July 5, 2005

Review: OpenLX 11

Author: Mayank Sharma

OpenLX 11 claims to be the first enterprise-ready Linux distribution for India. Based Fedora Core, the free distro is nurtured by a global alliance of almost a dozen companies. After testing it myself, I found OpenLX to be a more usable distribution out of the box than Fedora Core.

OpenLX spent its first few years as MostlyLinux, until the OpenLX alliance decided it was mature enough to be made public as OpenLX 11 during the Linux Asia 2005 expo last February. It's available for download in two flavors -- a single-CD Desktop version and a five-CD Enterprise version. The latter includes four install CDs and an additional packages CD, custom-made by OpenLX.

I tested both editions on two systems: one a 1.7GHz Celeron, 384MB memory, ATI Radeon 7000 graphics card, Bridge BM17C monitor; and the other a 1.0GHz Pentium III, 256MB memory, LG StudioWorks monitor. Both versions picked up all the hardware on both systems.

I tested the enterprise edition first. The installer is a Fedora Core Anaconda, hacked to give it a more local look and feel -- embossed Lord Ganesha, the Hindu elephant-head god worshipped at the start of an auspicious event, and our beloved Tux inside a palanquin, the royal mode of transport. You can choose to install in English (the default) or one of six Indian languages. The installation is a no-brainer once you pass the partitioning section. If you are one of the install-everything people like me, you'll notice the lack of a Full Install button. This means wading through every group, and a lot of clicking.

In the Select Packages stage, apart from the incremented packages in the regular package groups, you can install OpenLX "enhancements" and "add-ons" groups, which include applications such as gnokii and several other multimedia, graphics, and enterprise-use applications.

You get to choose between the three most popular desktop environments -- KDE 3.4, GNOME 2.8, and Xfce 4.2. Both KDE and GNOME come with OpenLX themes. Although GNOME is the default selection, KDE seems to better implemented. GNOME's splash screen hangs while loading and if you switch between the CLI and GNOME a couple of times, it tends to kill itself. After prolonged use, even Tuxracer refuses to start. I didn't experience this behaviour with either KDE or Xfce. In fact I ran both KDE (as root) and Xfce (as a normal user) simultaneously for hours without any errors.

OpenLX is customized for India in a couple of ways. It provides local language fonts and desktop translations for six Indian languages, and includes a six-month eval version of Kalculate, a Linux-based accounting package custom-built for the subcontinent. You can also install the phonetic Susha Hindi keyboard and Tamil software tools developed by CDAC, including Tamil Firefox, OpenOffice.org, OCR software, spell checkers, dictionary, and fonts.

OpenLX installs Mozilla and Firefox with the Flash and Java plugins installed. Along with the Xchat IRC client and GAIM and Kopete instant messagers, you also get the Skype VOIP client. The Evolution email client comes with the Ximian connector plugin, which allows Evolution users to access the groupware features and email on Exchange 2000 or 2003 servers. A modified 2.6.10 Linux kernel, Nvidia drivers, several softmodem drivers, and a CUPS printer driver (easily configurable in KDE) enables support for a large number of devices. But there's nothing for Wi-Fi devices. With the proliferation of wireless networks, NDISWrapper would be a great add-on.

For your music OpenLX installs XMMS with the MP3 plugin and GRIP to rip your music collection. If you want to edit your music and video, there's Audacity, Hydrogen, and Cinelerra. It includes Xine and MPlayer to watch your DVDs. Graphic designers can take advantage of Blender, CollabCAD, InkScape, SodiPodi, and the GIMP.

Java developers have Java 2 SDK (Software Development Kit) and Eclipse (an industry standard IDE primarily for Java). Also included are Gambas (a Visual Basic-like IDE with Unix-ODBC and SQLite support), MonoDevelop (a free.Net development environment), and Nvu (a Web authoring and management tool), along with Anjuta, KDevelop (both C/C++ IDEs), and many others. Using CHM Viewer and Adobe's PDF reader you can read all your CHM (Windows help files) and PDF e-books.

As for cross-platform support, the distro provides DOSemu with mouse support and Wine, both pre-configured to support many simple Windows and DOS applications, including those developed in FoxPro. Setting up Samba and NFS through KDE is child's play, which makes life easier in a heterogeneous network. Also of use in such networks are ClamAV and Amavisd anti-virus utilities. Even Samba has several VFS (virtual file system) anti-virus modules. In addition to the security features that come with a standard Fedora Core installation (iptables-based firewall and SELinux), the distro includes Firewall Builder, a GUI firewall configuration and management tool.

On the fifth install CD you can find software to create animations and Flash effects. An application called Gammu lets you connect and synchronize GSM phones to your PC. Noteable packages on the fifth CD are eGroupware, Drupal, PHP-Nuke, PHProjekt, OpenOfficeExtras, OpenOffice.org 2.0-beta, Unison File synchronizer, and xored's TruStudio PHP/Python IDE built on Eclipse.

Desktop edition disappoints

By contrast to the enterprise edition, the OpenLX Single CD distro leaves a lot to be desired. The desktop edition's 440-odd packages leave out many of the utilities of the 1,000+ in the four-CD install. During installation, where you would expect a Package Select list, you instead see a message that says the Installer has done the job for you. The "recommended" installation environment includes a desktop, a Web browser, instant messaging, sound and video applications, and games. It also promises you that after installation you can install additional packages using the "system-config-packages" tool. And for some reason it says that you can customize the install by clicking on a checkbox before proceeding, but there's no checkbox -- you have to go with whatever packages have been "recommended." So you get no detailed package list, no indication whether you have enough disk space for the installation, no games as promised, no XMMS, no development IDE, and no system-config-packages!

The installed packages occupy 1.9GB of disk space and include KDE 3.4 (and its gamut of apps), Firefox, OpenOffice.org, the GIMP, InkScape, Skype, Xine and Kalculate. KDE's control center makes configuring devices and Samba a walk in the park.

Conclusion

Both flavors of OpenLX Linux are in their infancy, this being their first official release. I have been using the enterprise version for over a week now. While the single CD version needs more polish, the enterprise version, with its ease of use, good hardware and crossplatform support, and broad selection of applications, is an ideal distribution for any kind of Linux user. Though the installation is the same as Fedora Core, a newbie would be more comfortable using OpenLX, as many of the devices are either already configured or can be set up with a touch of a button. Immediately after the installation one has some of the best open source tools at their disposal. Equipped with several Indian languages, OpenLX would also be able to shed the inhibition of Indian users who are wary of using computers due to their reliance on English.

The OpenLX alliance remains dedicated to its development and are already offering several services (including migration, training, and LTSP deployment) based on the distro. All said and done, it's a good Linux distribution for the enterprises (Indian or otherwise) to wake up to.

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