sidux 2008-04 Pontos - Not for the faint-hearted


Updated: March 7, 2009

Note: I have written this article shortly before the release of sidux 2009-01 Ouranos. Instead of scrapping the article, I decided to publish it, as I sincerely believe that most things written in this review genuinely reflect the nature and behavior of sidux. That said, I must reserve all my observations, as it is possible that every single one has changed. Nevertheless, enjoy the article!


Some time ago, a fellow user in one of the forums suggested I try sidux. Why I asked? Well, he said, sidux is Debian-based, it's light, stable and fast. After reading online a bit, I found overall positive impressions, I decided to follow suit and test sidux.

Thumb

As always, I approached the distro with the "average Joe" attitude. The average Joe is a rather strict user. His distros must be fun, intuitive, hardware friendly, and easy to configure, while retaining a relatively high level of performance and good looks.

Not an easy test, after all. In this review, you'll see how well sidux fares against the daily challenges of casual computer usage - live CD experience with all its ups and downs, including Wireless support, browsing, multimedia support, Windows support, and more; then the installation and other configurations.

Can sidux satisfy these demands?

Get sidux

Even before you insert the CD/DVD into the tray, you're warned on the sidux official website to use low speeds when burning the ISOs. This is because sidux uses high compression to keep things small and fast, requiring delicate preparations. This is something I have not seen before and definitely puts sidux apart.

I decided to download the smaller, 450MB CD edition of the (currently) latest version, Pontos. There's also a DVD edition available, with many more programs included.

Live CD - Warp 9 please

It turns out the warnings are not in vain. sidux promises to be a very fast distribution - and it is. It boots into the live session just as quickly as Puppy, despite featuring a KDE desktop and being four times in size (for the CD edition).

Boot screen

The desktop is simple and unremarkable. Personally, I find the green-sunray wallpaper to be slightly archaic, but it can be easily changed to anything you like.

Desktop

Even with modest 512MB dedicated to the test machine, sidux blazed. I have no idea yet whether it could deliver other promises, but it definitely did deliver lightning speed. If you're into fast, then sidux is definitely a good choice. But I could not leave it at that. The test has just begun.

Browsing

sidux does not come with Firefox included in the CD edition. Instead, you have to use Konqueror, the default KDE browser / file manager. It's a reasonable choice, but some popular websites do have issues with it. The first thing I wanted to check was whether Konqueror liked proxy servers. It did and connected to the Internet easily.

Konqueror running

The next thing was to see whether Konqueror would play Flash on Youtube. I typed in a search for Crockett's Theme and hit Enter. And Konqueror crashed on me ... Oops ...

Konqueror crash

I opened the browser again. This time, it connected fine, without any issues. However, Flash was not included by default.

No flash

I manually downloaded the Flash Player 10 package from the Adobe website and tried to install from the command line.

Flash install

But this did not go well. The installer complained about finding no Mozilla or Opera browser on the system and quit. I'm not sure who fault this really is, if at all, but the installation of Flash was not a trivial matter with Konqueror. Furthermore, it definitely dissuades from using Konqueror, if you're even mildly inclined toward rich Web media.

Flash error

I downloaded Firefox manually and it loaded fine, but would not connect to the Internet through the proxy I specified. Which is strange, since I've used Firefox countless times in similar configurations without any issues.

It felt as if the Flash was not meant to be ... Well, I did manage to watch the coveted Youtube video only after specifying no proxy in the system configuration for sidux, after which Firefox could connect and I could install the plugin. But it was not an encouraging step toward user friendliness.

Next, I wanted to see how well sidux cooperated with Windows machines. I needed a connection to a Windows host to grab my MP3 and Windows video files for further multimedia testing.

But even without these files, I knew I would not have had much luck with multimedia. When trying to run the Kaffeine player, I got these messages/errors:

Kaffeine

There were no codecs for Windows media packaged with the distro. And for some reason, sidux did not like my combo DVD-ROM/CD-RW player either.

Samba sharing

And here I got another error ... sidux was not able to find the Windows network, even though there was no firewall running on the host or any of the specified target machines. I did not explore any deeper, but definitely did not like the results.

Samba error

My next test was Wireless.

Wireless

I booted sidux the second time on my T42 laptop, a four-year old machine that had virtually no issues with most distros I've tested. More specifically, the network always functioned properly, even if sometimes certain distros did have difficulties with WPA2-enabled connections.

But sidux did not recognize my wireless adapter, only the wired. This was most frustrating, as it virtually neutered any of my attempts for further testing on this machine.

