29 Dec 2011

Austrumi 2.4.5: Small and Mighty

Recently I wrote that visitors of Linux notes from DarkDuck come from all over the world. There are almost no white spots on the map if you look at the list of the visitors’ countries.
Some of my readers live in Latvia. Not a majority, of course. In fact, Latvia is number 64 in the list of the annual statistics, somewhere next to Kenya.
That does not mean I should never look in the direction of that country. There is at least one reason for doing so: Latvia is the native country of the Linux distribution Austrumi. It is a small pocket-size Linux distribution which I have written about once before.
The Austrumi team released a new version of their operating system recently, on the 30th of September, 2011.
Unfortunately, links on the original site still lead to the old version. To get the fresh ISO image, I used links from Softpedia, which lead to different files on the same server. The latest version is 2.4.5.
ISO image size of Austrumi 2.4.5 is about 210 Mb, which is about twice the size of the version I looked at a year ago. It was previously only 120 Mb in size. Even so, 210 Mb definitely puts Austrumi into the category of "pocket" distributions, those which you can take with you anywhere on a USB or CD.
Unfortunately, Unetbootin was not able to "burn" image to USB. That is why I had to burn it to DVD-RW.
So, the disk is in the optical drive. Reboot. Choose to boot from DVD. Lets go!

Booting the system

The first screen shows different Austrumi boot options. There is a 10 second countdown, but the countdown stops when you touch any key on the keyboard. The default option is to run Austrumi fully from memory (disk is ejected after load). Other options are to not eject the disk, use only OpenSource video drivers, an option for older videocards and a couple of others. The menu itself is in English.
At first glance, the default option is the one you need. But do not rush! If you simply press Enter, your system will boot using the Latgalian language, the one spoken in the Latgale region of Latvia. It is the motherland of Austrumi Linux. If you want to boot in English, you need to press Esc on the first screen and boot Austrumi with the boot parameter
boot: austrumi lang_en
There are about a dozen different languages available, like English (en), Greek (el), Russian (ru), Latvian (lv), French (fr), Spanish (es) and even Ukranian (uk). Yes, uk here means Ukranian, not United Kingdom. I understand that specifying boot-time parameters is not the most convenient way to boot a system in your preferred language. But it is still better than the older method used by Austrumi, which is to boot the system in Latgalian, then change to your preferred language in the menu. Yes, the old method is still there. But I prefer the boot parameters method because I understand English documentation better than the Latgalian-language menu options.
Once boot parameters are specified, you can boot into the Austrumi Operating System. Boot time is rather quick. Copying of the disk image (about 210 Mb) to RAM takes most of the boot time.
Austrumi uses Linux kernel 3.0.4 and FVWM window manager. I cannot tell you how much memory the freshly booted system takes, because of discrepancies in results I got from different sources. More on that later.
Austrumi 2.4.5 runs as user root, which is quite common for "pocket" distributions like SLAX, Porteus and Puppy. No, that’s not ideal from a security point of view, but it is OK for distributions which are not intended for installation. There are installation options for Austrumi, though. And if you are going to install, you potentially run the risk of functions not working under a normal user the way they were working under root.

Default desktop and some tweaks of it

Once booted, you get to the default desktop in Austrumi.
Desktop wallpapers are a selection of green or grey tones with quite simple but nice looking images.
Desktop layout itself is quite unusual.
A set of Conky indicators takes the top part of the screen: total memory, free memory, CPU usage (per CPU core, if you have several), battery status and top applications for CPU and memory usage. I have not found any network activities' indicator, unfortunately.
A panel takes up the right side of the screen in Austrumi. The top part of the panel is taken by shortcuts to most used, (from the developers' point of view), applications: Skype, Geany, Network, Search, Quit and others. Some of those shortcuts are actually groups/folders, which have submenus. For example, Network has several applications in three different subgroups. However, Office shortcut starts LibreOffice Writer, without an option to select which part of LibreOffice you actually need.
A virtual desktop switch is below the shortcuts. The default theme in Austrumi has 3 virtual desktops.
After the desktop switch you see a taskbar panel where all your active applications are listed. Each virtual desktop has its own set of applications on the taskbar.
A weather widget and clocks take the bottom-right corner of the screen.
This layout is the "R-panel theme". If you do not like it, you can switch to Cairo Dock, U-gadgets, Windows, Versalite or Tiling theme. Which one did I like? “U-gadgets” was the most interesting to my taste. It is generally the same as R-panel theme, except that the panel is moved to the left and has some different items on it. This theme is shown in the screenshot below.
The menu in Austrumi can be called by left-clicking on any empty desktop space. Right-clicking on the same place calls up the desktop and FVWM configuration menu.

