Review: Gentoo 2008.0 and beyond Part 1

Another distro in the seven distros included in Linux Format Magazine issue #110 is Gentoo 2008.0.  This is an interesting release given the recent news that, at least for the time being, Gentoo is not going to be releasing these discs anymore.  Apparently for both of the last two years there has been a lot of trouble with compiling the LiveCDs.

On the one hand, yearly (or biannual like Ubuntu) releases are redundant for Gentoo users.  You just install Gentoo and from then on you just emerge newer versions of packages and always stay up to date.  I have to say this is one of the features that makes Gentoo very attractive to me considering all the problems I’ve had with Fedora in-place upgrades.  But if they are no longer making these annual LiveCDs, what will the Linux magazines feature on their distro discs?  After all, there are people who have bandwidth issues and can’t download Linux distros to instasll.  They are dependent upon magazines to carry the latest releases.  And you know the magazine isn’t going to make a LiveCD for Gentoo.  I still think that a yearly snapshot makes sense.  Also, there has to be a starting point from which the user has a rolling updating system.

Since the whole point of using Gentoo is to install a custom distro, I decided that I would install it to my computer instead of evaluating the LiveCD as all there is to Gentoo.  A bit of background here – Gentoo is a distro like Slackware where all of the packages are installed via compilation.  (edit based on comment – Gentoo also has binary packages) The biggest difference is that Gentoo borrowed the concept of Ports from FreeBSD.  Ports, as implemented in FreeBSD and Gentoo, are patches that are applied to raw source code from the developers of the software to customize it for that distro.  So, for example, you can download the source code to Mplayer.  If you want it to be installed in the right place in your distro so that other programs can find the libraries it installs, you need to give it configuration options.  Ports do that automatically for you so everything ends up in a consistent place.  Also, Port installation systems also handle dependencies for you.  If you were installing Mplayer from source you’d have to find everything it depends on and then install that from source.  Then find what that depends on and install it from source.  With Ports, all that happens automagically.

So, why, in this age of binary packages (Ubuntu, Fedora, Mandriva, et al) would you ever want to install from source?  It takes a LOT longer (hours for Gnome).  Well, there are two main benefits touted by Gentoo users.  First of all, your programs are now ultra-customized for your system.  If you want Gnome without Mono compiled in, you can do this.  (Assuming that’s one of the options)  Also, it is tuned to your hardware.  You are compiling your programs to the Intel Core 2 Duo instead of the i686 (Pentium 4, I think)  Now, some people say this is a false benefit.  How optimized is it going to be for your system versus the defaults?  I think the real answer is somewhere in the middle.  For some processor heavy programs like Blender, Cinelerra, and OpenOffice.org, perhaps it will really speed things up.  For Pidgin, it probably won’t make much of a difference.  The second benefit, they say, is that you get new versions of the program much sooner than with a binary distro.  Debian, Fedora, etc have to create binary packages from the source packages and usually they only do that in the next version of the distro – as much as six months later.  With Gentoo, you can have that program right away.  Again, the real answer is probably in the middle since Gentoo has a testing process like other distros (thank goodness) so the program won’t be available right away either.  It has to go through testing first.  This could end up taking just as long as with a binary distro.  Sometimes it will be sooner, though, because there’s no later release to wait for.  As soon as it’s ready for mass consumption you can have it.

Since I don’t have any spare computers, I decided to install Gentoo to Virtualbox on my test computer.  As I booted it up, I got a refreshingly candid view of what was going on.

Gentoo was displaying what many distros have been hiding from their users in recent times, the boot messages.  I love seeing this as it really gives you a glimpse of what the computer is doing.

I’m one of those people who believe we should remove this sense of mysticism about how computers work.  The more of the general public we can get educated on what’s happening with their computers, the better.  They don’t have to all become computer Gurus – that’s extremely unrealistic to expect.  But I’d like to see as many people as possible getting an idea of what’s going on under the hood.  (You hear that Fedora, Ubuntu, etc?)

Then I was presented with a pretty attractive GDM login.   It’s dynamic-looking without being too flashy.

