Saturday, August 3, 2013

OS4 OpenLinux 13.6 Review: XFCE spin with a difference!

I used and reviewed OS4 13 (LTS version) earlier as well. But, I didn't find it appealing earlier. The default design of XFCE looks way better than the legacy BeOS design of OS4. I checked out the 13.1 version earlier and was not that pleased with OS4. However, my opinion changed with the release OS4 13.6 (I missed out the other updates after 13.1, honestly). With a change in design, interesting applications pre-installed in the distro and a more refined interface, OS4 13.6 OpenLinux suddenly seems more attractive.
Desktop Cube From OS4 Openlinux 13.6

From OS4 Openlinux 13.6
OS4 13 series is based on Xubuntu 12.04 long term release and has Linux kernel 3.2.0. It comes with XFCE 4.10 and Thunar 1.6.3 as the file manager. More or less, it is similar to the offerings made by Xubuntu 12.04 or it's spins in terms of XFCE and Linux kernel. The OS4 release note states of some new additional features as well as introduction of OS4 based desktops and laptops with Acer:
"Today we are releasing OS4 OpenLinux 13.6 and unveiling our new hardware initiative. This release comes with a lot of bug fixes and application updates. We also have brought new functionality and services. First, hardware services. As a licensed ACER dealer we are bringing about a new hardware initiative. We are bringing state of the art, powerful, beautiful and functional hardware to the OS4 and Linux communities. We believe state of the art software deserves state-of-the-art hardware. So we have a wide range of towers, laptops, all-in-ones and of course our most popular, OS4 BriQ, is still available. We also have the engineering marvel, the Vision 64 all-in-one keyboard PC from Cybernet available. All of these systems make great gifts and they make a great addition to any home or office."
I downloaded the 1.8 GB ISO (pretty bulky for an XFCE distro!) from the OS4 site and did a live boot followed by installation on my Asus K54C laptop with 2.2 Ghz Core i3 processor and 2 GB RAM. OS4 OpenLinux 13.6 installation took about 5.3 GB space on my hard drive which is a bit high considering a lightweight XFCE spin. Fedora 19 XFCE in fact installed in almost half the space - of course, it is a stripped down version compared to OS4. Even Linux Mint XFCE took 40% lower space. 

As I take you through the review, you'll understand that OS4 OpenLinux 13.6 is not meant only for less potent hardware but can run with élan on most modern systems as well.

I like the interface of OS4 with a top panel and a bottom transparent panel. Also the change in nomenclature from Menu to Workspace Manager is intriguing. The menu entries are neatly populated with OS4 specific icons. Even the new web applications created with fog takes neat icons as well. Further, the bottom panel provides flexibility to add other functionalities as well - just right click on it to explore!

From OS4 Openlinux 13.6
Thunar too looks great with the OS4 theme. The operating system comes with KDE Window manager (KWin) in addition to Xfwm. However, if I change from Xfwm to Kwin the bottom panel gets a bit disarranged and number of desktops reduces from 2 (default) to 1. Even it doesn't allow to increase number of workspaces/desktops from Settings.

From OS4 Openlinux 13.6
Otherwise, the appearance is pretty neat and professional without going overboard. In addition to the default wallpaper, there are quite a few other attractive wallpaper pre-installed in the distro. But, except for the default one, rest of the wallpapers are not unique to OS4.

From OS4 Openlinux 13.6
To make it more attractive, I downloaded compiz and I could include several subtle animations to OS4 with 4-5 minutes of effort. Further, I could create the desktop cube and capture screenshots of the animation. By the by, XFCE Screenshot is pretty lame in capturing animations; my saving grace was GNOME screenshot application.

From OS4 Openlinux 13.6
Hardware recognition
OS4 was able to identify correctly the Wifi, touchpad, LAN and screen resolution. Like any other Ubuntu spin, OS4 did not disappoint in hardware recognition.

OS4 OpenLinux 13.6 brings on the table an interesting ensemble of applications, viz.
  • Office: Abiword, Gnumeric, Dates, Dictionary, Document viewer, ebook reader
  • Internet: Dropbox, Firefox 22.0, gFTP, Maps, NixNote, Phone Dialer, Pidgin IM, Qtransmission bit torrent client, Skype, Thunderbird 17, Xchat IRC
  • Graphics: GIMP 2.8.6, gthumb, Ristretto Photo viewer, Scribus, Shotwell Photo Manager, Simple Scan
  • Multimedia: Arista transcoder, Audacity, Audio recorder, Clementine music player, Openshot video editor, Recordmydesktop, VLC 2.0.7, Webcam booth
  • Accessories: Application finder, Archive manager, Calculator, ClamTK, Leafpad, Notes, Screenshot, File Search, Terminal, gdebi Package Manager, Backup, Bootup manager, Startup disk creator
  • Others: Steam, Fog app, Gambas 3, Grsync, Remastersys
All multimedia codecs and Adobe flashplugin are in pre-installed in the distro and works even on live boot. 
From OS4 Openlinux 13.6

