28 Sept 2011

Meeting the KDesktop from Alt Linux

What do you know about Russia?
Vodka? Bears on the streets? Siberia?
Any more stereotypes?
Let me give you another one: Linux.
Yes, Linux!
There are people in Russia, there are computers in Russia, and of course there is Linux!
I have written about at least 3 Russian Linux distributions already: Simply Linux, Alt Linux and Agilia Linux all were born in Russia. To be honest, Simply Linux was born as part-time project of Alt Linux team member and since then moved fully onto Alt Linux team.
But Simply is not our today's topic. I have already written about it recently.
Instead, let's again look at Alt Linux. Why? They have released new version of their system recently, and it is very interesting to know what it has to offer.
ISO Image of Alt Linux 6.0 KDesktop (that is official name of the version) weights more than 4Gb and available for both 32- and 64-bit platforms.
Because of the size of the image, I went for DVD-RW route to start it.
So, disk is ready and is in the drive of my Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Pi 1505 laptop. Reboot. Choose to boot from optical drive. Let's go!

First screen of Alt Linux 6.0 shows you list of possible next steps: install, check memory, boot LiveCD and so on. If you are not familiar with Russian, you could be lost at this stage, because first screen is fully in Russian. I'm here to help you!. You need to press F2 to choose other languages. English (US) is one of the options, and I went for it.
Once you selected English, whole screen and menu is translated. Please don't rush to choose option "Boot from removable disk" from the list. This is not what you actually need. Scroll down to LiveCD option and select it instead. And, by the way, "Boot from removable disk" does not work at all. Why this option is in the list at all? I have no idea...
Once LiveCD boot option is selected, the process begins. Boot time of Alt Linux 6.0 KDesktop is average, I would even say less than average. So, few minutes passed away and I was presented with KDE desktop. As you might guess from KDesktop part of the name, Alt Linux only supplied with KDE. Just to finish with technical details, Alt Linux 6.0 KDesktop uses KDE 4.6.5, Linux kernel 3.0.3.
Because it is KDE, it is terribly easy to check how much memory system uses. I added memory status widget and got fantastic result: freshly booted AltLinux 6.0 KDesktop uses just 158Mb of memory! Click the image to your right to prove the fact!
Of course, the value starts growing when you start applications, but I've never seen so low memory usage in any KDE4 systems so far! Even Mageia 1 starts with ~177Mb on my machine.
Alt Linux 6.0 starts with usual KDE desktop layout. Few icons on the desktop itself: Home directory, link to documentation (unfortunately mostly in Russian) and Trash. Panel at the bottom of the screen has KMenu (classic style enhanced with search function), couple of items on the quick launch panel: Places and Show Desktop and switcher between virtual desktops. Right part of the panel hosts usual set of indicators: network, USB devices, volume control, clocks and couple of buttons to lock the screen and shutdown the system. If you like more enhanced version of KMenu, I am afraid you won't find it in default version of Alt Linux 6.0 and will need to add it separately.
There are 2 virtual desktops in Alt Linux 6.0 by default.
Default wallpaper is some kind of abstract image, as you can see from screenshot. The choice of wallpapers is actually very limited: only one other image is included. But there are non-image types of desktop wallpapers available, for example Mandelbrot, Pattern, Weather or Globe. Unfortunately, not all of them actually work: last 2 did not work for me in Live run, and Globe actually crashed.
There are no default Plasmoids on the desktop.

The laptop which I use has WiFi network card Intel 3945ABG. This is very well-supported in Linux piece of hardware, and of course is was automatically recognised, configured and activated by Alt Linux 6.0. What surprised me, I got pop-up balloon saying that wireless networks are available. Alt Linux 6.0 KDesktop kindly gave me a clue about this. I don't remember any other operating system to give this kind of messages to user. Apart from Windows and my HTC Desire running Android. Of course, connection to the network was not an issue at all. Few moments to select my home network, enter the security key and establish connection, and I am connected.
When I wrote about Simply Linux, I mentioned that Russian developers always care at least for their local users and therefore include ability to switch keyboard layouts between English and Russian. But Alt Linux does not follow that logic. Unfortunately, layout switcher is not active by default. Of course, configuring layouts was an easy task. You can do it in the very same place as in any other KDE4-based distribution: KDE Settings - Input Devices. But why is it disabled by default anyway? Another unpleasant thing which I noticed there was absence of language names in the list. Instead, it is full of technical codes for languages like eng, rus, ara or kir.
If I started to talk about input devices, I have to mention another feature I noticed in Alt Linux 6.0. Mouse is very slow by default. It requires several full runs from one side of touchpad to another to move cursor from left to right part of the screen. I tried to fix the situation by increasing "Pointer Acceleration" factor in Input Devices part of KDE Configuration. But it did not give me the result I wanted.

Mounting of local partitions in Dolphin went OK. I had no issues with Russian characters in the file names on NTFS-formatted partition.
But then I faced very unusual fact. There is no default program for MP3 playback!  Of course there are couple of items in the menu (JuK and DragonPlayer), but neither of them is associated by default to MP3 file extension. It is easily fixable, of course. Once association was set up, Dragon Player was able to play music. It means that support of MP3 files is included in Alt Linux 6.0 by default.
My external network drive was mounted by Network Folder wizard in Dolphin. Again, no issues during mounting and full support of Russian characters. As in many other distributions, attempt to play MP3 files from network drive (mounted as smb://) in JuK leads to files being copied to local storage before playing. That is not new, but still annoying. I have not tried to connect to same network partition via classical mount command or fstab file. I believe they should improve the situation.
How good Alt Linux 6.0 KDesktop is with flash? Really - very good. I was able to play videos from YouTube straight out of the box.
What about other video formats? Same - I started few videos from local drive and had no issues with them. All played fine without request for additional codecs.

