posted by Adam S on Mon 26th Apr 2004 18:55 UTC
IconLinux is all about choice. Endless debates carry on each day, but a new company with a new distribution, Cobind, has a classic, but novel, approach: Do one thing, and do it well.

Click for a larger version I've been reviewing Linux distributions for a few years now, and each time I load something new, I'm struck by the fact that it's almost always a close variant to everything else. It takes a while to get things running - to customize everything and get the desktop looking just right for me. I have to spend a while organzing the taskbar and optimizing the system. I've gotten very used to manuevering around default settings, even though they aren't always what I want. This is generally a given when installing a new Linux distribution.

This would all change last week when I installed Cobind Desktop version 0.1 on my machine. For the first time in a long time, I saw what I felt was Linux done right. I sat in front of a machine that promised to deliver something very exciting in the near future. Cobind desktop is based heavily on Fedora Core 1, but unlike other desktops has a novel approach to OS delivery. Whereas many Linux distributions offer a variety of programs to give the user choice, Cobind does not. Cobind offers a simple and sleek set of packages, focusing on delivering a single product well rather than a slew of options with mixed results.

Cobind installation will almost definitely get a graphical facelift before 1.0. Currently, it uses a curses-like interface much like the Slackware or Red Hat text-based installation. It's relatively simple, and very quick. The install is not ready for the general public, but shouldn't confuse anyone who has ever installed Linux, even if they've only done so via Anaconda or YAST (the install actually does run Anaconda, albeit without the graphical portion). After running through the uneventful install, which runs under a half hour using only one disc, you are greeted by the Cobind boot screen.

Click for a larger version Cobind delivers a nice graphical boot sequence, and that is followed by a first time wizard reminiscent of Fedora's. So similar is the wizard that your time configuration still offers to sync up to Red Hat's NTP servers. Unlike some newer desktop varieties, Cobind, thankfully, does encourage the creation of a user account before the first login. Then you a greeted with a nice looking login screen, which is based on GDM.

This would be the first major problem I had with Cobind. The login process was tough to decipher, as the first box asks for a username, and upon entering your name, the same space for the password is only labeled "Welcome." While it is confusing, it is certainly the effect of an alpha release and will be fixed by the next release. I tried a number of times to login unsuccessfully, and I realized I would be unable to login as a regular user. I tried logging in as "root," and it logged right in.

The Cobind desktop is the most refreshing thing I've seen in a long time. First of all, you don't get a choice of desktop envinronments. This distribution has made its choice as to what it offers - it's running XFce4, a lean, mean, fast desktop. Unlike a vanilla install of XFce, it has some icons on the desktop, ones that are not only useful, but expected by most users - Start Here, Home, and Trash. Best of all, it has well thought out icons on the taskbar. It has Mozilla Firebird for browsing and Mozilla Thunderbird for e-mail, Gaim, Gedit, Abiword, Gnumeric, Gnucash, and XMMS. "For once," I think as I log in, "a truly useful default kicker." These are typical desktop apps, and while they may not be your first choice - AbiWord, Gnumeric, Gedit, and Gaim, at least, all have signficant competition - Cobind has done a good job at providing you a single solution to prevent confusion. There are a number of other applications installed by default, but how to access them is not immediately obvious. Any advanced user can add new programs, while a novice has virtually everything they need out of the box. There's no overlap, you have one tool for the job.

Click for a larger version It should be noted that Cobind using GDM, Nautilus, and the above applications is no coincidence. All of the above - with the exception of the Mozilla apps - even the desktop environment, are based on GTK+ (note that Mozilla does play nice with Gnome, which is based on GTK+, so it fits nicely). There are no KDE/Qt applications included in Cobind Desktop, nor are these libraries installed, as a cursory glance of the application list confirms.

Cobind is fast and simple. XFce4 is extremely customizable, and although not my first time using it, it was the first time I'd seen it preconfigured. One issue Cobind will have to work out is use of file manager. Cobind appears to use Nautilus, the Gnome file manager. Clicking a desktop icon will bring up a window using Nautilus. But clicking on the folder in the XFce taskbar brings up your home directory using Velocity, another Gnome file manager. You can actually access XFFM, the XFce file manager, directly from the taskbar as well. There is an additional link on the taskbar to bring up Konqueror, but the link doesn't work, as Konqueror is not actually installed. This is mere clutter. There is no need for a distribution aimed at simplifying things to offer three or four file managers, much worse, for them to make them all easily and inconsistently accessible from different buttons and locations. This will prove confusing for most users - even those familiar with Linux GUIs - attempting to customize the file manager. Since Nautilus appeared most easily, I was fairly comfortable. I have not found Nautilus to be slow, and I felt Cobind was very responsive overall using any of the FMs.

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