Sonntag, 31. Januar 2010

TinyMe 2010 Beta 2 review, or: is Unity strength?


I always wanted a small server for printing, file hosting and subversion.
From a former employer I got some discarded thin clients a while ago. Power consumption is low, so they make perfect mini servers.

Specs: 466MHz Celeron, 256 MB RAM
I expanded it with a cheap 4 GB CF-Card and IDE-CF-Adapter.

Vector was the first distribution running fine, but made a lot of use of the harddrive, which made the whole system slow and sluggish in reaction (Did I notice, the CF Card was cheap?). So I tested Puppy and TinyMe and ended with TinyMe as my favourite system.

About TinyMe

TinyMe was originally based on PCLinuxOS. A year ago they divided from the PCLinuxOS project, and founded (together with other distribution teams) a new base distribution, called Unity Linux.
TinyMe provides two different Versions: One with nearly everything you need for a small office desktop and another for a very small, clean system where you have to install the things you need on your own (but it let you choose your favourite).
The default window manager/desktop ist LXDE, which is a good compromise of speed, memory usage and usability.
Now there is a Unity-based beta release: "Acorn" 2010 B2 (Only the bigger version is available ATM)


TinyMe comes on a Live-CD.
It asks for language (only few are currently supported), timezone and keyboard layout on startup.
After login a simple desktop shows up, with conky running on upper right. A click on the "Unity Installer" desktop icon brings up "Draklive-Install", the Mandriva/Mandrake installer.
Installation is straightforward: The dialogs are kept simple, but with advanced options for different settings. Only the ACPI should be placed at the advanced tab, since the most users won't know what it is and are probably not interested in deactivating it.
Speaking of ACPI: The Installer detected that my box doesn't support it, but there were no option for APM. So I had to add the "apm=power-off" option manually. Otherwise shutdown won't power off my box.
It's common for bigger distributions to support only ACPI, but users of small distributions often have to deal with old hardware, that doesn't support ACPI. So support for APM shutdown should be considered important (and it's only a apm=power-off at the GRUB options).


At the first startup, TinyMe will ask for a root password and a new user. Afterwards the login screen is shown.
Configuration is done through the "Configure Your Computer" icon which will ask you for the root pw. It's a little serve to allow only root to configure mouse, keyboard, etc.
The setup dialog is designed nicely, but incomplete at some places. As an example, the "Set up the printer" icon does nothing. I think it will be fixed for the final release, but it's confusing.
The configuration part is also mentioned at the TODO list on the website, so at the final release you will be able to change backgrounds (which is not possible at the moment, but the changing nature photos are beautiful so I can live with it).
A small, but annoying, bug is that the Control Center sometimes refuses to be closed.


The graphical package manager is the Smart Package Manager.
Preinstalled applications are Sylpheed for mails, Midori for browsing and Abiword for text processing.
A spreadsheet application is not installed.
Conky is running and I found no option to deactivate it. It's not consuming much memory, but the constant screen updates can be annoying on remote connections.

The Good

The system is running at a good speed. Ext4 will keep the boot times down, even on my CF card. There are still lags when loading applications, but the overall speed is great, compared to what the hardware is. Idle memory consumption is about 45 MB RAM which is very impressive.

The Bad

The Midori browser crashed when loading google and other pages, so does a post-installed Chrome. Maybe the underlying webkit engine isn't designed to run on the old CPU. At a guest session in a VBox, Midori didn't had those problems.
Firefox worked fine for me.

The packages are sometimes incompatible. Trying to install a VNC server resulted in exceptions due to strange version conflicts. [Edit: this may be a result of the activation of an additional repository]

Updating the fresh installed system showed up some warnings.


There's a lot of potential in this distribution. Speed and memory consumption make it a good choice for older hardware.
There is also hard work to do before final release. The choice of browser should be rethought (it should be tested on older hardware as well). An APM option would be nice and the configuration utilities need to be finished.

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