Updated: July 24, 2009
Foresight Linux advertises itself as a modern operating system, featuring intuitive user interface and a wide range of innovative applications intended to make the desktop experience instantly pleasurable. One of the way Foresight Linux achieves this is by blending free and proprietary software, so you do not have to waste time hunting for codecs and plugins for multimedia.
It also hails a new package management system, with the very important and often overlooked rollback function. Combined with good looks and soft lines of the latest Gnome edition, these attributes are intended to make Foresight Linux useful to people who have never used Linux before and do not really care what runs underneath the hood. All of the above makes Foresight Linux a good candidate for a test drive at Dedoimedo's.
Foresight Linux comes in both 32-bit and 64-bit flavors, including the full DVD and the lite CD version. I opted for the smaller package, downloaded and started Foresight 2.1.1 on a machine with 512MB RAM.
Unfortunately, Foresight Linux does not have a live CD version, which made it impossible for me to test Wireless and Bluetooth, as I did not have a spare laptop available. Therefore, I had to restrict my testing to the more classic subset.
But worry not, even without Wireless and Bluetooth, we will have an interesting review today. We'll see how simple and easy it is to install Foresight Linux, we'll examine the desktop and its features, work on multimedia codecs, test network sharing with Windows machines using Samba, work through applications, updates, and more.
Start ... Installation
Foresight Linux installation starts on a happy note, with rounded RedHat-like fonts and soft green colors greeting you.
Your next step would be to choose the language. One glitch that I did notice is that Foresight Linux package is missing some fonts. For example, Gujarati and Hindi are not there, so I really do not know what will happen if someone tries to install the distro using these languages.
After that comes the partitioning, but if you've seen one, you've seen them all.
The partitioning menu definitely convinced me Foresight has RedHat roots. Foresight is using the anaconda installer (or a variation thereof). Along with the distinctive, beautiful fonts and the lack of live CD option, Foresight is very much in line with the RedHat family.
I created a classic layout with root, swap and home partitions. Fortunately, I was not asked to create an LVM-based layout, like Fedora. However, like Fedora, even though I did not choose to "force" partitions to be primary, i.e. I chose to make them logical, they were still created as primary. This bug goes away if you create more than four partitions, in which case they are reordered.
Next, I was greeted with a rather curious warning message. Foresight complained that my machine was running low on memory and asked me to activate swap immediately. This was a surprise, as I've never seen a distribution complain about half a Gig of RAM.
Another surprise was the choice of the bootloader. While almost every single Linux distribution offers GRUB, with a rare second choice of LILO, Foresight Linux offered the EXTLINUX bootloader. I must admit I'm not familiar with EXTLINUX, but I let it install.
The next three steps were to configure the time zone, network settings and the users. Again, this is very much RedHat. I did like the fact the network configurations could be set before the installation began, although I could see the proxy option anywhere.
I chose New York this time as my time zone.
I liked the fact Foresight does not offer separate accounts for root and standard users. Instead, the sudo principle is used, like in Ubuntu.
The distro was now ready to install. And install it did - in less than four minutes! This was even faster than sidux, which so far held the record in my testing history. The impatient will definitely appreciate that Foresight can be installed in about the same time it takes to drink a cup of coffee.
P.S. There was my last hint - anaconda-ks.cfg right there in the pre-install notes. Foresight Linux was unto RedHat like Luke Skywalker was unto Darth Vader.
After reboot, Foresight booted - quite fast, I must admit, despite its earlier misgivings about low memory settings. On a side note, the splash screen during the bootup is definitely one of the more pleasing artworks I've seen in the Linux world.
After the installation
The real fun was only about to begin. Installation was all nice and well, but what about the actual usage. Was Foresight tailored up to its promises and high expectations?
The first login into the desktop session promised that much. The soft Gnome looks, the splendid fonts and the lush, moist green colors give the distro a refreshing, airy look.
In the best of Gnome tradition, the desktop is minimalistic. I find the clean, uncluttered effect relaxing. In my not so humble opinion, I think most new users would agree with me. For Windows converts, the lack of familiarity might be somewhat frightening, but Foresight definitely goes a long way to making the transition smooth, with a smart choice of clarity and aesthetics.
