Tue 27 March 2007

Review: Dreamlinux 2.2

This Entry is Archived!

This article was originally published on March 27, 2007 (8:00:00 AM) over at Linux.com. A still-breathing version of the article can be found at Linux.com.

When it comes to choosing a Linux distribution, people tend to stick with the major players, such as Ubuntu, SUSE, or Fedora. However, every once in a while a distro comes along that offers a look at Linux in a new and fun way. One such distribution is Dreamlinux, a Morphix-based implementation of Linux that can be run from a single CD or installed on a hard drive. Dreamlinux 2.2 aims to offer a full range of desktop applications while providing a wealth of multimedia tools for easy production of professional-grade media.

Dreamlinux installs easily. For a basic Dreamlinux installation, you'll want to have at least 128MB of RAM, 3GB of free space, and a processor that runs at at least 500MHz. Depending on your hardware, you may have to edit your BIOS settings to force a boot from CD. Dreamlinux should automatically detect all the hardware, but if for some reason it cannot, it will present a list of more basic options to get started, and you can tune and set up the rest upon installation. During the installation, Dreamlinux prompts you to select English or Portuguese as your language of choice, but you can configure it to install with a different language.

Once the system is up and running, you have two options: you can continue running with a live CD, or you can do a full installation. If you plan to just try out Dreamlinux, the live CD offers an excellent look at the system and can guide you through much of how it works, and lets you store data on a USB storage device.

If you want the entire experience, a full installation is recommended, especially if you intend to work with the XGL 3-D interface, which takes advantage of newer graphics cards to produce some great graphical features for the X Window System. XGL works only when the distribution is installed on the hard drive. A function within the Control Panel, aptly titled HD Install, handles the hard drive installation.

Dreamlinux runs with Xfce as the default window manager, and it is full of style cues from the Mac OS X environment, the most notable nod being the Application Panel, which is handled by an independent version of Enlightenment's Engage. The distro comes with a simple set of applications suited for the average user, including OpenOffice.org 2.0.4, Firefox 1.5, Icedove (unbranded Thunderbird) as an email client, and aMSN 0.97 for instant messaging.

Dreamlinux has excellent support for multimedia, in terms of both creating and viewing. It comes pre-installed with XMMS for playing music, Grip for playing and reading CDs, Audacity for recording, Kino for editing video, Blender for modeling, and GimpShop for basic graphical work. In terms of multimedia support, it comes ready and set up with all the necessary codecs to play MP3s and DVDs. All of these applications make Dreamlinux a good choice for a multimedia system.

While Dreamlinux shares many likenesses with other modern Linux distributions, it has a few tools of its own that stand out -- most notably Mkdistro, a collection of four shell scripts for building and remastering distribution ISOs. MKdistro was developed by Nelson Gomes da Silveira, one of the cofounders of the Dreamlinux project, with the intent of letting users with any level of technical knowledge edit, design, and create a Linux distro suited specifically for themselves. This is likely the reason why the developers chose to adopt a Morphix-like philosophy -- that is, aiming to make the system as modular and changeable for the end user as possible.

Some restlessness

While much of the software works like a dream, not all is perfect. Dreamlinux is still relatively new, and as a result its community is still in its own developing stage. The distribution's developers are Brazilian, and the community seems a bit divided due to a language barrier.

In using the software, I ran into some small hindrances. Upon first running the system, Internet connections are not automatically configured, which can throw some new users off. A graphical interface guides you through the connection process, but it would be more efficient to have Internet connectivity automatically configured, and keep the GUI around just to allow users to make modifications as necessary. aMSN also had difficulty starting up correctly at points, and one time refused to even start at all. I downloaded Gaim and used it as my instant messaging client instead with no problems.

Nevertheless, the distribution itself looks good and functions well. The Mkdistro tool will be useful for users who want complete control of their systems, and the overall ease of installation and use Dreamlinux offers is good enough that the average user can download and install the distribution and jump right in.

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