2011-03-04

Review: AUSTRUMI 2.2.9

Main Screen
Unless you're from Latvia, there's a good chance that this is the first time you are seeing either the name AUSTRUMI or a review of it. So what is it?
AUSTRUMI is a Latvian Slackware-based distribution that uses FVWM as the window manager. So why am I reviewing it? Well, a couple days ago I saw on DistroWatch's ticker feed of updated distributions that the AUSTRUMI developers have released version 2.2.9. Yet DistroWatch's page for this distribution shows the last listed update to be version 1.5.0 and the last notable review to be from 2009 August of version 1.9.3 on Desktop Linux Reviews. I read that review before; it praised AUSTRUMI for its light weight as well as its numerous programs stuffed in but knocked it hard for including Minefield, Mozilla Firefox's unstable developmental branch, as its default browser. I became curious about this and wanted to see what has changed since then, so I decided to check it out. The AUSTRUMI website is quite friendly and well-done; although the distribution is Latvian, the page displays by default in English. It has a list of included programs, some history, and a link to the Slackware Latvia forums. That's certainly helpful (no sarcasm intended).
I tested this on a live USB made with MultiSystem. I only tested the live session, for which it was designed, although it is technically installable as well. Follow the jump to see what it's like.

After the boot menu came a long wall of text. It was pretty quick, though, and soon I was taken into the desktop.
FVWM is a very old WM. When I tried it on Slackware in its vanilla form, it looked worse than vanilla Fluxbox, which itself won't win any beauty contests. Yet here, the developers have managed to make it look really nice. Color me impressed!
Opera and LibreOffice
On top is a single-line Conky setup showing CPU, memory, and battery usage, among other things. To the right is a sidebar that consists of a set of launchers, a window list, a workspace switcher, and a clock. When clicked on the left edge, the sidebar hides itself (and shows itself when clicked there again). All of these widgets are transparent because Xcompmgr is turned on by default when possible. Initially, the large AUSTRUMI logo shows in the middle of the screen, but after a while, it goes away. The window borders are transparent and the window control buttons look reminiscent of Apple's Mac OS X, while the cursor theme looks to be straight from Microsoft Windows 7. I'm not sure what the icon theme is, but it looks pretty nice.
FVWM works a little bit like Openbox. Left-clicking on the desktop brings up a main menu with application categories, while right-clicking on the desktop brings up a separate menu full of configuration items.

The default web browser is Opera. That's an interesting choice considering it is technically proprietary software and developers of Linux distributions tend to stick to free software browsers, but it isn't all that surprising considering that Opera is extremely popular in Eastern European countries (such as...Latvia). It's a shame that Opera is not widely known because it created a lot of the design paradigms used in browsers today, such as tabbed browsing (not Mozilla Firefox), tabs on top (before Chromium existed), and the "speed dial" page (not Safari). It did see a small spike in usage around the time that the Nintendo Wii came out because that (as well as the upcoming Nintendo 3DS) uses Opera as the integrated web browser, but that seems to have leveled out. Anyway, I fired it up, and boy is it fast! It seems to totally blow both Mozilla Firefox and Chromium out of the water speed-wise. It also seems to come with most proprietary multimedia codecs already installed. Plus, even though it doesn't load certain things like Adobe Flash unless the user explicitly clicks the "Play" button (making many pages even faster to load), when the user does click "Play", it still loads those objects almost immediately. Wow! I'm just wondering if I should switch to Opera now...
(Nah. I still love Mozilla Firefox's extensibility, commitment to open source, and speed in patching bugs. I can't wait for version 4! But in any case, I would highly recommend Opera for anyone to try. It's available on most major platforms, including (as you can see) Linux.)
LibreOffice is included as well, which is certainly a good thing. I can't tell any difference interface-wise, but apparently LibreOffice handles Microsoft Office document formats much better than OpenOffice.org.
There is no bundled multi-protocol IM client like Pidgin included, but interestingly enough, Skype is included. Skype sounds played fine, but my webcam and mic were unfortunately not recognized.

