October 8, 2008

Sidux grows on you

Author: Susan Linton

Sidux, a relatively new desktop Linux distribution, is based on Sid, the unstable developmental branch of Debian. The developers strive for an easy-to-install and easy-to-use modern Debian derivative, and pride themselves on remaining true to the principles and values of the Debian project. Despite a few inconveniences, I like Sidux a bit more each time I use it.

Sidux comes as a live CD in a few different configurations. I chose the 2GB DVD with a full KDE desktop for both i686 or AMD64 architectures, but you can also choose from a KDE-Lite or XFCE desktop version for either architecture; each uses less than 500MB. The download page warns that it's very important to burn the ISO onto a high-quality medium with disk-at-once, but I didn't see that until I was already running tests on the system; despite the warning, I didn't do anything different from usual and suffered no ill effects.

Both architectures on my DVD booted quickly with no issues into the optimal resolution for my Nvidia graphics chip and LCD screen. I liked the bright spring colors used in the background images this release, although the window decoration and widget theme are uninspired. I found most of my hardware detected and working. The wired Internet connection came up if it was plugged in during boot, and CPU speed scaling was enabled by default.

The KDE 3.5.9 desktop and panel are neat and tidy, but the menu still retain the redundant four-step-deep Debian menu. The rest of the menu was stock KDE with many added entries. There appeared to be lots of KDE applications and configuration tools available.

The installer

After those first impressions, it was time to install Sidux to my hard drive. The user-friendly installer, invoked from an icon on the live CD desktop, walks you through a quick and painless process. It features many of the same steps found in most Linux installers, presented in a tabbed format. As such, you can easily return to any previous step to make changes.

To progress through the steps, you can either click the tabs or the Forward button. The Welcome screen lists an option to install Sidux onto a USB key drive. The Partitioning tab contains the options to start a partitioner, define your root partition and filesystem, and specify other optional mount points. Next, set your timezone and GRUB preferences under the Grub/Timezone tab, then set a root password and user accounts on the User tab, and your machine's hostname on the Network tab. The next step, Firmware, allows you to install drivers for some wireless Ethernet adapters. When you click Next on the last screen Sidux will install itself on your hard drive as configured.

Software and system tools

Sidux uses KDE as its primary desktop, and many of the included applications were developed for KDE. It is no surprise to find software such as KMail, Konqueror, Akregator, and Kwrite. You also get digiKam, Gwenview, Kooka, Krita, and Xsane to read, display, scan, and edit your images. OpenOffice.org provides the office apps. Use Amarok, Kaffeine, and TVtime for entertainment. KNode, Konversation, and Kopete keep you in touch, KTorrent and KGet download your files, and Iceweasel surfs the Internet. Lots of accessories are included as well, such as KSayIt, KCalc, Kate, BasKet, and Ark.

There are way too many applications, tools, and utilities to list, but let's take a look at some of the more interesting. Hermes Upgrade Sentinel is a system tray app that monitors the News section at Sidux.com to warn you of any showstoppers with the dist-upgrade packages. If a warning is detected, it will display a red "stoplight." It can also brief you on regular news postings, list other package advice from Sidux, and update packages.

VirtualBox OSE 1.6.6 is available to run other operating systems inside the regular desktop. It supports several guest operating systems, such as all popular Windows versions, many Linux distributions, some Unixes, and a few others. Hopefully VirtualBox 2.x will show up in the updates soon.

Debian Package Search is a package manager for Debian and Sidux software. It has quite an elaborate interface for filtering and searching, and it will install and remove your finds as well. As delivered, it's configured to use the Aptitude package-managing back end, which isn't included in Sidux, so you'll need to either change the back end to apt-get or install Aptitude. After this minor adjustment, the utility seems to work really well. Of course, Synaptic is included too for those who prefer it.

Yet another software management option is the Metapackage installer. It lists software by groups such as Disk, Education, and Games. Most of these have further subdivisions, but you can check a box to install the whole Metapackage or a subgroup, which can be quite the time-saver. For example, the 3_to_10_years group under Education includes Khangman, GCompris, GnuChess, TuxType, TuxPaint, TuxMath, Childsplay, Lletters, Lmemory, Gtans, Kanagram, and Ktuberling. You also have the option to enable non-free sources.

Sidux features its own control center utility. It isn't as extensive as those of some other distros, but it has a few nice options. From it you can adjust your display resolution, choose your default browser, and install or remove new kernels and modules. In addition, you can configure network adapters and connections, configure and start services, and view upgradeable packages and basic system information.


Hardware compatibility isn't the issue it once was in Linux. Most common hardware is automatically detected and configured for users these days, and I found this to be true with Sidux. After the Firmware step added ethernet drivers during the install, all my hardware in my trustly old laptop was functional. I did have to configure the wireless connection, but no distro can guess a passkey.

While Sidux doesn't ship with the proprietary software needed for ATI or Nvidia 3-D acceleration and video viewing, it meets all other display needs. I installed Flash from Adobe Labs, video codes from the MPlayer Web site, and the mozilla-mplayer plugin through Synaptic in order to watch videos on disk and over the Internet. I enabled DVD navigation and read libraries from packages in Synaptic, and libdvdcss2 is available at debian-multimedia.org.

With other distros out there providing all these proprietary files, why should you choose Sidux? Perhaps one reason is outstanding performance. Sidux is blazingly fast and rock solid. It provides a pretty and uncluttered desktop environment with lots of applications installed right from the start. Between the Sidux and Debian repositories, there isn't too much software for Linux that's not available. Sidux has an active and friendly community supporting the distribution, good documentation, and vigilant developers. All in all, it just might be worth the little bit of trouble it takes to add a few proprietary bits.


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