I am not sure if Italians have some extreme love of OpenBox, but very soon after that, I heard about another OpenBox-based distribution from that country. This time, though, it is based on Debian. To be precise, on the unstable branch of Debian – Sid.
Semplice Linux, was mentioned in comments to my review of Debian XFCE.
Semplice means Simple in Italian. How simple is this distribution? Is it "just another Debian spin"? Or something worth looking at? I was asking that question of myself.
The latest version of Semplice Linux is 3.0 Alpha. In addition, there is a version 2.0.1, which is called “Stable”. How stable can a distribution based on unstable Sid be? Quite a dilemma! After some thoughts, my choice was v.2.0.1, released on the 19th of January 2012.
There are ISO images for both 32- and 64-bit architectures available for downloading.
The project keeps its images on the Sourceforge.net, so you can use a well-scaled infrastructure to get your own copy of the ISO image.
The image size of Semlice Linux is only 563 Mb, which is much less than, say, Debian XFCE. You can easily burn an image of that size to CD.
In my turn, I wanted to use a Live USB. Command dd did not help me in this, that’s why Unetbootin was used for the task.
So, the Live USB is ready and plugged into the port of my Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Pi 1505. Reboot. Choose to boot from USB. Let’s go!
BootingNot counting the Unetbootin start menu, there was only one question asked by Semplice Linux during the boot. This question was about the keyboard layout. There was a choice between English UK, English US, Italian and some other European languages. Russian was not in the list, unfortunately. My choice was for English UK.
The boot time itself was average.
Right after the boot I wanted to see memory usage on a fresh system. That was not possible, because I found no application that would show me the memory usage. That's why I can't say how resource-hungry Semplice Linux is.
As I said above, Semplice Linux uses OpenBox as the window manager. The Linux kernel inside the OS is version 3.2.1.
DesktopAfter the boot, you get into the empty screen of Semplice Linux, where the only right-bottom corner has something. This is the notification area. You can see some usual items in there: clocks, clipboard monitor, volume control, power status and network manager. There is also a Composite Desktop icon, which is unusual for most distributions.
The default wallpaper in Semplice Linux is a simple flat deep-blue colour image without any objects on it. There are no alternatives in the default distribution, so if you want to spice up your desktop, you’ll need to get a picture from other resources.
There are several themes available for windows. The default one is pretty nice: SempliceDusk in deep-blue and grey colours. It is slightly depressing, perhaps, but definitely nicely designed. There are about half a dozen alternative themes, including the quite widely used Adwaita and Raleigh.
You won't notice it from the start, but there is actually a whole panel at the bottom of the screen. It is opaque, that's why it is unnoticeable before you start the first application.
This is the OpenBox window manager, so you don't have anything like the Menu button in Semplice Linux. Instead, you can right-click anywhere on the empty space of the desktop to get the system menu.
NetworkI was pretty much surprised when I saw a pop-up notification right after the boot of Semplice Linux. It told me that wireless networks were available.
Why was I surprised? Because Semplice Linux is based on Debian, and I've never seen Debian with drivers for my Intel 3945 ABG network card included. Even though it is a free driver, Debian requires a separate installation of it.
The developer(s) of Semplice Linux decided to include the Intel driver in the distribution, so I am grateful.
The usage of Network Manager in Semplice Linux is slightly different from any other distribution I've seen so far. For example, Network Security is the very last tab in the configuration of the connection, whereas I used to see it in the first tab.
Anyway, it was easy to figure out the network configuration steps. The connection was established, and I was able to browse both my network and the Internet.
The menuWhat is available in the menu of Semplice Linux? I should say that there are not many applications which you get from the start. Some widely used items are missing. That explains the relatively small size of the distribution.
The default and the only browser in this operating system is Chromium 16 Developer build. Other Internet tools include Claws Mail, gFTP and Pidgin. There is no default torrent client in here.
The Graphics menu in Semplice Linux only includes a simple GNU Paint editor and Mirage image viewer. There is nothing like GIMP or LibreOffice Draw. Also, the screenshot tool is not listed in Graphics, but included in another section.
AbiWord and Gnumeric from GNOME Office are in the Office section of the menu. Also, ePDFViewer is listed here.
The Multimedia tools include players Exaile and GNOME MPlayer, and also Volti and xfburn. Neither Exaile nor Volti started for me from the Semplice Linux menu. It was even more baffling when I was able to start Exaile from the command line.
The System tools include two terminals XTerm, UXterm. I am not sure why you would need both, and I have not noticed any difference between the two. Cairo Composition Manager, Program manager and a Language / Keyboard layout configuration utility are also in this section of the menu.