And here’s the Xfce desktop you arrive at:

So, as you know – people usually tout LiveCDs as very useful because they give you a chance to know if the distro will be able to use all of your hardware.  That’s why everyone says, just take the Ubuntu or Fedora liveCD and try it and you’ll know before wiping out Windows if the distro will be able to use the wireless, sound, and video hardware.  Indeed, this is why the Debian release team plans to have a Debian liveCD this time around.  So, with the Gentoo 2008.0 LiveCD I was able to get online and verify that it would be able to use my ethernet card.  I did this with Bon Echo – the development version of Firefox.  This was 2.0, but Gentoo 2008.0 is from earlier in the year before Firefox 3 had come out.

However, there are audio programs on the LiveCD.  I see this as a major shortcoming since sound is one of the most likely things to be need to test (other than wireless hardware).  I downloaded an OGG of Jono Bacon discussing his Severed Fifth album, but was unable to play it.  In fact, the LiveCD is pretty bare when it comes to programs.  So I can’t even give this to someone to give them a taste of what programs they may have available under Gentoo.  Perhaps they just have a different mentality over at the Gentoo team.  After all, up until now my experience has only been with more mainstream distros like Fedora and Ubuntu.

So, I decided it was time to go ahead and do the install.   The first task the installer asks you do to is to partition your hard drive.

I’ve done this on a few distros already so I knew what to do.  I clicked on recommeded layout because, from what it said on the left, it looked like what I usually do.  So, here it is in its colour-coded glory:

The next step was to configure the mount points.  There are a lot of schemes for this such as having /var and /tmp on their own partitions.  A lot of people also recommend having /home on its own partition.  However, this is not only just a test distro, but it’s also not meant to be a production server or anything like that.  So I left everything under the root directory.  Then it unpacked the stage tarball.

I’m not 100% sure what that is, but I can guess from what I know about Gentoo.  Basically, instead of making you compile everything form the beginning, Gentoo provides the basics already as binaries so you can get started in less than 24 hours.  Later on you can compile it while running the system and save yourself some time.  This is taking some time.  At its current pace it will probably take maybe 20 or so minutes to finish.  However, remember that I’m running this in a virtual machine so that’s going to be a limiting factor in terms of how much processor it has access to as well as how much RAM.  My DVD drive speed also plays into it, I’m sure.  But I have a pretty standard one – neither slow nor unbelievably fast.  Since I’m blogging this as it happens,  I’m going to go off to do something else.  I’ll be back later when this is done.

I was in another room the whole time so I don’t know how long it took, but somewhere within 2 hours it was completed and asked me for a root password.   Then they ask you to pick your timezone.  Nothing too hard or out of the ordinary here.  The next screen was for setting up the network and this one was definitely more involved than other distros I’ve installed.

I fill out the info.   In continuing my Mario character theme, I name the installation Poochy, after the huge dog in Super Mario World  2.  That dog was only a minor character and this distro is only a virtual one.  After that it emerged some more stuff.  I was then given the option to add users.  That’s right, users – plural.  Most distros just give you your username at install, but if you want to add everyone’s name at once you can do that.  Sweet!

They say you learn a lot more about how Linux works when you install Gentoo.  I learned about how you need to be the member of all these groups to be able to do much in Linux.  I never realized all the work the distros had been doing for me.  Also, it shows me how a user could be locked out of certain things like using the cdrom.  One stupid thing on their part is not double-checking that your password was typed as you expected.

The next page is where you pick additional packages although I must say the warning at the top is pretty ominous.

Ok, so I checked… everythign in X11, GnuPG, Cups, iptables, slocate, ufed, logrotate, ntp, alsa-utils, and mozilla-firefox.  It appears I was limited to installing whatever was included on the disc.  I guess that makes sense.  I would probably want to compile everything else?  I’m not sure what the rationale is.  Or was it unable to connect to the net and find the repos?  It started to calculate dependencies.

Son of a b.  I was running VirtualBox on Windows XP and it rebooted last night in the middle of the install while I was asleep.  (It had a critical update)  I think I’m going to have to start this process all over again.  See you on the flip side.

