Bodhi Linux - Minimalistic and pointless

Updated: March 7, 2011

I must admit I did not intend to review this distribution. It's a very early release and, let's be frank, yet another Ubuntu fork. Seriously, do we need yet another Ubuntu pimpage, done to this or that degree of quality and style? But I'm not a person to go against innovation. When Jeff Hoogland, the main developer behind Bodhi, contacted me and asked me to take his team's child for a spin, I said aye.

Bodhi Linux is a minimalistic edition of Ubuntu, based on Lucid, running the controversial Enlightenment E17 desktop, which is supposed to be very lightweight, simple, elegant, beautiful, and capable of some nifty desktop effects, even on machines with fairly old hardware. A noble cause, but taste and mileage may vary. Not a bad idea and definitely refreshing. But saying yes to a review does not mean saying yes to a distribution. And today, you will learn why I said no.

Tested, 0.15 pre-release, per Jeff's request, for better or worse. P.S. I have notified the developer of my dissatisfaction with the distribution and warned him ahead of the publication, but he gave his blessing, which shows courage and character. He asked me to expose all of the problems, so that his team could work on resolving the issues. Kudos to Jeff for this one.


Live session - Little ado about nothing

Bodhi starts with a simple GRUB menu, followed by a short customization. E17 login session lets you choose the language and the theme before you hit the desktop. There are several templates, including dark and light motifs, Compiz effects running and disabled, laptop and desktop schemes, all very similar but slightly different and unique. Not a bad start.

Problems begin here

And then, I realized I had three problems, right from the very start. First, I remembered that I did not really like E17. I used to like it in my youth, but now, as an olden person of this world, I have no patience for the pulsating icons that blur into neighboring pixels and the font that might work under a microscope. I realized the somewhat metallic decorations were also kind of wrong, feeling thin and cheap.

Second, there was no utility to take screenshots. Nothing at all. In fact, the word minimalistic takes a whole new meaning with Bodhi. Apart from terminal and Firefox 4, you get absolutely nothing. I'm serious. Those two programs are the only applications you have. So my first task was to download and install Gnome utilities so I could snap pictures of my desktop activities. After this became possible, I got my first screenshots:

Live desktop

The third issue arose when I tried to save my images to a network share, on a Windows machine. Bodhi comes with no Samba. Nope. You get a very explicit error that tells you that. So you're mightily crippled, restricted to your live session, with no extra functionality except a beta version of a browser.

No Samba sharing

Speaking of browsers

I launched the one program that comes with the distro - and oops, it decided not to be able to restore the last session, which must be a leftover from the remastering process.

Firefox crash


But even when running, that browser is no great use, either. It has no plugins, so if you try Youtube, for instance, you will fail. Then, if you try playing any kind of media on your local disk, you'll get another mighty error, which tells you the distribution comes with no media-capable programs. How sweet. My toilet bowl has no media player either, but at least I can flush it and have some fun with it.

No Flash

No media player

More about the default theme

I did complain, but now, let me show you an example. Take a look at the Firefox window border, which has the website title, in this case Youtube. The title is written in white on white, bad contrast, offset toward the top in an annoying manner. Then, there's the weird shadowing, the bad font choice and it's four sizes smaller than Firefox own menu, which uses a completely different font. Consistency wise, there's nothing here. For OCD people, this is bad. Oh, I'll complain more, soon.

Theme problems

Programs - or rather lack thereof

Minimalistic taken to the extreme. You don't even get a text editor. You heard me. There's no gedit or any other kind of text editor for you to use. Vi works, but if you're into that kind of thing, you will probably not be using Ubuntu, especially not a mere fork.

No text editor, that's a proverbial LAWL:

No text editor


Honestly, there was no reason to proceed, but I did it, for the experiment's sake, to see whether a fully installed system behaved any differently. The installation is Ubuntu style, all the way, kind of Karmic design, sans any fancy slideshows, the ability to install extra codecs, get any updates or similar. Stripped down, including the good things.

What comes after

In case you held on this long, you might as well try using Bodhi for a while after it's been committed to the disk. Again, there's nothing to excite you. You will have to download hundreds of megabytes of data, just to be able to do the very basic stuff. It's really pointless. And speaking of minimalistic, you do not need 400MB of equity to be spartan. Puppy Linux manages to be both better looking, faster and infinitely more functional, with several browsers, tons of programs, multimedia support out of the box, and a bagload more, all within the comfortable constraints of a 100MB package.

Oh, and when you do try to download programs, you get warnings about unsigned repositories, so the developers did not even bother to sign the keys.

No audio

This is another gem. After you do install a few hundreds of MB of things and try to play your media files, you will learn that audio does not work. Nope. Nothing. As deaf as a snake. Wunderbar.

Other issues

I've had many other problems, including significant annoyance issues.

No Alt-Tab

A bug, a feature, my own fault, this one did not work.

No focus on active window

Move your mouse cursor at your own peril. Click on a new window you want to bring into focus and it will staunchly remain hidden behind whatever pile of windows is already there, making the idea of windows usage somewhat problematic. Not even fvwm is this evil.

Fully maximized windows cover entire desktop

They cover everything, including the system menu and the desktop switcher, so you must use Alt-Tab, which does not work, or minimize windows to get into another application. Not only does this create a disjointed feel of desktop usage, it's cumbersome and counterproductive.

Left cornerRight corner

Disk notation in file explorer

For some reason, Bodhi shows the root partition as unmounted and unlabeled in Nautilus, which is kind of weird. You can mount it and then explore it contents, but it is already mounted and in use, which makes it bizarre. However, /home, which is a separate partition, does not show at all. Go figure. And please don't mail me about how this is a fault with udevd or HAL not respecting chroot or something. I know my Linux.

Root device


Bodhi Linux is pointless. There's no other word to describe it.

The distribution lacks pretty much everything to be functional, starting with a text editor and continuing everywhere. There are many bugs and problems, both visual and functional. The desktop theme is designed to be stylish, but it manages to be cramped and archaic, with the old-looking font decorations that pale against the typical modern Gnome or KDE stuff.

But even if you ignore the aesthetics, Bodhi Linux gives you no reason to use it. Absolutely everything you might expect from a typical desktop is missing, save the Web browser, which too lacks the bling-bling demanded by today's users. Getting the extra stuff requires a liberal use of the package manager, turning minimalistic into a saga of hard work. Do you expect the average user to hunt for hundreds of missing programs and be able to tell the difference between Shutter, Shotwell, Openshot, and F-Spot? And you don't get even a bloody text editor! Vi and Emacs, that's gonna delight Ubuntu crowds.

At the end of the day, removing 300MB of disk data results in a totally crippled distribution, with a wagonload of problems, errors and inconsistencies. In its current incarnation, Bodhi is just a testbed and should not be used as a public release. In fact, distributing will do more bad than good, as it could become one day a great system, but the first impression is everything.

Dedoimedo says no to Bodhi. Perhaps one day. Hard work, engage. Oh, there's Bodhi 0.16 already available, churning out of the development forges, so it is quite possible that none of what I've written here applies.

Once again, thanks to Jeff and massive courage for honesty and integrity to give this kind of review a green light. With such a positive and open attitude and no fear of criticism, Bodhi could become a great piece of work.


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