Lean Debian derivative Semplice Linux

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© Lead Image © vicktor Gladkov, 123RF.com

© Lead Image © vicktor Gladkov, 123RF.com

Article from Issue 172/2015
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Semplice is a fast and simple desktop system that avoids the clunky, stripped-down look associated with many "lean" Linux distros.

Many Linux distributions focus on users with older hardware. These lean Linux distros often strip down the system to minimize resource usage, with a low-demand window manager and sparse, slightly rustic graphics. Italy's Semplice Linux [1] takes a different approach. Semplice offers modern features despite a lean desktop, and – thanks to its Debian base – it comes with an enormous selection of software.

First Impressions

Semplice Linux (version 6) is available in 32-bit and 64-bit variants, and the ISO images at nearly 640MB each fit nicely on a CD. After starting, the GRUB boot loader offers options both for Live operation and for direct installation on a mass storage device. In contrast to many established distributions, Semplice does not take long to boot in Live mode: After less than two minutes, the desktop is loaded.

To avoid the need for painstaking changes to the location later on, the system immediately opens a wizard in Live mode to configure of the keyboard mapping and time zone. Then, Semplice promptly loads the Openbox desktop. With a subtle color scheme and a panel with a Systray at the bottom, Semplice looks very much like the LXDE or Xfce desktop; only the Start button for the menu is missing.

To open the Semplice main menu, right-click on the desktop; there you'll find an amazing software collection. Besides the Gnome standards AbiWord and Gnumeric, you will find the Chromium web browser, GNU Paint, Exaile music player, MPlayer, and Xfburn, with Synaptic as the graphical package management tool and PCManFM as the file manager. ROXTerm is provided for work at the command line.

Another interesting application is found under Applications | Administration: The Manage Semplice features item lets you turn various services on or off by simply moving a switch (Figure 1). The Install Semplice launcher lets you install the system on your hard disk.

Figure 1: Switches let you decide which features Semplice unlocks.

Installation

The Semplice installer is similar at first glance to that of Ubuntu Linux, but it offers some smart features. If only a little space is left on the hard disk, the localization options offer the ability to remove unneeded language files. Semplice also lets you create a full-fledged root account (Figure 2) to save yourself the bother of entering the sudo command for many administrative tasks.

Figure 2: When installing, you can create users, including a root account, in a simple dialog.

After installing the user accounts, you can then partition the mass storage. You can choose between an automatic routine and manual partitioning of the hard disk(s). The automatic partitioner creates a swap space and an ext4 partition for the root directory. To use an additional home partition, you need to configure the hard disk or SSD manually.

The Feature selection dialog appears after partitioning to let you exclude unneeded components before the actual install. After a summary of all the settings, the routine then dumps the system onto the hard disk in almost no time.

First Start

The Semplice desktop starts very quickly, as expected. A glance at the Synaptic-managed repositories shows that all the software repositories are already enabled. This means that more than 41,000 packages are available; even proprietary applications can be installed without additional steps.

The full hardware support is also very welcome: Although Debian initially refuses to install proprietary firmware components of WLAN cards for licensing reasons, this is an automated process in Semplice.

The menu structure of the Semplice desktop is based on familiar categories from KDE, Xfce, and LXDE. While browsing the menus, the fairly limited configuration options may catch your eye: Only a few tools are available for customizing the system and the desktop. Even the power management options for laptops lag well behind those of KDE or Gnome; in particular, you cannot set the display brightness at system startup.

On a positive note, you can control the display brightness using the keyboard shortcuts provided by the manufacturer; this makes Semplice one of very few distributions that can handle the keyboard shortcuts required for this on many of today's mobile devices. In fact, this is an ability that, currently, even some of the mainstream Linux distributions lack.

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