The Accessories menu in Semplice Linux includes a more or less standard set of tools: Disk Utility, File Manager, Guake Terminal, Mousepad editor, ROXTerminal. Again, I was disappointed that File Manager did not start for me from the menu item.
The menu itself is not impressive, although you get most of the components you may need. The applications are pretty much a mix of GNOME and XFCE-native applications. I would like to highlight few issues I noticed here:
- Too many terminals: ROXTerm, Guake, XTerm, UXTerm - why would you need them all?
- Quite a lot of applications did not start when I tried to run them. The most serious issue here, from my point of view, is File Manager.
Package ManagementThere is not much to say about the package management in Semplice Linux.
This Linux distribution uses Synaptic Package Manager, which is what you expect from a Debian-based distribution.
There are 2 repositories active in Semplice Linux by default. They are Debian unstable and Semplice Linux’s own repository.
I won't describe what is available in the repository. It makes no sense, because the whole Debian repository is just under your fingertips.
However, you would need to update the repositories before you can access some packages, like, for example, smbfs.
Keyboard and touchpadThere is a keyboard selection utility in the system menu. It calls up the same screen seen during the boot. But it only allows you to change the global language. Unfortunately, there was no graphical tool to configure the layouts. Despite this, I was able to configure my usual set of layouts, using the method from the OpenBox forum for FreeBSD. It was the command
setxkbmap -layout gb,ru -variant -option grp:alt_shift_toggle,grp_led:scroll,terminate:ctrl_alt_bksp &
Unfortunately, there were still a couple of issues:
- I could not use Ctrl-Shift hotkey to change the layout. Only Alt-Shift worked in this method.
- There was no indicator in the notification area.
To solve the second issue, I installed fbxkb package using the Synaptic package manager. Right after that, I was able start fbxkb from the terminal, and an applet appeared in the notification area. But still… it did not show me the UK flag, and disappeared as soon as I closed the terminal. Honestly, I did not investigate for long. I have a gut feeling that I would able to configure the indicator to work my way even in Live session, if I had little bit more patience. And, of course, it should work in installed system too.
Anyway, the general impression in this area was pretty much positive.
Unfortunately, the touchpad did not behave that well. One-finger scrolling at the touchpad edges did not work here. The default scrolling in Semplice Linux is configured for two fingers. I found neither a graphical nor a text-file option to reconfigure it. File /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/10-synaptics.conf, which is responsible for touchpad configuration in many Linux distributions, does not exist in Semplice Linux.
External partitionThere is no Samba client in the default Semplice Linux distribution. When I tried to run the command sudo mount -t cifs... for the first time, it threw me an error about this.
I installed the smbfs package, and then mounting went OK.
Russian characters in filenames and folders worked fine even without iocharset=utf8 parameter in mounting command.
MultimediaBecause of the issues with File Manager in Semplice Linux, I could not navigate through my file system in Semplice Linux. Because I wanted to play music from my external partition, I had to navigate to the file there from the Exaile. And... the results were negative. The error messages were different for files with and without Russian characters in the path, but the outcome was still the same: there was no sound.
Unfortunately, very similar results were found in MPlayer.
The results were much better when I tried to reach the files on my local disk from Exaile. I was able to play MP3 and video files.
This means that Semplice Linux includes the necessary codecs for MP3 and video files, but Exaile (or OpenBox?) has issues with opening of files from a remote partition.
|Semplice Linux supports Flash|
Flash Player worked for me, when I tried to open my Flash test page.
YouTube also worked without any issues in the Chromium browser.
General impressionSemplice Linux is not bad. It is a decent attempt to create a Debian-based distribution with the lightweight OpenBox window manager.
It is quick, responsive and stable. At least, I saw no crashes during my Live run.
It still lacks some functionality and requires some polishing here and there.
But, generally speaking, you can start using it straight away, and make necessary adjustments later yourself, if you're an OpenBox fan.
If you're not fan of OpenBox then... why bother with Semplice Linux at all?
Have you tried Semplice Linux yourself? Or, maybe, you’re using other OpenBox-based Linux distributions? Please share your experience!
http://semplice-linux.org/ - Semplice Linux homepage
http://distrowatch.com/table.php?distribution=semplice – DistroWatch page of Semplice Linux
http://all-things-linux.blogspot.com/2011/12/semplice-linux-exercise-in-simplicity.html - another review
Simply Linux - Russian approach to simplifying the Linux
Video used in the screenshot