Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Snowlinux 4 "e17" Review: Good but not good enough compared to Bodhi 2.2.0

Enlightenment is definitely one of the best looking lightweight desktops that I have used. Thanks to Rasterman and team for creating and nurturing this amazing desktop. I would place it somewhere between Openbox and LXDE both in aesthetics as well as performance. Openbox runs on the least resources of the three but looks a bit blank whereas LXDE consumes a bit more RAM and CPU but can be customized to look absolutely stunning! E17 is somewhere intermediate, capable of running on modest resources and capable of looking very attractive. Bodhi 2.2 is the best example of a great looking E17 distro.

Last month I reviewed Bodhi and found it to be one of the best lightweight distros that I have used. Seriously beautiful and functional. So, when the Snowlinux 4 e17 release note came out in Distrowatch, I was interested to use and review it having used and impressed by the Snowlinux 3 e17, released in 2012.

Snowlinux 4 32-bit e17 ISO is about 884 MB in size. This assessment is done entirely by me. My assessment is based on installation on Asus K54C laptop with 2.2 Ghz Core i3 processor and 2 GB RAM and experience of using it for the last 3 days. As the name suggests, Enlightenment (e17) is the desktop environment here with Linux kernel 3.5.0 and it is based on Debian Wheezy. Enlightenment and Thunar 1.6.2 are the file managers provided here. I found quite a few limitations in Enlightenment file manager though it is very lightweight. Hence, thanks to the developers for providing Thunar, it is absolutely helpful.

Obvious comparison will be with Bodhi 2.2.0 for any e17 distro. Though Snowlinux 4 "e17", with black panels and white background, looks way better than its XFCE counterpart, but it is no match for Bodhi. With so many catchy themes in Bodhi, Snowlinux with a single theme looks pretty bland. One good thing is that in Snowlinux, the effects are subtle and doesn't interfere with productivity.
From Snowlinux 4 e17
Plus, the thumbnails of files and folders once I took the cursor over them are catchy and creates good visual effect. In overall, for looks, I give a 7/10.
From Snowlinux 4 e17

I did a bit of face lift with a new black wallpaper and a Conky to make it look better. Conky works well with enlightenment desktop.

From Snowlinux 4 e17

Hardware recognition

Hardware recognition is pretty good in Snowlinux 4 "e17" with Wifi, sound card and touchpad automatically recognized. Things work out of the box, which is great. I faced a bit of trouble with keyboard on live boot as the default keyboard option is set as German. Once I selected US as default settings, the issue was resolved.

Compared to Bodhi's default installation, Snowlinux 4 is richer in applications, namely:
  • Office: Abiword, PDF viewer
  • Internet: Firefox 17, Mail reader, Thunderbird 17, Pidgin, transmission 
  • Graphics: Shotwell Photo Manager, Simple Scan 
  • Multi-media: Audacious, Gnome Mplayer, Sound Recorder 
  • Accessories: Calculator, Leafpad, Root terminal, terminal emulator, Bulk rename, Gdebi package installer, UX term
Multimedia codecs are in-built and I could straight away play my favorite videos and listen to music.
From Snowlinux 4 e17

Adobe flashplugin is not given and requires to be installed from Debian repository. However, I found HTML5 videos to work in Snowlinux 4 "e17". 
Office section I found to be pretty weak and I miss a spreadsheet application here. LibreOffice can be downloaded from the repository. I checked in Debian Wheezy repo, LibreOffice 3.5 is available for download but 3.6 is yet to be added there. I guess, LibreOffice 3.6 will be available once the testing freeze is over. If you don't want to wait, you can install LibreOffice 3.6 from LibreOffice website using the method stated here.

Overall, application section is satisfactory and I give a 8/10 here as well, penalizing for absence of a spreadsheet application and a photo editor.

I installed Snowlinux 4 "e17" from a live USB boot up. Installation takes about 30 minutes of time and has a quite simple step by step approach. It requires information on language, location, keyboard type and keyboard language, location to install the OS, select partition, user login and password, and location to install grub.
From Snowlinux 4 e17
From Snowlinux 4 e17
From Snowlinux 4 e17
From Snowlinux 4 e17
From Snowlinux 4 e17
From Snowlinux 4 e17
From Snowlinux 4 e17
From Snowlinux 4 e17

Possibly one good improvement to the installer will be to do away with the grub install location option and like Ubuntu installer or Anaconda, it can be automated without requiring any user input. A small improvement like this can go in a long way to simplify the installation process for a newbie. I give Snowlinux 9/10 for simplicity in installation process.

Debian Wheezy is the default repository for Snowlinux 4 "e17" and applications can be downloaded via Synaptic package manager and Debian Software Center. Having an easy software installation interface like Software Center is definitely helpful for new users as it makes life a lot easier with available applications stacked in clear cut categories and is easy to the eyes.

From Snowlinux 4 e17
Debian is one of the richest repo in the Linux world and has all possible applications that one needs for regular usage. Given Debian Wheezy will release this month and there is a freeze, you may not find the very latest applications like LibreOffice 3.6 at the moment. But, once Debian 7 is released, I guess, all the latest versions will be available.

Alongside, Gdebi package manager is provided for local installation of applications. I installed Skype 4.1 using gdebi without any issue and it worked well detecting the webcam accurately. Also, by drag and drop, I could add a shortcut of Skype to the dock.
From Snowlinux 4 e17
From Snowlinux 4 e17

I found Snowlinux 4 "e17" to lag behind in performance compared to Bodhi 2.2.0. Bodhi took about 80 MB RAM to load the e17 desktop with task manager running whereas Snowlinux took about 110 MB RAM with htop running and 1-5% CPU. Otherwise, Snowlinux 4 "e17" is buttery smooth to use and offers good stable performance. And one thing I noted, performance has improved in Snowlinux 4 from the Snowlinux 3 "e17" released last year. I give Snowlinux 8/10 in performance.

In overall, Snowlinux 4 "e17" is a good release but with Bodhi 2.2.0 already out, may not be the preferred option for "e17" users. I would rate it a notch below Bodhi both in performance and aesthetics. Snowlinux will score higher in terms of in built applications and easy access to repository. Though one thing to consider here - I found Bodhi repository to offer cutting edge applications and doesn't rely that much on Ubuntu repository. Even on Linux kernel, Bodhi already has 3.7 series. So, it seems in almost every aspect Bodhi leaves Snowlinux behind.

In overall, I would given Snowlinux 4 "e17" a 8/10 whereas Bodhi comes as 10/10 in my scale. If you are not very fond of the very colorful Bodhi, you may give a shot to the more sober Snowlinux 4 "e17".

You can download Snowlinux 4 "e17" from here. Both 32 and 64 bit versions are available.