Updated: September 26, 2011
AriOS is a small, fledgling Ubuntu fork with a relatively decent level of integration that is normally reserved to bigger distributions. In its very first incarnation, while it was still called mFatOS, this operating system achieved average results. It worked well, but it was a bit jumbled, a bit cluttered. It tried to offer as much functionality as possible without strict reliance on high-speed Internet connectivity, but some of the user experience was marred by simply adding too much stuff. Version 2, called AriOS, was much more moderate, far more refined, with a decent level of polish, good applications choice and stability.
Now, AriOS 3.0 is out there. As a potential candidate to becoming a complete, truly successful Ubuntu derivative, an accolade which has so far been reserved to only Linux Mint, I took the distro for a spin, with high spirits and higher expectations. Tested: the 32-bit version, on my T60p experimentation rig. There's a 64-bit version, too.
AriOS comes with a simple boot menu and a fancy splash. Very soon, you will land into a darkish desktop, with the layout similar to the one you've seen in AriOS 2.0. However, there are some marked differences.
The dark wallpaper is not as friendly as it's soft-blue counterpart in the previous version. Moreover, the tiny system panel in the top right corner used to be transparent, but now it sports a black background and feels too small. While the uniform black-and-white coloring add a professional touch, it also makes you want to increase the panel size right away.
And then you notice the shutdown button is not the right most one, which could annoy you. Moreover, rearranging the items order, as well as adding or remove items is a fairly difficult task. If you like control, you will feel frustrated.
But things can be improved right away. Even a tiny change in the panel size, plus the wallpaper choice make things a lot better.
The fact the panel is not transparent causes another visual inconsistency when you open applications fully maximized. You end up with a small panel covering the right corner of the open window, which can be annoying. In version 2.0, the transparency was a neat little trick that hid away this fact. But now, you're in a bit of a problem. And what if you want to have your window buttons on the right side?
You can resolve it by forcing the panel into the classic Gnome panel mode, but then you apps hang about 20-30px from the top of the screen, with nothing in between, which feels even worse, but if you stretch the panel all the way, you end up mangling the application dock on the left. It's not a good choice.
Another problem I had was with the said application dock. For some reason, it refused to add new icons, save what I already had. I could place them there permanently by pinning them, yes, but drag & drop and using the preferences windows did not work. I do not know whether this is by design or not, but from my testing with various docks, this should have worked. We'll talk more about this later on.
Unfortunately, the multimedia playback support has also taken a turn for the worse, for three reasons. One, some of the plugins that used to be there are missing. For instance, Microsoft Media Server (MMS) is no longer bundled by default, which is a shame. Second, you get both Firefox alerting you on the missing functionality and the package manager, so it's a competition which one grabs your attention first. Three, playing Flash is almost impossible, but we'll talk about that when we discuss Firefox in the application sub-section further below. For now, you get MP3 and Flash, no Apple plugins, no MMS.
Next, I installed the distro.
The installation was very much Ubuntu, but with good branding, simple, fast, safe, and uneventful. I liked the fact the developer has removed the third-party codecs checkbox from the installation wizard, as it truly is unnecessary. The slideshow is quite nice. The dual-boot configuration worked just fine.
Overall, the distribution behaved well, but there were a few super-annoying things that really spoiled the experience. Let's take a look at how things went.
The repertoire is quite solid. You get a lot. But then, AriOS weighs 1.4GB, so the tradeoff is not as stellar as you might expect. There's no hidden magic. With that in mind, you do realize that some of the chosen software could have been easily removed and possibly substituted for other programs or not at all.
For instance, there's a program called Your Freedom. I have no idea what this is.
Among the more mainstream choices, you get Firefox, Chromium, VLC, GIMP, Handbrake, Clementine, VirtualBox, Winetricks, Skype, and a whole lot more. The overall arsenal is fairly balanced, with possibly some bias toward multimedia software.
However, one program that is seriously damaged, despite its immense popularity and necessity, is Firefox no less. The default browser is flavored with so many changes, including some ten add-ons that alter its behavior, that it is no longer what you want or expect. Instead, it's the developer's vision of how Firefox ought to look and behave, and it's not an acceptable choice.
But this is only the beginning of your problems. First, in between updates, some of these addons stopped worked, as they were incompatible with the browser. Second, if you try playing Flash with the FlashVideoReplacer add-on enabled, you won't get anywhere. Click on the video, and it won't play, you'll get that semi-transparent icon hovering over the actual clip.
Then, there's a whole lot of messages this one add-on spews. It will tell you it works with Flashblock, which is not installed, there's Flash-Aid, which removes conflicting Flash whatever, messages telling you that FVR has not found any replacements, whatever that means, and you're still unable to play Flash, and all of these are shown in annoying notifications outside the browser window.
My solution was - disable all add-ons and get to business. Moreover, I don't like when developers make moral choices for me, like disabling ads, skipping so-called unnecessary pages and whatnot.
After replacing the wallpaper, I tried taming the dock on the left to my taste. It still refused to add application icons in any other way except right-click, pin, which seems weird, and maybe a glitch. Then, some of the Awn Settings menu items look rather out of place in the chosen desktop theme, with seemingly random khaki-brown bars showing on an otherwise flat gray window panel - and overlapping. Feels unprofessional.
AriOS comes with Compiz enabled, which seems mandatory to use the selected theme and its elements, but you'd better not mess with the Settings Manager, as you will render your desktop inoperable. I tried fiddling some of the classic effects I normally use, like fire, water, desktop cube, and such like. In return, I got windows that cannot be moved across the desktop, windows with no decorations, an ancient fallback GTK theme that kicks in when OpenGL crashes, and a whole lot other problems, which I could not easily fix.
I'm wondering what really went wrong - it could be the ATI card, but most likely the fact I was given the option to tweak Compiz options and ruin my system. As a user, I'm not supposed to know what plugins are mandatory. Make that choice for me and do not allow changes that can cause the desktop environment to go kaput.
Apart from the somewhat severe issues with Firefox and Compiz and aesthetic woes, the system behaved rather well. Suspend & resume worked just fine, there were no other application crashes, and the memory usage was in the expected 350MB range. Overall, what you would expect from an Ubuntu family member. And I guess we stop here.
AriOS 3.0 has some big problems. My top three issues were the scarring of the Firefox, Compiz problems and visual inconsistencies with the theme and the panels. Other than that, the distro worked ok. But the integration is not as good as it used to be.
It seems Linux Mint must remain the champion of the Ubuntu family. But even without the silent competition raging, AriOS must sort some of the problems that arose. I would say slow down a bit, trim down a bit, aim for more mainstream, conservative choices, expect the unexpected, try to avoid the traps of trying too much. Sometimes, less is more, and this is specially true when it comes to small elements like an icon here and there, the choice of color, the little yet intrusive elements like the positioning of application windows or browser plugins.
Overall, AriOS 3.0 deserves 7/10. One thing is sure, it can do much better than that. After all, version 2.0 already proved that. Firefox must be pure and untouched, Compiz must always work and never let the user destroy his session, remove some of the application extras, and focus on a simple and customizable theme with intuitive controls. That would be all, I guess. Have fun.