24 Nov 2011

Italian Job: UbuBox SalentOS

It is not often that I got requests from authors of operating systems to review their projects.
I am very pleased every time when I get the request. Whether authors are pleased with my reviews - that is a question of their own interests. You may have noticed - all my reviews are very subjective and are targeted to my own interests, which I believe resemble interests of average mid-advanced user.
Couple of weeks ago I got an e-mail from author of UbuBox SalentOS project to review it. I am happy to present you the results.
This project does not have its own domain and hosting yet, but uses good platform for all open source projects - Sourceforge.net. You can find this project at http://www.ububoxsalentos.sourceforge.net.
Main site is in Italian, but you can easily use Google Translate tool to read it in your favourite language. Distribution itself is currently maintained in 2 languages: English and Italian, and both versions are available in 32 and 64 bit.
I downloaded ISO image of 32-bit English version, which weights about 930 Mb.
For test purposes, I burnt image onto USB stick with Unetbootin. Because this is Ubuntu-based distribution, I requested persistence to be added by Unetbootin. Let's see if it works.
So, Live USB stick is ready. It is plugged into the port of my laptop. Reboot. Choose to boot from USB. Let's go!

While system boots up, let me explain the name of the distribution. UbuBox hints us that roots of it are deep in the Ubuntu. Current version of UbuBox is based on Ubuntu 11.10. Second part of the name is part of word Openbox. UbuBox is Ubuntu dressed up in OpenBox window manager. Second word in the name is SalentOS. It means Operating System from Salento. If you don't know, Salento is a town in Southern Italy.
So, system is booting. Live USB prepared by Unetbootin boots up UbuBox normally on my laptop Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Pi 1505. It is unexpected, because I thought that Live USB with Ubuntu images are not supported by laptop's BIOS. That's a good sign.

During boot you can see splash screen. Honestly, to my taste it is amateur compilation of good quality image and simple text & box picture. Picture itself is not bad actually. But text... It has some effects added, but still I got a feeling that it was not professional who made this splash.
Anyway, splash is on the screen for just few seconds. Boot time is very quick. After few seconds I was presented with the desktop.

What is on UbuBox's desktop?
Left side is occupied with Docky, which resembles Unity's launcher. Similar style, similar icons. Even right-click calls up the same style of sub-menu. But this time round Docky is not hiding from the screen, but instead takes some life space from maximized window.
Top part of the screen shows conky or something like it with details of computer resources usage: memory, processor, network. Right part of this "panel" is clocks. I am not sure why they are here, because another clocks are placed exactly below them in the bottom panel. Also, some elements of the stats panel (let's call it like this) are bigger than others: CPU, RAM and clocks. Maybe author of distribution decided that these are the most vital parts for look at. But then, I'd rather constructed components in size ascending order.
As I have just mentioned, bottom part of the screen in UbuBox SalenOS is taken by the panel. It shows icons for currently running applications. Only icons without any window names, in Windows 7 style. You should be careful: right click on the icon does not call pop-up menu, but instead silently closes the program. Left click minimizes the application. Right part of the panel has some notification items. Some of them look very good and stylish, like power indicator and clocks. But some of them require additional design efforts. For example, network indicator is just few tones lighter than panel background - it is barely noticable.
Desktop itself by default shows nice and bright, buoyant seaside image.

UbuBox comes with great selection of themes for window headers, control elements and so on. Unfortunately, themes do not change default colors of the menu bars, for example in Firefox. So, unless you want to see dark menu bar with yellow window header or something like this, you are limited by dark-coloured themes only.
Unusual color combination
in the theme
My choice was for Onyx-black theme.

UbuBox, or to be precise Ubuntu itself, automatically recognized and configured WiFi card on my laptop Intel 3945ABG. My home network was listed, and usual ritual with security code allowed me to be connected. I drafted this post directly in UbuBox.

As you may have noticed in my description of screen elements of UbuBox, there's no menu button anywhere on the screen. Are you lost? Right-click on any empty part of the desktop brings up the menu.
This menu has 6 sections.
  • Top section is about Favorites - you can list applications for quick access here.
  • Then comes Desktops and Windows. It allows you to manage desktops, switch between them and also between applications on any desktop.
  • Next part is Main menu, where you can access Applications and Settings.
  • Then you can see Home menu where bookmarks to different locations can be stored.
  • Following section is dedicated to Openbox - where you can configure this window manager itself, restore and restart it.
  • And last section is for leaving the system - Exit and Shutdown. I did not see options to Hybernate or Sleep, although something like this exists in Power Management part of UbuBox configuration.
The menu itself is highly customizable, so you may adjust it to your own taste.
What is in the Applications part of UbuBox SalentOS' menu?
Many applications are taken from XFCE desktop environment, like Thunar, Parole, Power Management, xfburn, Desktop customizer. You can even find an XFCE mouse logo on some elements. That's why I presume that UbuBox is actually based on Xubuntu, not original Ubuntu version.
Default browser in UbuBox is Firefox 7.0. Other than Firefox, Internet section of menu has many interesting items like Pidgin, Gwibbler, Liferea, qBittorrent, aMule and so on. You will definitely find something to do in the Internet with this arsenal!
Office part of menu in UbuBox SalentOS features full set of LibreOffice components, including Draw, Math and Base. There are some Orage applications too.
Graphics section of UbuBox menu includes GIMP, LibreOffice, scanning tool, Ristretto image viewer and Document viewer.
Sound & Video section of menu includes rich selection of applications: Parole, VLC, Cheese, Mixer, Exaile, xfburn, EasyTAG... and this is not a full list! Exaile is the default player for MP3 files. I tried to use it for music MP3 files stored on my local disk - and it worked straight away. Even Russian file names and tags were shown correctly. It means that UbuBox comes with all necessary plugins enabled.
System tools in UbuBox menu include usual suspects like GDebi package installer, Thunar, Task Manager. But there are also some unexpected items like Ubuntu Tweak Tool and Unetbootin.
Accessories in UbuBox list big selection of small useful tools: Leafpad, Catfish, calculator, screenshot and so on.
Even though there is a screenshot tool, it is incorrectly linked to PrintScreen button. It means that I got error when pressed PrintScreen, and had to call screenshot utility manually to make screenshos. Also, as you maybe know, GIMP knows how to make screenshots too. I used both options when preparing this post.