Windows Theme
One of the big issues for me with this distribution was the language barrier. Well, OK, it wasn't a huge issue, because I could always refer to the AUSTRUMI website to figure out what other applications are installed, but it was a little annoying to not be able to figure out applications based on name alone. Plus, there doesn't appear to be a whole lot of documentation (at least in English) on how to use AUSTRUMI. I did eventually find a way to change the language to English, but even this wasn't permanent; when I tried, X restarted, and the desktop came back in Latvian again.

Emelfm2 is the default file manager; it's more for power users, as it's split into 2 panes and shows almost all possible information regarding the current folder(s), so the interface can be a little confusing sometimes.
Some other included applications include Geeqie, Transmission, some games, and MPlayer, among others.

Another issue I found was that frequently there would be artifacts of previously-opened windows and menus left over on the desktop. This could be an issue with Xcompmgr, but in any case, I would often open the right-click menu or Opera, and when that was closed, there would still be a part of that window drawn on the desktop, which was annoying.
On a related note, although there is a window list in the sidebar, minimizing windows also makes them appear as large icons on the desktop. Clicking on these icons unminimizes the windows again. That's pretty convenient.

At this point, there wasn't a whole lot left for me to explore. I checked out some of the right-click configuration menu items, and I picked "Windows" under "Temas" (or something like that which I figured meant "themes"). This changed the whole desktop to have a look and feel similar to Microsoft Windows, with a panel on the bottom replete with a main menu, window switcher, workspace switcher, system tray, and clock. I'm not actually sure what panel this is, but it looks pretty nice. The theme changed from light to dark and the window borders and buttons became more reminiscent of Microsoft Windows as well. Furthermore, desktop icons appeared on the desktop. In fact, some of the applications changed too, which puzzled me; Emelfm2 was replaced by PCManFM, and the Conky configuration changed to reveal a shiny clock and a weather applet. I played around with this a little more, and then I decided to change the theme back, so I clicked on the theme "CairoDock" in the configuration menu. Unfortunately, this took me to the login screen, and I didn't know the password, so I was effectively locked out of the system. This ended my time with AUSTRUMI.

So what's the deal? I understand that AUSTRUMI is obviously targeted towards Latvian users, but given that the English website is very well done and there are options in the desktop to change the language, it's disappointing that (1) these options are not well-advertised and (2) these options don't really work. That's my biggest gripe with AUSTRUMI. Other gripes include Skype's failure to recognize my integrated laptop webcam and mic (though that could be because Skype is at version 2.0, while the latest available version is 2.1), the desktop locking me out when changing out of the Windows theme, and the issue of window artifacts left over after windows are closed. Nice things about this distribution include the very classy setups of FVWM, the inclusion of Skype itself, as well as the inclusion of Opera and LibreOffice. Overall, it's an interesting distribution for the adventurous to try out, but I definitely would not use it on a regular basis and would not recommend it to anyone other than Latvians or Slackware users (or both), and those people are probably already using AUSTRUMI anyway.

22 comments:

  1. Am I blind or there is not even 1 (one!) link to the AUSTRUMI web site? What kind of review is this?

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  2. @Anonymous: No, you're not blind. :) Sorry, I'm not in the habit of giving links to distribution websites in reviews. Here it is. Thanks for the tip!

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  3. If you push the tab button at the boot-splash and type in lang_en as a boot parameter you will find the desktop is in English and will stay that way

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  4. Were you able to get connected wirelessly? I have tried the last 10 releases, and none connect wirelessly for me. Also, did you try to open a thumbdrive? Have not been able to do that either. This is a great looking and very fast distro and I would love to be able to use it. P.S. I tried posting in the unofficial English Austrumi forum, and even though the moderator answers quickly, concise answers seem unobtainable. Thannks for the review.

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  5. I´ve been using wifi with an intel 3945, a Ralink 2500 and a RT8187, but I do recall it failed on other laptops (none with Broadcom 43xx). Still, since it can work from RAM, it frees the CD drive, which is VERY usefull booting laptops with faulty Windows installations. Plus, it absolutely flies on an old 1000 Mhz PIII Dell, which is now out of the garage and working very well in a Charity Org. Now it´s using Opera and LibreOffice I must check out the latest ISO. Cheers to the Austrumi devs!

