Enlighten your desktop with Elive
Unless you're an old Linux user, you've only probably used the KDE, GNOME or Xfce desktop environments. But since the time when these desktops were in their infancy, the Enlightenment desktop environment has been impressing users. Bringing this mature, visually appealing environment to new Linux users is what the Elive distribution is all about.
On its website, Elive claims to be more than a simple Linux distro, rather a work of art. I might be a little biased but that's probably true. One look at Elive's graceful and charming environment and you are sold. And unlike today's 3D visualization, Elive can run efficiently on older systems as well with a gamut of desktop applications. Its got detailed documentation Wiki and an active forum to answer questions.
Elive's been in development for several years now and in fact is so popular that its developer, Samuel "Thanatermesis" F. Baggen, works on it full time. In this month's article, Samuel explains his reasons for spinning Elive and how the distro has evolved over the years.
Mayank Sharma: Please tell us a little about yourself and your interest in computers in general and Linux in particular.
Samuel Baggen: When I was 12 years old I got my first computer -- an 8086 with MS-DOS command line. Shortly after I got that system, the monopoly of Microsoft swept in and introduced Windows. A simple front-end of MS-DOS in graphical mode, which took a lot of memory for computers (especially my little PC). I grew very tired of Windows and wanted to go back to the command line after some years, but it seemed I was going against the grain. The majority of the systems were using Windows and all the applications too were written for Windows. It seemed I had no other option except Windows. When I was 18 years old, a friend of mine started telling me about this thing called "Linux" -- an ingenious system without errors, reboots, problems or viruses. It was much faster, efficient, and finally free of charge... an unbelievable thing.
Then I started using Linux, reading the documentation and learning how to use its very powerful command-line system. I needed to spend some serious time learning the graphical system, but when I got the GUI running, it didn't appeal to me. I tried many window-managers, but I was never satisfied. There was one that piqued my curiosity...Enlightenment. I promised myself to take a better look at this curious window-manager between my time working at the command line.
Soon I found a system called Knoppix -- a Linux system that worked directly from the CD-ROM without installing. I really liked the system and the many others that came after, but I found they were all just a simple copy of the standard Knoppix, with the background and the name changed. I couldn't find any with Enlightenment. So I chose to make a very different modification of Knoppix that included Enlightenment. The resulting system was called Tezcatlipotix, but I couldn't put it to the public because it contained copy-written music, video clips, and other commercial applications too.
I decided to share my vision with the public, so I started working on Elive. My goal was to make a liveCD that was very different, easy to use, intuitive, and most importantly ran Enlightenment. I tailored it for my tastes and for practical functionality. For example, Elive won't use icons on the desktop, even if Enlightenment 17 adds a feature to include desktop icons.
MS: But what was it about Enlightenment that made you spin a distribution around it?
SB: I was very disappointed by the other window-managers. Most are slow, unattractive, non-functional, but most importantly I felt they were counter-intuitive and lacked practicality. I firmly believe that you don't have to emulate Microsoft Windows, to achieve a responsive and functional system. You all are more than welcome to test the easy, usable and lightning fast responsiveness of Elive.
MS: Break down Elive for us technically. Why choose Debian as base? Do you bundle non-free software like MP3 codecs, etc? Does Elive have a repository of its own?
SB: Yes, Elive has it own repository with more than 400 Elive specific packages. Some are just rebuilt with minor changes like tweaking their default configuration files, or including skins, etc. Everyone knows why you'd choose Debian as a base system, this is no secret. It's package management is pristine, it's the most stable, secure and trustworthy system available. If a thing such as an MP3 codec is not free, but free to redistribute, Elive includes it. MP3's are heavily used by everyone, whether in your MP3 player, or for internet streaming. Elive is a usable product that is practical in this day and age. We want everyone to have readily access to their MP3's as soon as the system boots.
MS: Are you a one-man development house as well? Do you get any contributions from users? Talking of which, how's Elive's user community?
