Updated: March 13, 2010
MoonOS is a Ubuntu-based distribution, running the Enlightenment manager. I just came across it one day, no biased feelings, no foreknowledge, nothing. It was a Linux I have not used before and decided to take for a spin.
In the past, I have reviewed several Linux distributions running Enlightenment, including gOS and OpenGEU, both which are based on Ubuntu, as well. The results were mostly encouraging. While the Enlightenment desktop is very different from stock choices, it looks rather well, offering good performance and style even on lower-end machines. On the other hand, it does have some inherent non-KDE, non-Gnome features that mainstream users might find somewhat troubling.
But then, MoonOS runs on Ubuntu. Which begs two questions: How good or bad it is compared to the original? And since there already is a range of friendly, useful distributions based on Ubuntu, what makes MoonOS special?
Well, read and find out.
I will be doing my usual long review stuff, which most people would bisect into lots of tiny parts, but I won't, cause I know it annoys people. Anyhow, I will testing on a couple of laptops, a thorough examination of the live session, including Wireless, Bluetooth, multimedia codecs, Samba sharing, look & feel, laptop modes, performance, stability, and whatnot. Then, I'm going to install MoonOS and use it for a while longer. I tested MoonOS version 3.
The boot is fairly standard, a simple GRUB menu and after a few seconds, you're logged into a live session, youthful and unique.
The live desktop is, for the lack of a better word, lively. I have not decided whether it's cluttered, beautiful or just plain jumbled with colors and shapes. I must admit that on the first glance, it's too much. After a while, things settle down and you feel you're in a 60s retro movie, with lots of plastic furniture adorned with natural motifs. Don't know why, but it reminds me a bit of childhood for some reason and feels quite pleasant.
Enlightenment in action
Before I give you the usual fix of network connectivity and media playback, I want to focus on the behavior of the Enlightenment desktop. It's definitely worth a mention, as it's different from what you're normally used to.
Enlightenment is a highly customizable manager. In fact, too much. Without spending a few hours going through the menus, you won't really know the full potential of what's there. The idea is to make the desktop stylish without any need for 3D graphic drivers. So you should expect lots of animation and transition effects, zoom, pulse, shadow, slide, that kind of things, all in 2D. Admirable, but can be a bit annoying.
For someone with a rather conventional taste, I found MoonOS theme to be problematic. Fonts were far too small, and the contrast of window border colors and titles was bad.
Here's an example:
Then, there were some glaring glitches. The zoom effect was not perfect. For instance, the right panel, called a shelf, would expand the icons into the abyss to the right of the screen space, truncating the title popups and quite a bit of icons, too. The icons would also hide others, in a very inelegant way. It's a dock, but not a stylish one.
The same goes for the desktop icons. For someone with a mild case of OCD, the effect was infuriating. How can you possibly semi-cover another icon's title in such an unorderly fashion?
The main menu is somewhat transparent and uses shadows under the fonts, which do not sit well with my aging eyes. The fonts are too small, which give the menu a brittle, thin sort of feeling.
While Enlightenment can look quite dashing, the themes must be chosen with utmost care. Wrong gradients and it's all wasted.
Organizing the desktop
Another problem comes from trying to tame Enlightenment. It's too much for an average user and if you're not skilled in the ways of this windows manager, you will be lost.I have complained about Xfce being too detailed for its own good in my Xubuntu review, but Enlightenment is even more complicated.
All that said, nothing is lost yet. Enlightenment still looks quite reasonable, it's fairly light on the resources and it can be made look great. But the average user might find the default choice a bit troubling. Terms like shelves, lost windows and other items used only with Enlightenment can be baffling.
Now, let's see the good things. And less good ones.
Wireless and Bluetooth
Worked fine. I did not expect any issues really.
Unlike its father (or mother), MoonOS comes with codecs for your music, movies and Flash, which is quite convenient. You have multimedia support out of the box. Very neat.
Unfortunately, it did not work. Samba seems to be the curse of non-KDE, non-Gnome desktops. For a very strange reason, the sharing scripts are so badly integrated into the menus. It's really a shame.
I tried navigating using the file manager, but there was no Network location anywhere. Next, I tried using the command line, no luck either. Then, browsing through the menus, I spotted a Samba sharing utility called pyNeightborhood.
I ran the tool, but it did not pick my LAN machines. And then, it crashed.
Why? Why it's so difficult to make Samba work in 2010? What's so special about it?
MoonOS comes with the goodies built-in. If you're in for some stylish desktop effects, you can have them. There's no Compiz, by default, but you can still have the basic set turned to max, or bling as it's called by the distro.
MoonOS does come with an interesting array of programs. The selection is fairly standard Ubuntu, with a few additions that add spice. You have Firefox, Thunderbird, GIMP, Pidgin, a handful of media applications like Exaile and Brasero, Thunar as the file manager, Java is there too, and lots of Ubuntu system tools.
