Review: Fuduntu 2012.1

I'm back! Thankfully it looks like too many people know about how bad the SOPA and PIPA bills are to not take action, and it looks like sponsors of those bills are dropping like European honeybees. Now let's get back to the main post.

I've reviewed Fuduntu a couple times before. There's a new release out, so I'm reviewing it now.

Fuduntu used to be based on Fedora, but then several months ago the lead developer announced that it would fork and maintain an independent codebase. This would serve two purposes: one would be to provide stable rolling releases, and the other would be to maintain GNOME 2 as long as possible. Indeed, Fuduntu uses not MATE, but good old GNOME 2.32.

I tested the live session using a live USB made with MultiSystem. I tested the installation in VirtualBox inside a Xubuntu 11.10 "Oneiric Ocelot" MultiSystem-made live USB host with 1024 MB of RAM allocated to the guest OS. Follow the jump to see what it's like.

After getting past the boot menu, I saw some residual console warnings that stuck around; they didn't go away until the login screen came up. Once that did happen, though, I waited a few seconds for the automatic login to become effective and was taken to the desktop.

The desktop looks as it always has, and the applications remain the same too. There really isn't much new here except for newer package versions, so I won't be repetitive here.

Nautilus Elementary + Skype
Chromium is present at version 16, which is good. As always, multimedia codecs are included by default, as YouTube and Hulu worked fine; at the same time, my laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts were recognized fine.

At the same time, I was eager to get right into trying out desktop effects. They worked fine without any hitches; the manager for desktop effects is still the same minimal program bundled with Fedora, and this has evidently been carried over into the Fuduntu codebase.

The default productivity suite is the web application Google Docs as before. That may suffice for a large number of people, but in my daily use, I have found I need LibreOffice or something comparable. That's when I went to the package manager PackageKit to install it. I did find it in the repositories, so I went ahead and installed it. The download process took quite a while, but that's understandable considering just how big the set of LibreOffice packages is.
After that, the installation proceeded smoothly, but then some things started happening. First, the dock on the bottom started looking odd. I thought maybe the installation of LibreOffice had indirectly triggered some other events turning off desktop effects, but then I soon saw it was more serious than that. As I tried clicking on various parts of the desktop and open windows, they disappeared one by one until I was left with only the cursor and the background. At that point, I was forced to perform a cold reboot. (This is also why the pictures look a little different from my usual repertoire). I was almost tempted to give up and leave it at that, but then I figured I should give it at least one more chance, so I did. (Incidentally, after booting back into Fuduntu, although it didn't display the first time, the second time around the nice Fuduntu-branded boot splash did display.)
There are a few possible explanations for why the installation of LibreOffice caused the system to crash and burn. The first is that LibreOffice was too big to fit on the live USB for the rest of the live session. The second is that LibreOffice is problematic when installed on live sessions. The third is that there may be something wrong with the way Fuduntu packages LibreOffice, because now Fuduntu has its own codebase. The fourth is that Fuduntu generally has problems with packages being installed at runtime. I'm certainly open to comments and other suggestions/hypotheses, but I'm going to give my guess now. I don't think it's the first because there is 1.5 GB of free space on the live USB, and there is no way LibreOffice is bigger than that. I don't think it's the second, because I've installed (not just used) LibreOffice on other live sessions before at runtime. And I don't think it's the fourth, because as you will see shortly, other packages did install fine; to be fair, though, LibreOffice was installed from PackageKit, while the others were third-party programs whose RPM files were downloaded from other websites. Thus, I will be checking to see if PackageKit in general works OK in a Fuduntu live session. For now, though, I'm going to go with the third explanation. Whatever it is, though, it doesn't inspire confidence.

Anaconda Installer
After I got back into the desktop, I wanted to just see at this point if Skype and Google Talk would work. Skype was not available in the repositories, but I was able to successfully download and install the appropriate RPM file from the Skype website. One annoying thing was that the first few times I clicked the RPM file to get the RPM installer to work, the program would lag a lot and then spit out an error message. Finally, after about the fourth attempt, it worked. Skype did recognize my laptop's webcam and mic, which was good.
Installing Google Talk was much the same, minus the hassle of trying four or five times, which was good. It too recognized my laptop's webcam and mic, which was also great.

At this point, I decided to try PackageKit again. This time, I installed Gnumeric, which I knew would be far lighter and would probably work a lot nicer than trying to install LibreOffice. (Gnumeric is also significant for me right now because it is the only spreadsheet application other than Microsoft Excel that has functions that I need now for my UROP, like contour plotting and Fourier transforms.) This worked fine, and I was able to use Gnumeric without crashing the desktop. Thus, I think it's an issue either with the way Fuduntu has packaged LibreOffice or with how LibreOffice interacts with the Fuduntu live session. Neither option is particularly nice.

Post-Installation Configuration
It was here that I ended my time with the live session and started the installation process. Despite the fact that Fuduntu has forked from Fedora, the Anaconda installer has been retained with minimal changes. The usual suspects, like locale, keyboard layout, hard drive partitioning, and root user creation are all there and the same as before. Surprisingly, the actual installation and post-installation configuration only took 3 minutes, which is among the fastest I've seen. After that, I rebooted the VM.

After rebooting and getting past the boot splash, I was greeted by a program tying up some final loose ends: it did things like make clear what the GPL is and allows, allow for user creation, et cetera. After that, I was able to log in and use the desktop much like I did in the live session. Thankfully, there were no crashes here when trying to install LibreOffice. And that's where my time with Fuduntu ended.

I think it's safest to say that Fuduntu really had problems with LibreOffice in the live session. This is probably mostly my fault, now that I think about it, considering that I tried doing a similar thing many months ago in trying to "test" KDE 4.6 on a live session to disastrous results. That said, I have been able to properly install LibreOffice on other live sessions, so I don't know what the deal is here, and that means that despite an otherwise flawless live session, this big problem is at least in part the fault of Fuduntu. This is definitely one of those times when I would have liked to have an external hard drive to perform an actual installation and then test the installation of LibreOffice on the installed system. In fact, I was almost about to buy one this winter break, but I have decided to hold of on such a purchase for a while because of high hard drive prices stemming from the floods in Thailand from a few months ago. But with all that in mind, the crash was still a major problem that I can't deny happened (whatever the cause), and because of that, I think I'll hold off on fully recommending this release. I'll probably skip the next release too and test the one after that.
You can get it here.