Review: Trisquel 4.0.1 LTS "Taranis"

Main Screen + Main Menu
I've read a couple of reviews of Trisquel GNU/Linux, an Ubuntu-based distribution which aims to remove as much non-free (i.e. proprietary) software from the kernel and distribution as possible. There are a couple other distributions that do this, like Slackware-based Kongoni, KNOPPIX-based Musix, and Fedora-based BLAG. However, as stated by Jim Lynch in his review of Trisquel 4.0 LTS "Taranis", quite a few of these other pure-free software distributions, such as Musix, BLAG, and DYNE:BOLIC, share a few common features which all conspire to turn off potential new users: incomplete/amateurish websites, too much talk about "overthrows" of proprietary software or free software "revolutions" (to the detriment of promoting the features of the OS itself), and less-than-user-friendly DEs/WMs (e.g. WindowMaker). It seems like using these distributions would be like wearing a cilice (also called a hair-shirt, a shirt medieval Christian monks used to wear with rough animal hair on the inside; the monks used to wear these to repent by causing themselves physical pain) — good for the soul and conscience, but not very comfortable and not something I would want to do. By contrast, Trisquel (whose code name for this release is, ironically, "Taranis", the Gallic thunder deity) has a very professional-looking website, uses a well-tailored implementation of GNOME, and touts the benefits of free software and of using Trisquel without getting preachy or heavy-handed. Taking the previous analogy further, it seems like using Trisquel would be more like wearing a comfortable jacket. Seeing the website and presentation of the distribution didn't turn me off, so I decided to proceed downloading the ISO file of the standard edition.
As this is an Ubuntu derivative, there's really no point in testing the installation procedure. What I'm looking for is compatibility with my hardware as well as the overall quality of the live session. Hence, after the download finished, I made a live USB system with UnetBootin, rebooted, changed the boot order in the BIOS, and went on my way. Follow the jump to see the results of that.

Unbranded Web Browser + OpenOffice,org
After the boot menu, I was greeted with a really weird-looking Plymouth boot splash. The reason for this is because derivatives of Ubuntu 10.04 LTS "Lucid Lynx" default to 8-bit graphics (at least on my computer) when rendering Plymouth, when the required setting is actually 16- or 32-bit. I've changed this in my installed Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora" system, and derivatives of Ubuntu 10.10 "Maverick Meerkat" have fixed this issue, but as this was a live session of an Ubuntu 10.04 LTS derivative, this problem recurred. It wasn't too big a deal, but it did somewhat spoil an otherwise cool-looking splash that featured the Trisquel logo pulsating. Directly after the boot splash came the desktop.
The desktop looks pretty neat, with a swirl of colors on a dark canvas as the background. There's just one dark-colored GNOME panel present on the bottom, containing a main menu (a standard GNOME menu, nothing special), shortcuts to the file and web browsers, a window switcher, and a system tray. The panel and menu are slightly transparent, which is a nice touch. The window switcher is somewhat different in that if one window is open, its button is large, but if more than one window is open, the set of buttons become smaller and split into 2 rows à la KDE 3.5 Kicker. Given that the GNOME panel is slightly larger here, it's a good way to save space, yet the buttons don't appear incredibly tiny, which is nice. The default GTK+ theme is Elementary with the corners squared off, while the default icon theme is Elementary with a couple icons changed to match the Trisquel branding. Overall, the desktop looks very appealing.
PackageKit + TAB-key Window Switcher
Upon seeing a globe with a pointer over it as the icon for the web browser, I thought it would be a browser with fewer features like Epiphany. Thankfully, this wasn't the case; the web browser is just Mozilla Firefox minus the branding (because the Mozilla Firefox name and logo are trademarked and thus go against the principles of free software). That said, proprietary codecs are not present and are replaced by free software alternatives where possible; for example, Adobe Flash is replaced by Gnash. Unfortunately, Gnash didn't work so well; YouTube reported errors trying to play various videos. That's a pretty big issue for me.
OpenOffice.org is present as well, which is nice (though the default icon theme looks kind of ugly).
Although Trisquel does use the Elementary theme, it doesn't include the Nautilus Elementary mod, so Nautilus looks kind of cluttered. Oh well, that's not too big a deal.
Cheese Webcam Booth was present for me to test my webcam and mic; thankfully, both of these worked without issue.
Some other pieces of software present include Exaile (a GTK+ port of Amarok), an OGG converter (in support of the libre OGG format), and a couple GNOME Games, along with the typical GNOME accessories and utilities.
"Expo" Desktop Effect
Ubuntu Software Center isn't present; instead, Trisquel uses the old PackageKit package manager (listed as "Add/Remove Programs", alongside Synaptic Package Manager), which still works pretty well. Of course, as Trisquel is completely free from proprietary software, applications like Skype aren't present, which also presents a pretty big issue for me. Chromium is present, but I don't know that it can play YouTube videos using HTML5 (as opposed to Gnash) because it uses the proprietary H.264 standard (instead of the libre OGG) to render HTML5, so I'm not sure using Chromium would make a difference in that regard. Surprisingly, Banshee is present in the repositories, even though it's been written in Mono (the port of the C# programming language to Linux); although Mono is free software, there have been concerns about what Microsoft may do to it in the near future, so organizations like the Free Software Foundation (FSF, which also has a list of pure-free software distributions including Trisquel) have recommended against its use. Given that fact, I was somewhat puzzled by Banshee's presence. Similarly, the Mono-based Tomboy note-taking application is present in the repositories, though the Mono-free Gnote is installed by default.
After looking at applications, I tried out various desktop effects. I was pleasantly surprised to see that desktop effects were automatically enabled. I tried out the various effects and they all work very smoothly and without issue.
Well, that's all I have to say about Trisquel. I appreciate goals of the distribution and the time and effort put into all parts of the presentation of this distribution. That said, the Gnash issues and lack of Skype mean that I won't be using this on a regular basis anytime soon. This distribution is probably good for someone who has somewhat more limited needs (i.e. doesn't need Skype, doesn't watch YouTube so much, and in any case, MiniTube is available and works without Adobe Flash) or someone who truly cares about not using proprietary software.


