Remember Turbolinux? Less than 5 years ago, it was a fixture in the forefront of the Linux landscape along with Red Hat, SuSE, Mandrake, Debian, and the now defunct Storm Linux. Later this week, Turbolinux will release their new desktop distribution, dubbed “10D.” The following is a first look at Turbolinux’s return to the fray.
It’s no secret that Turbolinux is really focusing on Asian nations with this release. They are helping China move to a digital infrastructure. The new distribution’s codename is “Suzuka.” It offers, even in the installer, to run Simplified Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. It’s been available in Asia for some time, and isn’t yet available in the US. Turbolinux is the first major distribution to release a version “10” of their release, although it should be noted that to the best of my knowledge, there is no TurboLinux 9D. That said, it ships with modern components such as kde 3.1.3, glibc 2.3.2, XFree86 4.3, and gcc 3.3.1, not to mention a hot-off-the-press kernel.
Generally, when reviewing a new distribution, I try to stay away from going into too much detail with the installer. The Turbolinux install, however, is a unique program called “Mongoose.” Mongoose has a lot of the look of the new Mandrake installation but the feel of Red Hat’s Anaconda (it may even be based on Anaconda code). The Installer offers three choices – Standard install, Turbo install, or Upgrade. As you can imagine, the turbo install zips by many choices offering “sensible” defaults. It auto-partitions without the ability to view it, it auto-configures almost everything except the root password, and it selects to install everything. A much more practical choice is the standard install, which is an attractive graphical checklist that scrolls through. My complaints with the installer are more constructive criticisms – the location to add a user in the installer is not very obvious, so much so that I completely missed it during my first swing. Secondly, the TFDisk tool included to resize your disks is fairly complex — not so much for a seasoned user, but certainly for a new user. As an admin, these things are not a big deal. The one thing that really stands out as interesting is that when prompted to create a new file system, your options include ext2, swap, PPC PrepBoot, RAID, VFAT, RAW I/O, all the common journaled file systems, and NTFS. Yes, NTFS. Creating an NTFS partition during installation results in mounting errors on boot. I’m not sure why this option is present, but it certainly is intriguing.
I have to say that I was impressed with the installation routine of TurboLinux. I’ve done this many times before, and my nerves are shot from these “four click installs.” I want to configure my system by hand, and Mongoose is a nice tool for doing just that. If I wanted a four click install, that’s an option too.
Having selected Gnome 2.4 as my default desktop (KDE 3.13 and XFCE are also included), I booted up and attempted a login. It immediately reported errors. Gnome was unable to login. I would later find this to be the case with XFCE as well. XFree would immediately crash on login. Fortunately, KDE, the default desktop for Turbolinux, worked perfectly. I installed TurboLinux three times on two systems for this review, and the second installation did not produce Gnome errors. I’m not sure what the problem was, but my elementary XFree86Config hacking did not fix things.
KDE has been heavily customized by Turbolinux. You’ll notice right off the bat, a customized, Crystal-like icon set that also has some icons that are so similar to XP icons that if you told me they were directly copied, I’d believe you. You’ll also notice “My Computer,” “MyDocument,” and “Windows Network” icons on your desktop, a la LindowsOS (“MyDocument” is a link to a folder in your home directory also called “MyDocument”). The desktop is attractive and consice. Like more and more distributions, Turbolinux has significantly cleaned up the “Kde” menu. In fact, it’s one of the more logical layouts I’ve seen. They’ve taken nearly everything out of the first drawer, similar to what Microsoft did with XP, in favor of computer tasks, and placed all programs in a subfolder. The default desktop also includes a link to “Printer Jobs,” a tool for monitoring your print queue. While clearly out of place on the desktop, it’s a great tool for a user. Perhaps better stashed in the K menu, it’s a nice touch. The only glaring error off the bat is that what I assume should have been a “My Documents” folder is erroneously referred to as “MyDocument” throughout the entire OS.
Gnome has also been customized, though to a much lesser extent. It, too, boasts the My Computer and “My Document” links. If anything, it may be a little skimpy on the applications. It uses a theme called “distro,” which I believe it just a tweaked Geramik. It also uses the XP icons.
Turbolinux found and configured my USB wheel mouse with no problem. This is also the first distribution I’ve used where I’ve noted bluetooth prominently displayed as one of the services. TurboLinux has de-emphasized the concept of “home” in favor of “My Documents.” This has been interesting, as it also parallels Windows concepts more closely. Sadly, the fonts in both KDE and Gnome are less than impressive. While they appear to be anti-aliased, in most places they still seem jagged. By contrast, view Fedora’s default Gnome installation and see how gorgeous fonts should look.
