDR 266 RAM, Nvidia GeForce2 MX 400 video
adapter, 40GB Western Digital hard drive, Sony CD-ROM drive,
Opterite CD burner, and Abit motherboard with onboard VIA sound
and network adapter. I used a cheap 15-inch monitor running at
800-by-600 resolution.


Lycoris comes on a single CD-ROM, in a box with a skinny
installation brochure. The instructions, while short, are
adequate, because there really is almost nothing to do while the
software installs itself. I placed the CD in the drive, booted,
and found myself in Caldera's old Lizard install environment.
(Remember Caldera eDesktop 2.4? Back in 1999 and 2000, that
company made the most complete and usable distro on the market.
Wonder what became of them.)

The first installation options were straightforward. I specified
my kind of mouse and keyboard and entered a user password and a
system password (I guess "root" sounds too much like gardening).

The next step was to set up my network. which for now has only one
Linux and one Windows 95 computer on it, both with static IP
addresses. The first time I installed the network, I got too
carried away and accidentally set up two servers while I was talking on
the phone, and Samba would not
work. Lycoris uses what appears to be a customized version of
Lin Neighborhood, designated Network Browser, which functions like Windows' Network
Neighborhood. When I attempted to
reach the other computer, I got nothing. A quick ping of
the other computer's IP address revealed that the hardware was
working, so I re-entered the configuration area for the network
and removed both servers. Then the network was completely
visible, and I was able to create an icon link on the desktop to
access the hard drive of the other computer.

Lizard detected my Zoom external modem as a generic 56K, but the modem
worked fine when I later fired up KPPP. I next selected my
timezone and proceeded to allow GRUB to make Linux the default
boot choice.

While all this was going on, Lizard was loading packages. When I
clicked on "next" after the last configuration choice, a card game
came up (much like Caldera eDesktop 2.4). I could have opted to play solitaire,
but since I don't know how, I waited until the install and
post-install process finished. I was then presented a choice of reboot or making a boot
disk. I made a boot disk, which took only 43 seconds. That
time compares favorably to SUSE 9, which took more than two
minutes. Maybe I told SUSE to format the floppy first; this was
not an option with Lycoris.

After rebooting I found myself staring at a fine-looking splash
screen waiting for some unknown processes to go by unannounced,
except for a few which were visible in a narrow window in the
lower right of the screen. I guess it might scare a newbie to see
a black screen with status and error messages going by.

When the secret processes were finished, up popped a login screen
to a Lycoris-customized KDE 2.X desktop. The default desktop
wallpaper shows a nice green pasture under a blue sky. While KDE
3.x has been out for a long time, the use of KDE 2.X here was not
a problem. Lycoris has done such a nice job with the desktop
that it looks great and provides an easy way to change system
settings through the Control Center. An added benefit of using the
older version of KDE is that Slide Show, my favorite screen saver, is
available. I chose it, and by default, some really
nice pictures of outdoor scenery started rolling by.

I did not see a printer or a scanner anywhere on the desktop, so I
clicked on the MY Linux System icon. Neither the printer nor
the scanner had been detected. I clicked on Control Center, then
clicked on add printer, and Lycoris detected "HP 1200 on parallel
port 1" and installed the CUPS printing system for it.

I run an HP ScanJet 6350c scanner on a Tekram 395 SCSI card to get
fast data transfer. Lycoris did not detect either, nor would it,
no matter what I tried. I checked for SCSI drivers and, although
the Tekram is at least three years old, there were no drivers
for it loaded, nor were there any on the Lycoris CD.

I decided to try attaching the scanner with a USB cable. My first attempt with the USB cable failed, so I put the hard
drive I had installed to into an AMD 800 computer at home. Lycoris
failed to recognize the scanner there, so I put the hard drive in
the front desk computer, a Gateway running a 500MHz Pentium III, and
it failed there. I then dug out an old AMD 450 from the junk room
and tried it on the 6350c scanner at the office, again without
success. Finally I tried a different USB cable. With that, Lycoris detected and
installed my scanner, which then worked without flaw.

