posted by Daniel W. Steinbrook on Thu 7th Sep 2006 06:14 UTC

"Syllable, Page 2/2"
When first greeted (in 640x480) at the desktop, the view is similar to an upside-down Windows desktop: the taskbar, excuse me, the "dock" is on top, containing the Syllable menu with all of the installed applications, preferences, and actions. Fedora Core and Red Hat Linux users will notice that the icons are from the same Bluecurve set as their desktops. I happen to like the Bluecurve icons, with their matching top-left-corner perspective, but quite frankly, they made Syllable feel like a dinky Linux replacement, which it clearly is not attempting to be. Given the relatively small set of icons that Syllable requires, it shouldn't be too unreasonable to develop their own fresh icon set.

The developers might want to modify the rest of the look-and-feel as well. Despite what the site screenshots may show, the font anti-aliasing was lacking at all resolutions; many phrases were blurry almost to the point of illegibility. The window title bars in the default theme contain buttons for close in the top left, and minimize (to the dock), fill screen, and send in front of/behind other windows at the top right. Strangely, there's no "restore"? button to make a maximized window back to its original size -- a feature necessary for efficient multi-tasking. Menu selection looks strange, as there is a bit of space to the left of each menu item but the text practically falls off the right side. Perhaps I'm being a bit critical of the superficial looks of the desktop, but considering that the desktop is integrated into the kernel, and considering the market for whom Syllable is supposed to be, the desktop look-and-feel can matter just as much as the internals.

Application-wise, Syllable is highly disappointing, Included is what seems to be buggy, feature-incomplete versions of the contents of the Windows Accessories folder. The Whisper e-mail client is one of the few programs that seems decent (which probably explains why it is one of the only applications on the Syllable desktop with a 1.0 version number, albeit an alpha); it's got that simple-but-efficient philosophy working well for it, with a Thunderbird-like layout with a much lesser footprint.

The rest of the applications all suffer from that lack of functionality. AEdit looks very similar to GNOME's gedit, but doesn't have all the nice touches that can be necessary when editing code or just typing some notes. I've never played a game like Inci before, which involves moving connected dots with the mouse such that no connections overlap, but it gets exceedingly infuriating after a short amount of time; of course, I wouldn't blame that on the developers. The file manager is seriously lacking in capabilities. The file system structure itself is just standard UNIX for the most part, but trying to browse it graphically is unsatisfying: no tree view, no location bar, not even cut/copy/paste commands in sight. I love Thunar, the new file manager for the upcoming Xfce 4.4 desktop, in its simplicity and extendability; I was expecting something similar for the simple Syllable desktop. Instead, there's just a folder browsing window with a back/forward/up/home toolbar. Not acceptable. I was also highly surprised to see a complete lack of sample media on the CD. The LiveCD is supposed to highlight the capabilities of the operating system, and there's not a single audio file or photograph to be found on the disc. There's no floppy drive here, my network wasn't detected, and my hard drive partitions aren't listed " so without further hacking, I don't have any access to my own media, either.

Many of the applications still have their AtheOS naming: AEdit, ABrowse, Albert, etc. With the name Syllable, they should come up with something kute and korny like KDE's Konqueror and Kontact, but with a literary theme. I can see it now: Paragraph Spreadsheet! Homophone VoIP! I'm not sure they'd go for it.

After half a dozen crashes, I was through. It's disappointing, really, how an operating system suitable for day-to-day use in the twenty-first century requires worldwide teams of developers, decades of work, and millions of dollars in marketing (for some). An operating system is a complicated project, though, and I can't deny that Syllable has made more than a dent in progress. They've made a fully (mostly, if you count boot) graphical desktop with a small set of applications (more available here) in a system that can even run on a modern laptop. Performance-wise, Syllable is stupendous, even on a LiveCD (a medium which is normally slower (Ubuntu Dapper's LiveCD is painful on most machines). If only it could stay up and running at something other than 640 by 480.


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  1. "Syllable, Page 1/2"
  2. "Syllable, Page 2/2"
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