Except for Office (which is loaded with lightweight applications and doesn't have LibreOffice), the rest of the applications categories are quite rich. Special mention can be made of multimedia and internet. Almost all useful internet applications that I can think of, are by default included in the internet section. Firefox too is loaded with useful plugins like google talk, gtalk video, java, shockwave, etc. Only app missing and that I can recommend adding is Gwibber or Friends, perhaps. Otherwise, the list is complete.
From OS4 Openlinux 13.6

For multimedia, Clementine music player is one of my favorite and it worked really well with my mp3 collection. Further, VLC is pre-installed and it is capable of playing all the video formats - undoubtedly the best video player I have used. OpenShot video editor is simply the best Linux video editor available.

In addition, Graphics section is also rich with GIMP picture editor and Shotwell Photo manager (to load photos in Facebook, Picasa, etc.). Further, I am using Ubuntu 12.04 LTS in one of my production laptops and still it hasn't got GIMP 2.8. It is quite good that OS4 comes with GIMP 2.8.6, the latest version released on 21st June. It is a pretty rich collection of conventional applications in OS4 and quite handy for daily usage.

From OS4 Openlinux 13.6
Remastersys is another good application that I like. You can actually make an ISO of the OS you are using with Remastersys - it comes handy as we, many a times, customize the installed OS, with our own settings and choice of applications. A copy of that can be really handy in installing to another system or even as a backup to restore if something goes wrong.
From OS4 Openlinux 13.6

In games section, like a lot of Ubuntu spins these days, OS4 too comes with Steam, which should appeal to the gamers. However, steam installation takes a bit of time to install and download games - hence, I refrained from trying it.

Like all XFCE 4 distros, OS4 too has an integrated settings manager. Life becomes easier for new users if the settings manager is integrated, in my opinion.
From OS4 Openlinux 13.6

Web apps using Fog

Fog is similar to Ice in Peppermint OS and it help creating web apps. Fog has a very simple interface and I could create a web app to directly access Facebook with a stylish Facebook logo. When I started the application, even on the top corner, the logo was visible for the active application. Cool job by the developers! Fog is even more impressive than Peppermint OS's Ice.
From OS4 Openlinux 13.6
From OS4 Openlinux 13.6

Similarly, Maps, an application to access Google maps, is already pre-installed in the distro. Surely, with an app like Fog, the possibilities are endless and this can make the good old bookmarks quite redundant.

From OS4 Openlinux 13.6
In overall, application list for OS4 13.6 is top class and much better than any Xubuntu spin I have seen or used. It doesn't flood users with random applications and all of the included apps seem to be carefully chosen with a purpose of providing users a complete operating system experience. I really like the idea.

Installation is similar to Ubuntu and no surprises there. Steps are the expected ones like selection of language and keyboard preferences, location, hard drive to install and finally, user ID creation. All in all, it took me 30 minutes to install (including downloading of updates and third party software).

From OS4 Openlinux 13.6
From OS4 Openlinux 13.6
From OS4 Openlinux 13.6
From OS4 Openlinux 13.6
From OS4 Openlinux 13.6
From OS4 Openlinux 13.6
Unlike Xubuntu, OS4 doesn't come with Ubuntu Software Center. Synaptic package manager is the default GUI to install applications. Synaptic, of course, is perhaps the best package manager I have used. However, inclusion of Ubuntu Software Center would have been helpful to Linux novices.

From OS4 Openlinux 13.6
From OS4 Openlinux 13.6
Applications are sources from Ubuntu Precise repositories (main, universe, multiverse and restricted). But, I could see a lot of additional ppa's to source the latest GIMP, google talk plugin, XFCE 4.10, Wine, Kwin from Kubuntu repos, etc. I feel it is a judicious mix without really going overboard and quite helpful to the users.

From OS4 Openlinux 13.6
OS4 took about 180 MB RAM and 1-5% CPU usage to boot the default desktop with task manager running. Though it is at the bottom half of the 32 bit XFCE distros I have evaluated, in RAM consumption, but user experience is pretty good in OS4. The OS is pretty fast and never lags. The RAM and CPU consumptions were recorded by me on the same laptop (Asus K54C) at various point in time in 2012-13. 

