NimbleX Linux - 94% satisfaction


Updated: December 8, 2008

Hey, why not 100%, you ask? Well, read on to find out.

On the surface, NimbleX is another Linux distribution, shipping as a live CD, meant to be used primarily as a live CD, with the optional installation. It is based on Slackware and designed to fit under 256MB to allow it to be used from small USB thumb drives.

Desktop small

So, all in all, at the first glance, NimbleX is not that much different from dozens of other distributions. However, at the second glance, beneath the surface, NimbleX has a few unique features that set it apart from the generic definition. Let us explore together the reasons why you should seriously consider using NimbleX. Follow me.

Booting into live CD session

Which one, you ask? NimbleX comes with a wide range of desktop environments available: KDE, Enlightment (both 16 and 17), Fluxbox, IceWM, Equinox, you name it. The number of choices is quite surprising for such a small distribution.

Boot menu

More boot menu options

We'll begin with the default desktop - the KDE.

KDE

At first, the booting seems to hang. Then, NimbleX gather speeds and rockets into the live session, with astonishing smoothness and agility. KDE is known to be a heavy desktop environment and usually avoided in small, lightweight distros.

Booting

NimbleX is a sure winner here. You get the silky beauty of KDE - without the weight thereof. It's a win-win situation.

NimbleX in KDE is quite lovely. The desktop is minimalistic, yet fully functional. The choice of colors is smart. Fonts are large and clear and easily readable. The desktop has a crisp, smooth and aesthetically pleasing feel. One of the more streamlined products I have seen, especially considering the fact it is a "small" live CD.

Desktop

Usability

So, what do we have here? Well, a lot. NimbleX comes with guns blazing.

NTFS read/write support & Samba sharing

I could access my Windows network instantly and copy the Shock The Monkey mp3 and some other proprietary-format files for the purpose of multimedia testing. My USB drive was also properly detected and mounted. Don't mind the numerous partitions, they belong to native Ubuntu and openSUSE installations.

Konqueror

MP3 support

It worked, right out of the box and no mistake!

MP3 works

Windows video formats

No problem!

AVI playing

Flash

Did someone say Flash? No problems there, either. Working smoothly.

Flash

Wireless

Here, I hit my first snag. Wireless worked, all right. The moment I booted up, NimbleX connected to a default, unpassworded wireless network. Not what I wanted. In a way, this is a violation of someone's privacy - even if they're too inept to care.

Wireless 1

Wireless 2

I then tried to connect to my WPA2-protected network - and did not succeed. Apparently, NimbleX does not support the new encryption methods, although I'm not really sure.

Wireless 3

Bluetooth

It worked as it should.

Bluetooth

Compiz

Another snag. I could not get it working on my T42 with an ATI card. The error I got had to do with No GLXFBConfig for default depth. After trying a few tweaks suggested on Google and the Compiz forums, I gave up. I did not try other laptops.

Applications

NimbleX comes with a rich and well-balanced assortment of tools. You'll even get VirtualBox installed. And KOffice.

VirtualBox & KOffice

Another cool application is Yakuake, a drop-down desktop-integrated shell emulator:

Yakuake

And you get a whole range of tools, including Firefox, GIMP, Krita, Akregator, Dillo, XMMS, MPlayer, and others.

Overall, KDE feels good. It is definitely well polished. The desktop is fast, smooth and pleasing to the eye. The choice of colors, the clutter, the layout, the selection of programs, they are all quite professionally done. However, the functionality is somewhat flawed, especially when it comes to networking and graphics.

I think the functionality is far more important, but the extra beauty will certainly soften the hearts of users so they give the distro more slack. And considering it is based on Slackware, this is a great pun indeed.

Let us now review the other desktop managers.

Other desktop managers

This is where the major percentage drop starts. The developer(s) of the distro put their almost entire effort in making KDE work, leaving the other managers weak, pale, unfinished.

Enlightment 16

Enlightment 16 is weird. I had great difficulty getting used to the strange layout. The right mouse clicks offers you a billion configuration settings, which can probably turn the desktop into a staggering, breath-taking beauty, but they may also curdle the blood of the unprepared newbie.

The applications we tried earlier work well.

Enlightment 16

Enlightment 17

It was more beautiful, but still weird. And quite buggy too. The desktop icons were strange. I had no idea what purpose they served. Clicking on them opened a few windows for a moment before closing.

Enlightment 17

The desktop is somewhat reminiscent of the work done in openGEU, which I reviewed about a year ago, except it has lots of glitches and the simplistic overall gray look is depressing.

Equinox

Most of the applications in Equinox would not start, complaining about the path. To be honest, most of the applications listed in the menu were completely different from what we saw in KDE. It seems that a generic menu has been slapped onto the distro, without checking the configuration files.

Equinox desktop

Error

All in all, Equinox is passable in beauty, although the rough Windows 3.11-like finish is troublesome. Flash worked in Firefox, but it stuttered and left pink smudges in the browser window - there were no issues in KDE. The desktop fonts are horrible, like something from a 1963 typewriter.

Flash

IceWM

IceWM behaved well, but it was blocky in feel. Switching themes worked fine. The only one that seemed reasonable was Silver XP, meant to mimic Windows XP. The end result was a combination of XP window borders and KDE menus and fonts, a bad combination.

IceWM

Fluxbox

Fluxbox was OK, except it looked old and wild, like a hacker's inbred bastard. The menus were so tiny I could not read them at all. The applications worked well.

Fluxbox

Others

They were so ugly I did not dare take screenshots lest my pixels melt.

Overall desktop management

Well, it seems like 6 out of 7 desktop managers are completely surplus. KDE does its job. The rest fail miserably. It is impossible to enjoy NimbleX using any of the other choices. If a user accidentally boots in one of the other desktop managers, he/she will probably put down NimbleX for good, without ever experiencing its strong and beautiful side.

I have nothing against lightweight desktop managers, but so many of them - they're just too many. And the law of conservation of quality makes sure each gets a tiny slice, instead of bunching up in one solid, end result.

Most of the choices would not be bad, but the lack of consistency, the lack of functionality in many cases and the depressing 1994 looks definitely do no good to the otherwise exceptionally streamlined package.

Conclusion

NimbleX is good. Quite good. If I have not tried the other desktop managers, I would have been most pleased. This way, I see there's a lot of work to be done.

Here's how NimbleX can be made much better:

Strip down the extra managers, make space for more drivers, better applications. This could also help solve the problems with Compiz and the Wireless networking support issues, swatting two flies in one go.

Add a second, lightweight manager for weaker machines - but just one. Xfce sounds like an excellent idea. It would also give the developer(s) more time to focus on improving a smaller selection of products instead of inefficiently distributing the skill and talent across a whole range of mediocre goods.

I did not test the installation, so I cannot comment on this aspect. Being Slackware-based and installing with the default root account, just the way I demonstrated in my Slackware tutorial, NimbleX committed to hard disk is probably not for everyone.

The anti-virus software and the firewall (Guarddog) are not enabled by default, either. You don't need an anti-virus in Linux, but when running as a root account and no firewall, some extra precaution might be necessary. NimbleX has a lot of potential. I can feel it. But it still has to grow.

Compared to Puppy, it delivers a mighty punch in beauty, but it is more than twice the size. However, Puppy has a greater assortment of programs and better overall functionality. Luckily, you can use both. That's it for now. I'll be watching this distro progress.

Cheers.

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