When I finally caught back up again, it was time to pick which services I wanted at runtime.  No Linux distro I have ever used has asked me this.  Instead it leaves a ton of services running – some of which may be unnecessary if you aren’t running a server.

There’s really one one bad part with the installer (and I guess this goes along with Gentoo users learning a lot about how the system runs) and that is that it doesn’t explain what most of these are so I have no idea if I’d want them running at the beginning.  I looked around the installation documentation on Gentoo’s website, but couldn’t find the info.  I selected  alsasound, consolekit, cupsd, dbus, hald, iptables, ntp-client, ntpd, numlock, sshd, udev-postmount and xdm.  I guessed based on things I’ve heard before.   Then came this page of a lot of startup stuff:

I ended up changing it to xdm and Xsession since I knew I had xdm installed from the earlier package selection.  And that was it.  Pretty painless (assuming it worked)

So I exited and rebooted the VM.  Here’s where I ended up:

So, apparently alsa and cups weren’t installed although I asked them to be installed.  And apparently the ethernet card couldn’t start.  Why didn’t XDM or Xfce start?  And why does my kernel say sabayon-r1?  Is there where the name of Sabayon, the Gentoo derivative distro, came from?  So I go ahead and login.  I’m not exactly sure what to do.  I can’t really emerge anything that isn’t installed if I don’t have a connection to the net.  Interestingly, when I login as root, my username wasn’t created either.  Looks like something went wrong during the installation.

I’ll give it one more shot and check the logs this time.   See you in an hour or so.  By viewing the log, I was able to see that my user didn’t get created because of the way I specified the groups.  Perhaps they need to have a comma instead of a space between them?  I have no idea and it doesn’t say.

Ok, so it appears that perhaps there’s something wrong with either using VirtualBox or with the graphical installer.  When I’m in the LiveCD I can use the internet AND I have a graphical interface.  When the installation completes eth0 no longer works and I can’t get a graphical interface.  I have no idea why this is happening.  Obviously, if it works for the liveCD, then the LiveCD should be using that information to configure the real installation.  Therefore the installation should work just as well as the LiveCD.  Well, I’ve been working on this for about three days now without any luck.  I’m giving up for now.  Perhaps someone else knows what I’m going wrong, but after having gone through the installation about four times now, I’m pretty sick of it.  If someone knows exactly what’s going wrong or what I’m supposed to do, I’ll check it out.  Otherwise, Part 2 will be me just doing a manual installation sometime next week.

Sabayon was also included on my Linux Format Magazine DVD and I planned to check it out after Gentoo.  Perhaps it will prove how much more of an easy-to-do installation it is and why people would choose to install Sabayon instead of Vanilla Gentoo.

Review: Slax 6.0.7

For some reason, I didn’t get Linux Format Magazine issue #110 when I was supposed to. I ordered another copy and it arrived recently, so it’s time for another slate of Linux reviews. Unfortunately, something appears to be wrong with the way they mastered the magazine DVD, because I was unable to boot into any of the Slax options. So I went online and got the latest ISO off of http://www.slax.org.

Slackware was the original Ubuntu. It was the first very popular Linux distro and it is the oldest distro still in production. Most users have on to Red Hat, Mandriva, Gentoo and, finally, Ubuntu, but Slackware still exists. There are a lot of people out there who still use it. I don’t know if this is because they cut their teeth on Slackware back in the day or because they like the pain of doing everything by hand. You have to admit there’s something nice about Slackware’s programs being the most untainted by the distro. You know that Slackware’s KDE is the closest to bare metal KDE you can get.

Strangely, considering how old Slackware is and how it’s considered the Linux distro for Linux experts, there are a lot of distros based off of Slackware. Slax is a LiveCD based off of Slackware and it’s been getting a lot of attention recently. Some of it has been good and some not so good.

