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Feature: SAM

SAM Linux Desktop shows promise

By Preston St. Pierre on February 12, 2008 (9:00:00 AM)

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SAM Linux Desktop, an Xfce-fronted distribution based on PCLinuxOS, aims to be a complete and modern desktop operating system. Though it has problems that need to be worked out before it will match the competition, it offers an easy install, a 3-D desktop environment, and a flurry of programs to suit your needs.

The SAM install image is actually a live CD with the option to install. I was able to choose my Dvorak layout on boot by pressing F3, and SAM correctly set the layout for the system keyboard as well as the setting under X. Most distributions set one or the other, but rarely both. When SAM booted I ran the installer linked from the desktop. It was an easy, straightforward install with a few simple questions followed by about seven minutes of copying files on my Sempron 2800 with 512MB of memory. One of the things that impressed me about the installer, as small a thing as it may be, was the fact that the keyboard layout selection screen had Dvorak selected for me, reflecting my decision at boot. This is a logical consequence, but few installers take it into consideration.

When I booted to my installed system and loaded the skinned Xfce desktop, I decided to run the Install Video Driver shortcut located on the desktop. While it required manual selection of my video card (an Nvidia GeForce 7300GS), the program automatically installed the driver for me and told me to restart X. I decided to try the Activate 3D shortcut next, enabling Compiz-Fusion with full effects. However, when I restarted X and logged in, I got an error that said "'SAM Linux Menu' could not be loaded," and the bottom left SAM menu did not work. There were also no 3-D effects. I tried running it again with xgl instead of native (though my card supports it). This time there was no error when I logged in, but the clock program on the desktop was not displayed, with a gray box covering the area it usually occupied. There were some 3-D effects, such as switching desktops, but it was unusably slow.

I disabled the 3-D effects and attempted to do a little troubleshooting. Turns out, the Install Video Driver program, while claiming to have successfully installed the driver, actually did nothing of the sort. xorg.conf was set to load the "vesa" driver, and when I set it to "nvidia," thinking the script had simply not changed my configuration, X would no longer start. I went to Nvidia's Web site, downloaded the driver for my card, and successfully installed it manually. Activating the 3-D effects was also successful at this point, though the clock was still a solid gray box.

Compiz-Fusion really is amazing. It adds some incredible visual effects without impairing usability or noticeably lagging the system. It was disappointing, however, that I had to install the driver manually after the distro's script claimed to have installed it.

After manually installing the drivers for my card, not only did Compiz-Fusion work, but the green tinge and horrible lag I had seen when playing videos with gXine were gone. All sorts of codecs seemed to be installed, but without the video drivers the rendering was not handled well. The default audio player is Exaile, but it couldn't handle my modest 10,000 MP3 collection without noticeable lag, especially when searching and loading the program. Luckily the Audacious audio player, a fork of Beep Media Player, which is itself a fork of XMMS, was also included.

Since I have never had problems with XMMS, I assumed Audacious would work similarly well. To my dismay, however, the scroll bar in Audacious would not work properly. I could not drag the bar up and down, making scrolling the only way to traverse the songs. As you might imagine, scrolling through that many songs is not fun. The searching at least went as quickly as I'd hoped, but the whole experience left me missing the old working XMMS.

When it comes to office programs, SAM chose to include Abiword, Gnumeric, NoteCase, Orage, and PDFedit instead of the usual OpenOffice.org. I like Abiword, and I don't begrudge SAM for including it instead to save space, but the lack of PowerPoint support in the default SAM install led to me downloading OOo anyway. Perhaps most home desktop users won't need to open PowerPoint presentations though, and the installed office suite covers general word processing, scheduling, and financial management areas well.

SAM includes GTKam and Xsane for your digital camera and scanning needs, as well as Inkscape and the GIMP for when you're feeling artistic in a vector-y or bitmappy sort of way. A variety of time-wasting games are included for your playing pleasure. Streamtuner lets you browse Internet radio streams. Grip rips your music to disk, and GnomeBaker can back it up in case your disk crashes. XChat, Pidgin, and Skype are available for those who like to chat, Liferea for those who want to keep up to date via RSS feeds, and Claws Mail for staying in touch. Putty and TightVNC are included for remote connections. Firefox is the default browser, but Dillo is installed too. Wine is also included and already configured.

I ran into a few snags while using SAM, and there may be other problems I didn't encounter. Yet even with these problems, SAM proved to be relatively easy to configure and use as a desktop system. The large variety of available programs will suit most home user needs, yet the install is kept to one CD.

SAM still has a way to go before all of the bugs get worked out, but it's worth downloading now to take a look at.

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

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on SAM Linux Desktop shows promise

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SAM Linux Desktop shows promise

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 202.153.241.13] on February 12, 2008 10:29 AM
good

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SAM Linux Desktop shows promise

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 192.168.23.237] on February 12, 2008 11:34 AM
The 3-D desktop made my work more easely and enjoyable. Thats the creative mind i am talking about
from Keke in South Africa


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3-D desktop... use?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 169.233.25.159] on February 12, 2008 01:39 PM
I do a lot of university student level work -- coding, problem sets, etc. I have never once thought, "A 3D desktop would simplify my life." Who finds this stuff useful? Graphic designers perhaps?

