posted by James LaRue on Mon 14th Jun 2004 06:35 UTC
IconRecently, I got my hands on version 0.2 of Cobind, a Linux lite desktop, based on Red Hat/Fedora Core 1, from a software company in Pittsburgh. Not yet in general release, Cobind is a one disc wonder.

I tested Cobind 0.2 on what I can only describe as a leftover machine: a Gateway PII, 128 megs RAM, 10 gig hard drive, 3.5 1.44 mg floppy, Ethernet 10 Base TX, and an EV700 Gateway Monitor. It also has a CS4235 sound card, although I never did get it to work. That problem notwithstanding, it was this underpowered machine that convinced me Cobind has a future; it not only worked on this machine, it worked very well.

Every distribution has an intended audience. At present, most Linux distributions are targeted at the geeknoscenti. Cobind is different.

The target user of Cobind is the Linux newcomer, particularly one moving away from Windows. This is a computer user of some sophistication, but not looking to make a career of using a new operating system.

He or she owns, at home, a Windows-based machine that no longer has enough horsepower to run the latest applications. He or she is very, very tired of Microsoft viruses.

Because this target user audience is hoping to get one more cycle of use from an older computer, we can assume that no one wants to spend any more money than necessary. Cobind goes for just $10 (plus shipping).

In addition to home use, Cobind 0.2 is also appropriate for lighter business use. I'll get to just what's in the package below.

Cobind has another wrinkle. Dave Watson, CEO of the company, explained in a previous interview that the design concept of Cobind Desktop is based on the excellent "Paradox of Choice," by Swarthmore professor Barry Schwartz.

Schwartz writes of a trip to the grocery store, "In the pharmaceutical aisles, I found 61 varieties of suntan oil and sunblock, and 80 different pain relievers aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen; 350 milligrams or 500 milligrams; caplets, capsules, and tablets; coated or uncoated. There were 40 options for toothpaste, 150 lipsticks, 75 eyeliners, and 90 colors of nail polish from one brand alone."

"Unlike supermarket products, those in the electronics store don't get used up so fast. If we make a mistake, we either have to live with it or return it and go through the difficult choice process all over again. Also, we really can't rely on habit to simplify our decision, because we don't buy stereo systems every couple of weeks and because technology changes so rapidly that chances are our last model won't exist when we go out to replace it. At these prices, choices begin to have serious consequences."

Cobind is based on the notion that Linux -- a reflected in most of today's distributions -- just doesn't have to be so ridiculously wasteful of your brain's CPU cycles.

What I like

There are many things I like about Cobind.

First among them is the window manager. XFce 4 has a crispness and elegance that reminds me of the Macintosh's OS X. XFce's most visible element is the panel, which does resemble the OS X dock. It isn't identical, however. For instance, adding and removing things isn't just a matter of dragging an icon on and off. You have to right-click, then interpret the options. Generally, that's not too hard. The panel can be hidden, or dragged around the screen.

XFce is clearly snappier than Gnome or KDE. It uses fewer system resources. More to the point, XFce is what you get -- there are no other choices.

Whether you are a Windows, a Mac, or a Linux user accustomed to Gnome or KDE, you'll find that XFce is perfectly obvious.

It took about 40 minutes to run through the installation process on my older machine. (A new HP got it up and running in 10.) The installation program in 0.1 and 0.2 is a non-graphical version of anaconda. (I believe this will be changed in the final version.) I counted the installation steps.There are about 13 prompts, depending upon some branching choices. The questions revolve around the typical Fedora/Red Hat choices for language, keyboard layout, partitioning, time zone, and network connection. Frankly, this could be whittled further. But it's perhaps more important to note what Cobind doesn't ask:

* It doesn't ask you to switch CDs. There's only one.
* It doesn't ask you what packages you want. You get what you get.

Table of contents
  1. "Cobind, Page 1/2"
  2. "Cobind, Page 2/2"
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