I loaded it into RAM and it runs just as fast, if not faster than my installed Linux distros. Interestingly, compared to other Lightweight Linux distros I’ve reviewed it uses KDE instead of Fluxbox, JWM, or others. Here’s the default desktop upon first boot:

Net Connection
worked without any extra configuration

Programs
Slax basically consists only of KDE programs. Of course, this is fine because KDE programs are going to be well known (unlike mtpaint) and a lot of them are at or near the top of their class. Kolourpaint is for creating raster graphics. Kate and Kjots are available for text editing/programming. The KOffice programs are available for Office-level projects.

Kopete is included for instant messaging. Konqeror is the browswer (which is why I don’t have screenshots – it doesn’t work well with WordPress). Kmail for mail, Akregator for RSS feeds, and other tools for the net. Very comprehensive suite.

For multimedia applications we have Juk for audio and Kplayer for video. Gaming consists of KBounce (a very addictive Quix-like game), Patience and KBattleship.

So, last time around, I said that Antix was the new king of Lightweight Linux distros. Does Slax unseat it? On the one hand, Slax has KDE as the base system so it’s automatically going to be more familiar to newer Linux users. On the other hand, the choice of KDE probably means it won’t run on computers that are as old as the ones Feather, Puppy, and Antix run on. Still, there’s room for a distro like Slax for recently obsoleted machines. And, if you want to run it on a 3 year old machine like mine – it flies. Now, some of the other lightweight Linux distros have more programs or DVD ripping software included. However, this brings us to one of the neat aspects of Slax – modules.

While many distros and LiveCD distros are incorporating similar features, Slax is still unique in that you can remix the LiveCD to include whatever programs you want. You just go to the Slax website and download the modules you want. Then you put them into a certain folder and burn a new CD. Bam! Now you have a LiveCD distro with exactly the programs you like….as long as they exist as modules. They have a lot of work to do to get more programs working as modules, but, as far as I can tell, this is a new feature with version 6 so they can be forgiven for missing some programs.

Overall, I’m very impressed with how fast it runs if you have the necessary RAM. The program selection is decent – could be a little better. I would have liked Firefox because Konqeror doesn’t work quite right for me on all sites. I’d say that Slax is tied with Antix. I really like a lot about how Antix works and it truly is lightweight since it runs Fluxbox. Slax, however, has all that KDE has to offer and modules. If I were to walk around with two CDs (I don’t even walk around with one), I’d be sure to have Antix and Slax around for use on any computer where I wanted to run Linux and then leave without a trace of it. One more thing in Slax’s favor – like DSL, you can download files to easily create a bootable thumb drive/memory stick to use if your BIOS supports booting from USB. Definitely check out Slax, you’ll rethink your image of Slackware as a hard to use distro.

Review: Antix 7.5

It’s time once again for a Linux distro review.  This month, Antix 7.5 was included on the LXF DVD.  It’s another light distro, so I will use the same metrics I used in the Lightweight Linux Throwdown.  Antix is based upon Mepis which is, in turn, based upon Debian.  I think at one point it was based on Ubuntu, but I think they’ve gone back to being based on Debian.  So, let’s get down to it.  Here’s a screenshot of my desktop upon boot.

As you can see, the default Window Manager for Antix is Fluxbox.  (Although IceWM is available from the menu)  There’s a neat system monitor running in the top left corner.  It looks pretty nice and the default terminal style uses fake transparency (it clones the desktop background).  The system colour scheme and fonts are easy to read and use.  It has a slight military feel to it – the workspaces are named Alpha, Bravo, Gamma and Delta.  The default browser in Antix is IceWeasel 3.0 – which is basically Firefox 3.0 with different artwork.  I guess Mepis uses this from Debian and Antix has left it unchanged.  I think, probably, anyone using Antix is enough of a Linux pro that they know that IceWeasel is the same as Firefox and won’t get flustered.  I’m not really into the IceWeasel theme, but that can easily be changed.

Net Connection

It just worked when I booted.  That’s how it should be.

Programs

mtPaint was included here, as in Damn Small Linux.  Nana and Leafpad are included for text editing.  For office Abiword is included for typing, as usual with these lightweight distros.  Gnumeric is the spreadsheet program, par for the course.

