Updated: June 4, 2010
For those wondering, ni hao is hello in Mandarin. It's only befitting because YlmF is a Chinese derivative of Ubuntu. All right. So why should you care about yet another Ubuntu fork? Well, YlmF is not just any fork.
YlmF is a distribution specially developed to cater to Chinese market, a huge and underestimated pool of computer users, currently running mostly a pirated version of Windows. And how do you wean off all those users off their ignoble operating system? Well, very simple. You offer them a free version of what they're using. Almost.
YlmF is Linux, so it's not Windows. But it's designed to look and feel like Windows XP, including the classic looks. For less knowledgeable users, it as near as makes no difference.
Now here's the good part - even if you're not from China, you can still use and enjoy YlmF. The distribution also ships with an English version, so everyone can download and try it. Which is exactly what I did.
Note: The most recent version of YlmF is version 3, based on Ubuntu Lucid. My review was written shortly before Ubuntu 10.04 was released, so it features the previous version, based on Ubuntu 9.10. A slight botch with the timing on this article's publication, I must admit. Still, rather than scraping the article, I decided to publish it anyway. After all, the information contained is very valuable and sheds good light on the capabilities of the system. That said, I promised another, proper review of the most recent YlmF.
YlmF, first impressions
YlmF boots with a simple, custom GRUB menu. Like Karmic, it lets you boot into a live CD and test the distribution before installing it. I was not expecting any bad, dramatic surprises, but I did take the usual route via live session before committing the operating system to the disk.
I tried YlmF on my RD510 laptop and as a virtual machine. In both cases, the distribution booted without any problems. The hardware was properly detected and initialized, save for a few small glitches. More about that later.
After a few moments, you'll reach a live CD version that looks very much like Windows XP. The imitation is rather authentic, with careful attention to small details. The main panel is located at the bottom and comes with Quick Launch and System Tray, as you would expect. There's also a bunch of icons on the desktop, linking to most popular applications.
The icons are made look like their Windows equivalents, including OpenOffice. For example, Trash is called Recycle Bin. My Documents links to the home folder. And the network and sounds icons in the Tray are also very much Microsoft.
In fact, YlmF has a few extra options that make it even more usable than Windows XP. For example, there's the virtual desktops applet that lets you switch between desktop workspaces easily. Under the hood, you get even more goodies.
Everything you need, out of the box
Applications wise, you have a handful of typical Ubuntu applications, including Firefox, OpenOffice 3.1, Totem, Rhythmbox, Brasero, and many more. Ubuntu Software Center handles the installations. Codecs and Flash are included by default. This is every important for people with limited or slow Internet connection, who cannot afford to waste hours downloading essential software.
YlmF uses Pidgin rather than Empathy, a smart move in my not so humble opinion. Download tools of all kinds are also included, to help you streamline the Internet experience.
You also get Wine, but it needs more polish, since the default interface is inadequate for newbies and only makes sense to people who know what Wine is and how to use it.
Like I mentioned, the codecs for DVD, MP3, Windows video and Flash are included, offering you instant playback for your media files. In this regard, YlmF is more like Linux Mint than classic Ubuntu, with a Chinese twist and some Microsoft spices.
The installation is very simple. In fact, it's even easier than the default one. The timezone is set to China and the keyboard and language are automatically adjusted to English. The partitioner is quick and simple. Basically, the only thing you need to do is setup your account.
The installation was quite fast. I have not timed it, but I was under the impression it took less than a stock Ubuntu one. This could be the fact YlmF uses fewer languages and these do not need to be downloaded and configured. After the installation, you even have a classic Login screen:
YlmF also comes with build-essential tools (gcc, make, kernel sources and headers) already installed, so you can compile instantly. This also means you can install YlmF as a virtual machine and use the VMware Tools or VirtualBox Guest Additions without any special tweaks.
Performance was also quite good. YlmF was stable, fast and snappy and worked well. There were no confusing messages thrown at the user, which might deter anyone from testing YlmF and enjoying the experience.
There were a few small issues encountered. For instance, the web camera would not always play. Some of the translations are a bit weird, but you can manage just fine. The one big issue was the fact all external repositories were disabled by default, so to use them, you will have to mark the relevant checkboxes under Software Sources.
You may also encounter a few branding issues. While YlmF is Ubuntu-based, some menus and options do read Ubuntu. Make no mistake, you're working on Ubuntu, with the windows manager tweaked to look like the Microsoft product. But other than that, it's Linux through and through. Still, you may not like the fact both YlmF and Ubuntu names show.
Lastly, while I did choose to log in automatically into my session, I was presented with the login menu. This is a trifle annoying, but it's not a big deal. It did give me an opportunity to screenshot the login, which I'd have missed otherwise.
YlmF is a refreshing product. It's not a revolution, though. There have been other such projects in the past, including Lindows, Xandros and other cross-platform solutions, aimed at incorporating the best of both worlds and offering the user an optimal, blended experience, with familiarity and simplicity of Windows and the robustness and usefulness of Linux. Some have worked, some have not. In most cases, the fusion was not quite successful, often because of hardware issues and misguided expectations.
YlmF does not fall into this same trap and elegantly escapes doom by being a solid, robust distribution. Truth to be told, the rite of passage is much easier than it was years ago, when Linux desktop was still a rough and unpredictable journey. Nevertheless, YlmF achieves more by trying less.
Compared to Ubuntu, YlmF is a relatively humble fork. Much of the underlying parts are the same. Some of the programs are changed and you get codecs; other than that, YlmF keeps it simple. The only big, radical change is the user interface, which is exactly the aim of this distribution. Users have no idea what kernel is or how it works. But they can appreciate their desktop icons.
If you have friends who might contemplate trying Linux, YlmF is an excellent stepping stone. It helps bridge the steep gap by emanating smooth confidence and playing into the hands of the users. Rather than creating a new reality, YlmF adapts itself to reality.
Other than that, it's a very decent Linux by all means. You have stability, security, software aplenty, and usability out of the box. Quite lovely. Good work.