A lot of distributions that I come across that aim like Stella to be more user-friendly than their respective parent distributions are based on Ubuntu. There are quite a few based straight on Debian. There are also a handful based on Slackware, Arch, or Gentoo, which are all generally not very easy for new Linux users to use. And there are a few based on Fedora, though I feel like the only big-name one that's still around is Kororaa (and even that was originally based on Gentoo, so it hasn't been based on Fedora for that long — plus, Fuduntu forked from Fedora a while ago, while I haven't heard anything about Fusion recently). But until now, I don't think I've ever heard of a distribution that aims to make straight-up RHEL/CentOS more user-friendly, and that is exactly what Stella aims to do, so I think it may be unique in that regard. This is a great thing, because while I don't think CentOS is particularly unfriendly to general consumers, I do think it is generally geared more towards enterprise desktop and server settings. But CentOS has a reputation of being absolutely rock-solid, and this is made better by the fact that every CentOS release is supported for 7 years (and RHEL provides an additional 3 years of support to paying customers on top of that, if I remember correctly). So that seems like an ideal starting point upon which to build a user-friendly desktop.
I tested Stella 6.3 as a live USB system made with UnetBootin. (I tested the 32-bit edition because I happily have a new installed system, so I'm not looking for anything anymore so I don't really need the 64-bit edition. This also means that as before, from now on all reviews are of the 32-bit edition unless I specify otherwise.) Follow the jump to see how Stanley reacts. (Yes, I did that pun again.)
After the boot sequence came a few error messages, which concerned me. Those error messages stayed there for a few seconds without giving way to any sort of boot splash, so I thought the system got hung up there in the boot process, which concerned me even more. Thankfully, these concerns didn't pan out in the end because a few seconds later, I came upon the GDM login screen (which in time automatically logged me in). Right away, I saw that Stella doesn't shy away from its CentOS roots, because the computer hostname is something like "livecd.centoslive". After that came the desktop.
|Mozilla Firefox + LibreOffice|
Writer + Desktop Cube
Mozilla Firefox is the default browser and is at version 10. I wonder if Stella uses a repository that has the ESR (extended support release) version of Mozilla Firefox, because I feel like it and its parent could benefit from not having to update Mozilla Firefox more than once every 9.5 months while still keeping a release that is generally up-to-date. Anyway, that aside, Stella lives up to its promise by providing proprietary codecs, as YouTube and Hulu worked just fine, along with my laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts.
LibreOffice is included as well, which is good. The other applications, like Shutter for screenshots, GIMP, Gthumb for image viewing, Mozilla Thunderbird for email, Pidgin for instant messaging, FileZilla for file transfers, and Cheese Webcam Booth all befit the idea that Stella is meant to be more user-friendly.
The package manager is PackageKit, which is typical of RHEL/CentOS and Fedora. I was actually able to use it to install Skype, meaning that Stella uses custom repositories as well or that Stella has its own repositories [or both]. The installation of Skype had a small hiccup when PackageKit asked for root authentication, but there was no text box for the password to be typed in, yet the two buttons in the window didn't work or do anything. The only way to proceed was to close the window; strangely, after that the installation went fine, and I was able to use Skype just fine.
Google Talk wasn't available in the repositories, but I was able to download and install the standalone RPM file just fine. Thankfully, there were no hiccups like with Skype, and after that, I was able to use it fine.
Compiz is available for use, but as has been the case with RHEL/CentOS and older versions of Fedora with GNOME 2, only two effects can be configured through a simple GUI: the desktop cube and wobbly windows. I don't really care for wobbly windows but I do like the ability of windows to snap to one another and to snap to the edges of the desktop, so it would be nice to be able to configure that and other effects with something like the CompizConfig Settings Manager. Plus, Stella has configured the top-right corner to show all the open (even minimized) windows through the "Expo" effect, but I don't particularly like that hot corner, so it would be nice to have a GUI program to configure that or turn it off.
Stella used about 290 MB of RAM at idle with Compiz running as the WM in the background. I think this is fairly typical of a GNOME 2 desktop with Compiz, so that's good.
That's where my time with Stella 6.3 ended. It doesn't have all the features I personally want, so I wouldn't use it for my personal laptop, but I could definitely see myself using it on my UROP desktop for its rock-solid stability combined with its other niceties; in fact, I might just do that after I finish any other long-term reviews. For an average user who may not only use a web browser but uses a fairly small number of popular applications, this seems like a great choice for its stability and support, and I would highly recommend it (but please, developers of Stella, pick a different Metacity theme already).
You can get it here. (Also, the third instance of the pun is in one of the screenshots.)