Pidgin is included for instant messaging.  This is a much more fully-featured program than is usually included in these distros. IRC is done via XChat – again, pretty nice for a lightweight system.  Dillo is included, as usual, but it’s pretty useless in my experience.  Links2, a commandline browser was available as well.  I recently learned ( I think in Linux Format Magazine) that Links2 is also capable of displaying images!  Usually elinks, lynx, and so on do not display any images – limiting your web experience.  Now you can get the uber-fast browsing experience of using a commandline browser and still experience images.  So if you’re using Anitx on a very low-powered PC, this could be very useful for you.

For audio and video we have xine, mplayer, and xmms.  (And a few others) And for games there’s Mahjong, Chess, and Dosbox.

So, over all, I think Antix is the best, most fully featured Lightweight Linux distro I’ve tested thus far.  It even beats out Puppy Linux 4.0.  So my current recommendation list would be Antix, Puppy Linux, and then Feather Linux.  If you have an older computer that you don’t want to send to the junk bin – install Antix!  You get the awesome Debian base under the also awesome (so I’ve heard) base of Mepis.  You get nice, functional software and there weren’t any boot problems.  I didn’t need any “cheat codes” to get it to boot.  It looks good and, with a package that would add icons to the desktop, I’d probably use this for the guest computer so visitors could browse the web without me worrying about them introducing viruses to my computers.  Oh, and it looks slick with the “transparent” xterms.  Let me end with a screenshot of the IceWM environment, which I would recommend if you wanted to use this for a guest computer where people will be expecting Windows and looking for a “start menu”.

Puppy Linux 4.0

Back in May I reviewed Puppy Linux along with a bunch of other lightweight Linux distros. This month Linux Format Magazine included Puppy Linux 4.0 on their disc and I thought I’d check it out. I’m mainly focusing on how things have changed and improved or gotten worse since Puppy 3.01. I burned the disc and put it into my test rig computer.

The first time it Kernel Panicked. So I told it to go completely in RAM like last time. Then it had some kind of “bread failed” kernel error and paused for 60 seconds. It tried to use UnionFS and kernel panicked again. I gave it one more shot with loading completely into RAM and ACPI off since that can sometimes wreak havok with Linux. It finally worked! Interestingly, when I rebooted, I had a hard time making that work again. Sounds like something the Puppy devs need to fix. However, I guess it could be something wrong with my burned CD.

Once I finally got it working, I was surprised at how well it worked with my wide screen monitor. They’ve gone for a much nicer looking background instead of just using the white page with the instructions. Instead, a link appears at the top of the page and tells you to click there to get started. That opens an X window with directions. Very nice, very useful. (By the way, boot time was about the same as before)

Puppy Linux 4.0 - Desktop
Puppy Linux 4.0 - Desktop

Puppy Linux is still using Joe’s Window Manager and it functions well. It does what it needs to do without being bloated. It looks like the changed up some of their internet programs. They got rid of transmission bit torrent for PcTorrent. PcTorrent is very simplified – looks like the wanted to make sure they didn’t have too much bloat. They have now moved from Gaim to Pidgin. They went from Xwget to Pwget. Does this stand for Puppy wget? I ask because they also have a program called Puppy-podcast-grabber. Looks like they have everything perfect for someone who is technical, but has an older computer they want to use. Some of the programs “look” a little scary for the newbie, I think. They don’t have nice, glitzy GUIs. But if the newbie didn’t care or if it was their only choice because someone donated an old clunker to them, I think Puppy Linux would serve them well.

Also, I know it correctly picked up my motherboard’s integrated soundcard because I heard a dog bark when I first logged in.

The rest of the software appears to be unchanged from my last review. Again, I like Puppy Linux and I think they continue to create a good lightweight distro with lots of programs. It seems to be very functional – unlike other lightweight distros it appears to have a program for each task you might need to do. My only quibble is with the weird boot-up problems I was having, but those are possibly caused by a bad burn or my DVD-ROM having some weird quirks. I think they have a nice new background so it doesn’t look quite as bootleg as it did before.

