2012-03-01

Review: Bridge Linux 2012.2 Xfce + KDE + GNOME

On my recent review of KahelOS, Dr.Saleem Khan, a regular commenter on reviews here, suggested that I try out Bridge Linux, as it is supposed to be even better and easier to use than KahelOS. That piqued my interest, so I am trying it out now.

Xfce: Main Screen + Xfce Right-Click Menu
Bridge Linux seems to be a fairly new player on the field. Its website is quite sparse; there is not even an "About" section describing the purpose of this distribution. But it has editions with GNOME, KDE, and Xfce, so I am trying each of those now.

I tested each of the three editions using a multiboot live USB made with MultiSystem. Only one of the editions will get the full barrage of testing; the other two will get basically an overview of what is included, what works, and what does not work. I tested the installation of one of the editions in a VirtualBox VM in a Xubuntu 11.10 "Oneiric Ocelot" host with 1024 MB of RAM, 128 MB of video memory, and 3D graphics acceleration allocated to the guest OS. Follow the jump to see whether Bridge Linux can bridge the divide between new users and Arch Linux, as it claims.

Xfce


MultiSystem did not distinguish between the three editions in the boot menu, so I chose the first one, and that happened to be the Xfce edition. After the boot menu came a scrolling wall of text, and after a reasonably short amount of time I was taken to the desktop.

The desktop is fairly standard for Xfce, although it is made to look a bit more like GNOME 2 like what Xubuntu does. There are two panels. The top contains, from left to right, the Xfce menu, shortcuts to applications, a workspace switcher, a clock, and a system tray. The bottom panel contains, from left to right, a button to show the desktop and hide all windows, a window switcher, and a shortcut to the trash folder. There is a README file on the desktop containing tips about using the distribution, but I think those will make more sense to more experienced users. (I mean, they made sense to me, but I don't think they will make sense to a new Linux user.) The GTK+ and Xfwm themes are Orta, and the icon theme is Awoken, so the whole desktop has a dark, grayscale look. Overall, the desktop is quite polished, and is certainly among the better implementations of Xfce that I have seen.

Xfce: Chromium + AbiWord
Chromium is the default browser, and it worked quite well. Multimedia codecs seemed to be included, as YouTube and Hulu worked well. Ironically, after I signed into my Google account to write this, YouTube also signed me in, and because I have signed up for the YouTube HTML 5 trial, YouTube would not recognize the specific codec in Chromium associated with rendering HTML 5 and thus would not play videos until I signed out again. Surprisingly, both for an Arch-based distribution and an Xfce distribution, my laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts were properly recognized.

The default productivity software consists of AbiWord and Gnumeric. This makes sense for light weight in terms of both RAM and disk usage. Also, I can't help but notice how much nicer AbiWord looks following the GTK+ and icon themes than LibreOffice Writer.
Other installed applications include the typical Xfce utilities, some Qt development tools, GIMP, Shotwell, Mozilla Thunderbird, and VLC. I am surprised Mozilla Thunderbird was picked rather than something lighter like Claws Mail, but that is not really of any concern to me.

There is no GUI package manager installed, so I had to use the standard Arch CLI program Pacman to install packages. I was able to use it to install Skype from the default repositories. Skype did crash a couple times after starting it, but by the third attempt it had settled down. It was able to recognize my laptop's webcam and speakers fine, but not its mic, so I had to install the GStreamer plugin package as well (which was not too difficult), and after also manually removing and replacing the volume mixer applet in the top panel, it worked after that.

Installing the Google Talk plugin was much the same process as in KahelOS. I had to get the TAR package from the AUR, unpack it, compile it, and install it, and to successfully complete the installation I had to manually satisfy a few dependencies on the side. Unfortunately, the results were the same too: in the Gmail settings tab, the mic but not the webcam was recognized, whereas in an actual call, the reverse was true. (UPDATE: In KahelOS, Google Talk worked fine, but that is not true here. Sorry about that!)

Xfce in Bridge Linux used 180 MB of RAM at idle, which is quite good! Also, Bridge Linux enabled the minimal compositing effects in Xfce, which is nice.

KDE

This section is quite short, because the KDE edition worked much like the Xfce edition, and it included many of the same/similar applications. I guess the only major change in terms of included applications is LibreOffice instead of AbiWord/Gnumeric. That said, no browser appeared to work correctly in the KDE edition; Chromium didn't work, and I tried installing Mozilla Firefox and that did not work either. That is quite disappointing, and in my eyes it pretty much makes the KDE edition unusable.

GNOME

This section is short too. I really wanted to try out GNOME 3/Cinnamon, but it was completely inaccessible because the root account appears to be disabled in the live session (at least in terms of logging in) so I was not able to prevent the default live user from automatically logging in before I could change the session type. Thus, I was stuck with GNOME 3/Shell.

At this point, I decided to start the installation process. The installation was pretty bare-bones and had a pseudo-graphical command-line interface. First came the localization, which was fairly straightforward. Then came the disk partitioning; I opted for the easy way, and all I had to do was enter a bunch of numbers for partition sizes — that worked fine. Then came the actual installation, which only took a little over 5 minutes. Then came the post-installation configuration, which was fairly straightforward and minimal as well. Finally came the installation of GRUB. Through it all, I basically just had to press 'ENTER' a bunch of times, and that was that.

