First Look At Sun’s Java Desktop System

It arrived in the mail today: the Java Desktop System beta, in the form of a live CD, based on SuSE’s 8.2 live evaluation CD. I was eager to try Sun’s attempt at creating a user-friendly Linux distribution, so I signed up for beta-testing, and this live-CD is the result.I was kind of disappointed to see it was only a live-CD, since I am not really fond of them. Live-CDs never seem to function properly on my system, or they do not function at all. But, I inserted the disc into my primary CD-device, and threw all my prejudice in the garbage bin.


Click for a larger view The Java Desktop System beta (JDSb) is not a ‘100% pure’ live CD, since it requires some files to be installed onto, in my case, Red Hat’s / partition (the JDSb is also capable of using a ‘Windows c: drive’, although I doubt that NTFS is supported). The three files created hardly use any disk space (a little over 100 MB), and are easily deleted when done using the JDSb.

After creating these files on your hard disk, the YaST2 setup program is started (only instead of SuSE it says Sun). YaST of course does not require any introduction; it has already proven itself, in my opinion. The install/configuration was almost perfectly smooth, except for two things. First, YaST hung during printer setup, and it’s not that I have a very rare printer or anything. It is an HP DeskJet 840c. I just rebooted my computer, and skipped printer setup.

The other glitch in YaST has actually nothing to do with YaST, or Sun for that matter. It is the fact that X does not seem to like my ATI Radeon 9000. I have had problems in every Linux distribution so far. X recognizes the card just fine, but the Radeon general or Radeon specific drivers do not seem to work. I always have to switch to the standard Vesa driver. Not much of a problem, normally, but here we are talking about a live cd, which means it was not possible to edit my XF86Config file from the command line. I had to ‘reinstall’ JDSb for the second time. My expectations were still high.

After the configuration finished, it booted directly into JDSb, without the need for a reboot.

First Impressions

The desktop looked good. Not special, not extraordinary, but good, almost ‘professional’. No real surprises here.

I am not so impressed by the other visual elements of JDSb. Especially their Blueprint theme, is, to say the least, hideous; as though created by some 13-year old who had nothing else to do. It is a combination of dark purple with chrome-like widgets, almost unreadable. And it absolutely does not go with their primitive grey button set. I just hope that this is really a ‘blueprint’ and that they are going to improve on this matter before the final release in December this year. This may sound like whining to you, but do not forget that this OS is aimed at desktop use, which means it also has to look good, besides having solid inner workings (which it obviously has, since it is a Linux distribution). Blueprint falls into oblivion compared to Mandrake’s Galaxy or Red Hat’s Bluecurve. (what’s with this ‘blue’ thing, anyway?)


JDSb comes loaded with Mozilla 1.4 as standard browser, Ximian Evolution 1.4.4 for email, and Gaim 0.66 for instant messaging. So far nothing surprising; although I must say I prefer Galeon over Mozilla, but that is just me.

JDSb features Sun’s own StarOffice 7 office suite, which, of course, performs just wonderfully. This is supposed to be the ‘big thing’ that is going to draw users away from Microsoft. I do not think it will, though. Even though StarOffice is probably just as good as MS Office, it just lacks the ‘reputation’ MS Office has. I think the number of users in Windows is relatively low, even though OOo is getting quite some attention (at least here in the Netherlands). If OOo and Sun are unable to gain marketshare on Windows, how are they going to draw users away from Windows with the help of this office suite? Seems pretty unlikely to me.

There were not really any other interesting packages available. Gimp is installed, Java Media Player, and Totem, a movie player which I had not heard about before, Gnome PDF Viewer, and that is about it.

Why Java In The Java Desktop System?

Click for a larger view Included in JDSb is the Java runtime environment (Java 2 Platform, Standard Edition), which means that Java applications run smoothly on JDSb. A few Java applications are included. The already mentioned Java Media Player, JGraphpad, jDictionary, JDiskReport and jEdit (reminded me about Kate). Are these applications of notable quality? No, they are not. They use a different, even more primitive button set, and they load quite slowly. A notepad application should load in less than a few seconds, jEdit simply takes too long to load.


The Java Desktop System has disappointed me. I expected more, much more. I know this is just a beta, but knowing that the final release is planned for December, they have quite some work to do. First, they should consider making the GUI more user friendly; now it is inconsistent, not very readable, and just plain ugly. This is a major point considering this product is aimed at the desktop.

Secondly, they should definitely include a wider variety of applications. Maybe I am spoiled with Red Hat, Lycoris, Mandrake and others, but you will not be able to compete with other distributions this way, let alone compete with Windows.

And I just cannot find out why they use ‘Java’ in the distribution’s name. Including a runtime and adding some Java applications does not justify this; I know this is just a live cd, but still. They probably used it because quite a lot of people have heard about Java (also end users), since ‘Java’ was kind of a magical word in the world of cell phones.

So, how does JDSb compare to other desktop-oriented distributions? Well, it is not better than, say, Red Hat, it is definitely not better than Lycoris and absolutely not better then Mandrake, not even near it. It’s not a bad one either, though, it just lacks identity. I think that is the major point: it has no identity. Of course it is just their first release, so we might see a lot of good things coming from Sun. But not when they’re heading in this direction.

From a company with financial problems that’s pinning its hopes on this new product line, I would expect a more complete, more finished product, just 2 months before the final release. I just hope the high people at Sun realize that releasing a good quality product two months after the promised date is better than releasing an unpolished, unfinished product on time.

Specifications Of Test System
-K7T Turbo2 MotherBoard (MSI)
-AMD Athlon XP 1600+
-512 MB SDRAM pc-133
-ATI Radeon 9000 w/ 128 MB DDR-RAM (Hercules)
-Compaq v75 17″ color monitor
-CMI8738-based 5.1 sound card (C-Media)

The Sun Java Desktop System beta live-CD features the 2.4.19 Linux Kernel


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