Bodhi Linux sticks with design principles

Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Mar 29, 2011 GMT
Bruce Byfield

After your first fifty distribution reviews, a certain ennui creeps in. Most have the same selection of software, and GNOME or KDE for a desktop, and, if they are new, are derived from Ubuntu. Under these circumstances, features worth writing about tend to be rare. That is why Bodhi Linux has been attracting attention from reviewers -- because it has actually done a few things differently.

Not that Bodhi is revolutionary. You can find other distributions with small footprints, such as Puppy Linux or Damn Small Linux, and other distributions such as Elive that use the Enlightenment window manager as a desktop. However, except for using Ubuntu's Lucid repositories for packages, Bodhi's choices are not exactly routine, either, and their integration are enough to make Bodhi stand out among the army of clones that are the typical modern distribution.

Installation

Bodhi comes as a Live CD, with a mildly modified Ubuntu installer. However, one of its innovations is that, in starting the Live CD or installing to hard drive, it begins by offering installation profiles, some of which refer to the amount of software installed, such as Bare or Desktop, and some of which refer to configuration, such as Laptop and Tablet/Netbook.

Once you have chosen a profile, you then select a theme, a choice not usually offered in installers, but which makes sense if you consider that many users are probably more interested in how the desktop looks than the details behind the scenes. And probably even more will configure the desktop immediately after installing, so why not give them the choice and save them some fumbling around? If nothing else, the choice ensures that users will log in to a desktop that pleases them, which should predispose them to react favorably.

You also get a limited selection of software to install. However, "selection" is a relative term: aside from a few utilities, Bodhi installs only a text editor, a virtual terminal, a file manager and the Midori web browser, which like Bodhi as a whole promotes itself as being fast and lightweight.

The rest you have to install for yourself after installation. But since you are using Ubuntu's repositories, you have some 2000 packages to choose from including those for such desktops as GNOME, KDE, LXDE, and Xfce, as well as such browsers as Firefox and Chrome.

Bodhi promotes this arrangement as a way to ensure that your hard drive is not filled with applications that you never use and may be completely unaware are available. That is true, although it not free software applications so much as music and photos that fill the average 2-4 terabyte hard drive these days.

However, it is also a basic axiom of security that you can't safeguard a system when you don't know what's on it -- a benefit that I'm surprised that Bodhi doesn't mention.

At any rate, the limited default software makes for a speedy application. Unless your connection acts up, you should be able to install Bodhi in five minutes or less.

The Desktop

Even on a virtual machine, Bodhi reaches the login screen in four seconds. Running the free command as soon as you reach the desktop tells you why: Bodhi uses only a quarter of the RAM that GNOME does at rest. Like Puppy Linux, it lists 128 RAM as its minimal requirements, twice that needed by Damn Small Linux, but still fast enough that windows open and close almost too quickly to observe.

Enlightenment was hot new software in 1999, but its reputation rivals Duke Nukem Forever's, since the latest version has been in development for over a decade. The jokes are inevitable, but what they obscure is a highly usable interface, less customizable than KDE if you use the most obvious tools, but with a reasonable set of options. The options even include a limited set of special effects, scaling of desktop text, and a selection of applications to run at startup. Think of Xfce, balancing between speed and options, and you have an accurate sense of Enlightenment as available in Bodhi -- except that Bodhi is, if anything, faster than Xfce.

Moreover, if you want more customization, you can select Install Everything to open a detailed selection of choices for everything from configuring the spell checker to key and mouse bindings and locales. This dialog is the only part of Bodhi that shows any tendency to sluggishness, but, since you are unlikely to refer to it much after you have make the chances you prefer that it hardly matters.

You might be puzzled by the fact that package management is not set up during installation, so that you have to run the command sudo apt-get update before adding more packages, but since experienced users would do that anyway, the omission is minor.

The worst you should have to endure in Bodhi is a different set of jargon from what you might be used to -- for instance, "shelf" instead of "panel" and "iconify" for "minimize" -- none of which should puzzle most users for more than a few seconds.

Exactly why Enlightenment should be labeled a window manager rather than a desktop is obscure to me, since it offers more or less the same features as Xfce or LXDE, both of which are usually called desktops. But, rather than getting bogged down in definitions, I would simply say that Enlightenment as presented by Bodhi is not only an easy interface to use, but a pleasingly flexible one as well.

Follow-through

Bodhi starts with a small and well-defined set of priorities and carries them through consistently. This consistency makes it stand out from recent releases of most distributions, most of which try to be everything to every user, and, as a result often fail to distinguish themselves to any degree. You may not agree or care about what Bodhi's team think is important, but after twenty minutes of investigating the distribution, you can be in little doubt of what the project's priorities are.

Bodhi makes no attempt to appeal to absolute beginners. It assumes a basic familiarity with the free desktop, and probably it is older and more experienced users who would appreciate the distro's design principles.

However, if you are part of Bodhi's target audience, you should find it a minor standout among the newer distros. Almost everything in Bodhi follows from its design principles, and that makes the result not only consistent, but also admirable.

Comments

  • Does Bodhi have future?

    I think lack of software is major strong as well as weak point of Bodhi.
    Welcome to read my review:

    http://linuxblog.darkduck.c...ich-bodhi-linux-taught-me.html
  • 64-bit Bodhi

    The Bodhi development team is, in fact, creating a 64-bit version. For a small development group, we have been working on the 32-bit version to pursue excellence in a Release 1.0.0 for a "best of show" Enlightenment desktop.

    The 64-bit version is an original operating system distribution, not being based on the core of Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, openSuSE, Slackware, Mandriva or any other existing distribution. This also means that the development process will take a longer path than the 32-bit version.

    Meanwhile, no one should have fear, uncertainty or doubt about using the 32-bit version on 64-bit hardware. I use it myself (in full disclosure, as a Bodhi 64-bit developer) on a 64-bit HP G60. It works like a charm. If anyone wants to extend the use of 6GB ram or more, a user can always enable PAE extensions.

    Terrific review, Bruce, and an excellent explanation of The Bodhi Way.
  • Typo

    Thanks to everyone who pointed out the typo in the distribution's name, and my apologies to readers. That will teach me to post when I'm running a fever.
  • Wow No 64bit?

    I just downloaded Bodhi only to realize there is no 64bit edition. In this day and age I think any distro release must come out with both 32 and 64bit editions.
    This blows. The screenshots on the site look nice though, but I am not gonna try it unless its released as 64bit as well.
    Thanks for the review.

    Shane
  • Configurability

    From the article:
    "The jokes are inevitable, but what they obscure is a highly usable interface, less customizable than KDE, but with a reasonable set of options."

    Huh?!

    Enlightenment is way more configurable than KDE will ever be.

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