Granular Linux - What Am I Missing?
Granular Linux is a Linux distribution based on PCLinuxOS and features the XFCE4 and KDE desktops. It appears to have been in development since about the beginning of 2007 and has had one previous release. The developers of Granular have recently released a test of their upcoming .90 and I thought I'd see what it offered.
Like PCLinuxOS, it is delivered in an installable liveCD format. It uses customized graphics to distinguish itself from the start. The start splash features the same options as found on the PCLOS liveCD and I chose the default boot option. It takes a bit longer to boot than PCLOS, but it gets there. Like PCLinuxOS and Mandriva One, one is taken through a startup wizard to set the keyboard, timezone, and net connection. Again, like PCLOS, the wizard works wonderfully setting up my Ndiswrapper/Windows driver -dependent wireless chip.
At the login screen one has the choice of KDE, drake3D, and XFCE4. XFCE4 is the lastest stable version but isn't dressed up very much. With only a solid blue background and basic desktop icons, I was a bit bored with their XFCE4. In addition, some of the icons on the desktop are duplicated as XFCE4 uses same Desktop directory as KDE and any icons present on the KDE desktop are also seen in XFCE4. So, we have two Home and two File Manager icons. For a distro whose main feature is the choice of desktops, more attention should have been paid.
The livecd startup screen is customized, but it still looks very much like the openSUSE graphic from which it derives. The boot silent splash is understated and hip with it's mirror-image name, new Granular logo, and full-width progress bar. The KDE splash is even nicer, featuring a color matching background and circular progress icon layout. The KDE background is better than found in XFCE4, but it's still a bit ho-hum and doesn't match the theme found elsewhere. What's more, they didn't ship with any other choices. It's like the splash screens set the mood and builds some excitement, but then the wallpaper just lets you down. But this is just a pre-release and perhaps they have a matching wallpaper in the works.
Another claim to their originality is a "carefully selected set of applications for most tasks." I found this to be more or less true. They have removed OpenOffice for Koffice, I suppose to make room for XFCE4, and included what appears to be only one or two choices for any given task. They have shipped with the bulk of the KDE games, which is something for which PCLOS didn't have room.
Firefox and Konqueror are the web browsers, the Gimp is still there, Amarok and XMMS are included, Kaffiene and VLC are also found. There's K3b for disk creation. In the System menu we find Synaptic with PCLOS repositories setup and the Granular Control Center (the Mandriva Control Center with some customized graphics). I didn't find a hard drive installer in the menu or on the desktop. Perhaps it's only available in the root desktop as test releases of PCLOS 2007 were. In any case, you can invoke it from the commandline with /usr/sbin/draklive-installer. Here's a full package list.
Unique to Granular is the Granular customization menu. In it we find links to modules for changing out some splash screens, mouse cursor theme, window decorations, and installing granular packages (.grl). I must be blind because I wasn't able to locate any granular packages on their site to test this feature. Some of these modules are links to the KDE module, but some are granular original such as the Amarok Splash and Grub Splash tools.
Granular does ship with some nice original documentation. It includes all sorts of topics such as Basic Commands, Tutorials, and Tips and Tricks. There are also links to the Granular website which contain forums if its users need help. It's not real active right now, but perhaps it will pick up.
Like PCLOS, hardware detection was really good. Klaptop worked great for monitoring the battery and setting up the powersaving functions. I didn't test suspend and hiberate in the Granular liveCD mode, but I know I installed Kpowersave in PCLOS because those features worked better under it, so I imagine it'd be about the same here.
...Which leads me to my conclusion. I'm not sure that Granular really offers any advantage over PCLOS or SAM other than having both KDE and XFCE4 available on the liveCD (and thus immediately available after install) and if you prefer Koffice to OpenOffice.org. I like the graphics for Granular so far, but they need to complete the package. All in all, if you like PCLOS you'll probably like Granular as I can't really distinguish a whole lot of difference. Basically I walk away unexcited and thinking I must have overlooked something.