  1. I have tried Trisquel 4.0 and instead of going with gnome i have tried the LXDE version of Trisquel...The LXDE version uses Midori if i remember correctly...And is using gnash and the yuoutube video played correctly and all the flash adverts worked correctly... the only issue with gnash is with that i was not able to play facebook flash games ... i tried streaming music also and it worked correctly in some sites and not in other... i am really impressed with the Trisquel in short...

    i have tried all the versions of Trisquel from the start and the previous version i have tried gnome version and it played youtube videos correctly...

    recently they have released a development version of 4.5 which is based on gnome and i have tried that also and in that, for me the youtube videos did not play...

    i used to wonder why did not ubuntu by default install gnash in its browser as now the gnash is able to play videos correctly...but now that is not a problem as ubuntu will ask you choose adobe flash,gnash or swf when using FF.. so we can select what we want...

    I was really wondered how trisquel was able to do whatever ubuntu was not able to do by default (viewing flash,playing mp3 etc..etc without installing any additional software, from the first version itself...i am waiting for the 4.5 version Trisquel and i am a fan of LXDE version of it... i am going to download the LXDE version of 4.5 once it is released... i will recomend you to try the LXDE version...

    Another distro which really interest me now is Bodhi Linux by Jeff Hoogland and team, which uses Enlightenment (e17)... http://www.bodhilinux.com/

  2. @jai ho: I'll certainly try the LXDE version at some point. That said, I think it's clear that Gnash is hit-and-miss - it worked for you on Trisquel, while it failed for me not only on Trisquel but also on Debian 6 "Squeeze" (admittedly an earlier prerelease build). Also, I've heard and read a lot of good things about Bodhi Linux, so I'm interested in giving that a try soon as well. Thanks for the comment!

  3. I have been a happy Trisquel user for more than one year.

    Notice that Firefox is re-branded because Mozilla does not allow to keep the name/icons if the browser is modified. Trisquel's Web browser is modfied so that it does not recommend any proprietary software (like Adobe's Flash). Trademarks do NOT "go against the principles of free software". Recommending proprietary software does.

