October 4, 2006

Review: Turbolinux 11 "Fuji"

Author: Marcel Gommans

Turbolinux has been around since 1992. Everyone knows about this commercial distro, but for some reason it never became as popular as SUSE or Mandriva. Turbolinux 11, code-named "Fuji," was released recently and I decided it was time to see if Turbolinux measures up to other Linux distros. The Fuji release has some interesting features, but I found the release to be a disappointment overall.

The system I used for the review is a Pentium 4 running at 2.54 GHz, with 512MB RAM, a 128MB TI4200 Nvidia video card, the SIS 7012 chipset for sound, and a SIS 900 network chipset onboard, and a DVD recordable drive.

Turbolinux 11 uses the Mongoose installer. Mongoose looks great, and is based on the Anaconda installer used by Fedora Core and a number of other Linux distros. It gives you all the freedom you want to configure the Turbolinux installation, but also offers the option to do the installation automatically, so you can sit back and let Turbolinux take over your system.

I really enjoyed the installer. It has nice details, like the fact that it shows the layout of the keyboard you select on the screen. Although it is called an international version, you can only choose between four languages: English, Japanese, Simplified and Traditional Chinese. It is clear that this distro is created for the Asian market. Turbolinux comes with the KDE, GNOME, and Xfce desktop environments. For this review I chose KDE.

Turbolinux offers the option to install additional, proprietary packages. Here you find Macromedia Flash and Shockwave players, Adobe Acrobat Reader, OpenOffice.org, RealPlayer 10, and two multimedia packages for handling Windows Media files with Turbo Media player and Xine. Several development packages are available as well.

Using Turbolinux

Now it is time to start working with Turbolinux. When the Turbolinux desktop appears I notice that KDE has been altered. I like the new "Menu button". I also see that the icons have been given names that make it easier for windows user to work with Turbolinux.

When I logged in to the Turbolinux KDE desktop, I noticed it looked different than a standard KDE install. I like the new "Menu button," and I also see that shortcuts have been given names that should make it easier for Windows users to work with Turbolinux.

The first thing I wanted to do is install updates. The GUI update tool, Turbo Plus, only works if you've registered your version of Turbolinux. It is really easy to register, just enter the serial number, an email address and press the send button. Almost immediately the message "licence file read" appeared and we are ready to start the update.

Turbo Plus is a very nice-looking update tool. You can add, remove, and update packages. Turbolinux is RPM-based, so you can install RPMs you have downloaded from other sites using Cuick In, a utility that comes with Turbolinux for installing packages quickly.

One issue I encountered is that it took a long time to receive package information from Turbolinux's update server. I received several "application not responding" messages, and I rebooted my system to see if that would make a difference, but that did not solve the problem. The update feature works, but it can take more than a minute to update the package list.

I do like the little progress bar that appears when you download an update, but I miss having the option to search for packages. This makes it very difficult to find packages. When I want to install new packages I also find that not that many packages are available. For example, my kids really need SuperTux, but it's not available through the Turbolinux repositories. I guess that all the packages available are already on the three CDs, which is very disappointing.

Turbolinux gives "friendly" names to software so it will be more familiar to people new to Linux. For example, in the Internet submenu Turbo comes with Firefox, called "Web Browser" here. They do not do it everywhere, but for Linux newbies this makes it easier to find the application they are looking for.

The packages that come with Turbolinux make it an excellent office machine. You can surf the net with Firefox and use Thunderbird for your email. Kopete is labeled the "Instant messanger," which is one of several typos I found. In the System menu there is Turbo Plus, and Cuick In.

The proprietary packages mentioned above allow you to view and use almost all common formats. I have to mention the Turbo Media Player. Is this a new application for Turbolinux users? No. Under the hood we find that the Turbo Media Player is just a re-branded Kaffeine.

Turbolinux has the libwmfdecode package installed to allow you to open Windows Media files with the Turbo Media Player, but doesn't include DeCSS to allow you to watch commercial DVDs. I would have expected that it would. On the Web site I found a note that says Turbolinux will soon feature PowerDVD for Linux, but it is not available at the moment. I think this would be a big improvement, and I hope it shows up in the list of available packages soon.

For writing documents and creating spreadsheets, Turbolinux includes OpenOffice.org. You can use KOrganiser for all your personal information and burn CDs and DVDs with K3b. I tried to burn a CD and it worked right away. You can edit your photos with the Gimp and there is KolourPaint, a Windows Paint clone. Of course, Turbolinux has the standard set of KDE games available too.

Turbolinux's package selection is not very different from what you'd find in other distributions. Turbolinux is not a bleeding edge distribution, so the packages you get are often not the latest versions. Usually, distros include older packages to make the distribution more stable, but that doesn't seem to be the case with Turbolinux. Several applications crashed while I was writing my review. After an update the problems seem to be gone, but this gives me the feeling the distribution was not tested well enough before it hit the shelves.

The Mongoose installer and Turbo plus are the only applications the people at Turbolinux have developed for this distribution. Comparable distros like SUSE have added many more applications that make the life of a Linux user easier. Besides the support you buy with it, these programs make commercial distros worth their money. I can think of plenty of free distributions that offer more functionality for free. If you want to buy Fuji, it runs $39.95.

My conclusion is that Turbolinux is rather disappointing. The installer is great. Turbo Plus looks nice, but lacks functionality and works too slowly. Then there is the lack of applications. Well-known packages are available, but I want more choice than Turbolinux offers at this moment.

Support for commercial DVDs should be available out of the box. Especially if you focus on the former Windows user that is new to Linux, stuff like that should just work. The fact that I found several translation errors, and the fact that I had a few crashes when I was using the distro initially, give me the feeling that Turbolinux was not tested well enough before it was released.

These things give me the feeling that Turbolinux release 11 "Fuji" was a bit of a haste job. But with a few improvements I think Turbolinux can make a great product for the desktop.

Marcel Gommans is an IT manager from the Netherlands who discovered Linux more than six years ago.


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