posted by Peter Olsen on Tue 25th Mar 2003 00:41 UTC

"Appearance, Getting more software, Why run Yellow Dog Linux?"

Appearance

Of course, the big news is that YDL 3.0 has smooth, anti-aliased fonts! This alone is reason to ditch all previous versions of Linux. With the high pixel density of the iBook, I don't think you can get a nicer display. Appearance is a huge deal for me, far more important than it really should be. I definitely judge a book by its cover typography. And RH 8.0/YDL 3.0 is the first Linux I can really bear looking at for any length of time.

It's hard to believe that Linux can now compete side-by-side with Mac OS X for quality of fonts. YDL 3.0 doesn't come with a large selection of fonts, but the "best shapes" setting in the font preferences gives a slightly sharper look than Mac OS X and a little more character to each font.

The Blue Curve/Wonderland theme is excellent. If you've seen it in Red Hat 8.0 you don't need an introduction, since it's the same in YDL 3.0. Both window decorations and widget set are clear and usable with a subtle amount of detail to give visual interest. I tend to pick my favorite theme and stick with it, so I like something that doesn't grow old and stale.

It's a good thing I like Wonderland, though, because in GNOME on YDL 3.0, that's your only choice. In KDE, you get the usual absurd collection of mismatched themes, window decorations and widgets. Feel free to make every window look unique, but don't make me look at your desktop.

Getting more software

YDL 3.0 uses the Debian command line program apt-get for updating. Be sure to select the packages you want from the CDs during installation because it doesn't look like you can run that same package selection program later. apt-get can get the packages for you and resolve dependencies, but it's not as easy to use as the Red Hat menu of packages.

During this initial rollout there appear to be some setup problems with the YDL servers for apt-get. I assume that will go away once the release is public.

I don't know if there's a Java 1.4 for PowerPC Linux. Blackdown has a PPC 1.3.1 Java, but it dies on YDL 3.0 with an Illegal Instruction error. Instead, I used the IBM Developer Kit. You have to pick the "pSeries" version to get a PPC virtual machine, but it works fine on YDL 3.0. It would be reasonable to assume that IBM (and Blackdown) will eventually do a PPC version of Java 1.4. I didn't see any sign of a browser plug-in with the IBM Java, though, so your web viewing with YDL 3.0 will be limited for now.

Checking the YDL 3.0 distribution CDs, I found that the IBM Java 1.3.1 runtime environment is included. I must have missed it on the list of packages to install, pointing out the flaw that you can't go back and revisit that list as you can with RH 8.0.

CDs aren't automounting for me. This doesn't bother me much, since I normally use the command line to access CDs anyway. But it could be tricky for someone fairly new to Linux.

YDL 3.0 claims to be able to run Mac OS X as a client operating system. I will admit that I haven't dug around to figure that out yet. It would be cool as an impressive demo, but it brings up the ultimate question of what YDL is for.

Why run Yellow Dog Linux?

I would say that YDL is ideal for exploring Linux, since it has a nice out-of-the-box experience. I can't say that the performance is any better than Mac OS X on the same machine, but the visual appearance is excellent and a nice antidote when the sticky-candy look of Mac OS X begins to grate on you.

It's possible there are a few UNIX software packages that will compile on YDL but won't yet compile on Mac OS X. That's because OS X has some strange quirks in the way it handles shared libraries of subroutines. But with a comparatively large market share, all the big programs are being ported to OS X. And you have a much larger selection of pre-compiled software on OS X. Things are rather limited on YDL because most pre-compiled software is built for x86 Linux. The problems with Java are an example of that.

Linux is still not for the faint of heart. Mac OS X is a much better experience for anyone who wants to avoid the command line. And with Apple's beta version of X Windows, Mac OS X really can do almost anything that YDL can do. It even has apt-get, thanks to the Fink project.

My ultimate reason for using YDL is the old question of which operating system is "strategic". Mac OS X is a niche product, and probably won't ever get out of the single digits in terms of market share. I wish this weren't the case, but I have to be realistic about it.

Linux is already mainstream. It's easy to get approval for it at work. In fact, in one recent case I was told I had to use Linux, because we didn't have the budget for a Windows Server license. And of course, no chance at all of buying new hardware, so Mac OS X was out.

So I'm using YDL because I like the way it looks, and because I see much more Linux in my future. You could say that a PowerPC Linux is a niche within a niche, at least on the desktop. But Linux in general has legs, and there's a certain open source radical inside me that says, if I can't compile it, I don't want it. And if it compiles on Linux, it compiles on YDL 3.0, so I should be all set. Who needs Java when you've got Python? The Python version in YDL 3.0, by the way, is bang-up-to-date!

About the Author:
"I'm the online development manager for a large newspaper chain. My infatuation with operating systems goes back to TSS/8 on the PDP-8, and recently caused me to think seriously about downloading that TOPS-10 emulator mentioned here."

Table of contents
  1. "Intro, Getting the Software, Installation"
  2. "Appearance, Getting more software, Why run Yellow Dog Linux?"
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