Taprobane GNU/Linux 0.4.1
Taprobane GNU/Linux 0.4.1 was recently released as announced on DistroWatch. It was stated that "Taprobane is an ancient name for the Indian Ocean island of Sri Lanka and a Debian-based Linux live CD built by a group of developers at the Lanka Linux User Group (LKLUG). The new version 0.4.1 is the project's first public release. What's in it? "X.Org 6.8.2; official NVIDIA driver support out of the box; KDE 3.4.1; OpenOffice.org 2; Linux 184.108.40.206; SquashFS and Unionfs; Apache, PostgreSQL, MySQL, Zope, started and stopped from the K-menu; excellent hotplug support; saving data to persistent media; educational software such as Stellarium and Octave."" Tuxmachines took a look and unfortunately can only report mixed results.
As one boots the livecd, they find a distinctive boot splash screen with unusual fonts. I had high hopes for something perhaps innovating and different. Not only was this not the case, I found several issues that will probably net some grumpy emails.
As you can see the boot splash is an image of an ancient map of the area of the world from which Taprobane hails. This sets expectations rather high and perhaps contributed to the luke-warm impression with which one leaves. The first impression of the desktop is similar to the boot given from a like historic map in a lovely blue tone with distro logo. However the mood is dampened by all the partition icons, using size as the naming convention. As you can see in the screenshot, many of my partitions are of similar size - this does not help one choose the partition with which they may wish to work. Since the mere presence of these icons are a personal preference, no points are really lost for that, but the naming scheme definitely lowers the spirit somewhat. Good news is they aren't all automagically mounted. However, when one is clicked, mounted, and opened in the konqueror file manager, there is no write permissions. So what's the point?
Speaking of booting, another weird happening is one boot the livecd will automagically log one in and go straight to the desktop while other boots it stops at the login screen. Fortunately, the passwords were not hard to figure out. The Taprobane user password is taprobane and the root password is root. It's not a major shortcoming, I just note that it's strange and left me scratching my head. Shouldn't a livecd's non-interactive phase be pretty much the same each boot?
Luckily for me and my video card, taprobane defaults to using vesa drivers for the X server (despite claims that nvidia support is included out-of-the-box). This is always a plus in my book, I mean as opposed to "nv". However in the case of taprobane I found some X instability and ugliness. I had X crash out to the (terminal then) the kdm login screen several times. In fact, one of my issues with taprobane is that it wasn't as stable as one would expect out of a debian-based distro. My first crash occurred when taking screenshots of the menu. My second occurred when looking at my current screenshots in kfmclient. The third issue was a major system freeze when testing xine, which did not play any movie files asked of it. After this my memory starts to fade as it became commonplace and almost expected. I had a few more application crashes throughout my time with taprobane.
It's become so common for distros these days to have pretty fonts that I forget to even mention them in my reviews anymore. It is expected I supposed. That's why when I saw the tremendously ugly fonts of taprobane I was not only disappointed but actually surprised. As you can see, they are anti-aliased, but they are still just plain ugly throughout the whole desktop. I can't say I care enough to even speculate why... just an observation.
They include a link on the desktop called "Links" that supposedly when clicked leads to their site and some outside documentation. Well, they goofed up as all the outside 'links' point to the localhost and as such are useless. However the links to the local documentation may be handy and do function as intended.
Another head scratcher is why a distro sitting on a 220.127.116.11 kernel and contains OpenOffice 2.0 beta is still using KDE 3.4.1 as it's desktop environment? The iso is a full 698MB and the distro contains a large selection of applications, as you can see if you look at the menu shots, including several popular servers such as Apache, postgres, mysql, ssh and zope. One nice feature I always like to see is the separation of system specific and extra applications in their own subcategory in the menu as opposed to being lumped in with the KDE app entries or just plain left out. One really nice feature listed in the menu is a data backup and restore utility.
Multimedia applications abound in this offering, but some could just very well been left out. I found mplayer and gmplayer quite functional and played the movie demo files I had on hand, while kplayer and xine couldn't play any. xmms is present and can see tracks on an audio CD, although despite quite a bit of configuration adjustment, just would not emit any sound. It was opening it's mouth, but wasn't anything coming out. System sound functioned as well as in other applications.
Most livecds these days eject the CD before rebooting or shutdown, but taprobane doesn't. It still makes one scramble to beat the bios after use. This is a small issue, but still annoying given today's standards.
So after quite a bit of time testing taprobane, I can say I have mixed feelings concerning this offering from the witty and obviously brilliant gents from the LK-LUG. They state "Taprobane is highly tweaked installation of Debian with a careful selection of packages and settings. However, we try to minimize the number of unnecessary tuning, so that it is close to vanilla Debian as much as possible." I don't think they are quite there yet. Some of the few tweaks produce some instability and offer no real performance. I found this livecd kinda heavy feeling and observed it was terribly slow. There was definite lag between the mouse click and the event occurring. Applications were slow to open. Examples include OpenOffice and Firefox which took almost 30 seconds to open. Their package selection might seem logical to them, but I had to wonder why they would include several applications to perform the same one function (if they even all work) yet leave out any kind of email client whatsoever. So really the best I can say for this distro is that it doesn't totally suck.