2012-02-17

Review: Salix OS 13.37 Xfce Live

Main Screen + Xfce Right-Click Menu
I have wanted to review Salix OS for a while now. It does seem to be the one derivative of Slackware that really synchronizes itself with Slackware development, to the point where even the version numbering system is the same. I have already tried out a few other derivatives, like Zenwalk, Kongoni, VectorLinux, and Porteus; on the whole, all of those worked relatively well, but there were a few things here and there that bothered me about each of them. I would like to see if Salix OS can overcome that.

Salix OS is a derivative of Slackware that comes in a multitude of versions; it has installable and live editions with Xfce, KDE, LXDE, Fluxbox, Ratpoison, and other DEs. According to its website (which, while very slightly more on the technical side, is pretty nice to use), Salix OS is meant to be fast, easy to use, and fully compatible with Slackware packages.

I tested the live session on a live USB made with MultiSystem. I did not test the installation because although this edition is installable, it has really been optimized more for usage in the live session, so I am going to stick with that. Follow the jump to see what it's like.

After the boot menu, I was greeted by a scrolling wall of text. Booting took a moderate amount of time, but after that I was greeted by a nice-looking login screen. Unfortunately, I didn't know the username/password, so I had to reboot into my installed system to look that up and then reboot again into the live USB. After doing so and entering the username (there is no password for the normal live user), I was greeted by the desktop.

Mozilla Firefox
The desktop setup is a lightly customized Xfce (which, as I found out to slight disappointment, is still at version 4.4 in Salix OS 13.37). There is one panel on the bottom, containing, from left to right, an Xfce menu, some application shortcuts, a window switcher, a notification area, a workspace switcher, a button to show the desktop, a clock (without a calendar, though that can be replaced with a clock applet that does have a calendar), and a button to leave the session. The desktop contains icons including not just the connected drives but also some system tools and a user's manual for Salix OS; speaking of which, that manual is just as well-written and comprehensive as the user's manual for Linux Mint, which I believe is high praise. The Xfwm theme is Kokodi, the GTK+ theme is Clearlooks, and the icon theme is Shiki-Brave, which is a blue version of the green Shiki-Wise theme used in Linux Mint between versions 7 "Gloria" and 9 LTS "Isadora". The cursor is neither the standard X/11 cursor theme nor the standard GNOME/Xfce cursor theme; it reminds me a little of the KDE cursor theme, but it stands out because I've never seen it anywhere else before.  Overall, the desktop looks quite pleasing; it looks a little old, but it's soft rather than gratingly aged.

Mozilla Firefox, present at version 10, is the default browser. It seems to come with some multimedia codecs included, as YouTube and Hulu worked fine. As is often the case with Xfce (except in Xubuntu), my laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts were not recognized.

LibreOffice Writer + Xfce Panel Menu
LibreOffice is included as well. Although it is at version 3.3, which is a little older than is to be expected now, it worked just fine. Other installed applications include various Xfce tools, the Geany text editor, GIMP, Viewnior, Exaile, Parole, PiTiVi, Claws Mail, and Pidgin. Speaking of GIMP and Viewnior, although both work fine otherwise, for some reason Thunar opens images in GIMP rather than Viewnior, which is a really weird choice [that can admittedly be fixed fairly easily].

There are two GUI package managers in Salix OS. The first is GSlapt, which I have seen before; it is the front-end to what is essentially a port of Debian's APT to Slackware, and it works basically like Synaptic Package Manager. I was able to install some packages like the Xfce volume management tools successfully and quickly (though those tools unfortunately didn't seem to do much).
The second is Sourcery, which is a front-end to the SlackBuild repositories. I think a good analogy is that Sourcery is to the CCR in Chakra what GSlapt is to AppSet-Qt; the SlackBuild repositories are mostly user-generated. But the great thing is that there are so many SlackBuilds; the repositories are huge! I saw that I was able to install Skype, Google Talk, and Compiz all through this method. Unfortunately, none of these would install or run correctly due to dependency/installation errors. The crucial issue here is that while Sourcery provides a convenient front-end for installing these SlackBuild packages, it does not solve fundamental issues like the lack of dependency management, and it is frankly pretty easy to be misled to think that. What I would like to see is greater integration between Sourcery and GSlapt to pull in any required dependencies, although that sort of runs contrary to the way SlackBuilds are meant to be installed.

