Featherweight -> down for the count

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Featherweight Linux is a livecd based on Feather Linux. I reviewed Feather briefly a little while back and ended up rating it a 4.4 out of 5. It came with Fluxbox and a nice selection of applications. When I heard Featherweight 1.3 was released, which is a remaster with a "light" version of KDE, I was a bit excited to try it. That feeling didn't last too long.

Featherweight is based on the very nice Feather, which is based on Knoppix, which is derived from Debian. So I expected several things. Feather was a pretty, fast and stable little desktop system containing many useful applications. I expected Featherweight to be similar. I guess in all fairness, it was on many accounts.

It has a customized boot splash and then the familiar knoppix livecd script boots up a 2.4.27 kernel with accurate hardware detection and setup. The net is connected, sound is configured, and user input is asked for video and mouse. The desktop comes up automagically and one is greeted by the KDE 3.3.2 login splash and start up wav.

Now already we've identified two problems with a distro having been released in the last coupla days: a 2.4.27 kernel and KDE 3.3.2.

The system functions well and seems quite snappy if one loads the cd into ram when booting (there's a slight, but hardly noticeable lag if not). It is stable, I experienced one crash and no freezes. The included applications are almost adequate. It includes abiword, kate, kwrite, and nano for editing and other text work. It has xmms and mplayer for multimedia, and thunderbird/konqueror for surfing, and gaim for instant messaging. They all seem to function fine and as intended as far as I tested. Mplayer even did an admirable job of playing any media file I asked of it.


However, you knew I was leading up to something didn't ya?... However, despite a cute wallpaper the desktop is just plain ugly. One could almost forgive the ugly and now abandoned default look of the old 3.3 KDE (you know the sick blue windec with yellow highlighting), if it wasn't for the ugliest fonts I've ever seen. Even 5 years ago when folks were writing up howtos on how to get pretty fonts and we were hacking this file and compiling in that patch and preloading those libraries, I still never experienced uglier fonts. I tried both available x server driver configs and there was no difference. Turning on anti-aliasing in kcontrol and restarting X made little difference. It's worth the download just to see what I'm talking about!


The developer states his goal is, "I want a full featured Linux that isn't bloated with a kazillion gigs of crap that I'll never use. I want a small footprint that is light and fast, even on older machines, but still carries a knockout punch." He further states that he "took Feather and stripped out a bunch of apps that I never even thought of using. I wanted to make an easy to understand desktop that was compatible and easily configurable with the latest apps being developed, so I removed all of the window managers and installed a minimal KDE 3.3 desktop."

Well, it is a minimal KDE for sure. He took out all the apps he'd never use, yet then tries to market this system to others. He states that synaptic is available and his system is compatible with Debian repositories. However one has to pay for the installable version to get that functionality.

So, I'll give him the small footprint part with the download weighing in at 277MB, and that it might be light and fast, however the "knockout punch" part is sorely lacking. We the Linux using public are spoiled by distros that are gorgeous upon boot and have the applications we need.

All in all, I was more than a little disappointed in Featherweight. The kernel and KDE are out of date and it was just not very pretty. I'll have to give the points for stability and meeting some of his goals, but overall it doesn't rank up there with Feather. If I was going to rate Featherweight on the same scale and criteria I used for Feather, I would give it the following:

size = since size wasn't an issue, but also since he claims small footprint - I'm going to give it 4 out of 5.

ease = well, without even ksnapshot, screenshots were a pain as were converting them. But how many folks boot an os to take screenshots? Ok, in all fairness: 4 out of 5. Except for the coupla questions during boot that might throw a newbie off, it is relatively easy to use.

looks = well, he loses it here. I won't elaborate any further except to say, 0 out of 5. Oh, ok, 1 for the wallpaper.

useful = the apps he wouldn't use and the apps I or anyone else wouldn't use might not be the same. kmail and ksnapshot are just two I noticed off the top of my head. Image manipulation isn't addressed at all. And mozilla instead of firefox? 3 out of 5.

stability/functionality = only one crash when opening konsole once. 4 out of 5.

total = 3.2 out of 5.