Updated: February 23, 2011
Frankly, without a few polite emails from readers, I'd never have come across Bayanihan. The fact there's so little information about the Philippine national distribution is not a good sign, but it could only be the simple language barrier. But I was intrigued. After testing another national distribution, Pardus, developed in Turkey, I was privy to the ingenuity of design implemented into the operating system. Perhaps Bayanihan could be another little-known gem. Or not.
Reading online, I found no reviews. The single DistroWatch link is a dead one. Then, going through news and commentary, most of it was limited to 2006-2009, the last around the time the latest version of the distribution was released. Again, not a good sign. Perhaps I was fiddling with a dead project, fighting against impossible odds, reviewing a distribution that has no place on a modern desktop? Perhaps. But I did review it, so do take a look.
I downloaded the installable edition rather than the live CD, the reason being I wanted to try something new. Furthermore, I wanted to compare it to Pardus, which I've also tested without a live session, not that this review is a head-on competition against Pardus.
Bayanihan is based on Debian, so it ought to be fairly good, but then, it might also be rather spartan and frugal. With the release date of 2009 and kernel version 2.6.32, this should be fairly modern, comparable to perhaps Karmic Koala or openSUSE 11.2.
Therefore, my review begins with the installation.
I copied the image to a USB drive and booted from it. No problems, but then the installer complained about missing CD-ROM image, which was in fact running from the USB drive. This is a logic falacy and smacks of antiquity.
All right, second trial, running from CD, this time things worked as they should. But I did hit my first snag when trying to configure the network. While Kalumbata did see my Wireless adapter, it did not see any of the access points available, which made the network setup fail.
Taking screenshots of the installation is extremely easy, very Debian in nature. Click on the Screenshot button and an image will be saved to /var/log. But how do you get it copied elsewhere, so that it survives the installation? Well, this is old Linux stuff. Go to one of the other virtual consoles using Ctrl + Alt + Fn keys. Then manually mount the second storage device and copy data to it. I did not like this. It's so 2007. We're past that stage.
Again, this is pure Debian - and very old-fashioned. I just hated the 10-step configuration for each partition, choose whether you want to mount it, the mount point, filesystem, formating, etc. The most modern filesystem is Ext3. On a side note, Ext4 was around for a while back then, so this does not inspire confidence.
Next, there's the usual, root and user password and other boring settings, all of which seem so clunky, especially if you worked your way through a typical modern Linux installation. But the setup completed without any additional problems.
The Bayanihan 5 Kalumbata desktop is a fairly classic KDE 3.5 desktop. Oh, did I say KDE 3.5? Yes, indeed. The Philippine distribution ships with the goodie but oldie and very lightweight KDE 3.5, which has not seen much use since KDE4 was born.
The default there is not among the prettiest. The window decorations are brown and fuzzy and fat, not quite my choice. As a Gnome person, I prefer the sleek and simple KDE looks, which used to be around in SUSE 10. But with a little extra work, you can have them.
Worked fine. In fact, I was surprised by how fast Samba sharing in Bayanihan was. Must be the KDE 3.5 implementation or something. And there's the bookmark feature, which was not there when I played with Sabayon 5.4.
Well, not really what I expected. For example, MP3 playback worked out of the box, which is a very good thing, but Flash was a nasty kick in the nadgers. There was no Flash installed, so I had to manually pull the Adobe Flash Player tarball from the official site, extract the shared library and copy it into .mozilla directory. So 90s.
On top of that, Flash did not really work, getting stuck often. Frozen and choppy playback, accompanied with stutters and high CPU usage.
Then, I learned that there were non-free and multimedia repositories available, commented out in the Synaptic sources. However, they were hard-coded to Philippines and extremely slow. After almost 20 minutes of waiting for apt-get update to complete, I simply gave up.
We'll talk more about package management later. On a positive note, you get Amarok 1.4, the proven old version that everyone liked.
The basic arsenal is fairly KDE 3.5, tons of tiny utilities with weird names, plus some mainstream programs. However, the useful collection is rather slim, with Firefox, Pidgin, OpenOffice, GIMP, GwenView, MPlayer, Amarok, K3b, and a few others besides. Decent, robust, functional, but not exciting or colorful.
There are some notable exceptions. For example, you get Wine and KlamAV, which is a funny default addition. This is definitely a bureaucratic move, probably to ease the minds of Windows-oriented users switching to an open-source, free alternative to their desktop setup. In this light, the application selection looks a little more logical. The switch is supposed to be simple and transparent, with no radical evolution or experimentation.