Lightweight Linux Throwdown

I’ve used Damn Small Linux (DSL) quite a bit in the past. Before getting my laptop I used to use it to be able to get a Linux desktop at my in-laws’ house. I decided I wanted to try out some of these other lightweight Linux distros that everyone is always talking about. Even on Linux Outlaws they mentioned how they like some different light distros over DSL.  Since I’ve used DSL so much, I decided to evaluate these other Linux distros based on how they compare to DSL.

So, here’s how DSL did on my test rig:

Boot Time

DSL took 1 minute 28 seconds from the time it asked me to hit enter until the time I had a usable desktop.

DSL - on first boot

Window Manager

Back when I used to use DSL the developer(s) had chosen Fluxbox as the lightweight window manager of choice. Well, in an attempt to make DSL a little easier to use, by having a start menu, DSL booted by default into Joe’s Window Manager. (JWN) It’s not bad and seems to run just as fast as Fluxbox ever did.

Net Connection

DSL failed to bring up an ethernet device on my test rig. This wasn’t a problem on my in-laws’ computer, so I’m not sure – I guess my ethernet uses a firmware in a newer version of the Linux kernel. Last time I checked DSL used the 2.4 series because it was a lot smaller.

Programs

Firefox 1, Dillo – I was unable to test any web pages these older browsers might be unable to render correctly. I imagine they have some security problems and would probably have some problems with some websites.

DSL - Firefox 1.0

mtPaint – it’s like Microsoft Paint. It’s the only raster image editing program – no GIMP on here.

DSL - mtPaint

Beaver, Nano, Vim – these are the text editors/programming editors. Beaver appears to be some really simple version of Emacs.

Ted Word Processing, MS Word Viewer – not even Abiword appeared to be included. Ted Word Processing looks like something from about 15 years ago.

DSL - Ted Word Processing

AIM, ICQ, IRC – commandline versions – nAIM, nICQ, and nIRC.

DSL - Chat Clients

Assorted Games

In the end, I think DSL can only be recommended for when you absolutely must be able to fit all your programs into 50 MB. It seems to be lacking in some key programs such as a good office suite, the GIMP, any nice email clients. The web browsers are all begining to get a bit ancient. I’ve used it before and I’d use it again in a bind, but I wouldn’t saddle anyone into using this on a daily basis.

Feather Linux was the next one I tried. It appeared to get stuck on the “Scannign for Harddisk partitions and creating /etc/fstab…” part. At least, I got bored after seven minutes. I removed my memory stick and tried again. Again no dice, so I tried turning off my external hard drive. This seemed to be the trick. Why couldn’t it read attached storage?

Boot Time

Boot time was about 2 minutes. One neat thing was that it asked me what resolution and color depth I wanted as well as whether I had a USB mouth. With the resolution question asked, Feather Linux looked a lot LESS crowded on the desktop than DSL did. I’m sure there was some cheat code I could pass to DSL, but I was doing this based purely on starting it up and hitting enter at the proper screen.

Feather Linux - Dillo

Window Manager

The Window Manager in Feather Linux 0.7.5 is Fluxbox.

Net Connection

The net connection worked on Feather Linux which is weird since both DSL and Feather Linux derive from Knoppix. Perhaps Feather uses a newer kernel?

Programs

Feather Linux - Dillo - messing up It\'s A Binary World 2.0

At first I thought there wouldn’t be much of a difference between DSL and Feather Linux. After all, they both use Firefox 1.0 and Dillo for their web browser. However, it seems that the Feather folks have packed in a LOT more programs. They do appear to be a bit behind the times in all their applications, however. They have Ethereal (useful for observing what’s going on in the network and kismet which is great for 802.11 hacking and cracking. They are still using gAIM instead of Pidgin.

Feather Linux - Firefox 1.0

For office work they have Abiword. It’s not quite as refined as Open Office.org , but a lot of people swear by Abiword. They have version 2.2.1 – I’m not sure how old that is.

Feather Linux - Abiword 2.2

Interestingly enough, there are no games on the disc.

