June 28, 2007

Yoper 3.0 requires some tinkering

Author: Susan Linton

Yoper claims to be a high-performance Linux distribution optimized for newer processors. It incorporates components from other distros, but its packages have been built from scratch to provide enhanced performance. I tested a beta of Yoper 3.0 on my desktop a year ago and was so impressed that when 3.0 was released this month, I installed it on my new Hewlett-Packard Pavilion dv6105 notebook. Using it, however, left me disappointed.

The Yoper image initially boots to a screen offering the choice of booting in a live CD mode or starting the hard drive installer. If you want to install Yoper, you must choose the second option, as you can't install the distribution from the live CD desktop. When chosen, the installer starts an interactive ncurses-based configuration wizard. It runs through the usual steps of partitioning the drive and selecting partitions, filesystem, and boot loader. After copying some files, the wizard reboots the system and begins prompting for configuration information -- a root password, user account, timezone, package installation, and sound configuration.

One of the issues I had during installation was that the wizard offered no advanced boot loading options, such as the ability to specify a desired location for the distribution. The default configuration would have overwritten my current setup. Fortunately, the option to forgo any bootloader is available, which let me edit my current GRUB menu from another installed system myself.

Another problem I had was with timezone configuration. The wizard doesn't ask whether the hardware clock is set to local or UTC time, but rather assumes UTC. If your system is on local time, the confirmation screen outputs incorrect information. Nevertheless, the system displayed the correct time after boot.

Then I had trouble with the "package installation" step. A window opens stating that a minimal system is installed and that I should now install more packages. My Internet connection needs Ndiswrapper to use Windows drivers, and it wasn't working, creating a Catch-22. Additionally, the screen where I could choose other media was corrupted by standard output messages, making selection and input impossible.


The installed Yoper system booted from GRUB to KDM in 28 seconds. There the user can choose among KDE, Xfce4, and TWM window managers. The first time I logged into Xfce it appeared to work as designed, but subsequent logins resulted in only a blank desktop; TWM worked fine.

The KDE 3.5.7 desktop is the primary interface for Yoper. It's customized around a palette of red hues and features a tasteful background, cute icons, and a wonderful animated cursor theme. The menu contains the usual KDE application links, as well as extra and nonstandard KDE apps. The panel is comfortably populated with two quick launchers and a few applets.


Some of the many applications Yoper provides include Inkscape and digiKam for graphics work; Firefox, Kontact, Kopete, SWScanner, and KNetworkManager for Internet connectivity and surfing; Amarok, MPlayer, and VLC for multimedia; and KOffice for office applications. Yoper provides plenty of system tools and utilities for configuration and housekeeping as well, including KlamAV, GParted, and Smart Package Manager. There are lots of games too. The foundation is formed by Linux 2.6.21, Xorg 7.2.0, and GCC 4.0.3.

Most of the applications open in just a few seconds and function very well. MPlayer and VLC played any video file I tested. Firefox opened within six seconds and included plugins for full Internet enjoyment, except for Flash, which Firefox can auto-install. However, I had trouble with Inkscape crashing, KNetworkManager couldn't connect, and Klaptop wouldn't put a battery monitoring applet into the system tray.

Smart Package Manager allows users to install, remove, or upgrade software. It comes delivered with Yoper repositories ready for activation and updating. It works very much like other package managers, but most resembles Synaptic. I can search for applications, mark some for action, and click Apply. Smart Package Manager then downloads the applications, installs them, and updates the menu.

During testing my results were mixed. The utility worked fine for packages such as the kernel source, but couldn't complete other requests, such as one for the GIMP. In that case, Smart first reported it would have to remove ykde-base (the Yoper KDE meta package) and downgrade gimp-print in order to install the GIMP. Then after downloading, it reported that gimp-print conflicted with Gutenberg drivers and several other packages.

Yoper also ships with an Update Manager that monitors mirrors for updates, informs users if any are available, and applies them if desired. On my system it indicated three updates were available. After downloading the two largest packages, Update Manager stopped with an error, saying it couldn't download the third. This continued for several days until the missing dependency became available on mirrors. Then the Update Manager completed successfully.

Yoper bundles the Beryl window manager for folks who want to try out advanced 3-D desktop effects, but it didn't work well here. I experienced missing window decorations, black windows and menus, intermittent cursor visibility, and extremely poor system performance -- and because of those problems, Beryl was impossible to turn off. I was able to restart X with Ctrl-Alt-Backspace and choose Console Login from the KDM screen, then delete the .beryl and .emerald directories in order to restore regular KDE functionality.


Hardware support

Hardware support with Yoper is acceptable. It detects most underlying systems, and many things are autoconfigured. My wired network adapter was autodetected and the correct module loaded. Powersaving functions such as CPU scaling (which lowers the processor cycles to a slower rate to extend battery life and decrease heat) are available. The system detects removable media when you plug them in and opens an action dialog box for user input. Sound is detected and configured through an interactive setup at the end of the install process.

Yoper boots to a command prompt login despite runlevel 5 being designated in /etc/inittab. Once I logged in with superuser permissions, I issued the command /etc/init.d/kdmctrl start to start the X server and the KDM login screen. Only then did Yoper write the /etc/X11/xorg.conf file and start the graphical login manager. I had to manually link /etc/init.d/kdmctrl into the /etc/rc5.d directory to enable the graphical login for subsequent boots.

My graphics weren't configured optimally; Yoper chose the vesa driver and a resolution of 1024x768. I edited the xorg.conf file manually to use the nv driver and 1280x800, but after restarting X I found the window manager's performance was poor. There was a marked lapse when trying to open or expand the main menu, cursor response was delayed, and window movement demonstrated delays in action. In addition, the cursor would disappear completely after screen blanking. These problems disappeared when I used the Nvidia proprietary graphics drivers.

I must use Ndiswrapper and Windows drivers for my wireless adapter's chipset. There is no GUI application for this process, but it works well at the command line. Like openSUSE, Yoper offers KNetworkManager to activate the Internet connection, but it didn't complete my connection, forcing me to again resort to the command line to start it with dhclient. If you're concerned about encrypting your Wi-Fi connection, WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) is easy to implement, but WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) doesn't work under Yoper.

GUI battery monitoring is handled by Klaptop by default, but it didn't work on my system. Kpowersave is available through Smart and does work well for displaying the battery life and charging progress. However, Suspend to RAM and Suspend to Disk didn't work, only blanking and locking the screen. The backlight remained on.


Despite the problems I found, I liked Yoper, although the 3.0 final release failed to live up to the promise of earlier betas. I experienced more problems than I usually have when testing distros.

The look and feel of Yoper exude bold independence, but the effect is almost ruined by unattractive fonts. Most of the individual applications functioned well, but the Smart Package Manage suffered a few issues, and some of the important applets were non-functional. As a whole the system seems stable, but the X server problems and suspend issues were disappointing. I failed to see the promised superior performance to any measurable degree beyond fast boot times.

In the end, Yoper requires quite a bit of tinkering at the command line to get it to work properly, making it more of a hobbyist distro and thus inappropriate for Linux newcomers.


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