Operating System Size of ISO Base Desktop Linux kernel CPU Usage RAM usage Size of installation
Snowlinux 4 Glacier XFCE 727 MB Debian XFCE 4.10 3.5.0 1-5% 87 MB
Debian Wheezy XFCE 868 MB Debian XFCE 4.8 '3.2.0 1-5% 100 MB
Snowlinux 3.1 Crystal XFCE 639 MB Debian XFCE 4.8 3.2.0 1-5% 110 MB
Linux Lite 1.0.4 XFCE 755 MB Ubuntu XFCE 4.8 3.2.18 1-5% 120 MB
Mint 13 Debian XFCE 1.2 GB Debian XFCE 4.8 3.2.0 1-5% 125 MB
Bridge XFCE 696 MB Arch XFCE 4.10 '3.6.7 1-5% 130 MB
Linux Lite 1.0.0 XFCE 916 MB Ubuntu XFCE 4.8 3.2.0-32 1-5% 130 MB
Mint 14 XFCE 914 MB Ubuntu XFCE 4.10 3.5.0-17 1-5% 140 MB
Mint 15 XFCE 992 MB Ubuntu XFCE 4.10 3.8.0-25 1-5% 140 MB 3.8 GB
Fedora 17 XFCE 705 MB Fedora XFCE 4.8 '3.3.4-5 1-5% 160 MB
Manjaro 0.8.3 XFCE 817 MB Arch XFCE 4.10 '3.4.24 1-5% 160 MB
Mint 13 XFCE 850 MB Ubuntu XFCE 4.8 3.2.0-29 1-5% 160 MB
Sabayon 11 XFCE 1.3 GB Gentoo XFCE 4.10 3.7.0 1-5% 160 MB
Xubuntu 12.04.1 LTS 715 MB Ubuntu XFCE 4.8 3.2.0-29 1-5% 160 MB
Xubuntu 12.10 727 MB Ubuntu XFCE 4.10 3.5.0-17 1-5% 160 MB
Xubuntu 13.04 827 MB Ubuntu XFCE 4.10 3.8.0 1-5% 160 MB
Fedora 19 XFCE 617 MB Fedora XFCE 4.10 3.9.8 1-5% 160 MB 2.46 GB
Emmabuntus 12.04.2-1.04 3.5 GB Ubuntu XFCE 4.8 3.2.0-39 1-5% 170 MB
Fedora 18 XFCE 694 MB Fedora XFCE 4.10 3.7.2 1-5% 180 MB
Sabayon 10 XFCE 1.3 GB Gentoo XFCE 4.10 '3.5.0 1-5% 180 MB
OS4 OpenLinux 13.6 1.8 GB Ubuntu XFCE 4.10 3.2.0 1-5% 180 MB 5.3 GB
Manjaro 0.8.2 XFCE 1.1 GB Arch XFCE 4.10 '3.4.18 1-5% 200 MB
OS 4 13.1 1.5 GB Ubuntu XFCE 4.10 3.2.0 1-5% 200 MB
Voyager 12.10 991 MB Ubuntu XFCE 4.10 '3.5.0 1-5% 200 MB
ZevenOS 5 734 MB Ubuntu XFCE 4.10 3.5.0 1-5% 220 MB
I rate OS4 as an impressive and smart XFCE spin. It brings in a lot of value addition to Xubuntu and therefore, it's tie up with Acer and Asus to bring out Linux state-of-the art laptops and desktops, is a good news, I feel. I tried out the downloadable version and going by the description, the pre-installed version in these machines will have all these and much more (like LibreOffice, etc.). OS4 provides a good mix of functionalities and performance and comes with a refined interface (thankfully the BeOS interface I tested in 13.1 version is transformed to a more attractive interface). Usual user customizations like compiz, docky, conky, etc. works well with OS4. Further, the pre-installed application list is really judicious with the best apps given by default. Though it looks good in the beginning to have practically the Ubuntu repository dumped in the distro, but later it becomes a pain - it is much more prudent to have a good application for every functionality like OS4 has done. Addition of fog is another added dimension to OS4 and it pretty handy for those who work / stay mostly online.

Though OS4 recorded marginally higher RAM consumption than plan vanilla XFCE distros, but the user experience is pretty good - it is pretty fast and responsive. With multimedia codecs and ppa's of latest applications pre-installed, OS4 gives a good combination of long term stability and having the latest version of applications like GIMP, Wine, etc.

Adding something like a Ubuntu Software Center or Mint installer would have made OS4 more acceptable to Linux novices. Otherwise, OS4 13.6 is a pretty good OS for Linux novice and experts alike. And for those who are fans of XFCE (like me) and consider it to be the next best thing after GNOME 2, they should try out OS4. I give OS4 a rating of 4/5.

You can download both 32 and 64 bit versions from here.


  1. Just wanted to say that I always enjoy your reviews. Thanks and keep it up!

  2. My favorite OS4 has been 13.3 since early 2013. The link above took me to a download page for Black Lab Linux, an OS4-like OS that seems light in comparison but worked OK for me from USB. I hope you continue to write reviews, as I always seek yours out above all others. Your ratings and tips are very helpful to casual users like me.