All of the editors from emacs to vi are represented.

Feather Linux - desktop

Feather Linux is supposed to have a mode that can be triggered from inside LiveCD mode to move everything to run from RAM. This did not work on my computer. However, all of the programs launched quickly enough. Given that there are more programs in Feather Linux and that it detected my ethernet connection, it may be my replacement small distro. It certainly seems to have advantages over DSL. (Although the part where it didn’t boot up with my USB stick or external hard drive connected was weird)

Next up I tried Puppy Linux.  People have been talking about this one like there’s no tomorrow.  I tried version 3.01 and I know 4.x just came out recently, but for my distro reviews I’m sticking to whatever comes in the latest Linux Format Magazine to save on bandwidth and blank CDs.  Strangely, the CD wouldn’t boot when I just let it boot normally.  I was about to give up on Puppy, but, on a whim, I decided to go ahead and load it all in RAM.  It worked!  And it was ridiculously fast!!

Puppy Linux - default background

Boot Time

It took around three minutes, but it also asked a lot of questions such as what keyboard I was using.

Window Manager

Like the rest of the gang, Puppy Linux is using Joe’s Window Manager

Net Connection

At first it didn’t work.  Then I realized what a dork I was.  The background told me what to do!  So I followed those directions and the ethernet connection worked.

Programs

For the web browser, Puppy went in an interesting direction with SeaMonkey – Firefox’s long-lost cousin and the son of the Netscape suite. It was the only one in the lineup that had flash or whatever was needed to decode my last.fm plugin on my blog.  For chatting they also have the out-of-date Gaim client instead of Pidgin.  Interestingly enough, they do have the Transmission bit torrent client.  They also have a graphical version of wget called Xwget.

Puppy Linux -  SeaMonkey

Abiword 2.4.5 is included for text editing. Gnumeric is the spreadsheet tool.

Puppy Linux -  AbiWord

mtPaint is included once again for raster image drawing.  It also functions as the screenshot program.  Vector graphics (I didn’t see this handled by the other guys) is handled by Inkscape Lite.

For text editor/programming programs they had the Geany text editor, which looks like an ugly (1990s-style) version of Gedit.  However, it appears to be more comparable to Kwrite or Kate in the featureset.

Puppy Linux - Geany

In a sign that they have even more programs available than the competition, they have a CD ripper, DVD ripper, multiple CD/DVD burners, and the gXine media player.

In the games category they have a game called Bubbles, similar to Frozen bubble without the extra features.  They also have a Bejewled clone and a Rubik’s cube simluator.

Puppy Linux - Bubbles

Puppy Linux - games

Puppy Linux seems to be the friendliest of the three distros I’ve tried.  The icons on the desktop describe the task the programs do, so the user doesn’t need to know what Abiword or SeaMonkey are.  It also appears to have the largest default package selection by default.  I could definitely see Puppy Linux being used as a kiosk distro, left running on an old computer in a library to provide internet access.  I could also see this as a distro I’d leave running on a computer for guests to use so that I could always reboot and wipe any changes they make.

Overall, I’ve been quite surprised.  I assumed that these three distros would end up being pretty much exactly the same.  Yet each of these have been quite different and each has had more software than the last.  They tend to load a lot faster than other Live CDs such as the venerable Knoppix or more recent LiveCDs such as Ubuntu or Fedora.  This makes a lot of sense since these smaller distros are able to load completely into RAM.  Not only that, but they are also great for the environment as you can use them to power older computers that choke on Windows XP, Windows Vista, or even some of the more modern Linux distros.  For people like most of the older generation who only want to surf the net and send emails, there isn’t anything out there that can’t be done by these small distros.  I think the surprise winner is Puppy Linux 3.01.  Feather Linux is also a good choice and comes in second.  DSL comes in last because I think that 50 MB for a disto is becoming quite limiting, it couldn’t connect to the net for me, and I think that the “old” computer to be resurrected is a standard that is slowly moving.  So less and less do we need to be as tight with our RAM as with DSL and we can get away with (relatively) larger Puppy Linux and Feather Linux.