Lycoris Desktop/LX ‘Amethyst Version’ Review

A few months ago we wrote a full review of the Lycoris Desktop/LX operating system, but many releases happened since then and some things have changed. The Lycoris folks sent us the latest official version (+ online patches), we tested it, and here is what we think about it.

Updating the OS is easy! The (very easy) installation procedure hasn’t change much since the last reviewed version in March 2002, so you still get to… play Solitaire while the OS is being installed. This time the Lycoris icons (and not the older Redmond Linux ones) are in place in the installer and the OS itself.

I had two major problems installing Lycoris this time. While booting off the CDRom, Lizard, the installer would just freeze. The reason was because X wouldn’t load because the ramdisk size was not enough. Apparently, this bug is around for some months, but there is even a (nasty, from the Joe User’s point of view) workaround for it, however the installation wouldn’t get through without using it. After installing the OS, Lycoris wouldn’t load in X mode, but rather in “safe” text mode with an app loaded asking me the way I would like to configure X. Apparently, the installer didn’t create a valid XF86Config file despite the fact that it recognized my monitor and card, so I had to recreate it by using this text mode app. I installed Lycoris on VMWare as well, and on VMWare everything went fine, but not on my “real” PC.

After doing so, X11 would load and a (modified) KDE 2.2.2 would load too successfully. The icons are indeed similar (and not the same) as in Windows XP, which I find it a ‘plus’ personally, as the target audience of Lycoris are Windows users and not hardcore Linux ones. The theme, colors, background images available and icons give the user an upright feeling, they have a euphoric side in them, and I personally favor them.

IRIS, OS Update, Other Admin Tools Since our last review, Lycoris have released two important components: The Lycoris application packager (IRIS) and the new Control Center.

The “Install New Software” option under the “System Management” submenu on the main Lycoris taskbar menu, will open a (modified) Konqueror window and you will have three options: to install something from a floppy or a CD, or via the net or the option to view/remove existing installed software. The third option just loads the well known KPackage application which comes by default via KDE.

The second option will load another Konqueror window and it will get you to a page that Lycoris has set up with some categorized applications in it. If you choose to install something, the browser will go to SSL mode and you will need to have registered your Lycoris previously with an authentication key (called ProductID, it comes either if you buy the boxed version of Lycoris, or later via the web for $20 USD) in order to be able to download and install these apps. I have to say that the net installation works like a dream, really nice. No dependancy headaches for the user, just… click and run. ๐Ÿ˜‰

The first option does not work well. I put in the second Lycoris CD, to install the developer’s tools that come seperately, but nothing is getting installed. It just returns an error. I haven’t managed to install the dev tools yet via the “visual” ways of Lycoris (without using command line and the rpm command line app that is).

The AA font problem Another great job the Lycoris guys have done is the “Update Wizard” application they offer. You click on it, a window will open and it will connect to the Lycoris web site to see if any new files are available for updating your OS. Lycoris is able to download and update on the fly new XFree servers, kernels, applications, libraries, you name it. I used it twice so far and it works like a charm. The only thing it lacks is to automatically inform the user when there are new updates available.

The Control Center has been revamped and it is now web based, kinda like the one found on Windows XP. Clicking to an item will actually open a real application to modify your system. Some of the pref panels opening are straight out of KDE, but others are purely created by Lycoris and they are therefore unique. You will find unique tools for the init process, bootmanager, networking, hardware wizards to install/remove hardware, change resolution and refresh rate, graphics card, samba and much more. These config panels that truly allow you easily play with hardware and drivers (as well as the installation process of new software) are the two strong key
points and reasons for running Lycoris as a desktop.

In the System Management submenu you will find more goodies, like the Desktop Sharing option (able to connect to a Windows terminal server too).

Some of the configuration panels Lycoris comes with a fair deal of software installed. You will find Internet software, KOffice, some games, Xine, Gimp, XMMS, digital camera apps, TV app, Real Player and more. For $10 more you can buy the Deluxe version of Lycoris that includes more software and Open Office. As we said, you can also download some software via the IRIS, but the big problem here is that IRIS contains less than 50 real applications! While Lindows’ ClicknRun, Xandros Debian mirrors, or even Gentoo’s Portage include thousands of applications, IRIS offers very-very few. I listened to a radio interview of Jason from Lycoris who said that they offer few apps because they make sure that these apps work ok. I understand that less apps means less support headaches for the Lycoris support team, but on the other hand, this truly limits the user! For example, I wanted to download a Yahoo! messenger application, and KYim offered via IRIS just doesn’t work (can’t find the Y! server). And the official Yahoo IM app won’t install manually because of failed dependancies. There is only one game to select from IRIS too! There are no other important applications like Evolution, Gnumeric or AbiWord to choose from (and there is already some GTK+ support however coming with Desktop/LX). While I perfectly understand the argument that “one application for each kind” should be offered, on the other hand, people pay for Desktop/LX and the reason they pay for it, is because they want choice and more applications included in IRIS. IRIS just doesn’t offer enough applications (yet?).

