posted by Eugenia Loli on Tue 2nd Dec 2003 17:56 UTC
IconOSNews got their hands on the golden master of Java Desktop System (JDS) from Sun Microsystems and we gave it a spin. Here is our review and some screeenshots.

Installation

The Build 12C comes in 6 CDs: 3 binary, 2 source and 1 documentation. The installation will be familiar to SuSE users, as it is based on Yast2 (JDS is based on SuSE Linux). Installation went fine, except for two problems:

Java Desktop System - Click for a larger view 1. I installed it on /dev/hdd3 as / (a single partition for / and /boot) and used a 512 MB /swap on /dev/hdd2. I told the boot manager to get installed on /dev/hdd3 as I don't want my existing bootmanager to get nuked. Upon rebooting to go to the second part of the JDS installation, Grub will load itself and then it will give me the grub command line and it would NOT load JDS to continue with the second part of the installation. I had to reboot, go to my Mandrake 9.1 installation, mount the ReiserFS JDS hdd3 partition, create a custom LILO file and then chroot to hdd3 and use LILO as my boot manager instead of grub. I did check the /boot/grub files on JDS, everything was in order, it's just that Grub can't read that menu.lst file when it is not installed on MBR. Sun told me that this seemed like a very specific case, and it seems that it was, as I later installed JDS on my AthlonXP PC and chose the same boot manager and partition setup and indeed worked flawlessly this time.

2. After I managed to boot JDS with LILO and entered the second stage of the installation the evolution-1.4.5 and gnome-user-docs RPMs will stall on 95% forever. Changing a screen and running "top" would reveal that scrollkeeper-up was consuming 100% CPU time and it was the culprit of the stall. I had to twice manually kill scrollkeeper to get on with the rest of the installation (thankfully, both RPMs were installed successfully as I checked later). On my second installation on the AthlonXP the same two files were again stalled for a very long period of time (this time I chose to not disturb scrollkeeper), so this is a totally reproducible problem. It drags the installation time from about 45 minutes to over an hour+.

Overall I found the installation cumbersome. It is very involved (I had to go through 4-5 pref panels to configure monitor and gfx card to my liking), very time consuming (staged installations, going through unnecessary screens sometimes), it is ugly and, under some conditions as above, buggy. The best graphical installer on Linux today is Red Hat's Anaconda (with only a couple minor UI annoyances) and Sun/SuSE should learn a few things from it. Anaconda retains its power and advanced options (e.g. it has more options than Lycoris' or Lindows' installers) without alienating the new user. Yast2 on the other hand is not what I would call a "modern" installer. It is powerful, but it does not come without its share of extra carefulness the user should have as the UI is not well designed and some things are not obvious in their outcome. I hope the Ximian designers at Novell give it a complete redesign soon.

Overall, the default JDS installation takes about 2.5 GB without the dev tools (which are not installed by default).

The Good

Java Desktop System - Click for a larger view After it gets installed, JDS will boot in full graphical mode and load Gnome. JDS comes with a mix of Gnome packages, some are 2.2.1, some are 2.2.2, others are even 2.4.0 (gnome-panel). The final version of JDS has a different Launch icon than the betas had, a different background image and the UI is a bit more polished.

I liked the Launch menu that Sun has put together. It is pretty functional and manageable. If you don't count the "Extras" menu which has been deprecated by Red Hat and others for being a bad usability decision, other than that, the menu is good: recent items, search for files, log out, applications, preferences on their own placeholder and Star Office 7/Mozilla 1.4/Evolution 1.4.5 are to be found in a 'quick launch' position above the Applications on the same menu.

The distro comes with most of the Gnome 2.2 applications, plus a few more: Totem 0.99.2 (gstreamer backend), Epiphany 0.8.x, Gnomemeeting 0.98.1 (beta!), gThumb 2.1.4, Java Media Player (no XMMS though), a Gtk 2.x version of GtKam, Gaim 0.70, and, of course, Star Office 7, Real Player, Jedit and 3 other Java applications. The Flash plugin and Java plugin work perfectly with the OS. The distro comes with kernel 2.4.19 and GCC 3.2.2.

The Yast2 modules are part of the preferences menu or the System:/// VFS Nautilus module. There, you can find additional Yast2 preferences, like configuring your NFS, Samba, services, advanced administration panel etc. Users who have used SuSE will find a familiar ground here. While the Yast2 modules (as the Yast2 installation) are ugly and they seem to be out of place (they don't correspond to the default Gnome theme or font) they ultimately do the job.

Star Office 7 is included and provides a powerful alternative to MS Office for all small and medium sized businesses. The $80-worth SO7 is a major part of the OS' marketing and maybe it can be called as its main feature. The suite worked well and read successfully all my "normal" .doc files, but it failed miserably on .doc files that had mathematic symbols (I was sent such documents by Intel for an OSNews article a few months ago).

Java is installed by default and it works well. I loaded a few java apps, like Limewire and they ran as expected.

Nautilus has been patched to support new VFS modules while its main window opens the "My Computer" screen instead of the user's home folder. The My Computer includes links to all removable disks, other automatically mounted Linux partitions (not FAT or NTFS though by default), Networked links, PDAs etc. I quite like this arrangement, but there is a problem with the naming. Sun calls everything that is mounted "removable drives." I fail to see how my internal IDE IBM drive is "removable" (it can be "unmounted", but it is not "removable"), while my CD-RW is also titled "removable" (correctly) but it has a hard disk icon instead of a CD-rom icon and so it is extremely confusing what is what over there...

Java Desktop System - Click for a larger view A good addition on JDS' Nautilus is the ability to automatically refresh the contents on a Nautilus window when files are changed. On my Slackware (also with ReiserFS) I have to manually click "refresh" to see the new contents and its Gnome is even newer than JDS'.

It is nice to see that Sun applied some of Ximian's patches, for example for the GTK+ file selector, which now is the same as in the latest Ximian Gnome. Too bad Sun didn't take on the Ximian Preferences window too, though.

There is an online updater for the OS, same as in SuSE, however it requires you to enter product registration information before it can be used (which I was not given by Sun, so I couldn't test this feature).

The Gnome Panel 2.4 has seen a few patches too: most applets can be locked, while there are a few additions too, like a search applet named web-eyes and Quick Lounge. Evolution has also seen patches from the default and it is now dubbed "Evolution Java Desktop System Edition." I have no idea what they have changed exactly though (Evolution is a big app to easily single out details).

A personal request would be to add nano or pico or jed to the distro. If a new Linux user gets stuck on text mode for some reason, using vi or emacs is not really an option for most.

Except for two totally reproducible crashes with Nautilus and Mozilla 1.4.1 (see next page), I found JDS extremely stable, maybe even more stable than other distros' desktop software I tried lately (overall, certainly more stable than Fedora's or Yellow Dog Linux's apps for example).

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