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Review: Frugalware Linux

By Preston St. Pierre on May 10, 2006 (8:00:00 AM)

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The recent release of Frugalware version 0.4 has the makings of a fine Linux distribution. It aims to be as simple as possible while still providing the user with a comfortable, enjoyable experience -- and it is well on its way to achieving that goal.

The Nvidia nForce4 chipset on my motherboard is new and doesn't offer good Linux support, which forced me to test Frugalware by installing it on a VMware virtual machine. But I don't fault Frugalware -- Debian and Slackware also failed to install on my bare machine.

Frugalware offers several installation options. The first is a network install based off a small, bootable ISO (x64 edition). All the program files you select are installed via Judd Vinet's pacman package manager and the Internet. The second installation option is to download one or both of the CD ISOs (not available for x64). You only need the first, but the second provides extra software. The third option is the DVD ISO (x64 edition), which is the route I took. It's a hefty download, but it comes jam-packed with software. If you want to help out a bit with server load, check out some of the torrents available.

The installer itself is an ncurses-based program that guides you step by step through the installation. I was able to select the Dvorak keyboard layout and use it during the installation, but once I got to the X Window System, it was a different story, as I'll explain later.

The installer gives you the option of using either cfdisk or fdisk to partition your drive. Curiously, though, the two options when selecting a drive are OK and Continue. OK partitions the disk, and Continue means you've already partitioned the disks. It's a little confusing in a step-by-step installer where each time you hit OK, you're used to it moving on to the next step, and suddenly Continue shows up where Cancel used to be. When you're done, you hit Continue, which asks you which swap partition you want to use. Keep in mind, it doesn't tell you that you'll need a swap partition. If you either didn't know you needed one or you have enough memory that you don't need one, then you're out of luck. Pressing Cancel exits the installer and shuts down the system. This is nothing major to those who want to get down and dirty with the operating system, but it's not user-friendly. Where oh where did the Back button go?

These few twists aside, the installation is easy and fast. Installing more than 3.5GB worth of packages took a little while, but that's only to be expected. The installation doesn't require any user intervention.

A few issues

My use of the Dvorak keyboard layout has led to problems for me in the past, but in recent years, support for this alternate keyboard has been good, and I haven't had any reason to complain. When I tried to switch my keyboard layout in Frugalware release candidates, however, I found no alternate layouts available in the GNOME Keyboard Layouts panel. I eventually brought everything down to runlevel 3, unpacked the Dvorak layout (which was there but not decompressed), and altered the configuration file manually. I emailed Frugalware, which replied quickly, saying that the current branch included a fix which would be in the final release. Unfortunately, it isn't -- in the final release, the layout is unpacked and can be used from the console, but it's not selectable among the other keyboard layouts that have been added since the release candidates. However, I located a mailing list post showing a fix for Dvorak support, so it looks like it's working, but it didn't quite make the cut for the 0.4 final release.

Other than the keyboard layout issue, I haven't yet found any overt bugs in the Frugalware 0.4 final release. Mozilla Firefox crashed on me once, but I can't be sure whether it was a Frugalware issue or a Firefox issue. Getting used to Frugalware's version of pacman took a bit of reading, but once I got used to its idiosyncrasies, it was quite pleasant to use. It handled dependencies fairly well, although I did run into a few minor problems with version numbers. Frugalware's repository, while no match for Debian's, is of good size for a distribution with a relatively small following. Rarely did I try to install a package I wanted and find it not there. Even then, it was a simple task to use pacman to install the development tools I needed to install packages from source.

You can select only the packages you want during the installation, but you get a great deal of software if you select them all. Most things are quite up to date. Frugalware uses the Linux kernel version 2.6.16 and includes GNOME 2.14 and KDE 3.5.1. As you can see in the screenshot, the default desktop is a modified KDE. I prefer GNOME, which, along with Blackbox, Enlightenment, FVWM, IceWM, MWM, Metacity, Openbox, ratpoison, twm, Window Maker, and Xfce 4, is available via the Session Type drop-down menu at login time. This kind of selection means almost anyone can find a suitable desktop environment. I didn't go through them all, but as far as I can see, only KDE has a nice Frugalware theme -- although the loading splash screen for GNOME is a Frugalware design. I don't fault Frugalware for that, however -- it would be a waste of time to skin all those window managers, and quite a few of them don't skin well anyway.

