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Reviewing OpenLab myself

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[A regular at] has asked me [the lead developer] to do my own review of OpenLab, I won't deny that it feels rather odd to be doing so. After all, I am obviously biassed. But the request does justify the idea very well, so I reckoned I would give it my best bash. I'm not going to try to be dispassionate - any attempt at that is unlikely to completel succeed anyway, but more than that it would feel dishonest. So rather, I will try to explain how we were thinking at various stages of the system, what motivated certain decisions over others and what is really happening sometimes. Such a review will actually be usefull to people trying to make a decision, without being either too much like false marketing or too modest.

So let's start at the beginning, the CD-bootup screen. This screen has drawn praise from other reviewers as it shows one of the things we spent the most time on - trying to be explanatory at all times and give newbies an easy point of departure with lots of help and tips. We did do that but it's not all you can say about this screen. The text color there actually needs a bit of work, this is already on the list for next time, the colour we chose is nice but on some screens hard to see. A bigger thing is that since you cannot test on all pieces of hardware, I really wish I could rewrite the troubleshooting page now - as I now know two more entries that I wish I had known about when we first wrote that.

One little thing here that I'm very proud off is that if you do need to follow any of the troubleshooting things to boot the LIVEcd, and you then install - OpenLab will automatically make sure your troubleshooting lines are in your lilo.conf file so that you won't need to worry about adding them later.

Full Review.

about openlab

it was quite interesting to read a review from developer's own perspective - this was a good idea! However there are still a few questions none of the reviews I've seen so far addressed, for example:

- what is the state of multi-media apps and codecs in openlab? For example, will it play mp3s, avi's etc out of the box, or does it follow the big names in not including these apps and codecs? I realise the focus of openlab was on education market first of all, but I do consider multimedia applications and codecs they depend on an essential part of my system, and I'm becoming increasingly unhappy about having to install them myself...

- what tools does openlab offer to keep the system up to date or install additional software?

- how compatible is openlab with Slackware 10.2?

- what about installing binary nvidia/ati drivers?

Finally, I have to comment on your decision to 'not explicitely give the option to install lilo in a partition rather than an MBR...' While I understand your desire to simplify the installation, unfortunately it makes life very difficult for those of us who are multi-booting several systems, already have a perfectly functioning bootloader, and do not want to replace it or mess with it in any way! We might be few, but we are the early adopters, and writers of the reviews... Smile
So I think an 'advanced' option would be useful, and hopefully not too confusing for those who don't need it.

Re: About OpenLab

Let me try to answer your questions.

- what is the state of multi-media apps and codecs in openlab? For example, will it play mp3s, avi's etc out of the box, or does it follow the big names in not including these apps and codecs? I realise the focus of openlab was on education market first of all, but I do consider multimedia applications and codecs they depend on an essential part of my system, and I'm becoming increasingly unhappy about having to install them myself...

*Well one advantage of developing in South Africa is that we are not subject to US patent laws, so we can and do include every codec with a license that allows redistribution. OpenLab is meant to be free software except where important things simply do not have viable replacements (yet). So three non-free things are include. Java JRE, Flash plugin and windows multimedia codecs. We ship with totem as default video player, enabled for all the codecs I have encountered, and mplayer is in there as a fallback as well.

- what tools does openlab offer to keep the system up to date or install additional software?

*OpenLab uses slapt-get and gslapt for this. Our default package sources are all fully dependency tracked and this makes for quite an easy to use update system which we work hard to keep up to date.

-how compatible is openlab with Slackware 10.2?

*100% compatible, but I need to qualify that. Out of the box, a large number of 10.2 packages will complain about missing dependencies this was caused by slackware 10.2 being released after we did, on our update mirror however (which is preconfigured in OpenLab), has been an updated and installable elflibs package for some time, if you install it, you will instantly be able to install any slackware 10.2 package you wish again or even do a dist-uprade.

- what about installing binary nvidia/ati drivers?
I am an nvidia user myself so firstly let me assure you they do work.
That said we did not wish to ship non-free drivers in the base system, so the Nvidia drivers specifically is shipped on the KARMAcd, that package is self-installing and largely self-configuring as well.
To install the package from you will obviously need the kernel sources, which if you don't purchase the disk set you will need to install yourself.You don't need to configure it though, you can get the .config file from /proc/config.gz

As to the lilo locations, in fact the advanced options are already in front of you, it is just not explicitely said on screen. All the drop-down menu's in the OpenLab installer are editable so that if at any point our detected lists were wrong (which I have never seen happen) you could enter a corrected value yourself. In the same way when the lilo install screen come up, if you type /dev/hda1 as an option it will install to the partition rather than the MBR.

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