Updated: March 11, 2011
MoonOS is a Ubuntu-based distro, designed to be simple and friendly, just like seven thousand other systems with the same agenda. However, despair not, there could yet be a deciding differentiating factor that might make MoonOS better or smarter. If you read this article, you may learn what it is, if any.
My first encounter with the distribution was MoonOS 3, which I found to be YAUF - Yet another Ubuntu fork, fairly standard and riddled with a handful of issues that cropped in during remastering. Nothing special either way. It did not have the critical WOW factor to make me switch, although it could appeal to people who like Enlightenment desktops.
Now, a new version is available, called Neak. Perhaps, this is the one?
A confusing start
Getting MoonOS is not trivial. The homepage says that the main edition of MoonOS uses the Enlightenment DR17 desktop. There's also the LXDE desktop. Whichever you choose, you are redirected to mirror sites. But the download is one and the same. Weirdonics.
I could not find anything that specified I was downloading either this or that version. Furthermore, it took me four attempts to download the distribution, as some of the sources were broken, offering a truncated image. In the past, there was the expired domain thingie, now this.
And it's a Gnome, ladies and gentlefolks!
Not Enlightenment or LXDE, I'm afraid. Gnome! You get Gnome. Boot the system into a live session, and you have a perfectly standard Gnome session, adorned with some pretty colors. Just to be on the safe side, I logged out, to make sure if there were other desktop sessions available, but no. There was only Gnome. Now, I'm officially confused.
Note: This has been fixed since the original posting on techsupportalert.com.
So either I'm a moron or something else - I prefer the latter:
But never mind that, let's discuss MoonOS as if we expected Gnome.
Look and feel
MoonOS 4 is pretty. Much prettier than the predecessor. Neak uses smart colors. The top panel is dark gray, the desktop is serene green, and you have big, happy icons on a popup dock ribbon at the bottom. Lovely.
Nautilus is also made to look fly, with the file menu hidden by default.
Everything worked out of the box, no problems here.
Microsoft Media Service (MMS) also worked, including visualization.
Even on the elderly T60p with a crippozoid card, the desktop effects worked smoothly. This is a very nice touch. I liked it, considering the fact you don't get these in Maverick out of the box.
However, after playing with Compiz, I had a crash! The program gnome-panel closed unexpectedly, although I have not seen anything transpire on the screen. You also get an alarming application problem alert, which places the Uncertainty Principle in the hands of the user, asking them to submit a report of the problem while taking into account the subtle issue of privacy. How very helpful. But this is not MoonOS's fault. The crash is, though.
MoonOS has a rich array of programs. It's a blend of stock Ubuntu and Linux Mint, peppered and spiced with some original content. You get Pidgin, Banshee, OpenOffice, GIMP, Firefox, and a few more. Nothing too radical, fairly serene. Overall the choice is quite decent, a polished version of what you get in Ubuntu, but then, there's also the extra 200MB of data in the download.
So far, Neak was a pleasant surprise and an improvement over the last version. The fact I was running Gnome made its legitimacy questionable, given the fact you get pretty much the same in stock Ubuntu, but it made up for any doubts with a dazzling array of colors and effects and a reasonable bunch of programs.
Installation - does not compute
Pleased and armed with beauty, I set to committing Neak onto a disk, previously occupied by a PCLinuxOS installation alongside Windows 7. The first few steps in the installer were identical to what you see in any modern Ubuntu installation. Fairly boring, I must say.
However, after configuring the partitions, the installer crashed! Tried again, same results. I even rebooted and tried anew, without any success. The crash was consistent three times in a row, preventing me from installing the system.
Worse yet, it also screwed up the existing installation, as the partitioner did start, leaving the machine in an inconsistent state. GRUB was messed up, because the root partition was messed up, so I could not boot either of the two systems on the disk.
And so my review ends, without the ability to install Neak.
The installation failure leaves a sour taste in the mouth. It also reminds me why I'm usually wary of small distributions, since they are plagued with exponential complexity problems that stem from adding and removing components, without the ability to thoroughly check the consequences of these changes.
Starting with the false promise of a lightweight desktop, which turn out to be a Gnome, pimped up and polished, followed by an application crash and ending in a big fiasco, Neak failed the test of usability. MoonOS 3 was not the prettiest, but at least it worked fully. MoonOS 4 does not even install. Worse, it killed my PCLinuxOS installation. Luckily, Windows survived intact. This is a test box, so no worries there, but still.
While the live session was decent, it is rather unnecessary. Ubuntu does all this with a bit of extra work, so why bother. And if you're extra lazy, try Linux Mint Julia. Then, there's the matter of support. Critical crashes with collateral damage are a big no-no. And finally, you expect newer versions of a system to be better, safer, smarter. Regressions are horrible.
MoonOS 4 Neak is a badly assembled work of beautiful art, with dangerous pitfalls somewhere in its code. Shadowed by limited resources and the practical question of YAUF, this distribution is probably left alone until its issues are resolved. Be careful when testing on production machines, as you may end with a ruined partition table.
MoonOS 4, something is STILL amiss, the end.