|Main Screen + Kickoff Menu|
So what is Kongoni? It's a Slackware-based Linux distribution that uses KDE. Though it claims to also be relatively easy-to-use, its priority number one is to be a fully free software distribution, akin to Ubuntu-based Trisquel, which I have reviewed before. It also has a couple pieces of software to help it achieve the other goal of being easier to use.
I tested Kongoni through a live USB setup made with MultiSystem. I tested the installation in VirtualBox in a Pinguy OS 11.04 Mini live USB session with 1024 MB of RAM allocated to the guest OS. Follow the jump to see what it's like. (In response to a comment asking for this information, I'll try to include this from now on: my laptop is an ASUS U30Jc, whose specs you can easily find online.)
After getting past the boot menu, I saw a scrolling wall of text, and then...nothing. The system just hung there, and I couldn't even press CTRL+ALT+F1 to get to a CLI environment. That was frustrating. I didn't really know how to proceed, so I tried searching the Kongoni website for answers. Unfortunately, the Kongoni website is relatively sparse, there's no forum, and all the wiki's pages are empty. I decided to wait a day or two and try again. After a day or two, I went back to the website, and this time I found a news item saying that the Kongoni ISO images were created improperly resulting in them not working as live USB systems; bravo to the Kongoni developers for quickly finding and fixing this issue. I redownloaded the ISO file, made the live USB setup again with MultiSystem, eventually got past the boot menu, and everything seemed OK after that. (Thankfully, I didn't need to enter extra GRUB parameters.) The boot process wasn't terribly slow, but it wasn't the fastest I have seen either. After that, I was greeted by a customized Plymouth-like KDE splash, featuring the Kongoni logo and name and a background image with a savannah in the foreground and a mountain in the background, befitting Kongoni's African roots. That quickly gave way to the desktop.
|YouTube on GNU IceCat + KWrite|
GNU IceCat, the GNU/FSF-certified free software version of Mozilla Firefox (because the Mozilla and Firefox trademarks seem to violate certain principles of free software, or something like that), is the default browser at version 5.0. All free software codecs are included out-of-the-box, including Gnash, the free software equivalent to Adobe Flash. Previously, I've had some trouble with Gnash playing things like YouTube videos, but this time, YouTube was able to play videos fine, which was a pleasant surprise, so I must congratulate the Gnash developers on these improvements. This also confirmed that my laptop's sound card and volume keyboard shortcuts were recognized properly out-of-the-box, though strangely the sound was much louder than in other distributions (for a given volume setting). Unfortunately, sites like Hulu didn't work, meaning I would need to download and install the proprietary Adobe Flash plugin.
|KISS + PIG (seriously)|
PIG is one of the special pieces of software included in Kongoni. The other one, aside from the installer, is the Kongoni Instant Setup System, or KISS. (Were they really asking someone to KISS a PIG with these acronyms? I mean, I know some developers have weird senses of humor, but this is just...ewwwww!) KISS aims to be a GUI tool to do a lot of things that would otherwise be done through the CLI, such as changing the time zone and changing the computer hostname. Though I do appreciate such a tool, some of the things are labeled as external setup tools (such as printer configuration) through the KDE System Settings program, and I'm pretty sure that configuring the time zone and network can also be done through the KDE System Settings program. That said, KISS works well in what it's meant to do.
|LibreOffice Impress + Dolphin + Desktop Cube|
After that, I tried installing the Google Talk plugin, because I use that a lot too, and it'll become even more important if and when Microsoft drops Skype support for Linux. This was considerably more difficult than installing and using Skype, but the fact that I got it to work (sort of) in the end made it actually feel quite rewarding. I'll start from the beginning.
There is no official source package for the Google Talk plugin; the only official packages are the DEBs and RPMs. Thankfully, a brave and gracious person (Willy Sudiarto Raharjo, a Slackware user from Indonesia) had created a SlackBuild package for this plugin; because many programs for Slackware need to be compiled from source before they can be installed, a SlackBuild package has a script that automates that compilation and installation. I looked up how to install a SlackBuild package and followed those directions in the terminal; the terminal output complained about the lack of the associated Google Talk plugin DEB package. I downloaded the DEB package and put it in the correct folder, and this time it worked OK. But I wasn't done, because when I restarted GNU IceCat and tried to configure the settings for voice/video chat, Gmail claimed the plugin wasn't present at all. I tried restarting the browser and trying again, as suggested in a forum, which didn't work either. I then tried reinstalling the SlackBuild package with the same directions as before, and while the results were the same, this time I noticed a TGZ package created in the /tmp folder.
I went to the /tmp folder and tried to open it with Ark (which resulted in Ark crashing, but that was eventually resolved and I was able to use Ark), and I found a whole bunch of directories present, two of which (/opt and /usr) corresponded to folders in the root directory. I figured this meant I needed to extract the contents of the package and copy those contents to the corresponding folders in the root directory, so I did that, and tried again; it still didn't work. Then I noticed there were a few files with the extension '.so', which is the same extension as that of a Mozilla Firefox plugin, so I copied those files over to /usr/lib/mozilla/plugins, and then tried again. Finally, it worked. It recognized the webcam fine, and sound worked fine, but the mic was again problematic, as the bar representing mic volume barely went up even as I screamed at the mic. That said, I don't know if that is particularly meaningful because I wasn't able to call anyone at the time.
Desktop effects worked well. In general, aside from the package management stuff, Kongoni felt quite fast and light too.
The majority of things I encountered were consistent with Kongoni's secondary aim to be easy to use. (Of course, everything I encountered from Kongoni itself was consistent with its primary aim to be a fully free software distribution.) Even things like installing Kongoni on the hard drive and using Skype, aside from some minor terminology issues, seemed pretty darn easy. The one big roadblock preventing me from recommending this to total newbies (though I will say that I don't know whether Kongoni is actually targeting total newbies to Linux per se, because Kongoni aims to be "easy to use", which can be stretched and interpreted in different ways) was the ordeal with the Google Talk plugin; while I was eventually able to get it to work and I found it rewarding, it took quite a lot of work, and I don't think any sane person could reasonably expect a newbie to be willing to do that sort of thing just to use Google Talk, a VOIP program that I would say rivals Skype in popularity and will become more important to the Linux community if and when Linux users can no longer use Skype. So no, I can't recommend it to total newbies, because of that issue and because some manual configuration of the proprietary Adobe Flash plugin is required for things like Hulu to work. I can recommend it to people who want to learn a bit more about how things are done in Slackware but without having to configure everything manually as in Slackware, as well as for people who want a stable, solid system who know how to do this sort of stuff or are willing to learn and have the time and patience to do so. I would think that revising the stated target audience to refer to such people (as opposed to either explicitly or implicitly targeting newbies), along with expanding the website and points for getting help, would greatly increase Kongoni's appeal. Please understand that I'm not trying to belittle Kongoni; I actually liked it quite a bit. I just couldn't give it to an otherwise computer-illiterate relative in good conscience, and I feel like I would experience enough problems down the road to test my patience with it.
You can get Kongoni here.