15 Jan 2012

Following the unique way of Trisquel

There are different general directions in GNU/Linux distribution development, taking into consideration the dilemma of free vs non-free software.
  • Some developers don’t bother with this dilemma at all and include useful software in their distribution. 
  • Others do not turn off non-free software initially, but allow users to decide themselves. They place non-free and restricted software in separate repositories. 
  • And another stance is taken by developers who stick to free software only. The developers from this last group sometimes even get recognition from the Free Software Foundation, who include the distribution in the list of approved ones. 
I have written about several FSF-approved distributions already: Ututo, Dragora, dynebolic, Musix and so on. Today I will tell you about another free distribution: Trisquel.
Trisquel is a GNU/Linux distribution with geographical roots in Spain. The project started off as localization of GNU/Linux for the Galician language, and later became more than just a local GNU/Linux distribution.
Trisquel uses the kernel that is free from anything proprietary. This kernel is usually called “libre kernel”.
The latest version of this GNU/Linux distribution is Trisquel 5.0 Dagda, released in September 2011.
I downloaded the ISO image of Trisquel via torrent. I chose the image for Live run, which is 700Mb in size. There are different image options available, from 14 Mb netinstall to 3.7 Gb DVD with sources.
There were no issues in creating Live USB with Trisquel using the Unetbootin utility. So, preparations are over. Reboot. Choose to boot from USB. Let’s go!

Booting up

Live USB version of Trisquel boots with the usual Unetbootin menu. There are no other questions or additional menus during the boot. You have a splash screen with Trisquel logos on it while waiting for the system to boot. Full boot time was average.
Once booted, Trisquel greeted me with a nice gentle melody. I don’t know why, but this little nuance immediately made me think positively about this distribution.

The book’s cover

The default desktop wallpaper in Trisquel Dagda is in green colours with stripes. It is, again, as nice and gentle as the welcome tune is. Alternative wallpapers include either Trisquel-themed images, or the same stripes in different colours: blue and red. Also, there's a slideshow of space photos provided as one of the wallpaper options.
The picture quality on my laptop's screen was very good. Sharp, crisp, clear and bright.
Speaking technically, Trisquel 5.0 uses libre version of Linux kernel 2.6.38 with GNOME 2.32.1 on top. The freshly loaded operating system took about 196 Mb of memory on my Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Pi 1505. This amount of memory is not much generally speaking, but quite a lot for a Debian-like distribution.
I call Trisquel a Debian-like distribution, even though Trisquel is mainly based on re-worked Ubuntu repositories, because Debian roots are clearly visible in many places, starting with the space-themed desktop wallpaper slideshow, and ending up with (although disabled) Debian group in the main menu configuration.
Although Trisquel runs the quite old “classic” version of GNOME desktop environment, the desktop layout is not “classical”.
First of all, there is only one panel, and it is at the bottom of the screen. There are no separate panel items for Applications, Places and System, like you see in the default Debian or in pre-Unity versions of Ubuntu (link). Instead, Applications, System and Places are parts of the main menu.
The menu itself hides behind the button in the bottom-left corner of the panel. The button has the the Trisquel logo on it. Its neighbours are buttons for Home folder (Nautilus file browser) and Abrowser, a de-branded version of Firefox. The main part of the panel is taken by the usual taskbar. The taskbar itself is not usual, though. Applications’ buttons are placed in 2 rows. Because of that, the whole panel looks a little bit oversized. But, honestly, I like it that way to better organize the panel! The usual items are in the bottom-right corner of the panel, in the notifications area: volume control, network manager, clocks with calendar and Show Desktop button.
There is no virtual desktop switcher in Trisquel 5.0.
The panel itself has some opacity, so you can see a blurred image of what is behind it. Honestly, I have not found the opacity regulator in the panel properties. Maybe it is too well hidden.
Bearing in mind the default wallpaper, theme, level of details and other items which you see “on the book cover”, I should admit that the level of design of Trisquel default system is above many other GNU/Linux distributions. But a proverb says “never judge a book by its cover”. Is it the case for Trisquel? Let’s look inside and flip few pages of the Trisquel book.


Unfortunately, the bad story is on this page.
I could not connect to my home wireless network, even though my WiFi card Intel 3945 ABG was recognised and shown in lspci and dmesg. The reason is the absence of a libre driver for the card, and it is proven by a forum discussion. Yes, there are places where the “libre” principle works against its followers.


In opposition to network issues, the page of multimedia support in Trisquel was nice and shiny.
Obviously, I could not test playback of multimedia from remote network drives, where I keep a significant part of my library. But MP3 files from local drive could be opened immediately. The default application for MP3s is Totem Movie Player. Yes, you should not be confused by the word “movie” in its name. As many modern players, it is an application which can play back any multimedia file you like, as long as you have a codec installed. Codec wise, at least all the necessary plugins for MP3s are in Trisquel by default.
Notably, Russian characters in MP3 file tags were correctly recognised and shown in Totem Movie Player.
Same as audio, video files immediately started playing in Totem Movie Player.
I am not sure about Flash player, whether it is included in Trisquel or not. I could not check it because of network issues.

