Updated: June 13, 2012
SolusOS is a distribution with a clear mission - bringing back GNOME [sic]. This does not refer to your home garden midgets, mythical creatures or Gnome 3, but in fact the good old Gnome 2 desktop environment, the best one. SolusOS is based on Debian, sans the politics thingie, so there's something for everyone.
I took the 32-bit edition, the one currently available for testing, although you may find that the 64-bit version has been released since, on my SSD-powered T61 box already hosting four systems, one having to go to accommodate the new player. So please, let's see what a pure Gnome distro can do. Version 1, called Eveline, here we goes. Not a grammar error, I assure you.
Live session - No goblins around
SolusOS booted fine, without any woes. I had all the needed parts up and running, including the network connectivity in all its flavors and colors. SolusOS comes with the 3.0.0 kernel, which is considered somewhat old by modern standards, but let that not bother you one bit, as it's meaningless all in all.
Look & feel
From the first moment, it's obvious that whoever created SolusOS has a sense of aesthetics, which is a rare thing when you combine words Linux and good looks. Now, I am being a bit judgmental, but most of distributions severely lack in this space. On the other hand, that does not mean you cannot find tons of superb visual quality and art. It is the matter of how and when it is applied.
While SolusOS runs a pure good ole Gnome 2, you might not immediately realize this. The system menu, for example, feels more like KDE4 than its bitter rival. And the overall theme is set with a rather androgynous tone. I mean, this is good.
The rest of the distro follows suit here.
The most interesting element is the menu, which behaves unlike any you've seen. First, it's triggered with the Super key, so all is well there. It also comes with inline search. Then, on a second look, the menu is a bit confusing and not well arranged, with too many scrollbars.
But it has several sub-areas, including a Side Pane, where you can place your shortcuts, as a replacement for the traditional panel shortcut section, a sub-menu for pinned items, which is almost the same thing, the traditional view and the changing right-side column.
The menu is flexible and easily resizable with drag-n-drop borders, so if you don't like the width or height of the arranged items, you can quickly remedy that. This menu has the rather quirky name of Cardapio, but it does its work well.
There's also a compact menu view, if you want:
SolusOS also comes with a nice deck of wallpapers, somewhat similar to those you find in openSUSE, mostly vertical color bars. They blend well with the overall theme.
The beauty of the artwork is also apparent on the official website. It is designed far more elegantly than most contemporary distro sites, which have the more utilitarian wiki looks than a professional portal. Well, SolusOS manages well in this space.
But now, the more cardinal question, apart from the bells and whistles, what else is there, that you may actually, y'know, do with the distribution?
SolusOS packs the necessary ingredients in the live session. With almost 1GB worth of data, it has enough room for your codecs and plugins. Given its puritan heritage, there's none of that here, and SolusOS is a free and fun birdie for you to enjoy, be it music, Flash and other various and nefarious Interwebs activities.
Installation - Unique
At this point, I decided to try to install SolusOS rather than exhaust all of the test items that I had, so there will be something for later. Anyhow, I wanted SolusOS Eveline to cooperate with my on-board three musketeers, Ubuntu, Kubuntu and Mint, temporarily displacing a CentOS 6.2 instance for the sake of this test.
SolusOS comes with a rather lovely installer, which comes as a refreshment after an almost uniform repertoire of Ubuntu-like wizards dominating everywhere. You are asked to make all kinds of choices, step by step. No slideshow, so you might be bored there.
The language and keyboard and location/timezone thingie could be improved a tiny bit. I did choose American English as the language of choice, but set the timezone to London, which is the default. Then, I was offered the UK version of keyboard, which does not align with the first choice, but does with the second. Fancy that.
The next step is the partitioning, and here, you might get a jolt of worry when the wizard asks you which disk you want to use. Nothing sinister will happen until you click the Next button and choose the relevant partitions, formatting and mount options, but you might, just might suspect that something wrong could suddenly occur. Only it does not.
There's a funny sentence there, saying: for users with low memory. Does this refer to people with low intelligence, a short-attention span, problem with remember things? Or perchance olden hardware?