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  6. @Anonymous 1: Unfortunately, I did try that, and it didn't work. Oh well.
    @Anonymous 2: I don't usually try wireless connections because I almost always use a wired ethernet connection. It's because I had some really bad experiences with wireless connections in the past that make me avoid it like the plague. Moving on from that, I didn't actually think of mounting a flash drive partition. Are you saying the drives don't get automatically mounted or they aren't recognized at all?
    @Anonymous 3: It's great to see that you've been successful with this distribution.
    Thanks for the comments!

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  7. re usb drive. it will recognize it, but when trying to mount, it fails.
    re wireless. tried using realtek 8187b, and it fails. have another usb dongle, and it fails also (from cnet, not sure what drivers)
    Thanks, Rob

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  8. I don't tried this version yet but all the previous ones were laking ndiswrapper so I never succeeded in using my wireless connection. What a pity, Austrumi is so nice!

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  9. my wireless worked (intel 5000), I am impressed with very nice and creative design and the quality and the number of programs included in this small size iso. I did a usb install, so far it does not remember the last configuration but I am still learning...

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  10. @Anonymous 1: Huh. That's interesting.
    @Anonymous 2: Did this version work for you?
    @Anonymous 3: It's great that it's working relatively well for you.
    Thanks for the comments!

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  11. In the past (years), this distro has used other WM's and kept it small and complete. I installed about 4yrs. ago and it was real quick and in English (i was used to a Slackware install). That was an Athlon 900 w/512 ram. This version looks modern/nice and i bet works great on older hardware. Slackware helps that. mike

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  12. @Anonymous: It's great that you've had much success with it. Thanks for the comment!

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  13. The artifacts that you mentioned are indeed caused by xcompmgr: I have the same behavior here on this crappy laptop with an integrated SiS chipset that is not capable of any eye candy otherwise, at least on X11.

    As for FVWM, it was the default window manager on RedHat way back when I first used it - RH 5.2 IIRC - and although nice it already was showing its age when compared to the Microsoft and Apple OSes of the time.

    Bear in mind that its competitors at the time were AfterStep, WindowMaker, TWM, 4DWM and CDE all of which can be made to look great but in their default settings appear quite old.

    However you should check out FVWM-Crystal for an extremely customized and good looking FVWM setup to see what it is capable of.

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  14. @Anonymous: I would certainly love to try FVWM-Crystal, but do you know of any distributions that come with live versions featuring that WM? Anyway, thanks for the comment!

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  15. PV: Don't know any distro that uses FVWM-Crystal by default never mind one that can be run as a live CD. But it is very small and you can install it on top of an existing and minimal Debian or Arch install easily.

    FVWM-Crystal is actually a preconfigured FVWM with some add-ons so you don't actually gain nor lose any sort of integration with the underlying system, if that is what you're concerned with. Just install it on top of Debian and you ready to go assuming that you are already comfortable with Debian.

    Also there are a few Youtube videos showing it in action if you prefer to see it working before you give it a shot.

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  16. @Anonymous: Thanks for the tip!

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  17. Hi PV, nice review, I enjoyed reading about this obscure derivative.
    You can always install FVWM-Crystal from source if you grab it from their site. Did that on Debian 4 and worked well. In Debian 5 it was in the repositories, I'm assuming they haven't dropped it. It also comes with a collection of different themes, what I think they called recipes. They change not only the look but also the desktop layout and position of panels.

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  18. @Barnaby: Thanks for the tip!

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  19. thanks for the review. this looks interesting and i'll give it a try.

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  20. @Anonymous: Thanks for the support!

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  21. Austrumi is very special, but hmm no support.
    Many things are not really working which I dont know where to fix:
    - time zone UTC
    - shortcuts
    Even in version 2.5.6,seamonkey is not working properly (see video).
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9fHSG0O03A

    I hope big improvement in next version.
    I tried version 2.5.7, but nothing much.

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    Replies
    1. @Anonymous: Thanks for the comment!

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