Keyboard layouts

Because I have to write in 2 different languages from time to time, the keyboard layout configuration is one of the important things for me.
Trisquel 5.0 Dagda keeps this configuration item in the usual GNOME place: System - Preferences - Keyboard. I was able to add UK and Russian layouts instead of the default US, and also determine the keyboard layout switch shortkey (Ctrl-Shift). It literally took me a few seconds. A keyboard icon appeared on the panel immediately after that. But I could not find an option to add a layout indicator on the panel, either text or graphical. There was no such configuration option in GNOME Preferences, and there was no applet to add to the panel.


The set of applications in Trisquel 5.0 is more or less typical for most GNOME-based GNU/Linux distributions, although there are some notable differences.
Apart from Abrowser, which I mentioned before, the Internet section of the menu includes Pidgin, Transmission, Gwibbler, Evolution Mail, Liferea feed reader and Remmina remote desktop client.
LibreOffice 3.3.3 forms a major part of the Office menu section. It is not the full set of LO applications, though. Trisquel includes LibreOffice Draw, but not Base and Math.
The Sound&Video menu section includes PiTiVi video editor, Totem Movie Player, which I've mentioned above, Exaile music player, Ogg file converter, Cheese webcam and Sound recorder. Unlike many other distributions, there's no disk burning tool in Sound&Video section. Instead, Brasero is in Accessories.
If you're looking for action games, you won't find them in the default Trisquel distribution. But you'll get Chess, Mahjong and Sudoku here. The most "actionable" game is Mines.
Accessories include Brasero, Calculator, GNote, Screenshot, Terminal, Gedit and some other useful tools. More or less, the “usual suspects” are here, apart from Brasero. As I mentioned above, usually this sort of application, disk-burning tool, lives near all other multimedia-oriented gizmos. But Trisquel developers decided differently.
Administrative tools deserve a separate mention. They include Deja Dup backup tool, Startup disk creator, Synaptic package manager and few other useful tools.
As you can see from the list above, 700 Mb ISO with Trisquel 5.0 Dagda comes quite well equipped for the average user's needs. It is not overloaded with lots of software-which-you-might-need-once-in-a-lifetime, but also it is not naked barebones.
Of course, you may wish to change the list of applications in your system, either add something extra or remove something standard. To help you with this, there are at least 3 package management tools in Trisquel 5.0:
  1. GDebi for direct package installation
  2. Synaptic
  3. Add/Remove Applications utility.
The first two applications from the list above do not require any additional explanations. I would like to write more about the third one. It is similar, to a large extent, to Debian package management tool, but fully de-branded. I tried to find the name of this application, but it is not mentioned anywhere. All the references to it are made with either the words “Add/Remove Applications” or “Install and Remove Applications”.
Regarding repositories, Trisquel uses its own. They are Ubuntu-based, but have all non-free components removed. You have several repository server options to select from. These servers are located in Spain and USA, so select the closest.

General impression

So, our virtual tour through the book called “Trisquel” is close to the end. What can I say about my own impressions?
Trisquel 5.0 Dagda is very similar to Debian. If you've ever worked with this GNU/Linux distribution, you will definitely find your way to navigate and work in Trisquel.
But this is not “just another Debian spin”. Of course, it is not as dull and boring as, for example, SimplyMEPIS 11.0, which I've written about recently. It's the other way round. Trisquel has its own face and uniqueness. Its design is not only very attractive, from my point of view. It is also an attempt to create a system which lacks "widely known" applications, or big brands, so to speak. Instead, the developers use de-branded or less marketed tools, which are still functional and useful. Don't be a slave of the marketers, so to speak.
Of course, there are still some issues, which can be polished in later releases. Among the most important for me is the necessity for improving hardware support and placement of a keyboard layout indicator on the panel.
But, other than that, I would say that Trisquel deserves high appreciation and attention, especially if you’re apologist of free software and not scared by all the consequences you may potentially face on this route.

If you want to try Trisquel yourself, and I highly recommend you doing so, but don’t have the resources or knowledge for burning your own CD or USB, why not order a CD of this distribution from Buy Linux CDs site?

This post was edited by djohnston.


  1. Trisquel is a Ubuntu based distro, just because it has a space themed wallpaper slide to choose from, does not make it "Debian-like". Mac OS X normally has a galaxy themed wallpaper, does that make Mac Debian-like?

    1. Yes, you're right. Still, not a big error, because Ubuntu itself is based on Debian.
      Although, I fixed the text in the couple of paragraphs.
      Thanks for pointing the place for correction.

  2. I have Trisquel installed as one of 16 distros on my main drive, and I've been amazed at how well it handles my hardware (amd64-5000 based Compaq with Nvidia graphics and Atheros wifi dongle). Everything from multimedia to desktop effects work perfectly - no small feat given the completely libre nature of the distro. Even flash works reasonably well (via gnash). It's my favorite gnome 2 based OS!

    1. You are luckier than I am. Because Trisquel did not find driver for my Intel 3945ABG Wireless card. 8-(