GNOME: Installer
After rebooting, I was able to log in properly. However, despite turning on 3D graphics acceleration and allocating 128 MB of video memory to the VM, GNOME 3/Cinnamon refused to work; I kept getting sent to GNOME 3/Fallback. While this is of course quite usable, I really wanted to try out GNOME 3/Cinnamon, and I was a bit disappointed that I could not do so despite it being advertised as working well on the website.

That's where my time with Bridge Linux ended. Clearly, the Xfce edition is the most workable one, especially in the live session. But the point was that this distribution is supposedly even better than KahelOS, yet I just didn't see that here. I mean, the Xfce edition was quite good, and I would recommend it not to total newbies to Linux but to relatively newer Linux users who may be getting comfortable with the command line. But putting aside my dislike of GNOME 3/Shell, KahelOS has a graphical package manager (PackageKit) and a GUI installer, while Bridge Linux has neither of things, and KahelOS can do all the same great things that Bridge Linux can without giving up anything else. Given all that, I'm not sure I can justify the comment on the KahelOS review from Dr.Saleem Khan saying that Bridge Linux is even better than KahelOS. That said, KahelOS has been around for a few years now, whereas Bridge Linux is just getting started, so the fact that it is this good already is quite promising. I will be keeping an eye on this distribution for a while.
You can get it here.

17 comments:

  1. I'm the developer of Bridge Linux, and I would like to point out a few things.

    First, you can use packer to manage the AUR packages, including upgrading them, in much the same way as pacman, and it can also install packages through pacman.

    Second, for GNOME Shell to work, you have to install and enable the VirtualBox additions as per this article: https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/VirtualBox#Arch_Linux_guests

    Frankly, Xfce probably will be the most polished (or main) edition, since it's what I use and know a lot of tweaks for.

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    1. @RacnDJ: I will certainly keep those things in mind. Thanks for the clarifications!

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  2. No problem. Also, I forgot to mention that the KDE bug can be fixed by running "packer -S cairo-ubuntu".

    Thanks for the review!

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    1. @RacnDJ: Thanks again for the tips & support!

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  3. @RacnDJ can you include modem manager & mobile broadband info

    @PV in your reviews can you please check if network-manager , modem-manager & mobile-broadband are included so that if we don't have a hard line or use modems or phones we are not w/o internet

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  4. How can you get the xfce to run at 1920 x 1080? Tried a number of ways but 1076 x whatever was the beast it could do. Never met an Arch based distro that could do that OOBox...

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    1. @Anonymous: I'm not really sure because my laptop's maximum resolution is 1366 by 768. Thanks for the comment!

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    2. Mine is currently doing 1920x1080 on an onboard AMD card. This is through the onboard HDMI, but I was able to get the same resolution via the VGA and the DVI ports as well.

      Mobo is M3A78-EM from ASUS

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    3. @Anonymous: It's good to know that it works for you. Thanks for the comment!

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  5. Hello,

    Sorry for the much delayed comment, life is taking its real toll on me everyday, work , family and so many other routine activities are keeping me busy. But,not so busy indeed to forget using Arch Linux and Bridge Linux along :D If I dont ArchBridge and if my family doesn`t too we don`t call it a day :)

    Having said all this I still insist to say that Bridge Linux is much better than KahelOS ,if you are an arch linux user you know your way around and get everything working in no time : infact Bridge Linux is nothing more than Arch Linux but with few plus benefits you get handy

    1 ) The installer is literally more than peanuts as compared to arch`s native installer and few customizations get you an arch system up and running in few minutes.

    2) Almost all basic packages are already there for you.

    3) Nothing difficult to get as many GUI`s for pacman as are available , pacman , yaourt , packer are your best companions in arch planet and official repos plus AUR are the best software banks any distro can offer.

    4 ) I have installed all the DE`s offered by Bridge Linux and I hardly see any crashes and if any they are always arch related not bridge related.

    Infact bridge is nothing more than Arch but its an arch with easy to install tweak and use system ,

    use it daily please you will not be disappointed at all :)

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  6. I used Bridge to get my arch systems up and running in a much faster manner. I've done several "bare" arch installs, which are great, but having something like Bridge to form a "bridge" between the bare arch install and a fully functional desktop is really a wonderful thing (clever naming too, imo).

    Thanks to the simply AMAZING pacman package manager, you can slim down bridge, or make it as bloated as you please. It's my opinion that Arch is the best linux distribution out there currently. The documentation on the wiki is the best I've seen from ANY distribution. It's regularly updated and has how-tos for just about anything you could ever need. There was even a page for a relatively obscure web proxy that I use called "polipo", which absolutely astounded me.

    That being said, Arch (including Bridge) is NOT for the new linux user. In fact, I personally wouldn't recommend it for anyone with under 6-8 months of heavy linux usage. If you want to try it, install it in a VM, play around with it, read the Arch Wiki, practice and get yourself comfortable with pacman and using the arch forums, because you'll be spending a fair amount of time there. I have had very few breakages from updating my system in the 8 months I've been using Arch, but it's something that DOES happen from time to time, so you need to be competent enough with linux so that you aren't freaking out and ripping out chunks of your hair.

