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Eight Distros a Week: AntiX ‘Spartacus’ / ‘Lysistrata’

February 8, 2008 Leave a comment

[This is the first in an eight-part series on distros I use. These reviews come using one or more of the following hardware: Dell Inspiron 5000 laptop, an brandless Pentium III-based desktop, an IBM PL 300 PII, an iMac G3 (Indigo) and an iBook G3. As the auto commercials say, your mileage may vary, and our opinions may not agree. But then, that's what freedom is about, no?]

Let’s start with a question: How hard is it to resist trying out a distro that is named, arguably, after Kirk Douglas’ greatest movie role (not to mention one of Stanley Kubrick’s best films)?

[For those who need a refresher, go out to your video store and rent "Spartacus," or if you're too lazy, here's a clip from a Pepsi ad parodying the climax scene in the movie. Of course, my favorite line of the movie is Laurence Olivier chirping, "I'm not after glory. I'm after Spartacus," and I drive co-workers nuts with it. But I digress . . . .]

Hard to resist, I know. And naturally, a good name does not a good distro make. However, in this case, AntiX 6.5 “Spartacus” and it’s younger sister 7.0 “Lysistrata” are two admirable distros that run well on older machines, and absolutely fly on newer ones.

Taking the lead in developing AntiX — pronounced “antiques” — is a British teacher living in Thessaloniki, Greece, who goes by the name of anticapitalista. It comes as no surprise — at least not to those of us who stayed awake in ancient history class — that anticapitalista has chosen to name version 6.5 after the Roman slave who emancipated his bretheren, and has chosen to name 7.0 after the heroine in Aristophanes’ play who urges the women of Sparta and Corinth to withhold sex from their husbands in order to stop the Peloponnesian War.

No, there won’t be a test on this at the end of the blog.

AntiX is based on Mepis, stripped down and built for older machines. I don’t want to keep harping on this, but a lot of times that old Pentium II box faces a landfill death sentence when it could easily and flawlessly run a distro of this caliber. So AntiX not only is a quality distro, it also helps society in general, and the environment in particular, by keeping older machines working.

While AntiX could be the best “light” distro — light in a way that older machines with limited memory can use it — AntiX absolutely flies on newer machines. The speed with which it booted — a personal-best 48 seconds — on a Pentium III-based Dell laptop was the fastest I’ve seen on any machine I’ve ever owned.

The Fluxbox desktop — although AntiX also includes the IceWM desktop, and Xfce is available (though not supported yet) on a recent Lysistrata ISO release — could take some getting used to for new users, but the Fluxbox learning curve is not that steep, and coupled with Conky (which I’ll get to later), the desktop environment and its monitors make for an interesting foray into more hands-on computer use for new or intermediate-level users. I’m new to programs like Dillo and Leafpad, and find that I like them a lot. In fact, after spending some time fiddling with Fluxbox, I have to say that this desktop environment is growing on me more and more.

As for Conky — as I mentioned when I talked about Wolvix GNU/Linux a few weeks ago, I don’t know why this small but effective program isn’t in use in more distros. You wouldn’t drive your car without gauges, so it stands to reason that Conky serves in the same manner as a dashboard on a car, and an adequate one at that.

AntiX gets high marks across the board — for usability, speed and stability — and while I would tell new users about it, I think it is geared toward those users who have a fair amount of GNU/Linux experience under their proverbial belt by virtue of the fact that it natively runs Fluxbox (although, again, the learning curve for Fluxbox is not that steep, and that of Xfce is less). For those who are more experienced with GNU/Linux, by all means try this distro. If you’re a newbie and you feel daring — like its namesakes, who took chances of historic proportions — by all means give Spartacus and/or Lysistrata a try.

A tip of the hat and thanks to anticapitalista and the crew at AntiX for making such a great distro. Keep up the great work.

Coming tomorrow: Debian 4.0

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source and Free Software Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Categories: AntiX, Conky, Fluxbox, Xfce

Notes, quotes and gloats

February 6, 2008 2 comments

Driving Mister Stallman: My 1994 Jetta (with the specialized California license plate “GNU LNUX”) and I had a special guest over the last few days: the Free Software Foundation’s Richard Stallman. RMS, as he is known, needed transportation from Palo Alto to Santa Cruz on Saturday morning, and at 8 a.m., we appeared at the doorstep of the home at which he was staying for a ride to KUSP in Santa Cruz for an appointment with a radio show.