Turbolinux uses RPM as its package format. Included is a program called CuikIn which is a graphical RPM handler much like GnoRPM. You’ll find two of the three or four English errors in the distro right on the front of that screen – CuikIn InstallWizzard and “Please entry install package.” These errors slipped through QA and are more damaging to the reputation than the usability. It’s tough to be credible when you having spelling and grammar errors on the front of your flagship application. Finding TurboLinux RPMs, by the way, is next to impossible, save for the ones on the CD. The good news, however, you’ll find that the underlying components for apt-get are installed. The sources.list has a comment seen below that explains that Turbolinux doesn’t fully support apt yet, but it’s nice to see it coming along. I’d imagine Turbolinux will have to set up their own repository before they can promote this feature, and that will be a great boon for software management in Turbolinux.
Turbolinux uses a much hyped program called TurboUpdate to keep the distrobution up to date. Claiming it looks and feels like WindowsUpdate had me excited. Unfortunately, TurboUpdate does not work yet as ftp.turbolinux.com is not responding to TU requests yet. As it is, there is no update tool. When this comes online, I’d be excited to try it out. Another interesting component is that Turbolinux comes, by default, running kernel 2.6-test5_2. The TL folks claim that when 2.6-final is released it will be a simple update via TurboUpdate, which is exciting.
I was surprised, when customizing the system, to find the new Crystal SVG icons included in KDE. They are, if I recall, going to be the default for KDE 3.2. Applying this icon set, unfortunately, leaves a bunch of “unknowns” on the desktop, as the Crystal SVG set has no “My Computer,” “MyDocument,” or “WindowsNetwork.” Changing themes in Gnome does the same thing. TurboLinux developers should hard code these icons rather than making them part of the desktop theme, since changing the theme at all will break them.
Software-wise, TL is a little light in included software. Recognizing that RPMs for TL are not common, more software should be available out of box. For example, there is only one of many popular programs, one FTP client (KBear) and and one IM client (Kopete). Some essential programs are missing altogether, like an office suite or an HTML IDE (only KDevelop is present, or KWrite, if that’s acceptable to you). On the other hand, other key elements are present. Kaffiene, the default media player, played all my media files (wmv, asx, asf, mpg, etc.) with no additional plugins and XMMS handled my mp3s.
Windows Interoperability was very good. I was pleased to see that TL wasted no time in jumping on my Windows network via Samba 2.28. I was able to browse Windows shares with no effort at all, simple point and click in my workgroup at home, and at work, a simple domain login did the job. This is refreshing. I also noted that TL will mount your NTFS volumes under /dev/winntX and your fat32 volumes as /dev/windowsX. Both are read only, which is a pain, but not a problem. I had file sharing working with less than 5 minutes effort.
In reality, though, Turbolinux is plagued by many problems. My second install would not allow me to su up to root. Visiting a new terminal via Ctrl+Alt+F1 would allow the root login though, so that ruled out password problems. Since I was essentially unable to do anything as my user “adam,” I had to log into X as root, which worked, but was less than ideal. Between this and the first installation problem with not launching Gnome or XFCE, there is still work to be done to get things to run properly in the defaults. Anyone can break a system, but it should not be broken out of the box.
It’s hard for me to sum up Turbolinux, because although I was plagued with problems, for some reason I really liked me experience with it. While Turbolinux has issues today, it’s got some core concepts that I think put it, philosophically, above other distributions. While many Linux die hard hold steady to age-old UNIX methods, TurboLinux has embraced some Windows ideas that have carried over well. The My Computer icon, for example, is a very comfortable “location” for browsing your computer.
With a concentration on the Asian market, Turbolinux may be strategically positioning itself for a very large userbase. The arrogance of English speaking users has led most of us to believe that if it isn’t huge in the US, it isn’t “a player” in the market. In fact, the Asian market is ripe for Linux right about now. I suspect that a large footing in Asia could provide the capital necessary to fight for an American and European userbase right when Linux is reaching maturity for the home desktop. Either way, it’s somethig to keep your eye on.
Further, Turbolinux is a good deal at the right price. At only $29, its ability to mesh into a corporate environment has got to exceed that of many other desktop Linuxes. Not to mention that TurboLinux support options are available and also inexpensive. I’d stress that deployment in a business would probably be enjoyable. The learning curve between Windows and Turbolinux, I anticipate, is much less than a migration to SUSE Linux, Red Hat, Debian with stock KDE/Gnome, FreeBSD, or any other major distro with the possible exceptions of Lycoris and LindowsOS.
In short, Turbolinux 10D is probably not the ideal for a home user, but is certainly able to stand on its own merit. It has some issues to overcome, especially for deployment on a variety of PCs like you’d find on varied systems like home desktops. In my estimation, it’s a very fitting work desktop, ideal for standard tasks, but not for a flexible system that a power user’s home PC might be. I expect that, if the developers continue to invest in the English side of things, that 11D could be a serious competitor to the desktop distributions out there now.
Installation: 9/10 (detailed, but non-confusing Mongoose installer)
Hardware Support: 9/10 (found all hardware successfully)
Ease of Use: 8/10
Features: 7/10 (not enough software available)
Credibility: 6.5/10 (needs more QA work with English)