Keyboard layout

Default keyboard layout in Austrumi 2.4.5 is not English US, but rather Latvian. It puts symbols like ลก instead of 's. If you need to type 's, you need to press the space bar between the symbols. It’s not difficult, but requires some change in the way you usually type words like it’s.
I tried to use Keyboard configuration in the Settings menu. It is a semi-manual configuration utility, where you need to specify setxkbmap parameters in the fields. In general, this utility is something similar to the keyboard layout configuration in KDE3. I changed lv to us in the relevant field and saved changes, but it did not help. The system did not save the parameters, at least in Austrumi's Live mode. Moreover, I have found neither a keyboard layout indicator, nor a layout switch hotkey.
Speaking of indicators, I have already mentioned the network activities’ indicator. There isn't one. If you are used to configuring your network using this indicator as a starting point, (and I am that spoiled!), you need to change your habits a little in Austrumi. Network manager is an item in the Network part of the menu. It is not included in shortcuts in the Favourites panel.
And a few more words about input methods. Austrumi correctly worked with the touchpad of my laptop (Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Pi 1505), but touchpad scrolling did not work. I could not find a way to activate it.

What is available in the menu?

When I looked at a previous version of Austrumi, I was surprised by how many applications the developers managed to pack into a very small distribution image of 120 Mb. This time it is 210 Mb. Let’s have a look at what is inside.
There are about half a dozen different games: Ltris, Mines, Bombic and so forth. Although they are not the most complex or graphically attractive, they are still worthy of occupying your free time.
The Development section of the Austrumi menu contains Geany editor, Remastering and Virtual PC (Qemu) applications. Remastering is a tool to create your own version of Live CD. I am not sure, but it is most likely an Austrumi custom written application.
You get Sweep audio recorder, MPlayer, BurnBox, RadioStations, AudioMixer and a few others in the Multimedia section. More than enough for the basic needs. The inclusion of BurnBox confirms the purpose of running Austrumi fully from memory: eject the disk from the drive, then use the drive to burn other CD or DVD disks.
GIMP, Inkscape and a couple of viewers (one for PDF, one for images) represent the Graphics section of the Austrumi menu. There is no screenshot tool, so I had to use GIMP for this.
GIMP is version 2.7.2 unstable. Unfortunately, it was not able to save my screenshots in JPG or PNG formats, so I had to convert the images in another distribution. This was a rude surprise, and I think it definitely limits the scope of activities you can do with Austrumi. Maybe the developers can have a look at this.
The Office part of the menu contains the full set of LibreOffice 3.4.3 applications, including Draw, Base and Quickstart. LibreOffice Base failed to properly start because of missing Java dependencies. For some reason, Java is not included in the Austrumi distribution. On the positive side, Writer and Calc worked fine for me.
Network tools are represented by SeaMonkey 2.5a2 browser, ChatZilla, Composer HTML Editor (not to be confused with Komposer), Skype, Linphone, Transmission and a few others. The inclusion of SeaMonkey in Austrumi 2.4.5 differs from its previous version, where Opera was the default and only browser.
SeaMonkey is a browser which has the same roots as the famous Mozilla Firefox, but forked from it some time ago. It is still supported by Mozilla. Austrumi’s implementation of this browser lacks buttons to close the tab. This function is available in right-click menu of the tab, though.
Skype took a significant amount of time to login to the server, then additional time to get my contacts. But, eventually it was up and running.
Calculator, Partition Image, xPad, dictionary and a few others are in the Accessories portion of Austrumi's menu.
System tools are represented by PCManFM file manager, GSlapt package manager, Htop (CLI-based task manager), HDD and USB installers, Midnight Commander, EmelFM2 (graphical 2-panel file manager), LXTask (graphical task manager), xfdiff and a search tool.
Some systems tools have duplicated functions. What was interesting, the results of HTop, LXTask and Conky were all different for memory usage. Conky results showed much more compared to the others, while HTop's result was the lowest. Which one should I trust?
I did not find any Terminal in the Main menu, although there was a shortcut to it in the panel. It’s an omission which can easily be fixed by the user. However, I believe this should have already been included by the developers.
MPlayer opened MP3 files from local disk immediately with no additional plugins required. But, MPlayer did not show Russian tags in MP3 files. Most likely, this is because many of the tags are not in Unicode, but rather in CP 1251. That’s a common issue for a person who moves to Linux from Windows. Russian characters were correctly processed by the file manager (PCManFM).
Austrumi 2.4.5: U-gadgets theme.
Flash works out of the box.
What about Flash? Yes, it is included out of the box too! I was able to play YouTube videos instantly.
Samba browser in the Network section of the menu (separate from Main menu) found my external network drive and its shared folders. It also created a link in /mnt/samba. But the link did not list anything. The folder was empty. The reason became clear when I tried to mount the partition manually. Command mount -t cifs //remote/partition /mountpoint gave me an error of wrong filesystem type. That typically happens when smbfs client is missing.
It was a good reason to use GSlapt package manager. Unfortunately, the search for smbfs (package used for mounting of external Samba partition) did not bring any results. As a result, I could not check either mounting of my external network drive in Austrumi, or playback of media files from there.
I checked a few other applications:
  • Gedit is listed.
  • A kword search returns a list of libraries, but not the application itself.
  • KOffice is listed. Probably it includes KWord as a component.
  • Chromium browser is there, as well as Google Chrome.
  • Mozilla Firefox is also available.
  • Qutim is not listed.
  • Pidgin is available.
The repositories used by GSlapt are those from slackware.com, slackers.it, slacky.eu, slackware.pl, salixos.org and some more. In other words, a whole world of Slackware applications seems to be at your fingertips!
To check how well GSlapt works, I tried to install Pidgin messenger. GSlapt showed that about 115 Mb of packages should be downloaded, and they should take about 470 Mb of disk space. The result? I had to use the hardware power button somewhere near the end of installation. The system stopped responding to any keyboard or mouse activities. I think this is the same effect as in Sabayon Live. There is not enough memory to keep all the updates and new packages, and the system struggles with them, I think.