After a spot of tea, we loaded up the Jetta and headed southwest. For the most part, RMS kept to his work on his laptop in front of him as he rode in the passenger seat (no, I don’t know what he was working on — I didn’t look) but we did have time to talk about some of the upcoming events — the radio show, his Op-Ed piece running in the Sunday Santa Cruz Sentinel and his talk on Monday at Cabrillo College. He also commented on the road noise my car makes, but after 274,000 faithful miles, the Jetta can play Sousa marches with every passing mile for all I care.

On Tuesday morning, I drove RMS from Santa Cruz to the San Francisco airport, and the trip was a little more conversational. While negotiating the twists and turns of Highway 17 over the Santa Cruz Mountains (hoping all the while I didn’t hit anything, lest his laptop become a permanent part of RMS’s forehead thanks to the driver side airbag), we talked about a GNU-friendly “Intro to Unix/Linux” textbook (which may soon be available — watch this space) and how much alike surfing and love are. Other topics — the folly of highway expansion in the face of peak oil and a McAfee billboard on Highway 101 that said “Hackers are bad” — led us both on conversational tangents punctuated by work on his laptop.

We arrived at SFO after a side trip to Palo Alto to the home he had stayed in before to pick up an item he had forgotten. At 11, he had plenty of time to catch his plane. As we shook hand to take leave of each other, he left me with two words (and you can say them with me): “Happy hacking!”

[Note to P.L.: Not to worry -- I didn't tell RMS about the dream you had about him.]

Blue Screen of REAL Death: The Defense Department and Boeing plan to base their new Future Combat Systems not on Microsoft Windows, but on a GNU/Linux based system using Red Hat. The reason the generals made is clear — they don’t want to be beholden to Microsoft — but another more important issue arose, this from John Williams, a sergeant at the Boeing plant in Huntington Beach: “Soldiers don’t care about software,” he said. What they care about is “if it’s going to work.” That means the men and women on the ground have their lives depending on software, and that software has got to work or the result could be fatal. So, arguably, that counts Microsoft out.

[So how far did that chair travel, Mr. Ballmer?]

Coming soon (like tomorrow): Starting tomorrow, I am going to release eight straight blogs on eight distros I use and particularly like, and why. Call it “Eight Distros a Week” if you like, because I plan to. In any case, hope you enjoy it. Up tomorrow: AntiX 6.5 Spartacus and 7.0 Lysistrata.

[FSF Associate Member](Larry Cafiero, editor/publisher of Open Source and Free Software Reporter, is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)

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Smell like I sound

January 26, 2008 Leave a comment

All you ’80s denizens get the blog’s title, no doubt, but unless you spent that decade glued to MTV, the reference may be lost. But with a wink and a nod to those who still admit to being Duran Duran fans (of which I have to say I am not, nor have I ever been), I’ve been feeling a little wolflike lately, hungry or otherwise, thanks to my latest distro foray.

Being the happy distro wanderer that I am, I had a chance to put Wolvix 1.1.0 GNU/Linux, the Hunter version, on a Dell Inspiron 5000 laptop, and it easily enters into the group of distros that I think highly of, in general, and distros that I plan to use day to day, in particular.

Based on Slackware, Wolvix Hunter comes with a pretty wide array of “standard software” that provide the user with an assortment that, in some distros, you have to go get. For my purposes, getting gFTP and Bluefish — two programs I use a lot — without having to use a software updater to get them is a definite plus. Additionally, the number of items that come with Wolvix on the live CD download is probably the best, well-rounded selection of software I’ve encountered on a live CD.

But the most impressive item on this distro — other than it’s faster than I had expected on this Pentium III — is the Wolvix Control Panel. Chock full of every imaginable item you might need for maintenance and upkeep, the panel efficiently puts everything in one place.

Another plus is the Conky system monitor. Having encountered this first on the Fluxbox desktop on AntiX 6.5 Spartacus, I often wonder why this program isn’t more well-known or widely used. Geeky, perhaps, but still something that provides some vital — or at least interesting — information about what’s going on under the hood.

If you’re looking for a distro, you should give Wolvix a test run.

[For those of you keeping score at home, Wolvix joins (in alphabetical order), AntiX, Debian, Fedora, Fluxbuntu, gNewSense, Linux Mint, and Xubuntu in the list of distros I use regularly.]


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