No network

Other problems

There were quite a few other issues ... including aesthetical ones:

Windows focusing

I found the lack of (distinctive) window focusing to be slightly problematic. As you may notice, sidux uses the same uniform color for active and inactive window borders, with only a slight difference in the font color. This makes it difficult to keep track of active windows on the desktop. Can you tell which one is the active window?

Window focusing

Misaligned windows & fonts

Additionally, some of the menus have not been designed with enough forethought regarding different monitor/screen sizes, aspect ratios and resolutions. I encountered several cases where the text simply flowed out of its box. Example:

Fonts

While this is an innocent enough problem, it smacks of low QA and does not inspire confidence in the distro.

Installation

Even though by now I have realized that sidux is not the most friendly distro, I decided to test the installation and see what it feels like.

sidux uses a simple, if ugly tabbed menu for installation choices. As you can see, the choice of fonts, colors and the alignment is not exactly the highlight of human engineering.

Another problem is that sidux refers you to external, Internet sources for help, should you require one. But what if you don't have an Internet connection, just the way it happened with Wireless on T42?

Install ugly

To be fair, sidux does include a manual, but it is written for advanced Linux users and will be of little help for people who might need it, kind of a Catch 22 paradox.

Manual

The installer is not intuitive. Our hard disk has no partition table, which is fine, so we will have to create it. Looking at the installer, there's the slightly vague Start Part.-manager title, which seems like what we want.

Below it, there's a drop down menu AND a triple checkbutton. So what to choose? The drop down or the checkbutton? And what if the user selects different choices? Will they conflict? Then, what should the user choose, gparted, cfdisk or fdisk? The thing is, if the user has no idea what to choose, he/she might end with a command-line disk utility. Worse yet, what if there are partitions already present on the disk? Ruining them with fdisk takes just a few keyboard strokes. Lastly, the Execute button is also a bit of a dilemma, as it sounds rather finite, but in fact it merely launches the partitioning software selected.

Initial partitioning

Knowing what I had to do, I launched GParted and created the partitions we need. Again, notice the difference in spelling, gparted in the main menu versus GParted in the application itself.

Create layout

After the partitions were created, GParted vanished, the installer was gone ... but then it popped up, after about 2 seconds of delay. And it turns out, it has made a wrong choice of partitions for the installation.

Bad default choice

While I clearly meant to use sda1 as the root (/), sidux chose sda6 instead, the intended /home partition.

Furthermore, the installer listed all partitions it could recognize into the list, except swap, which is another alarming issue. This is definitely confusing and could be terrifying for new users. Additionally, if the checkbox Set mountpoint of other ... is not marked, then all listed partitions will be formatted! I wonder what would happen if there were already other Linux or even Windows partitions present?

Defining the partitions on sidux requires quite a bit of care and attention, as you can very easily make a wrong choice. This is the final layout I intended:

Right choice

Other options are more or less trivial. We're ready to install, now. Again, the badly aligned menu we've seen before:

Begin install

The installation was lightning fast! It took only four minutes, a record time for any distro I've ever tested. sidux is all about speed and it shows. Unfortunately, the soft side of the distro has been neglected.

Complete

And we're ready to login:

Login

Applications

When it comes to applications, the CD version definitely holds only a fraction of what the full DVD version offers. But being Debian-based and using the superb apt-get, you should have no problems beefing up the arsenal, provided you have the networking, that is.

The basic set is reasonable although you won't find many mainstream programs. For instance, the CD version does not have any office programs. However, you'll have the excellent K3b for burning and Kaffeine as the media player.

Apps

There are also a few unique applications, like umtsmon, for controlling 3G mobile devices or HPLIP fax utility.

Conclusion

sidux is definitely not a distro for beginners.

It's a distribution aimed at power users, who won't shun from spending a few hours manually tweaking configuration files and getting things to work, including some fairly basic stuff that most people find to be an integral, natural part of desktop functionality, like network connectivity (Wireless, shares) or multimedia applications and codecs.

If you have the nerve and knowledge to tame sidux, it will work great. It will be super-fast, booting up in just a few seconds and blazing even on modest machines. You will also enjoy the bleeding edge of Linux technology from the unstable Debian branches.

But the price you will have to pay is a high one. sidux won't spoil you with anything extra. It's spartan and conservative and will get you sweating your fingers while hammering on the keyboard to get things done. In my opinion, sidux feels kind of 2006 in its user-friendliness, far from the simplicity of several other distros you can find today, like Ubuntu, openSUSE or perhaps LinuxMint.

If you're a new Linux user, then sidux is not the best choice for you. If you're well familiar with Linux and have no qualms about getting your hands dirty, then you should definitely consider sidux.

Cheers.

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