|Main Screen + Whisker Menu|
Black Lab Linux is supposed to be a distribution that focuses on being easy to use and having a consistent user interface, with the hope of attracting users new to Linux. Unlike many other distributions, it offers professional support (for a fee), and also offers computers for sale that have Black Lab Linux preinstalled. As is typical, the distribution by itself is offered as a free downloadable ISO file, so that's what I tested here. I tested the 64-bit version using a live USB system made with UnetBootin; follow the jump to see what it's like.
After getting past the boot menu, I was greeted by a dark, slightly blurry progress bar. After a few seconds, I was taken to the desktop.
|Iceweasel + LibreOffice Writer|
Before I go further, though, I'd like to go a little bit into the issue of consistency, as this is one of Black Lab Linux's self-proclaimed selling points. I found a few examples that seem to go against that. For example, the desktop icon in the live session for installing the distribution uses the Ubuntu logo, and lists the current distribution version as "Black Lab Linux 14.04" (as opposed to "Black Lab Linux 7.0.2"). There are a few other places where this occurs too, including the App Grid (where the name "Ubuntu" is again used). With these and other issues, I think there are a few inconsistencies that the developers need to iron out.
Iceweasel is the default browser; although I know that it is just a rebranding of Mozilla Firefox, I feel like new users might get a little bit confused. To make matters worse, in the "Favorites" category of the Whisker Menu, not only is Iceweasel listed as such, but also listed is an icon for the "Web Browser"; I expected it (based on the name as well as the associated icon) to be an alternative browser such as GNOME Web (formerly Epiphany), but it turned out to be a duplicate shortcut to Iceweasel. Besides that, though, Iceweasel seems to have most proprietary plugins and codecs included, as YouTube and Hulu worked along with my laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts. Given that this distribution doesn't seem to have any qualms about including this or other (to be elaborated further) proprietary software out-of-the-box, I'm not sure why they couldn't have just gone with the more recognizable Mozilla Firefox.
|Thunar + Ristretto Image Viewer|
Although the App Grid (successor to the Ubuntu Software Center) is available, it, like its predecessor, is a bit too basic for my tastes; also, given that this is not an official Ubuntu variant, pictures and other information are missing for certain applications. Given this, I used the Synaptic Package Manager, which is thankfully also included out-of-the-box (though I wonder if it might be better, based on what I've said so far, to hide this from new users), to install packages. In particular, I was able to install Mupen64Plus, Redshift, and Nemo; the latter two worked fine, but while the former installed, it didn't work, though this is not a deal-breaker for me anymore given that I don't really play emulated Nintendo 64 games in my free time anymore.
Neither Skype nor Google Talk were available in the repositories, so I had to download them both from their respective websites. Oddly, when I used GDebi to install the Skype DEB package, after it installed, the available button in GDebi remained at "Install Package" instead of changing to "Reinstall Package"; this did not happen with Google Talk. Otherwise, both of those things worked fine, although Skype looked rather ugly without the nice Qt theming.
According to the command "free -m", this distribution used 575 MB of RAM at idle; this is a bit on the heavy side for an Xfce setup without Compiz (even my Xfce setup with Compiz on Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" Xfce as installed on my laptop uses less than 450 MB of RAM at idle). That said, there were some basic compositing effects enabled, which looked nice. Beyond that, the desktop was always stable and never actually posed any serious issues for me.
That is where my time with Black Lab Linux 7.0.2 Xfce ended. Overall, the distribution works quite well, and I'd be fine with using it myself, though I'd make quite a few changes to the application set and to the appearance of the desktop. However, given that this is meant for new users and emphasizes consistency, I feel like although this distribution has no show-stopping problems, it has a bunch of minor questionable design decisions that could easily add up to an unappealing experience for a new user. I'd be fine with recommending this to Linux users who have a small amount of experience and are willing to experiment a bit, but for truly new users, I'd only be comfortable walking them through the distribution in person and helping them make their desktop easier and more appealing to use.
You can get it here.