Lycoris automatically mounts other supported partitions, like ReiserFS partitions, FAT and NTFS. Lycoris itself comes with the ext3 filesystem and it automounts and autoloads any inserted CDRoms. Default browser is Mozilla 1.0. The Help system is good and functional.

The Arial MT and Freetype rendering font problem On the down side of Lycoris, is its ugly fonts. I think there is something wrong with either Freetype or the setup of their XServer. All their versions I tried (both on VMWare and on my PC) load this utterly ugly font called “Arial MT”. While I have seen this font rendering on other Linux distros, specifically under Lycoris it just doesn’t render well. I installed the Font Installer utility off the second Lycoris CD, and migrated my Windows web fonts. The official Arial renders better, but it still does not render as well as in other distributions, which leads me to conclusion that it is not even Arial MT’s fault for rendering ugly, but something else deeper in the rendering code. To make things even worse, Joseph has hardcoded this Arial MT font to all the Lycoris homebrewed config panels (like the networking or the hardware wizard one), and even if you change your KDE to use a better font, you will still get apps that use this below par font.

Also, after you change to another font, the KDE terminal loses AA and from that point on, no matter what you do, you won’t be having any AA in it. I also notice that Lycoris does not use the Qt enviromental variable to allow KDE applications that are launched from the terminal to use AA. I hope this will get fixed as well (mind you, there is another bug there that if you actually load the KTerminal from inside a terminal that has loaded the AA variable, the actual font inside the terminal session are not handled correctly – you get tab spaces all over the place). In my opinion, Lycoris is also about looking nice, so this font problem (which was reported months ago from me and a whole lot of others) should be fixed as soon as it is possible.

Another problem with Lycoris is speed and latency. Sometimes, when I open a KDE application, or when I save down a document, XMMS will create distorted sound for some seconds, for as long the action is taking place. I think Lycoris should consider include the preemptive/low latency patch on the kernel because mulitimedia and other performance is just not great.

Konqueror, Clutterd Context Menu Also, there are still a few fixes and changes to be made to the UI. For example, on the context desktop menu of “Create New”, you get both a “Text File” and “Text Document” entries, while the included “Illustration Document” is broken, because Kontour is not installed along with the rest of the KOffice. Also, I liked the Xandros way of minimizing the (cluttered by default KDE) context desktop menu entries to absolute minimal. “Less is better” for a desktop OS, and the Lycoris folks already know this. Also, while there is a “Most used applications” placeholder in the Lycoris main menu, there is none for the most used or most recent documents. I think that this should be added too.

The last problem I had with this version is that it pretty much only supported 3D for nVidia cards. By being a small company like Lycoris (4-5 people) it is indeed difficult to test 3D drivers for so many PC configurations out there, but 3D is important for most home users.

I can’t help it but compare Lycoris with Xandros and Lindows, because they have similar goals and targeting audience. Lycoris looks much-much better than Xandros, it includes more software by default and better control panels and software/OS installation/update apps. Xandros on the other hand, offers more options to the panel that allows you to share directories via NFS or SMB, or a panel that allows you to find other printers or computer on the network. As for Lindows, they now offer easy configuration of Wireless computing and they have upgraded to KDE 3.x which offers some more eye candy.

Personally, I feel that if Lycoris fixes the annoying installation and font rendering bugs, add better 3D support and overall OS speed, offer more applications via IRIS, polish a bit more the UI and add some of the pref panels that their competition has, we are seriously looking at a very promising (and fearsome by their competitors ๐Ÿ™‚ operating system. An operating system that can easily be used instead of Windows without missing almost anything. I am eagerly awaiting the new version, but even this current official build will be good enough for many.

Installation: 6/10 (that would have been a 9 if I didn’t have the 2 major installation problems)
Hardware Support: 8/10 (no 3Dfx V5 in 3D mode, my digital camera isn’t recognized)
Ease of use: 8/10
Features: 8/10
Speed: 7.5/10 (UI responsiveness, latency, throughput)

Overall: 7.5 / 10


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