After that, you need to create your user, setup the bootloader, verify your choices, and then you're on your way. The installation took about 10 minutes, which is roughly comparable to most other distros. The quadruple-boot configuration worked fine.
Using SolusOS - Nice
Okay. The system booted fine, with one glitch - the system area items were aligned mid-panel almost, as if configured for a smaller resolution. I slid them to their rightful place, you get it - right-ful, RIGHT-ful place, hihi, but this ought not happen.
First-time wizard, and his name is Harry
No, not really. Much like Pardus, may it rest in peace, Eveline offers a five-step first-time wizard, which will be a blessing for most unskilled users, nerds be damned. The wizard will offer to configure your network, firewall, your graphics drivers, including experimental blobs for your card, your update cycle, and finally, you can donate to the project.
And here's the desktop, after all that hard work and tiny visual fixes:
For a 1GB download, SolusOS comes with a rather good-bad arsenal, heavily skewed toward multimedia programs. You get few programs in other categories, but quite a lot when it comes to pr0 ... I mean video and music.
You do have a decent bunch, though. Firefox, Thunderbird, Pidgin, LibreOffice. Cheese is also offered by default. Dropbox is there too, but you will need to install the background service separately. For Windows compatibility and games, you get Play On Linux and Wine, which seems like a bit of an odd choice for default inclusion.
As a pure Gnome 2 desktop, SolusOS has no problem running Compiz and display all the bells and whistles like way back when. Naturally, you might want to consider using desktop effects for things other than eyecandy, but if you must have some ocular sugar, you get it aplenty.
As sane and old-fashioned as you could ask for.
Not too many, but one or two did show up. I was somewhat confused by having Liverpool show in the weather applet in the system tray. Now, I did choose UK/London for timezone, so why do I need to know what weather is like in Liverpool? All in all, the combination of language set to US, timezone set to UK, keyboard set to whatever region you are in based on your current IP address, and the weather setting set to another location in UK - is rather confusing. I know I'm nitpicking, but it is important to nitpick.
The system menu is somewhat quirky, we had the misplaced items on the bottom panel, and another outstanding issue is the fact the trash thingie is named in two different ways, both rather British. There's the wastebasket and the rubbish bin.
System resources, stability, suspend & resume
Check on all three - or rather four. The most surprising bit was the system resource usage. Gnome 2 is very frugal on memory, and there's nothing like a fresh installation to remind you of that. True, this is a 32-bit system installed running with no fancy 3D stuff, but still, 185MB is a very respectable number, quite comparable to CentOS. The CPU was also rather quiet.
From the purity of essence perspective, SolusOS is somewhat like Chakra, in my opinion. And if you got the Dr. Strangelove reference in the previous sentence, you get extra bonus points for being cool. SolusOS 1 Eveline does things its way, and it's a good way.
But there's a question I must ask, what next? This distro is very elegant, polished, unique, runs true and fast. All of these are necessary ingredients for success. But there are two more, even more critical parts that have not yet been accounted for. The business case and continuity. SolusOS has a very small development team. Can and will this team want to grow their product, say 10 years from now? Or will this be just another personal tweak to an established distro base, doomed to vanish from memory in just a few years?
How about support? What about the future? What is it in for Eveline? Should it aim to replace Ubuntu or maybe defeat Mint or something? Is there an agenda? The spirits of free software development will tell you there needs not be one, but I would disagree. For SolusOS to become anything more than a hobby, there has to be a real reason and sound financial backing, stemming possibly from sound financial reasons. Get it?
If I forget the need for survival, SolusOS is a very surprising, refreshing operating system with a lot of potential. It is graceful, beautiful and stable. I'd say 9/10. Some small issues need to be fixed, but there are no deal breakers. Still, still, still, looming above the fate of this fine distro is the Gnome 2 nostalgia kneejerk reaction and genuine need for future development, mixed with an actual question of whether anyone needs yet another highly personalized Linux spin based on XYZ out there. And it's one mighty spin, this one. I hope it succeeds. But I'm a realist and that makes me sad. Let's hope the passion can overcome the reality. For now, grab and play, recommended.