SB: Yes, I'm the only developer of Elive. It's a tremendous amount of work and very time consuming. Yet I realize that If I'm to have total control over my vision of Elive, then this must be the case, so that no one can say, "Don't do this or that!"
I have full discretionary power, but Elive is made for the public, so user suggestions are pertinent to Elive's development. On the other hand, I receive much help from a small community of people in many ways. Translations, system tests, benchmarks (very important, without tests and bug reporting, the systems won't work correctly), and also some coding for miscellaneous things. The community helps design art, applications, and PHP code for the Elive website. Support also comes from Elive users who make a donation for the Elive stable downloads and the new Bonus Discs. This is very important. Without this collaboration, Elive wouldn't exist because developing Elive is my full-time profession.
MS: What are these Bonus discs?
SB: This is a new feature of Elive. Put simply it consists of a CD that you insert in your Elive system and it's directly launched. The Bonus Disc then installs the package. For example, the first (and currently the only one available) is the Bonus Disc for OpenOffice. You just burn the iso and put it in your Elive system. The Bonus Disc installs OpenOffice automatically, prompting only for language preferences.
With this bonus disk you have a very easy and fast way to properly install OpenOffice with the menus having the GTK look. I have more bonus-disks planned for the future, especially for games. I'm hard pressed to find time to make them, but they will come sooner or later.
MS: On the website you say Elive's more of a distro than a Live CD. Could you explain this a little?
SB: Yes, I continue to stress this fact because of the misconception that Elive is just a Live CD. The name alone causes some to think otherwise. Some people think, Elive is "Enlightenment Live". The install button is a little hard to find for some users for the first time :)
Elive started as a Live CD, but actually it's more a complete system than a live CD. This is why I have moved from Knoppix to Morphix, and after that to DSS (Debased Scripts Set). Elive has a very good installer with nice internal features, and it's own repository with more than 400 packages. Elive in the liveCD mode is just the pure Elive system with virtual changes to make it all work in live mode. Which means installing Elive to the hard disk, installs a clean system without any trace of the live CD elements.
Elive is a system for day to day usage. Its goal is to be a system that's ready to use, and quick and easy to work with. There are many users who have used Elive day-to-day as their main system for years.
MS: You can't read a review of Elive without the reviewer mentioning the Elive Panel. Is that something you wrote? What areas of Elive does the panel control? Have you written more such custom tools for Elive?
SB: Yes, I wrote Elpanel as a central control center for managing the entire Elive system. Elpanel has menus icons to control the look and feel of the system, do some user configurations and general administration. The icons launch a separate, but integrated Elpanel menu, with animations that tempt the eye. I have written many tools for Elive, some are visible applications, but most are shell scripts for auto-configurations, etc.
MS: How has Elive evolved over the years? Do you still recommend using ReiserFS?
SB: I have tried to make the system easier to use overall. The hardware recognition has gotten a lot better. Some users say that it's better than some of the bigger distributions :)
I have also added most of the things that users have requested between releases. Since so many users have laptops, it's mostly Wifi drivers and such, adding which is truly a daunting task.
As for the filesystem, yes, I personally continue recommending Reiserfs (version 3). In my experience it's the best, but I don't want to get into that discussion here because many people like to debate about things (flame wars). It's just my personal preference.
MS: You've just released Elive 1.0. What are the highlights of this release?
SB: It's very stable system that's ready for day to day usage. Elive 1.0 has been rigorously tested, has great drivers, nice auto configurations, and enhancements for the end-user. The Elpanel application is always getting better and better. There are many more things that are listed on the Elive website.
MS: What are you working on for the next Elive release?
SB: On top of my list are, new kernel, more drivers (especially more Wifi implementations), and the very much sought after Enlightenment 17 in Elive Gem 1.0.
Mayank Sharma is a freelance writer from New Delhi, India. He is blown away by the power of Free and Open Source Software and its usefulness to developing nations.
Check out his blog at http://www.geekybodhi.net/
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