2013-06-06

Review: Semplice 4 "Atom Heart Mother"

A couple of people have asked in comments (especially of my review of #! 11 "Waldorf") that I review Semplice. I took a look at its website and was pretty intrigued, so here is the review.

Main Screen + Openbox Menu
What is Semplice? Much like #! (which I may end up referencing frequently whether I want to or not), it is based on Debian and uses Openbox as its default WM. Unlike #!, which is based on Debian Stable (and issues preview releases based on the future Debian Stable release), Semplice is based on Debian Unstable "Sid", which allows it to be maintained as a rolling-release distribution.

I reviewed Semplice 4 "Atom Heart Mother" (I found out the code name from the release notes) using a live USB made with UnetBootin. Follow the jump to see what it's like.

After getting past the boot menu, I was greeted by a scrolling wall of text. That took a reasonable amount of time to boot, after which point I was greeted by the desktop.

The desktop seems to follow a fairly standard layout for Openbox. There is a Tint2 panel at the bottom containing, from left to right, a task switcher with normal buttons (containing both icons and text), a notification area, and a clock with a calendar. The Openbox menu is accessible by right-clicking anywhere on the desktop. One of the features that I think may be unique to Semplice is that it features a dynamic Openbox menu, meaning that like menus present in more feature-filled DEs, it automatically updates and reorganizes the menu when applications are installed, modified, or removed. On another very slightly disappointing note, there is no Conky system monitor present on the desktop despite there being a screenshot of something like that present on the Semplice website. The icon theme is a blue variant of Faenza customized for Semplice, and the GTK+ and Openbox themes feature darker gray/black colors to go with the icons. My only two complaints in that regard are that the window borders look unnecessarily thick, and that sometimes the dark background of the GTK+ toolbars combined with the forms of the light Faenza icons make it a little difficult to immediately determine what a particular icon does. Otherwise, the desktop looks quite polished.

Chromium + Abiword
Chromium is the default browser. It seems to come with proprietary codecs enabled, as YouTube and Hulu worked fine, as did my laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts.
The productivity software included is made of Abiword (or is it "AbiWord"? I'm still not sure...) and Gnumeric. The other installed programs are fairly basic utilities typical of Xfce, LXDE, or Openbox.
PCManFM is the default file manager. This is nice because it reminds me of the pre-Debian #! days.

LXAppearance, which allows for customization of the desktop appearance, now appears to have subsumed the functions of Obconf, as that latter program is nowhere to be found. I guess it's better that more of those functions are laid out better in a more user-friendly program, although Obconf sure was powerful.
Semplice includes Compton for basic compositing effects. The nice thing is that it also has a GTK+ GUI for easy configuration; whenever I've wanted to fiddle with compositing in #!, I've had to muck around with text files.
Semplice 4 "Atom Heart Mother" uses 200 MB of RAM at idle (without any desktop effects). That's a bit high for an Openbox distribution based on Debian, if you ask me. By comparison, #! uses quite a bit less RAM at idle (about 150 MB). Furthermore, while #! has always felt incredibly light and snappy, Semplice always felt a little slow; for example, the action of moving a window across the screen would exhibit a little lag.

I had to download Skype from the website. I tried installing it using the command "sudo dpkg -i skype-debian_4.2.0.11-1_i386.deb" but that gave some odd error messages that seemed to imply that it couldn't be installed. I then tried installing GDebi to allow it to take care of any dependency issues, but weirdly, it said Skype was installed, and indeed it was; apparently the "errors" from the first attempt may have just been warnings. I was able to carry a full conversation with other family members, though I had to fiddle with the audio settings a bit.
PCManFM + Mirage
I downloaded Google Talk through the complicated method laid out in my most recent other distribution review. That took a while to get to work, though, only because my wireless connection was rather unreliable. Finally, though, it did end up working.
Mupen64Plus did not work at all, by contrast. It downloaded and installed fine, and it even gained an entry in the dynamic Openbox menu, but it wouldn't run because of some missing library, and apparently no one else has documented this issue online.
Redshift did work, though. I was able to use the Synaptic Package Manager (which, by the way, is the default package manager, as would be typical of a Debian-based distribution) to download and install it, and it worked as expected.

That is where my time with Semplice ended. The nonworking nature of Mupen64Plus means that I wouldn't use it. I also think it generally needs a tiny bit more optimization based on the slight lag I experienced while using it. If those issues can be fixed, I could recommend it just as strongly as I recommend #! (and to the same audience). In any case, I'm going to keep my eye on this distribution.
You can get it here.

5 comments:

  1. Hi Prashant! A good review!
    Now regarding the looks of the default theme "Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder." It's a matter of personal taste.
    System usage in Linux is a funny thing. Try 'top', 'htop' and your default 'task manager' and they all will show you different results.
    Lag that you experienced while moving the windows around could have been caused by higher compositing values.
    Conky is installed by default in Semplice 4 but it is not set to autostart.
    Mupen64Plus?!? Never heard of it till now! Following external link could be of use to you re Mupen64.
    http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1686384
    Thanks for reviewing Semplice.
    Cheers!!!

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    Replies
    1. @HakerDefo: Regarding the theme issue, it most certainly is nothing more than a matter of personal opinion, and I didn't intend to make it out to be a much bigger deal than it really was. Regarding the latency when moving windows around, I found it to be the case even when compositing was off; what exactly do you mean by "higher compositing values". I appreciate the clarification about Conky. Finally, I've tried that method of installing a GUI for Mupen64Plus and it's unreliable enough that I usually just install the deprecated binary package for version 1.5 (and this is what I attempted doing here too, with the results documented in the post). Thanks for the comment!

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  2. Higher compositing values obviously slow down performance. Compton supports compositing options like
    blur radius for shadows,
    opacity of shadows,
    opacity change between steps while
    fading in-out,
    time between steps in fade step,
    opacity for dropdown menus
    and popup menus,
    ade windows in/out when opening/
    closing and when opacity changes,
    opacity of inactive windows,
    opacity of window titlebars and borders,
    There are other options as well but that's not important as you said that you had compositing disabled. Now i've installed and tested Semplice 3 and 4 on half a dozen different machines and never experieced the lag you described.
    Anyways thanks and keep up the good work! Cheers!!!

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  3. Sorry about bad text formating of my previous reply. See i posted it from my ancient Symbian device. It looked okay on my mobile screen but after publishing i saw that text was badly formated.
    Sorry again.
    Cheers!!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. @HakerDefo: Another interesting thing to note is that the feeling of latency actually didn't change at all when compositing was turned on. Thanks for the comment!

    ReplyDelete