In my last post I goofed. I said to be looking forward to Sidux 2008-04, but apparently 2008-03 has just come out. In my defence, I based myself on the latest Distrowatch Weekly, which claims 2008-04 will be out next month, which won’t be very likely. In my defence, 2008-03 was late, because of a bug in the virtualb-ose package, and actually the release number doesn’t matter that much, because just like Arch, it has a rolling release model. More info at the website.
A quick introduction taken straight from Distrowatch: “The sidux distribution is a desktop-oriented operating system and live CD based on the unstable branch of Debian GNU/Linux. Besides full compatibility with its parent, the distribution also offers a custom kernel with support for a wide variety of modern hardware devices, KDE as the default desktop environment, a rolling release cycle, and compliance with Debian’s Free Software guidelines.”
Anyway, yesterday I grabbed the iso and installed it. There’s a choice of iso downloads: a full KDE LiveDVD (2GB), and two LiveCDs, one with KDE-lite, and one with XFCE. Both are fairly small, between 400 and 500 MB. I like my operating systems to fit on a single CD, so those were more interesting to me. Choosing between KDE and XFCE wasn’t hard…I don’t like XFCE. I just find the configuration tools confusing, which is of course a very personal thing.
The LiveCD ran just fine, and it would have surprised me if it hadn’t. There’s nothing exotic about my hardware, and Sidux has the reputation of being rock-solid stable. There was a nice surprise right at the GRUB menu, which was the inclusion of Dutch as a possible language. A look at the website taught me that this was a new feature for 2008-03, and also that it’s only supposed to be included in the LiveDVD. Obviously, this is because of space restraints: there’s simply no room on the LiveCD to include all possible translations. Sure enough, almost everything was in English. Since I deliberately chose kde-lite, I was fine with that.
Performance of the LiveCD was great. It must have been the fastest boot of any LiveCD with KDE I ever tried, but even more impressive was the snappiness which the applications opened with. I had heard that Sidux was very fast, and it didn’t disappoint.
Same thing happened with the installation: after filling in all the information it just took 4 minutes to finish the install. Four minutes! That’s lightning!
The install program itself has been kept simple. It exists out of a single window, with tabs. There’s a detailed overview of the whole installation available at the Sidux website, but the installer on 2008-03 has a prettier theme than the one on the screenshots there (Qtcurve). All in all, it’s pretty easy.
It looks okay too, without being exceptional. As a said, the style is Qtcurve, with a colour-scheme called “Invisible Light”. The icons are standard Everaldo SVG, and the moise pointer style is DMZ-Black (same style Ubuntu uses, only, well, black). There are two pieces of artwork custom made for Sidux. One is the background, which is…trippy. It’s the winner of the Sidux wallpaper contest in August, and it can be found here, together with the other contestants. The other is the KDE splash screen, which is based on the background. As I said, it’s decent enough, but it doesn’t wow me.
After the install, I was online, my screen had the right resolution, and my printer was easily added. However, everything still was in English. The language itself wasn’t a problem, since the Dutch KDE packages are easily installed. However, Sidux assumed that because I speak Dutch, I am Dutch, and I’m not. I’m Belgian. And us crazy Belgians use another keyboard layout. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that Belgium and France using an azerty layout while the rest of the world uses qwerty is kind of crazy. But almost every Linux install I did asked me what keyboard layout I wanted, and Sidux didn’t. Even switching KDE layouts, which is easy enough, doesn’t solve the problem, because as soon as I dropped out of X I zqs hqving +qny difficulties, like this. This also affects KDM, and since my password contains numbers and other special signs, I had some trouble logging in. Lucky for me that I have used qwerty before, but I can’t imagine this being easy for everyone.
After some forum-searching I found the right commands to fix this (dpkg-reconfigure locales && dpkg-reconfigure console-data), but even after that I had to edit xorg.conf to get the layout right in KDM. As you can see, I had to do a lot of CLI messing around to just get the keyboard layout right, so Sidux definitely is aimed at more seasoned Linux users. Previous Debian experience is a plus.
Now for my next test. As I said, Sidux booted into the right 1680×1050 resolution, which is rare, but I still wanted the nvidia drivers . I had already looked at the Manual how to do this, but for good measure, I fiddled around in the Sidux Kontrol center, and sure enough, I could change the driver from “nv” to “nvidia”. Of course, since I hadn’t installed the drivers, I expected a black screen upon restarting X, and sure enough, that’s what happened. It was easily fixed, but it would have been nice if selecting the nvidia driver would have automatically installed it.
Anyway, installing it involved downloading and installing a script, which then downloaded and installed the nvidia driver. It worked just fine, but it’s not really obvious.
Just for the hell of it, I decided to install compiz-fusion. I don’t really care for desktop effects, but I wanted to see how easy/difficult it was. As it turns out, it’s the same story everywhere: you can do it, but it involves the command line, it takes some trial and error, and in the end, it works. Soon my windows were wobbling all over the place. For those interested, this site helped me a lot. It’s in German though. The best thing? After switching to compiz as a window manager, I didn’t notice a drop in performance at all. It’s blazingly fast.
As a matter of fact, even installing software is done with apt-get, and not the usual Synaptic. Actually, using Synaptic is strongly discouraged.
All in all, Sidux leaves me with mixed feelings. On the plus side, it’s very fast, it works, it’s relatively stable (logging out of KDE caused a crash every know and then, but otherwise it ran just fine), plays mp3s out of the box, has excellent hardware support, and looks okay. It’s probably the best and easiest way to run Debian unstable. On the other hand, it’s definitely not for the new Linux user. If you want to run this, you will have to dive into the wonderful world of the command line, and start learning to edit those configuration files. The Wiki and the Manual can help you there, but they’re a bit random, so you’ll need the forum too.. There’s a bit of a learning curve here, and I’m sure that it easier along the way. Don’t pick this as your first Linux distribution, but if you love Debian, and you want to run recent software without too much hassle, I’d say this is the distro for you.
PS: Next up is Vector 5.9.1 SOHO.