Next step of my test was connection to my external network drive. Unfortunately, Samba is not included in the SalentOS distribution by default. That's why I had to install smbfs package to enable mounting of my network drive. There are several options to manage packages in UbuBox: Ubuntu Software Centre, Synaptic, Dpkg. Neither of them initially was able to find package smbfs. Atempt to use old good friend terminal with sudo apt-get install smbfs failed. It showed me some issues with default repository servers. So, I switched servers from US to Main in Synaptic and reloaded the repository information. After that, installation of smbfs in Synaptic and mounting itself went OK. And, of course, I could play MP3 files from that partition.

UbuBox desktop
Flash videos on YouTube also played straight away. There's no need to add and install more software in UbuBox.

As you can see, up to this point I mostly mentioned positive moments of UbuBox SalentOS. And there are a lot!
But I also want to add some negative too. The review should reflect both parts of the system, shouldn't it?
From the very beginning I was annoyed with bug (or feature) with program focus. It automatically moves with mouse cursor. It means that you can easily lose window you're working on if you move cursor over another bigger window. Luckily, this feature can be easily switched off in Openbox configuration manager.
For some reason my mouse (touchpad) moved very quickly. This can be adjusted to some degree in settings - reduce acceleration. But even with almost zero acceleration speed was higher than usual. What I did not find in configuration was an option to scroll on touchpad - and that's pity, because I like this feature a lot.
Keyboard layouts in UbuBox are configured the XFCE way, i.e. not from the head, but from the tail which is panel indicator. But there's significant difference from XFCE: panel indicator does not exist in UbuBox. At least, I have not found a way to add indicator to the panel. So, even if I could add layouts in Keyboard configuration in System Settings, I could not assign keyboard sequence to switch layouts. This is very significant drawback for me.
Anything else? Argh... Ergh... Nope!
As you can see, list of negative moments is much shorter than previous part of review. And that's a good sign for me.

If you remember, in the beginning I mentioned "persistence" on my Live USB created by Unetbootin. Let's check if it works. Reboot. Chose to boot from USB stick and... Operating system not found! BIOS and UbuBox don't like each other much. Good bye, UbuBox SalentOS! Hope we'll see each other some day later, when you become even more powerful and shiny!

What is my general impression of UbuBox SalentOS? System has a great potential. It is very young yet to say something definitive. It works very quickly, response time is much less than you could expect.
It has solid base in face of Ubuntu (although I personally would prefer something like Debian).
It has good balance between "pack everything" and "leave barebones". You get applications which you are likely to use.
From the negative side, which I have mentioned already, there are some things to work on:
Keyboard layout configuration should be intuitive.
Default touchpad configuration is not ideal, both in terms of cursor acceleration and in terms of scrolling.
Default tricks with window focus are not the easiest thing to understand and sort out. Are they worth their purpose?
I wish developer the very best in his project, and hope to come back to it when new version is released.

Useful links:
Home page of UbuBox SalentOS project
Review of UbuBox 11.04


  1. I think that your review is very rich in ideas and useful things for my
    work on ububox salentos! I thank you immensely for what you wrote
    because it is the result of a detailed analysis of ububox salentos.

    I will need to work on the negatives and keep the positive aspects.
    Please note that I am not a computer technician by profession but only a
    geek fan of Linux and, above all, the project is maintained only by me
    (I'm looking for collaborators).

  2. @gmstyle.org:
    I was happy to review! 8-)

  3. Thanks for an interesting review.

    I concur with you regarding the base of the distribution being better as Debian than Ubuntu,,,I'd be happier with a direct linkage to the core product than a spin off of a spin off. That said if it were to be Debian based it would be in direct competition with Crunchbang (#!) and somewhat in competition with Archbang so I wonder if it would be of interest to you to do reviews of these two so as to then be able to run a comparison between them?

  4. @Gladys
    You have fully centered a concept :) Debian-based system that uses openbox there are enough but was missing an Ubuntu-based that uses openbox. That's why I decided to use Ubuntu as the basis for ububox salentos. ;)

  5. now online the wiki page of ububox salentos :)


  6. another serious italian job that deserve more attention:

  7. @Anonymous:
    Thanks for the link! I'll have a look some time.

  8. @Anonymous:

    it's very intresting! i can confirm! ;)

  9. http://ububoxsalentos.sourceforge.net/community/

    new community!!! Join in!!