Updated: November 9, 2012
The word overwhelming is one writers like to use. Me, I like it becomes it has such an ambiguous meaning. Overwhelming has both positive and negative connotations. When you utter the word, on its own, the other party cannot know what you meant until you elaborate on your experience, and that is what I'm going to do. Plus, break another promise.
I told you I would not use Gnome 3. But I did with SUSE, because I needed it in order to install Cinnamon. Now, there's AriOS, and it uses Gnome 3 and all that as its default desktop environment, with a lot of changes and tweaks. So in theory, I should simply ignore the distribution, right. But, given my past experience with the product, plus reading around some, I decided to put my pride aside and give you a highly subjective review of what AriOS 4.0 can do.
AriOS 4.0 boots into a desktop that has been toned down compared to previous versions. The multitude of panels and applets is gone, and you get a much simpler, more consistent layout. Still, like all versions of this distro, it requires a lengthy introduction on all the little visual perks.
Look & feel, this part is fairly long
AriOS desktop is gray-white in theme, pretty decent and clean. By default, the system will show mounted volumes, but you can hide these using the Advanced Settings menu. You end up with a very sensible presentation.
In the top right corner, you get the standard notification area, and slightly further below a Conky-like widgets that display various system statistics. It looks quite nice, I must admit, although the time of day is shown in the center of the top panel.
The menu is also quite lovely, well styled, polished, accessible. It's Gnome 3 all right, so you can't have shortcuts on either of the two panels or the desktop, but right-click on any application, and you will be asked whether to add it to the Favorites menu.
If you slam the mouse cursor into the top left corner, then the standard Activities thingie will pop up, making things a little more ungainly, although the extremely tasteful choice of colors, icons and the theme do make the problem less immediately apparent.
However, from the user perspective, the fact you MUST access the menu to open programs, and the fact you cannot see the list of all your open programs at once still remains a huge issue, but that's an entirely Gnome 3 failure.
Not all is rosy and peachy and salmony, though. There were some small issues and visual bugs. When the live desktop loaded, it complained about Firefox bookmarks. Then, when you expand the system menu, and it shows the Power off button, I win, you will notice the system widget is only partially hidden, and a few stray pixels show from behind, spoiling the aesthetic effect.
Finally, you only get one workspace. I tried changing the visible number, but it seems this is dynamically decided by the distro. Still, it's quite confusing, because this little menu pops up, it actually lets you type freely, not just numbers but any text, press Enter, and it's gone, but the number of your workspaces remains the same. Quite baffling.
The system menu is missing some category icons, and it cannot be resized, so you end up with an ugly scrollbar, which only lets you move down about half an icon row, so the effect is rather jarring.
Other than all these little bugs and glitches, from the entirely aesthetic perspective, AriOS 4 is exceptionally nice distro. Makes you wonder about the total fugliness of the stock Gnome 3 releases. Why?
Too much, though
Let's put good looks aside now. Indeed, going back to the System menu, a slight sense of fatigue does sink in when you begin exploring all the various options. For example, there's that thing called System Center, and it feels like it's there so that AriOS can call itself unique, otherwise what's the point? But it has five submenus, which more or less overlap with what the standard settings menu offers, ever so slightly differently worded to make you confused.
If you fire up all these, four will launch, one won't - Desktop Config Editor, and the rest are the combined task force of a nuclear carrier bearing down on a fishing barge. You end up with the Gnome Advanced Settings menu, the ability to change startup programs, the dconf editor that sort of replaces the gconf editor, and the Extensions Manager for all those little pieces of code that make Gnome 3 actually usable. But for ordinary users, this is way too much and bound to make them tremble in fear from a total sensory overload.
The bread and butter and anchovies of the computer usage. No disappointments there, but some curious behavior. Flash is not installed by default, which you can assume from the installer shortcut on the desktop. Hence, knowing this, no disappointment.
MP3 worked, but I could not see the player anywhere. Checking the contextual menu of the volume icon in the notification area, it seemed Audacious was doing its work properly, only the main window was hidden somewhere. Eventually, I managed to pop it out, and learned this had to do with some of the Gnome extensions used by the developers to tame the overall bland and useless Gnome 3 into something more, but we will talked about it later on.
And we leave everything else for later.
Installation - QA team bad
There's not much to be said. Ubuntu all the way, with some rebranding. A curious fact is that AriOS does not recommend installing updates and third-party software, but it does that anyway. Moreover, it says it comes with third-party software, but only partially, and only some of it is configured to work out of the box.