Now, the real tests ...
It was time to see whether Foresight was more than just a pretty doll. The installation was smooth and simple, with just a few glitches here there deep in the legacy code.
The first thing I did was browse the network and check connectivity to my Windows shares. This worked without any problem.
Here comes the most important bit for most users - the ability to instantly, painlessly play all sorts of video and music formats without a hassle.
Naturally, I visited Youtube and opened the clip of my favorite piece of music from my favorite TV show. The playback was smooth.
Here, the things got stormy. The first time I clicked on my Moron video, Banshee froze. In fact, the entire desktop froze. I could not even open the terminal and kill the offending processes. The only thing left was to restart the Gnome session.
After the desktop was restored, I decided to postpone the Windows check for a while. It was possibly that I was missing the right codecs, although something as trivial as that should have never caused a total lockup of the session. I decided to check MP3 playback next and then look for missing codecs, if needed.
Not surprisingly, there were no MP3 codecs bundled, as they cannot be legally added to most distributions, because of whatever laws somewhere. No problem, except I was not given a choice of downloading them. While quite a few distros automatically offered to search the repositories for missing plugins, Foresight merely stayed silent.
I will get back to video and music later on. It was obvious that I could not play them for now. Some updates were needed first.
Another snag. In fact, a whole forest of them. Using experience and intuition, I started browsing the menus for appropriate entries, along the lines of Add/Remove and Update, to see if I could get the needed stuff.
Add/Remove Software was the first to fail. The details of the error disclosed a problem with one or another Python script, the same thing I've witnessed with Fedora 10 some time ago.
Next, I tried the conventional Update System utility. Same error.
It seemed like I was doomed without any update option. But I did not despair yet. In most cases, when GUI menus failed, the command line tools still worked well. Since I was not familiar with the brand new Conary package management system that Foresight Linux uses, I resorted to some reading.
Luckily, the distribution ships with a rich, detailed User Guide, which can be accessed via the System menu.
The Guide is written well and explains the most important things with step-by-step instructions and a plenty of screenshots. This is a very commendable addition that is not easily found in most distros - and usually not needed. Whether the developers had the foresight [sic] to anticipate the problems or they thought it wise to include a booklet of tips for the users, the problem cropped, nevertheless.
I found my answer after a few minutes.
sudo conary update group-codecs
Next, I tried Windows video and MP3 again. And was sorely disappointed to discover that the plugins were completely and utterly broken. MP3 playback was nil. Windows video played, but it was choppy and instead of the excepted audio, there was only a repetitive djeep-djeep sort of noise booming in the speakers. Even after I killed the video, the noise continued, until I once again killed the session with Ctrl + Alt + Backspace.
I have a hunch that this is again the legacy of code from older RedHat releases, where getting multimedia to play was not the easiest thing. Stability has its price, it seems, it's too difficult to move. At this point, I abandoned any further attempts to try to get multimedia to work properly.
The lite editions comes with a modest selection of programs, nothing to grand to shock you. If you're lucky and you manage to get the package management system working, you will probably be able to download programs. At the very least, the command line options should work. Although I fail to see why perfectly well working package management systems like YUM or APT were not used instead.
Foresight Linux is a disappointment. It's really good-looking, soft, rounded and calm. It has a very simple and quick installation. It runs fast despite its thirst for large chunks of RAM. But beyond the simple basic functionality, it won't do much for you.
The two most important things in the distro, multimedia and package management, failed me utterly. While I was able to sweat out the command line, which is against the Foresight line of thinking, as it aims to keep the Linux out of Foresight, the multimedia playback was buggy. Killing the entire desktop session because of quirks with .avi files seems like an abomination. And even the promised codecs failed to deliver.
Foresight requires a tremendous lot of polishing. The visual part is done with grace, style and elegance and really needs no changes. But the raw functionality beneath has been neglected and it shows all the way through, marring what could have otherwise been a very lovely experience.
I hope these problems will be ironed out in the next release. See you then.