Frugalware includes the general "base" software packages you might expect to see on most distributions: the Firefox Web browser, the OpenOffice.org suite, the Totem movie player, X Multimedia System (XMMS) for music, the GIMP for graphics, Evolution for email, K3b for burning CDs and DVDs, and much more. If you need a certain program, check the distro's package search function.

Though I had problems with the Dvorak support, most of you won't notice that when you when you download the final release. Frugalware is a good distribution for anyone who wants to learn more about GNU/Linux.

Preston St. Pierre is a computer information systems student at the University College of the Fraser Valley.

Preston St. Pierre is a computer information systems student at the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, Canada.

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Frugalware is a gem!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 11, 2006 07:01 AM
Just like slackware, frugalware fast with added advantage of pacman and very supportive frugal community. new wishlist packages are added instantly.

Frugalware current is a lot better than 0.4.

KDE 3.5.2
rlocate
kerry
wine
kqemu

everything just works! now i cam be more productive<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:)

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Frugalware and nForce4

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 12, 2006 09:32 PM
After reading this I installed Frugalware 0.4 last night on my home-brew nForce4-based system. I didn't run into any problems with the install or the system when it was done. I have a DFI Lan Party nF4 Ultra board, a dual-core Opteron and an nVidia 6600 video card. All went well.

One thing that was very nice was how painless the Frugalware network install was compared to, say, Suse. I just did a Suse 10.1 beta install over last weekend, and the hoops they make you jump through are annoying. I know they want to sell CD sets, but I question how many they sell by making the network install painful and slow.

I did have a modules issue after the Frugalware upgrade to -current, but it finally cleared itself up after re-running Pacman (at least I think that's what did it).

One thing this does for people is give us a 64-bit Slackware-based distro set up on the 2.6 series kernels from the beginning. There's SLAMD64, but development on that is questionable, judging by their home page. It was also buggier, the last time I tried it.

I've only gotten a few hours on this Frugalware install, obviously, but I installed, did a distribution upgrade and set up my system. Everything seems very nice.

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Re:Frugalware and nForce4

Posted by: Administrator on May 13, 2006 03:23 AM
Two questions: 1) What motherboard? 2) Were you using onboard network (ie, was Frugalware forced to use nForce drivers to access the network to get the nForce drivers)?

Frugalware would not install on my pc. I can only attribute it to the motherboard and the nForce drivers because nothing else that I'm using has caused problems before. Not to mention that there are a lot of reports online about serious issues with my motherboard and Linux.

Oh and it also goes out with one big F-U to both nVidia and ATI. Both of your drivers are crap. When buying a new system I have to try to choose the lesser of the two evils. I didn't even want an nForce motherboard but they swapped out my Gigabyte board without even telling me.

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Re:Frugalware and nForce4

Posted by: Administrator on May 13, 2006 04:12 AM
When I read your reply the first time I only skimmed it, missed that you told me the motherboard. Nevermind that question.

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just tells on those distros hardware support

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 13, 2006 09:13 PM
for me, K8T8x0 worked more than a year ago with 2+-old ALT Linux; NF4 reportedly needed only a NIC driver with ALT 3.0 betas some year ago and is supported with forcedeth since.

I'm glad that Hungarian folks have got it right but judging on Slackware itself... maybe it's not platinum iridium for that matter either.

--
Michael Shigorin

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Re:just tells on those distros hardware support

Posted by: Administrator on May 14, 2006 02:55 AM
It very well could be a combination of the new nForce drivers and my specific motherboard (Asus A8N-VM S939). I have no other nForce4 systems to test it on, and I've talked to other people who've had problems with the nForce4 chipset and Linux, so I assumed that it was fairly universal.

This is not to say that Linux absolutely failed to install. After a lot of effort I finally got Debian installed with all the proper nVidia crap, but whenever I would start X after a few moments it would freeze. This happened whether I used the "nvidia" graphics driver or just "nv" so I assumed it wasn't my graphics card (GT6600).

I should also note that my processor is an Athlon64 and I'm using the 64 bit versions of anything I can. This could also be a factor.

In any case, I didn't know enough about it to fault Frugalware for not installing. So I chose instead to use VMware. I thought that would be the more fair option.

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