Positives and negatives

The intended purpose of all of the applications is not clear from their names. It is definitely not helpful. Adding frustration, changing the desktop theme can lead to a change of application names in the Austrumi menu.
There are many complaints I have with Austrumi’s set of applications. Are the complaints that important? I don’t think so. Not when you consider how the developers of Austrumi managed to pack so much functionality into a distribution of just 210 Mb!
Another positive attribute of Austrumi is its speed. It works very quickly. This should be no great surprise, as the system can run completely from memory.
Also, it was nice to see that the system was fully translated into English and Russian. I tried the Russian option, too. It is a proper full-scope translation, not funny half-translated menus, like in AgiliaLinux.

Who is the target?

To whom could Austrumi Linux be useful? I would say that it is primarily for people who feel that the set of included applications is enough, and who want to carry a portable Slackware-based system in their pocket. The distribution's application selection is very rich.
In addition, it can be useful to those who want to have a very small Slackware-based system on their desktops. It is very quick, responsive and good-looking.

While I was preparing the post...

News came at the very same time when I was preparing this review for publishing. Austrumi team released version 2.4.8.
Again, no news on the official site, but there is an announcement on Softpedia. DistroWatch page was updated too.

Useful links:
ftp://austrumi.ru.lv - list of ISOs of all distribution releases
http://distrowatch.com/table.php?distribution=austrumi - DistroWatch page

This post was edited by djohnston.


  1. Seamonkey seems to be getting very popular with smaller i.e pocket distributions. It's in Puppy and antiX too (IceApe there, being Debian). It really appears to have a smaller footprint and be faster than FF these days, and more predictable. With SM including a browser, email, composer, chat and address book all sharing libraries you have less resource usage than running FF and, say Thunderbird. That's why I think SM (ex-Mozilla suite) is seeing a resurgence.

  2. @Barnaby:
    Thanks for explaBarnabynation. From another hand, shared libraries etc - how does it impact stability?

  3. Hi DD, SeaMonkey is very mature and stable, seeing it is around since it was called Netscape suite, or Netscape Communicator.
    I think it's generally better to have one instance of sets loaded rather than two for two products, like xulrunner for FF AND Thunderbird at the same time. It's cleaner and uses less memory, and memory usage might affect stability on low end machines with little ram. I'm not a programmer, but that's what I understand from reading over the years. And I'm observing SM seems faster than FF alone these days.

  4. @Barnaby:
    Maybe major distros should look into the SM's direction too? ;-)

  5. Any form to install in sd chart or usb pen?
    In Austrumi it has an order to install in usb or hd but...I can not use the usb install order!!

    1. Burn the ISO to CD. Then:
      System Tools>Install to USB
      That does it!