I'm not sure about the two Windows Wireless Drivers entries. Maybe a mistake?
Another cool thing is the unique splash artwork for the included applications, which makes watching them load more interesting.
You get Synaptic, so you have a robust, friendly manager at your disposal.
One of the things that make Moon unique is a selection of system utilities called Moon something. These are similar to Control Center tools in Linux Mint, which Ubuntu does not have.
The centric approach makes system customization and control easier for new users, which is a blessing, considering the relatively high default level of skill required to wade successfully through Enlightenment.
You get Moon Assistant, which lets you configure the root and sudo user and add fortune cookies to the terminal, very much like Linux Mint. Then, you have Moon GRUB, which lets you configure and customize the bootloader, and so forth.
The distro also comes with a selection of gadgets you can use, including Temperature meter, a dashboard-style CPU meter and other innocent toys. The combination of various visual effects and gadgets leads me to believe that MoonOS probably aims toward younger users, who would not mind the clutter or tiny fonts. For more mature audience, the garish plethora can be an issue.
A few issues cropped up during my testing. For example, I was unable to unmount the USB drive I normally use to collect screenshots during live session testing.
Then, Firefox could not find the MoonOS homepage. Seems as if the domain has expired. That's not professional, I'm afraid, and does not inspire any kind of confidence. What does this tell us about the future of this distro?
Another problem is that if you accidentally log out of the live session, none of the standard password will work, so you might be forced to reboot. And then, the system management buttons are not intuitive. What is what?
Well, it was time to decide whether to install. I went for it, although I must admit I was not awed. MoonOS strives to be original, but it does not make a superb overall impression. The live session is workable, but it has issues, including crashes and glitches of all kinds.
The visual side is also problematic, beautiful on one hand, misaligned on the other, too complicated for most. You do get originality in many aspects of the system usage, but the integration is missing. Still, I installed MoonOS, just to get a feel.
It's Ubuntu through and through. If you really require details, do read my guide.
After the installation
Well, I did cover pretty much everything in the live session. There wasn't that much left, but I did give the distro a few more whirls.
If you haven't noticed, I installed MoonOS on my T42, already housing a Karmic and a Helena installation, replacing the latter. Although MoonOS 3 is based on Jaunty, there were no issues with the GRUB 2 configuration.
First time in the installed system
The moment I logged in, I was informed that my language was not installed properly, which is a bit strange since I used English, the most common of them all. Well, OK, no matter, I tried updating, but then some of the packages could not be retrieved.
Eventually, I canceled the whole deal. The distro works as expected, but it was a strange, uninspiring experience. Never seen this on other Ubuntu-based distros. Must be the language setup step you can skip during the installation.
They worked quite fine, both suspend and hibernate. Suspend worked great in the live session, too. This is nice, considering MoonOS 3 roots (Jaunty), which used to misbehave a little on my test machines when it comes to laptop modes.
After you settle in, you can start using MoonOS, pretty much like any other Ubuntu-based distribution. It's fairly simple and comes down to basic demands, style, taste, as well as your level of expertise. Enlightenment desktop makes less sense for new users, but it may compensate with visual appeal. Plus, you have the bugs and quirks to account for.
Other than that, you're really into a rather standard Ubuntu environment.
And that's about it.
MoonOS is a decent distribution. Fairly standard. But it has nothing new, revolutionary or exciting. In fact, it balances the would-be thrills of the Enlightenment desktop with clutter and a scattering of rather annoying bugs that smell of amateur work. Samba, for one.
The fonts are too small, the desktop has an asymmetric cheap-expensive feel with no middle ground, something that has been done with much more grace in gOS, for example. The overall integration is missing. The mediocre sheen makes the whole story unremarkable, although bit by bit, MoonOS is quite all right. But as a whole, it misses the point.
If you're into adding some color to your Ubuntu, you can do that without trying a whole new distro. If you like order and simplicity, then you should avoid Enlightenment altogether, as it takes a great deal of effort to tame into submission, with a faint promise of greatness at the far end. Then, Samba sharing makes for very disappointed cross-platform users. Most of these glitches do not exist on the parent distro and have been introduced by a not-so-tight integration of new elements onto the base core.
MoonOS won't blow your mind away. It's a Ubuntu fork. And the fact the homepage is missing does not inspire one bit. You are probably better off downloading extra windows managers and all sorts of packages to your Ubuntu than starting fresh.
MoonOS could be nice, but something is amiss. Maybe the next edition, if there is any.
April 08, 2010: MoonOS hosting has been updated
and no longer points to an expired domain. The homepage is there. This solves the most critical issue seen with
this distribution and is a good sign of things to come.