GSlapt + Sourcery
Because Skype failed to run after a successful installation through Sourcery, I had to use Sourcery to uninstall it, and then I followed some forum instructions to download, extract, and execute a static binary package. After that, it worked just fine, although the only somewhat moderate issue was that it would close even if I ran it from the terminal with the explicit additional command to run parallel to other processes (i.e."skype &" versus "skype") and then closed it. That was pretty annoying.

Google Talk also did not install correctly, but I found installation instructions for a SlackBuild package of Google Talk meant for Slackware, and I followed them. Google Talk installed correctly then, and Gmail recognized the presence of the plugin, but while the troubleshooting section seemed to recognize my mic and laptop speakers fine, my webcam was just showing a black screen. Then, when I tried having a conversation with another person, the opposite happened: my own video worked fine, but after a few minutes both the incoming and outgoing audio stopped working. That was quite strange.

Xfce has its own minimal desktop effects, and those worked fine. I tried installing Compiz just for fun, but it didn't work due to dependency issues which I basically could not resolve. Also, according to Htop, Salix OS used about 270 MB of RAM at idle, which is quite high for an Xfce distribution based on something other than Ubuntu, but is still tolerable. Salix OS generally was very stable and felt pretty fast, though for some reason the terminal displayed a small but noticeable amount lag time between my typing commands and said commands appearing on the screen.

That's where my time with Salix OS ended. Objectively, it has done better than the other Slackware derivatives I have tried, in that both Skype and Google Talk worked to an extent. Plus, it includes a whole bunch of useful programs without skimping out on important things (e.g. LibreOffice is included rather than the Abiword/Gnumeric duo), yet the ISO image file size is small enough that it can still fit on a CD. Yet, subjectively, I feel rather let down here. The vast repository of packages in Sourcery seemed so promising; I thought I could install things like Skype, Google Talk, Mupen64Plus, and other useful programs with one click and that they would work out-of-the-box once installed. But as you have read, it was not to be. So Salix OS is in the end quite user-friendly compared to other Slackware derivatives, but the huge amount of user-friendliness that initially appears turns out to be more of a fa├žade than anything else; Sourcery makes the installation of SlackBuild packages easier, but it doesn't do dependency management, and I think that one thing that would go a long way in terms of fixing that would be better integration between the SlackBuild package repositories and the normal Slackware/Salix OS repositories, so that Sourcery could use GSlapt to do dependency management if necessary. In the end, I would not recommend Salix OS to total newbies, but it is still a good distribution; I would recommend it to Linux users who may still be relatively new but who are comfortable following and typing simple commands in the terminal and fiddling around with configuration options to get things to work.
You can get it here.

7 comments:

  1. Good to see a review of a less well known distro. Salix is rather less newbie friendly than (say) Vector Linux and I think that is intentional. It's meant to be close to the real Slackware experience with a few conveniences, but dependency checking in Sourcery is not one of them. It's meant to be 100% compatible with Slackware, so if the base distro uses an old version of xfce then so will Salix. It does take a bit of effort to set things up just so, but the devs are very knowledgeable if you ask on the forum. The reward for your efforts is a stable, fast distro that just keeps out of your way. I'm using the installed version by the way. Testing the live version is valid of course, but it only tells you half the story. I didn't like the live version much last time I tried it.
    Andy

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  2. Did audio work? I see so many distros where it doesn't.

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    1. I agree. There are far too many distros out there where the audio doesn't work at all, even with numerous tries dabbling into mix and alsamixer etc. Audio, should be the thing that is easy to have on any linux distro.

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    2. @Anonymous: I thankfully haven't had any audio issues with Linux distributions in quite a while. It is unfortunate though that a large percentage of users continue to have issues with audio. Thanks for the comment!

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  3. @Anonymous 1: The funny thing is that I eventually concluded that objectively, Salix OS is quite a bit more user-friendly than, say, VectorLinux. I suppose that testing the live version does only tell half the story, but can you show me instances where, for instance, Skype and Google Talk work perfectly in an installed session but not in a live session? I could plausibly see how the issue with Skype closing when its parent terminal closes could go away through a full installation, but I don't see how the Google Talk issue will go away.

    @Anonymous 2: I am happy to report that it did. Thankfully, audio hasn't really ever been an issue for me; in fact, there are some distributions (e.g. PC-BSD, though to be fair that is not Linux) where audio works but the display does not.

    Thanks for the comments!

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  4. Are we talking about the same Salix 13.37 XFCE?
    My version was very different from what you're describing here.

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    1. @DarkDuck: No, it's not the same version. I reviewed the "Live" version (which can be installed but is optimized for live testing), whereas you reviewed the normal version which requires installation right away. Thanks for the comment!

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