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