    C#'s issue deals with software patents. It does make mono be proprietary, hence its presence in the repositories. Nevertheless relying on mono is highly dangerous because we all know who owns these patents... That is why Trisquel prefers mono-free equivalents to Banshee or Tomboy. Moreover these equivalents are technically as good (if not better).

    The killing feature of Trisquel is named "software freedom". Unfortunately you do not seem to value your freedom more than, for instance, the use of Skype. Have you tried to use Empathy's video-conference feature (with a XMPP/Jabber/Google account)?

  4. I've been using Trisquel for more than a year now, and I'm a big fan of it, not just because it's completely Free(as in Freedom :)), but also because it looks good by default and hs a nice website, which is one of the reasons I downloaded it in the first place.
    I've used both the regular and LXDE variants and _all_ youtube videos I've seen worked perfectly..

    Some things I wud like to point out though:

    The default theme is NOT elementary, its more of an Equinox-inspired one. Though the metacity is heavily based upon elementary, with squared corners.

    The Add/Remove applications is NOT PackageKit, its called gnome-app-install and is a standard gnome feature.

    And as Magic Banana pointed out, you really need to try the XMPP video-chat feature in Empathy.


  5. @Magic Banana: It seems like I confused a part of Mozilla's policy on Firefox's trademark with the whole. Thanks for that correction. Also, with regard to Skype, it seems like you're conflating Skype with video conferencing in general. I specifically need Skype because I need to call/video call people who only have Skype accounts to do so (and who couldn't care less if I tried to convince them to move to XMPP/Jabber). Furthermore, I could get the GChat extension for Mozilla Firefox, so I really don't see how Empathy would help here. I admire the more idealistic interpretations of free software, but in the end, I want to be able to work with my computer, not against it (or people).
    @grvrulz: Are you saying the GTK+ or icon theme is based on Equinox? To my untrained eyes, both look like the respective Elementary themes (though somewhat modified). Also, is gnome-app-install the same thing that was used in Ubuntu pre-Ubuntu Software Center? I was under the impression that was PackageKit (which is what this looks like), considering that KPackageKit looks like whatever this package manager was in Trisquel with better KDE/Qt theming. (Of course, I'm probably wrong). Plus, in Linux Mint 9 "Isadora" GNOME, gnome-app-install seems to be a dummy package for the default Ubuntu software manager, which is in this case Ubuntu Software Center.
    Thanks for the comments!

  6. @PV:
    The GTK+ theme is based on Equinox(the toolbars and gradients, scrollbars are different). It looks different because of the titlebar.

    The metacity theme(titlebars) is based on elementary, with squared corners.

    The icon theme is elementary, with some custom icons, obviously for branding purpose.

    Also the Add/Remove Apllications thing is gnome-app-install which used to be in Ubuntu before Lucid. It's different from packagekit. If you want to have a look at packagekit, it must be there in Fedora(it was in 12 or 13, I'v not seen Fedora since then).


  7. @grvrulz: Ah, that makes a lot more sense. Thanks for the comment!

  8. Trisquel 4.5 is a really nice system, and a great embassador for free/libre software. I only wish nouveau was stable and effective for people like me who rely on 3D graphics hardware performance. That will come though, I'm sure.

  9. @Anonymous: Certainly. The developers seem to have put a lot more thought and polish into it than others like gNewSense et al. And yeah, someday I hope to be able to properly use Nouveau without any ill effects. Thanks for the comment!

  10. trisquel 4.5 DVD: mp4, flash youtube doesn't work. what is to do?

  11. @Anonymous: Well, I've also had problems with Adobe Flash (or, more properly, the free software Gnash) and MP4, so I'm not really sure what to do. In such a case, I must ask, given that you are having such troubles, is there any overbearing reason you're sticking with Trisquel over Ubuntu? I'm just curious, that's all. Thanks for the comment!

  12. Installed version 4.5.1 is satisfied, I want to try 5.0

  13. @dmitry: Well, if you have a blog of your own, I'd be happy to read your review of version 5.0. Thanks for the comment!

  14. @PV: my blog goodluck.org.ua in Russian

  15. @dmitry: I took a look at it, and (through Google Translate) it looks great! Thanks for the comment!