And then, the slideshow was only half good. The first slide worked well, but all the rest had the missing image icon, so something went wrong somewhere. Overall, it's what Ubuntu gives you more or less, somewhat jumbled and confusing. The final installation went just fine, with a quadruple setup all dandy and set.
Using AriOS - Into the lion's den
Don't ask me why I chose this sub-title, it's random. Anyhow, let's begin.
Applications - Holy banana
Overwhelming, in its negative sense. I hardly know how to begin even. Really. The repertoire is so huge, so dazzling, so colorful you feel like giving up. Like asking for a girlfriend and winning a three-month gala at the Playboy Mansion, without Hugh around.
You may say AriOS 4 has two of each, maybe there. It begins with the system menu and then the Activities menu, which should have been disabled, and continues with so many programs with the exact same functionality, it's mind bottling. When they put your mind in a bottle, guess the reference, can you?
Just look at those menu entries. You really get too many choices. Why do you need two mail clients, two subtitle programs, three or four image viewing applications? You also get two webcam tools, for pity's sake. Media wise, you get a billion programs. Both Audacity AND Audacious, Handbrake, half a dozen media players and makers. And then, let's not mention all the standard programs, like Shotwell, Thunderbird, Pidgin, GIMP, Firefox, Chromium, LibreOffice, Transmission, and the rest.
And more and more ...
You get VLC, Winetricks, Cheese, and still the list is long. Even Stellarium is installed.
And more and more and more ...
You will only probably recognize VirtualBox. Why would you care about bitcoins. And all the rest of those. Why do you need Gnash player, if you have VLC. What is Nitro, a task manager?
And still more
Lots of other awesome and less awesome programs. Blender, for example. A lovely one, but how many people can actually use its alien menus?
A program called LOVE, complete with an umlaut, will spin red and pink thingies around in such an ugly, nauseating manner that even I, Mr. no dizzy almost vomited after a few minutes of this stupidity. What? Why? A mind-control machine?
Then, a program called Cycle, which tells you how it cannot prevent sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS. WTF? I mean, WTF?
Bumblebee, is that for Nvidia on Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge boards for dual card usage, if so a little more friendly explanation would have been nice.
Firefox customization has been toned down since the last time, but you still get a few extensions here and there, like Foxy Proxy, which can utilize the TOR network. This probably makes more sense in countries with serious Internet censorship. DuckDuckGo is the search engine of choice here.
You are dead tired at this stage.
Firefox + Flash works fine now.
Gnome Shell extensions
If you recall the Mint Gnome Shell Extensions, the concept is similar. And here, you will find a whole bunch of little utilities that render this distro unlike any other Gnome 3 spin, which is quite commendable. And we learn why Audacious was hidden all that time, for instance.
No good, the default Gnome 3 applet is crap. I could not find my Samba printers.
System usage & performance
Let's ignore the ugly icon background that seems to come up in a variety of distros now and then. AriOS sports a decent performance, and it's probably the snappiest Gnome 3 incarnation I have seen. And then, it tolls about half a Gig of RAM on idle, which is average, bordering on could be better.
I wanted to test AriOS to see whether it could up its predecessor, version 3.0, which was somewhat worse than version 2.0, the aforementioned past experience, and it did. It is better than the last edition. Version 4.0, as a whole, is a better product.
However. We go back to our fancy word. Overwhelming. This is what AriOS is, and that's not a good thing. It begins nicely, with style. And I dare say AriOS 4.0 is the best looking Gnome 3 spin by far. Almost good enough to use every day. Honestly. Remarkable. But that's not enough. Nor good enough.
You just have too much happening around you, way too much. And the apps choice is simply wrong. You cannot have so much choice in a single menu. People will just walk away, stunned. Moreover, the multitude adds confusion and reduces productivity, especially since you cannot really decide which of the many duplicate programs you ought to try. The size of the image could have been easily cut down in half, but then you end up with just Ubuntu.
The thing is, AriOS could justify itself just by being a workable Gnome 3 distro, but that's what Mint did, so you don't really need it, then. Hence, it must somehow differentiate itself, and the problem is, it's really hard to balance and innovate, all at the same time. To say nothing of the actual bugs and problems, most of which revolve around little details that matter so much. Although there's nothing cardinally wrong, the total of all things does leave you wondering.
To sum it up, excellent Gnome 3 conversion, the best there is presently around. But the defining characteristic of AriOS 4.0 is too much. Overwhelming indeed. Plus, it really can't decide what it wants to be, Ubuntu, A Mint lookalike, its own spin, something else. Overall, jolly good if you can take the bling bling, a hard take for purists like me.
This time, AriOS gets something like 8/10. Better, but could be better still.