A Short Review of CollegeLinux 2.5

The aim of this experimental Linux distribution is to provide to the student population at large an operating system that is easy to install and use and provides an alternative to the traditional commercial operating systems. CollegeLinux is a Slackware derived Linux (2.4.23) distribution on a single CD that weighs in at 600 MB.Installation
CollegeLinux uses a pseudo text based install procedure. It’s fairly easy, but provides very little in the way of customization (e.g. no package selection). I installed it on an older Athlon 550 machine with Linux friendly hardware. The installation seemed to complete without incident. However, I could not access the CD ROM without editing the fstab file. Overall, the installation was fairly easy but some users may get confused during the partitioning and boot loader phases.

After completing the install and setting up users, you are presented with a KDM login screen. This screen presents a long list of window managers to choose from. Unfortunately, several of the selections do not work. While the non-working options can be removed from the list or installed, this seems rather amateurish.

The Desktop
CollegeLinux uses KDE 3.1.4 by default. It also installs XFCE, and a few others. Surprisingly, GNOME is not installed. CollegeLinux uses a fairly ugly default theme. It looks sort of like a cross between Win2k and OS X. The other KDE themes packaged with the distribution are not much better. It would have been nice if they had included the Plastik theme. Otherwise, it is a fairly standard KDE 3.1 Desktop. You can find numerous screenshots of CollegeLinux here.

The KDE menu is arranged in a logical order and makes it easier to find items than a lot of other distributions. Unlike some distributions, the entries are the names of the applications (e.g. Kword rather than Word Processor). Submenus only have a few items. If a category has more items, there is an entry called “Other” which leads to a submenu of other programs in the category. This does make the menu easier to navigate.

The inclusion of XFCE will be a plus for some people. IMO, it seems to be the best of the non-KDE/GNOME desktop environments available. Users of the classic MacOS will feel right at home here.

The Applications
College Linux includes several applications, but not nearly as many as you would find in some of the larger distributions. Koffice, Kdevelop, Quanta, Gimp, Konquerer, Mozilla, and K3b are included. College Linux is compatible with Slackware 9.1, so it shouldn’t be too much trouble finding packages for other programs you may want to install.

College Linux made some surprising software choices for a distribution aimed at college students. The absence of OpenOffice is mind boggling, as is the absence of programs like Evolution, Firebird, and some of the more popular media players. Oddly, Potato Guy (a game for small children is included).

One of the main additions that I didn’t test is a “server robot” which automatically installs and configures Apache, PHP, MySQL and other packages for a complete server and development environment. If you’re looking for something like this, CollegeLinux may be right up your alley.

The speed of CollegeLinux is about the same or better than all the other Linux distributions I’ve seen. That is, not as fast as WinXP on the same hardware. I would say that it is somewhere between Jaguar and Panther on a similarly configured Mac. Window resizing is not smooth at all. The interior portion of the window resizes at a slower rate than the window frame causing gaps to appear inside the window. The appearance is very unattractive. The resizing problem is similar to the resizing problem on OS X except that the frame and window resize at the same (slow) speed on OS X.

Overall, CollegeLinux is a pretty good starting point. However, I expect that most people who use it will need to download and install quite a bit of additional software before they would be satisfied it. If you have high-speed access, you may be better off downloading all four Slackware CD’s. If you’re on dialup or intimidated by installing Slackware, CollegeLinux provides a good starting point that you can add to as necessary. With a little customization, CollegeLinux can be just as good as any other distribution.

Overall, CollegeLinux doesn’t provide as good a desktop experience as OS X or Windows XP. However, it’s much better than in the past and the average student (or person) could probably get by with using CollegeLinux as their primary desktop.

As a Linux distribution, CollegeLinux is solid but doesn’t really do anything to set it apart from other distributions and the lack of OpenOffice may not make it the best choice for college students.


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