As I have mentioned already, Alt Linux 6.0 KDesktop uses KDE. It means you should expect lots of KDE-specific applications to be included. And your expectations are right. For example, default browser in Alt Linux 6.0 KDesktop is Konqueror. Of course, you have another option - Firefox 5.0 is also included. There are lots of other network tools, mostly KDE-native: KPPP, KGet, bluedevil, Kopete etc.
I have also already mentioned when talking about multimedia support, there are 2 multimedia players in Alt Linux 6.0: Dragon Player and JuK. There is also separate CD player, image capturing program and KMix. All of them sit under Multimedia section of the menu. Strange enough, I have not found disk burning tool in default configuration.
Alt Linux 6.0 contains special part of menu for Education. Even though there is only one application: Marble Globe.
Bigger choice you have in Games section: there are about 30 games included into Alt Linux 6.0.
Graphics section includes image viewer Gwenview, document viewer Okular, screenshot tool, Kolour Paint. There is no Inkscape, LibreOffice Draw or GIMP in default list.
Productivity tools in Office part of menu include full set of LibreOffice, including applications like Base, Math and Draw. The last one is not mentioned in Graphics section, but exists in Office section of KMenu.
There is special Settings part of menu. It contains several items: KDE Configuration, Adobe Flash Player, Qt4, driconf (Direct Rendering) and System Management Center. I am not quite sure why last 3 are needed. From the first glance, they duplicate items in KDE configuration. I suppose System Management Centre (Alterator) is analogue for Mandriva/Mageia's Control Centre. Some documentation pages refer to this program as place to install new applications. But I have not found this option in Alterator during my Live run.
There are quite a few System tools included in Alt Linux 6.0 distribution. There is nothing very specific. You can expect most of them in any other distribution: GParted, Midnight Commander, System Monitor, Konsole, UXterm, etc
As soon as I saw GParted here, I returned to my thoughts about re-sizing partitions of my hard drive. I should admit, Alt Linux 6.0 completed this task without any problem. As a result, I had my partitions resized. Of course, it took some time.
If you are planning to do your own re-partitioning, I would recommend to leave this task for overnight job. Quick test in the morning - and all my Linux systems booted OK. I had an issue with Windows XP though, but it was due to incorrect partition type set up by Debian during the installation. Solution was found here.
Tools part of Alt Linux menu contains useful applications like KWrite, Ark, LibreOffice Printer Administration, encryption tool and many others.
Unfortunately, I did not find any graphical tool for installation of additional software. On-line resources point at Alterator as place to find it, but I have already mentioned this: there was nothing about package management in my version of Alterator. Is it because of Live system? Of course, there is command line tool apt-get, but even simple apt-get update did not work in Live session. Probably because it could not lock read-only files on DVD.
As I mentioned above, Alt Linux 6.0 has ISO image which takes almost whole DVD in size. It contains quite a few applications for different tastes and purposes. But I would expect to see more. For example, GIMP is very popular application and could be shipped by default. Same is valid for available desktop wallpapers. It would not change distribution size too much to add half a dozen of wallpapers. And having them with Alt Linux logo would increase loyalty of users and brand recognition, wouldn't it?

Finally, let's talk a little about laptop-specific hardware, which is not so important for desktop users, but very important for people like me. I don't remember the time when I was working at desktop last time at all. Most laptop manufacturers find their own solutions for tasks like volume and brightness control, muting speakers, switching off wireless connection and so on. In particular, my Fujitsu-Siemens laptop has semi-hardware keyboard button combinations to control volume (Fn-F5 and Fn-F6) and brightness (Fn-F7 and Fn-F8).
How did Alt Linux 6.0 KDesktop recognise my hardware? Brightness control on Fn-F7 and Fn-F8 worked absolutely perfect. And only volume control on Fn-F5 and Fn-F6 gave me glitches. Same as in any other Linux distribution I have tried so far on this laptop. After few seconds volume was taken to the lowest possible level and there was no choice to increase it. Even mouse-controlled volume widget kept taking volume level down. But... that was not end of story. Nice part of it was that the glitch did not block keyboard and system menu, like in other Linux systems. And finally situation improved itself after I closed and restarted Dragon Player. Alt Linux 6.0 KDesktop behaved itself better than any other system I've tried so far on this laptop! It is a good sign for me that nothing is lost for my laptop in Linux. So, I'll hope to see a Linux system which works with my semi-hardware buttons for volume control right out of the box. To add to my praises of Alt Linux 6.0 KDesktop hardware support, touchpad worked absolutely fine, including scrolling on the edges.

Is Alt Linux 6.0 KDesktop any good?
Yes, it is. Operating system Alt Linux 6.0 KDesktop left quite good impression on me. Yes, there are few issues here and there, but they are not major. I have seen no show-stopper. You can easily solve all issues or live with them. Most important that you get quality and stable system when you install it on your hard disk. Sure you might have additional issues with support, if you are not Russian native speaker. But since Alt Linux works with partners abroad, this can also be resolved.

Useful links:
http://www.altlinux.com/ - official page in English (almost abandoned)
http://www.altlinux.ru/ - official page in Russian
http://forum.altlinux.org/ - official forum
http://ftp.altlinux.org/pub/distributions/ALTLinux/p6/iso/kdesktop/ - download page


  1. Please, give us all a favor and take a look into dictionary, keyword "stereotype".

  2. @Anonymous :
    A stereotype is a popular belief about specific social groups or types of individuals.
    Exactly what was meant here.

  3. I'm all against stereotypes and I know for sure that Russian computing professionals are very good at their stuff) Anyway, thanks for this review. I'm not too a great fan of Linux though. But I still think this system will be at the leading position for everybody in th nearest future.