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Re: 3-D desktop... use?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.5.9.42] on February 12, 2008 09:23 PM
I agree. 3-D desktop is useless and slow in comparison to Fluxbox or WMII.

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SAM Linux Desktop shows promise

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 172.16.0.34] on February 12, 2008 01:53 PM
hello from Ukrain
Линукс рулит!!!
Linux forever!!!

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SAM Linux Desktop shows promise

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 217.93.167.46] on February 12, 2008 04:45 PM
Thanx for the review!

You wrote: ´´However, when I restarted X and logged in, I got an error that said 'SAM Linux Menu' could not be loaded,´´ and the bottom left SAM menu did not work´´
Look into the release notes on the SAM website: ´´Note: if you have problems with non-starting SAM menu and deskbar-applet (after killing X or installing the 3rd party video drivers), run ´restart XFce4-panel´ from the ´system´ menu´´

However, thanx for the critical but mostly positive feedback, there is still some work to do... ;)

SAM-Nico

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SAM Linux Desktop shows promise

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.178.122.247] on February 12, 2008 05:38 PM
I've been running Sam 2008 Claw for nearly 2 months with almost no issues. The only issue I have is distro independent. Getting a Nvidia driver working with my card(8800gts). I think I may have succeeded with the latest Nvidia driver but still can't create a working xorg file. Not a big deal as the vesa driver works great and gives me plenty of eye candy with the XFCE built in compositing. Sam has been very stable for me. It's lightweight, fast, beautiful, highly configurable, and user friendly. It's not perfect, but it is the most nearly perfect distro for me and my hardware. I've tried around 60 distros over the past 6 months and Sam is still #1. I continue to test new releases in search of something even more appealing just in case another distro does happen to unseat Sam as my "ultimate" distro. Great review, by the way. I really don't care about Compiz so that's not a factor for me. I haven't had any problems with Exaile or Audacious but I listen to most of my music in my car. Sam does need a little more polish, but it's still the best for me so far.

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Re: SAM Linux Desktop shows promise

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 140.116.192.28] on February 13, 2008 06:17 AM
hi :) can you tell me your system confs ?? how much gb ram do you have ? mfg

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SAM Linux Desktop shows promise

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 172.202.44.40] on February 12, 2008 11:22 PM
this is the year of the big ass analogue clock on the desktop.

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SAM Linux Desktop shows promise

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.20.43.225] on February 13, 2008 12:03 AM
Is it difficult/a pain to make desktop configuration changes in Xfce to remove the dock and clock extras (example) that are at the top of the screen in the screenshot ? Also, these so-called lighter weight distros never give minimum system hardware requirements. What are they for Sam (guesstimate)? Been looking for a distro that has a better, more complete desktop than the overly minimal DSL or Puppy Linux's that will run on much older hardware.

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Re: SAM Linux Desktop shows promise

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 67.162.197.145] on February 13, 2008 10:37 AM
>Is it difficult/a pain to make desktop configuration changes in Xfce to remove the dock and clock extras (example) that are at the top of the screen in the screenshot ?
Not at all. There's a submenu in Settings where you can alter the wbar and the applets easily. You can also just remove them from the autostarted programs in about three clicks from the Xfce menu.

>Also, these so-called lighter weight distros never give minimum system hardware requirements. What are they for Sam (guesstimate)?
The lighter-weight ones usually don't have very specific requirements; usually you can judge them by the window manager they use. Xfce, which SAM uses, requires something in the 128 MB RAM category, and pretty much any processor above a 486 will do (if I recall right).

>Been looking for a distro that has a better, more complete desktop than the overly minimal DSL or Puppy Linux's that will run on much older hardware.
It's a really brilliant distro. I use it as my main distro on a fairly modern laptop just to keep it snappy, but it's definitely geared somewhat toward older hardware, and beats every other Xfce-based distro I've tried hands-down.

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SAM Linux Desktop shows promise

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 134.94.242.3] on February 13, 2008 11:37 AM
Take a look to the SAM-homepage Nico has mentioned as well. There you will find a thread which deals with old machines working with SAM. I am using a 350 MHz AMD K6 with 320 MB of RAM. This is the oldest comp til now using SAM if I remember well. This you can use for internet and email. I didn't put OOO on this machine because this is to heavy. btw this runs with 2007 of SAM. 2008 is not yet able to deal with old machines. This will be in probably in the final relase. The actual one is rc1. Greetz Yogibaer

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XMMS

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.193.101.212] on February 14, 2008 02:28 PM
Well, you can try out ALT Linux -- I'm still maintaining (and using right now) xmms package in the best shape I can ;-) There's also an aim to create lightweight Live and/or Install CD with IceWM/WindowMaker sometime this year. And, well, XMMS too. :)

--
Michael Shigorin

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Re: The only issue I have is distro independent

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.193.101.212] on February 14, 2008 02:31 PM
Why, it is -- "Getting a Nvidia driver working with my card(8800gts)" is no-brainer with ALT Linux Desktop 4.0.2+ :) just works. -- Michael Shigorin

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