In the process of all these changes, Lycoris was unbelievably
resilient in its ability to recognize different video cards, to
say nothing of the different motherboard buses and bridges. Only
once did it force me to the command line to configure hardware,
and that was simply to select option "1" to reconfigure the
video. As soon as I did, Lycoris presented me with a graphical
interface to select the video card, monitor, and resolution. On
one of the computers I had forgotten what card was present. I
simply selected "generic" and "vesa," the resolution desired, and
clicked on the "finish" button. Up came the beautiful desktop
again. This product will not leave a newbie in a lurch.


Although the entire distribution comes on a single CD, it contains
a full set of applications, including three chat programs and
Mozilla for Internet browsing, email, and Web authoring. There
are also the full list of KDE programs for word processing
(Kword), spreadsheet work (Kspread), and presentation

For those addicted to the mouse and keyboard, KOrganizer
(a personal information manager), KAddressbook, and 10 games are installed by default.

The GIMP and Kooka are installed by default for scanner and image
work, along with KView (for image viewing) and Digikam (for
digital camera hook-up). We use the GIMP regularly to operate the
scanner and I have made a few feeble attempts at JPEG manipulation
with it. My wife used Adobe Photoshop all the time in her high
school web mastering classes, and she was right at home using
GIMP. She recommends it to her students for use at home, due to
its capabilities and low price ($0.00).

All the normal packages are present for music, TV, and movie
enjoyment, including XMMS, RealPlayer, xine, and motv. Kfax and kprintfax are
installed to send and view faxes. Acroread gives you PDF viewing and ark handles package management.

The Control Center provides the usual KDE tools to check disk
usage, install new hardware and software, and reset user
configuration and kernel modules. Lycoris is an RPM-based distro,
and the install program is easy to use. Just browse the CD, pick
out a given RPM package, click on it, and it will install itself.

The first chore I undertook was to burn a backup of the Lycoris
CD, using KOnCD. I configured the program for first time use by
bringing up a terminal, typing su to run as root,
then bringing up KOnCD and setting a few specs, including the
authorized user. This would be very intimidating for Lycoris's
target customer. Had I been more attentive, I would have found
that KOnCD provides the opportunity in the graphical interface to
use the root password and do the same thing without resorting to the
command line. Lycoris has modified GRUB to boot the reader CD as
sr0 and the writer CD as sr1, so that the user doesn't have to
modify any of the files in /etc.

Every time I tried to burn a copy of Lycoris, the program would
hang before finishing and give an unrecoverable read error
message, although I was able to burn a copy of Mandrake 9, install
1, without a hitch.

I emailed Lycoris at their headquarters and inquired whether my
disk was flawed or copy-protected. I quickly got a return email
which stated that they do not copy-protect their products, and an
offer to send me another disk, so the company appears ready to
correct problems and keep the customers happy.


Nowhere did the install process give me any options for setting up
a firewall. To test my vulnerability to attack, I ran Gibson
Research Corp.'s
ShieldsUP! test. I
found that Lycoris had left port 139 (NetBIOS) open. I had no
trouble installing their (unnamed) firewall after the initial
installation by going to Control Center, choosing Firewall, and
pressing the On button with the cursor. I then ran
ShieldsUP! again, and found that every one of the first 1056 ports
was closed and stealthed, meaning none would even respond to a
ping. The Lycoris firewall is the best implementation of iptables
I have seen since Mandrake 8.2, which used Bastille and made it
easy with Wizdrake.

It is not uncommon for a given distro to leave a port open, but
this one is designed for newbies, and they need to be warned
during the install to set up the firewall as soon as their network
is configured.


Lycoris is a nice distribution for a Linux beginner, and could be
customized with a little work into a really good desktop for a
heavy user. For example, if you are accustomed to StarOffice or
OpenOffice.org, it's a simple matter to install them. I installed OOo 1.0 from a CD I burned into Lycoris via the GUI, then created a desktop link to the program. It runs like a champ.

If you want a distribution you can put to work right away with all
the tools and packages available on disk, use a more complete
distro like Mandrake or SUSE Professional.

Expert users will want to pass over Lycoris for distros like
Debian or Gentoo, which they can customize more easily.

Milt Walker is a practicing attorney in Houston, Texas. His first
experience with computers came in 1978 with a Northstar Horizon II,
connected to a TelTec dumb terminal and an NEC thimble printer.


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