    Arch is simple, but not simple in the ubuntu way (simple to use). It's *technologically simple*...beautiful, even. When you run an arch system, you only get what YOU put on there and you only have services running that YOU start. It's not like windows or ubuntu, where when you install something, it's up and running. With Arch, you install something, you configure it by hand (usually) and you tell it to start by editing your rc.conf file (if it has a daemon). If you don't edit your files, your system simply will not start that service for you. To a new user, it may sound like a pain in the rear, but to someone who likes control of their computer, it's absolutely perfect. It's also great for security. You know what is running on your computer because YOU started it and YOU configured it. That's the true beauty of Arch.

    Before Arch, I distro-hopped all over the place. I have run all of the major distros and quite a few of the more obscure ones, in addition to some BSD variants. Arch is now my HOME. I've never gone this long without switching distros before. With arch, I have the best of a source-based distro (thanks to the AUR) and the best of a binary distro (thanks to the normal repositories). I have access to well over 20,000 packages and I've never come across anything I wanted that wasn't in the repositories or the AUR. I have switched all 5 computers in my house over to Arch and I can't imagine a day when I will switch to anything else. It's rock solid and fast as can be. I was really surprised with the pure speed of my systems with Arch, vs what they were with other distros. It's impressive.

    So if you're a distro-hopper, and you've been around linux for a while, give Arch a try, you won't be disappointed. If you install using Bridge, you can save yourself a bit of work too, which is always nice.

    :)

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  7. hi,

    I will send out few screenies of my bridge kde and gnome here soon

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  8. @Dr. Saleem Khan: I'm glad that you enjoy it so much. I'm just not sure if it's right for me, personally.

    @baronmaximus: I agree in that Arch probably is not for the new user.

    Thanks for the comments!

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    1. I think that the standard arch install is great, for me, but it will make most people who come from windows cry. You install the system and you get a very BARE install. When you reboot, there's nothing more than the absolute BASE system there. You get a kernel, some utilities and pacman and that's it. No snazzy GUI, no X(org), no window managers...nothing. You log in and it says "login: "...that's the only thing on your screen.

      That being said, for someone who is comfortable with Linux, it is very satisfying to be able to build your system from virtually nothing. It also makes your computer FAST...ridiculously fast. I've run other distros, even some which claimed to be "light" and "fast"...most of them felt big, bloated and slow compared to arch. My jaw literally dropped the first time I rebooted my system after I'd gotten everything set up like I wanted it, because I had never had a system which booted THAT quickly before. One second I was staring at the POST screen, the next I was in openbox...it was freaky...but WONDERFUL.

      Perhaps you should do a review of pure arch, going from the base install to the WM of your choice. It's really a fascinating process. I've had a few hiccups here and there, but overall, it's been a wonderful experience with Arch. It's my opinion that everyone who is comfortable with Linux should give Arch a spin. It's impossible to be disappointed, because YOU built it the way YOU want it and there aren't many other distros with which you can say that. LFS and perhaps Gentoo are two of very few...but they take days, sometimes WEEKS to get up and running, whereas Arch can be up and running with a full desktop environment in just a couple of hours (or less if you're good with the command line).

      Anyway, thank you for the review and I look forward to reading more reviews in the future.

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    2. @baronmaximus: I might just do that next week or the week after that, once I am on break after my final exams this week. Thanks for the comment!

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  9. Have used ArchBang a number of times LIVE..
    Lenovo ThinkPad SL410
    1.. The StartUp console view, once I choose to Boot Live, had an Upper left Quarter of the screen as White..After 15 or so processes loaded the screen went to all Black. This all before the Boot Menu.

    2.. Bridge is a bit less of a push off to Arch, which is good/Bad depending on the User.

    3.. I would have preferred these pre-installed for the LIVE trial..
    To install codecs: "sudo pacman -S gstreamer0.10-plugins"
    To install Flash: "sudo pacman -S flashplugin"
    To install official Java runtime: "sudo packer -S jre"

    ...Just to give a fair more complete MultiMedia test for the Live User.
    Those are my only Cons..
    Pros:
    1: Fast Boot..
    2: Responsive and Quick DE
    3: Elegant Xfce4 desktop OpenBox artwise..
    4: Discovered and Configured my Display/Wifi/Nic.. I was not expecting the Wifi to be automatic (iwlwifi)
    Intel Corporation PRO/Wireless 5100 AGN
    5: Number of Packages surprising for an Arch startup and good choices for me..Chrome, Tbird, QTDesigner, XfBurner, VLCplayer, Shotwell, GIMP..
    ..I would just add LibreOffice, QtCreator, xSane, Eclipse JavaSDK, and Maybe Geany & Eric IDE,,,I have my lightweight Desktop ENV..

    Nice work!! I will be reading the forums..
    I would have hard time deciding between ArchBang and Bridge and an Arch startup.. JMHO..
    ....
    sqlpython

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    1. @sqlpython: Thanks for the tips!

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