You will also be surprised to find XVidCap, which I've last used in Gutsy. So you wonder what the developers really aimed at. Programs from five years ago combined with Firefox 3.6 and OpenOffice 3.1. Kind of funny.
Furthermore, some of the programs were buggy or badly configured, including the anti-virus program, which seemed the weakest link of them all. See the error at the bottom of the main interface:
Similarly, there's the Thinkpad setup, which seems simply antiquated, to say nothing of the actual super-geek lingo used to describe the error.
Being a national distributions has its downsizes. For instance, Pardus has a relatively meager collection of programs. Bayanihan suffers from very slow regional servers with no mirrors available. Only Scientific Linux escapes this fate, but it's a narrow one.
Synaptic package manager works great, but with extra repositories disabled, it won't find anything thrilling. Then, if you do enable them, you might get frustrated by the maple syrup speed of the repositories, taking ages to update.
Overall, the distro ran fairly well. Light and fast, with instant application response. Moreover, suspend & resume worked without any problems. However, after resuming the session, the desktop brightness level was changed and the Wireless network disconnected.
All right, so let's summarize what I did like about Bayanihan.
I love it. It's old, old-fashioned and spartan, but it is also rock-solid, uncluttered, fast, light, and stable. Comparing to KDE4, it looks and behaves better, says one man in his personal opinion, me. There's something serene about Plastik windows decoration. There's good and honest simplicity about it.
Yes, you get an old repertoire, but truth to be told, you do not really need more. And if you take a typical, clueless person, then Amarok 1.4, Amarok 2.0 or Clementine, it makes no difference. Most people prefer not to have a choice, and in this regard, nicely rounded with the governmental approach to Bayanihan development, the default choice of programs actually makes a lot of sense. What more, it's still quite decent.
You can play the Devil's Advocate and argue against the spartan, conservative selection of programs. And it's true, although functionality-wise, you are no worse than you would be with a different collection, although you get none of the street credit, bling-bling, desktop effects, or the coolness normally associated with the latest and greatest programs.
Seriously. The amount of customization is annoying and overwhelming. I just do not like how KDE has its own customization, which is separate from the system customization and desktop stuff, each being its own, almost conflicting entity, with separate entries and syntax and whatnot.
The menu, which is very Windows XP like in nature and looks could benefit from an inline search and maybe a smarter categorization, with more breathing space around elements and perhaps bigger icons, which could make it both more modern-looking and functional.
Hardware & software support
Starting with Wireless mis-configuration during the installation, followed by partially functional Fn keys on my T60p and weird configuration hiccups. While Bayanihan does have a new kernel, it struggles with some of the typical modern stuff floating around. For instance, Flash. C'mon, 2011, is it so hard to ask.
Furthermore, it feels old and behaves older, mainly because it has a very strong, almost depressing bundle of legacy programs that really make no sense. Nothing like 20-30 tiny utilities and tools last seen in 2006 to give an impression there has been no development in the past half decade.
Slow package management
I've never expected Synaptic to be slow, and it is not - unless paired with extremely low-bandwidth repo, which makes the pleasure of updating and running your system become a frustration. If you're outside Philippines, you're out.
Bayanihan is somewhere between Pardus and CentOS 5.X, when it comes to being easy to configure and use. It's modern and archaic at the same time, a unique quality. Combined with some weird bugs and a strange choice of programs and features, Bayanihan manages to be neither the old, nostalgia-infused distro with all the functionality you need nor the ultra-modern, bleeding-edge vessel of technology adorned with retro looks and programs.
As such, Bayanihan invalidates itself as an alternative to popular distributions you see in the top ten list on DistroWatch. Kalumbata is a weird mix of old and new that caters to no one really. I can appreciate the effort and the noble cause, but not the outcome.
With regional-only repository, a legacy palette of programs, plus some technical voodoo difficulties with hardware and software, Bayanihan has all the relevancy of a typical 2007 distribution. Hardly a competition in the modern arena of Linux distributions.
If you ask me, honestly, Bayanihan is a no go. It's a thing of the past. Sweet and cuddly, KDE 3.5 is a nice touch, the programs might make you shed a tear of sorrowful joy, but overall, it's outdated. There's no critical incentive you should use it, for either technical or ideological reasons. Ubuntu, Mint, openSUSE, PCLinuxOS, a bunch of others, they are all several years ahead.
So it seems there is a good reason why you don't see Bayanihan in the spotlight. It's a dying star of a different era. And while it may serve you well and true, it's time to you moved on to younger game.