January 4, 2008

When Enlightenment met Ubuntu

Author: Mayank Sharma

Many Linux distributions try to be visually appealing. Some use Beryl-Compiz for cool 3-D effects on resource-laden boxes, while others turn to desktops like Enligtenment for a little bit of gloss at the expense of functionality. Geubuntu is a new distro that combines the best of those two worlds, equipping Enlightenment with bits from GNOME and Xfce on top of Ubuntu.

Geubuntu 7.10 "Luna Nuova" is only the second release of the distro, which seems to trace Ubuntu's release cycle. As the version number suggests, Geubuntu 7.10 is based on Ubuntu 7.10, from which it borrows the kernel and user conveniences like the restricted-drivers management utility.

Geubuntu is an installable live CD, but it can also be installed on top of an existing Ubuntu distro by installing specific packages from the Geubuntu mirror. Currently there's only a 32-bit ISO available. To run Geubuntu on 64-bit hardware you'll have to take the longer route of first installing a 64-bit version of Ubuntu and then getting Geubuntu packages that are compiled for 64-bit platforms.

Installing from the live CD requires about 1.5GB of disk space. The distro booted smoothly on all the computers I tried it on, including a 1.3GHz Celeron and two dual-core desktops, with a 2.0GHz E4400 and a 1.8GHz E6300. Geubuntu isn't short on applications; some of the most used apps it includes are the Firefox Web browser, Pidgin instant messenger, Eclair and VLC media players, and the GIMP image editor. To keep its requirements low, Geubuntu bundles AbiWord word processor, Gnumeric spreadsheet, Orage Calendar, and the Thunar file manager instead of more resource-intensive office suites. If you want to install more apps you can use the Synaptic package manager.

Very usable desktop

The first thing you'll notice about Geubuntu is its speed. Despite being based on Ubuntu 7.10, it runs well on older hardware like my Pentium Celeron 1.3GHz laptop. This is because Enlightenment isn't as resource-hungry as Ubuntu's default desktop environment GNOME, which Geubuntu doesn't bundle.

Geubuntu boots into the visually stunning Sunshine theme created by its artist developer. The desktop sports panels at the top and bottom of the screen. To maximize the desktop real estate, the top panel folds over the top when not in use. The bottom panel, though minimal, is fully loaded with menu and application launchers, virtual desktop switcher, and applets like clock. I like its animated marquee-style auto-scrolling list of application launchers, which prevents the panel from taking too much space.

In addition to being visually stunning, Geubuntu's Sunshine and Moonlight themes both have animated bits. Depending on the theme, a sun beam shines down from the sun or an Enlightenment logo appears on a large Moon and reflects in rippling water after regular intervals. Users can easily (and almost instantaneously) switch between the two themes at a click.

Of course this bling would be useless if it came at the price of usability. But that's what I like about Geubuntu. It's a stunning distro that's also very usable, thanks to an assortment of components. Of note are two Xfce components, the Xfce panel and the Thunar file manager. These are complemented by bits and pieces from GNOME, such as the GNOME bar and applets like the network manager and the search applet.

Watch out for bugs!

The components that make this distro usable also introduce a few noticeable bugs, since they were not designed to interact with each other. And Enlightenment is still under heavy development and has several bugs of its own. Despite bundling Thunar file manager, Geubuntu relies on Enlightenment's file manager, fm, for displaying desktop icons. However, you can't mount or unmount removable devices or browse their files using their desktop icons; for that you need to use Thunar.

Also, when running Geubuntu from the live CD, the distro doesn't log out without complaining that some task is taking too long to complete, giving you the option to either wait or continue with the logout. According to a post on the forums, it's the Xfce panel that seems to be causing this and the developers are working on a solution. Strangely, once you've installed Geubuntu to the hard drive, it logs out without complaining.

This isn't the only discrepancy between the live and installed versions of the distro. When I first installed it, the desktop didn't display the top panel. I tried logging out, restarting the computer, killing and restarting the panels, but nothing worked. But reinstalling the distro brought back the panel.

Secondly, my PCMCIA wireless card, which worked from the live CD, didn't work from the installed version. On the dual-core desktop, the distro picked up the wide-screen monitor and correctly booted into its 1440x900-pixel resolution. It failed however, to activate the wireless card, even after i installed the correct drivers via NDISwrapper. Also the splash screen that comes up while the distro boots is only visible when the distro boots from the disk. Live CD users get to stare at a blank screen during boot, which can be a little confusing for new users.

Some of the components under the Moonlight theme retain traces of the Sunshine theme, such as the semitransparent terminal window. If you run into any other errors, refer to the online documentation to check for a solution, if it's a known bug.


Despite being a young distro with just two releases under its belt, Geubuntu delivers a visually stunning desktop without compromising functionality. As a double benefit, the components it uses to blend functionality with bling have modest hardware requirements. This makes the distro perfectly suitable for older computers.

Built atop Ubuntu, the distro has a solid, well-tested base. Its unique mix of components from desktop environments Xfce and GNOME on top of the under-development Enlightenment environment introduces several bugs, but the developers are working to iron these out, and have already tackled several between the first two releases. I'd recommend this distro to desktop users with aging hardware, and to users who haven't tried Enlightenment before.


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