The need for speedUnquestionably, the most striking aspect of Syllable's startup is the sheer speed. It's fast. In fact, it boots in less than a third of the time Windows XP and Fedora Core take on the same box -- and that's really refreshing to see, considering the bloat afflicting today's desktop OSes. Some of this can be attributed to Syllable's relative complexity; it's not doing quite as much as WinXP and the big Linux distros, but the performance is still remarkable and the OS's developers are keen to maintain this plus-point.
In the current release (0.5.3), Syllable's desktop consists of a clunky app-launcher and themeable titlebar controls, in addition to a cross-breed of Win32 and Motif widget styles. Thankfully, the ageing launcher is being thrown out in favour of Dock2 (from Arno Klenke, one of Syllable's most prolific coding-machines). This slick replacement includes a soft-gradient taskbar and super-friendly file manager, and Red Hat/Fedora users will recognise the crisp Bluecurve icons. It's orders of magnitude more attractive and pleasant to operate than the old desktop, and brings a fresh lick of paint to the OS. Dock2 will be included with the next Syllable release, but users of the Live CD will find it rolled-in already.
Syllable's supplied programs include ABrowse, a KHTML-based web browser (slightly dated now, although still usable on basic sites), the Whisper email app, and an IM client in very early stages of development. There's also a media player, a text editor and an image viewer, along with a handful of configuration tools. This is enough for the base OS, but a whole host of other software can be found at Kamidake -- some of them haven't been updated since the days of AtheOS though.
As can be seen in the third screenshot, Syllable is also capable of running a few server tools; currently Apache, ProFTPd, BIND and some others have been ported, and thanks to the GNU toolchain and POSIX-ish design, it shouldn't be hard to get more servers (or newer versions of those mentioned) working too. Developers will be chuffed to find a comprehensive command-line, with Bash and GNU Coreutils available, and a couple of IDEs are making respectable progress. The software side of things is slightly lacking in Syllable right now, with a bunch of great apps that need updating, and others that need coding from scratch.
Still, this is where the hobbyist OSes can shine for outside developers. There are gaps in the software range, waiting for someone to fill them with coding talent, although you don't need to be a guru to contribute -- it's all documented quite thoroughly. The opportunity is there for budding coders to do something unique. For instance, if you write an IRC client for Linux, chances are it'll get lost among the sea of similar apps on Freshmeat. If you write an IRC client for Syllable, though, it'll receive far more attention -- and could even become an official app...
Some major subsystems and components have yet to be implemented. For example, there's no printer support or PPP functionality, so dialup modem users will have to go through another box via Ethernet. Features like these, and others, are on the cards for later releases, but in the meantime the Syllable team is focused on stabilising the foundations. As can be seen in the interview towards the end of this feature, significant additions are planned for 0.6.x and 0.7.x versions, so there's a lot still up in the air.
And the verdict...
All things considered, Syllable isn't currently suitable for newcomers to use day-in day-out, although it's getting there; when the apps mature and become more robust and featureful, developers will find it a decent environment in which to work. It's fast and pretty reliable, and the familiar CLI and toolchain are great to see. Most of all, there's bags of promise in Syllable, with so much already done, and it's clearly on the road to great things -- so if you're interested in OS development or writing software with a small and friendly community, give it a go.
What's hot: Ultra-fast boot times; great general performance and low RAM requirements; clean and non-distracting GUI; easy configuration dialogs; friendly community.
What's lacking: Some features and subsystems not yet coded; limited range of apps; occasional stability issues.
Bottom line: Astoundingly complete for a hobbyist OS at version 0.5, with a bright future ahead. Some more work on the apps and it'll be very usable as a home desktop OS.