A Review of Yoper Linux V2

Yoper Linux V2 was released a few weeks ago (July 13, 2004). After reading the release announcement on Yoper’s website, I decided I had to try it. Yoper claims that version V2 “is the fastest Out-of-the-Box Linux system in the World”.

Click for a larger view If anyone can compare distribution speeds, it’s me. I’m a distribution junkie. I launched my career as a Linux user with Slackware (very briefly), then moved on to Redhat 5.2. After a few months of that, I became a Mandrake user. After about two years of wheeling and dealing with Mandrake, a few friends suggested I try Gentoo. I was happy with Gentoo for a little while, but I found I was spending too much time tweaking my system than using it. My latest love affair is with Debian and I believe this time I’ve found a rock-solid Linux that’s easy to maintain. I run Debian on my main system but that doesn’t stop me from trying new distributions. I have a test system to try Yoper on.

System Specs for Test System
CPU: AMD Athlon 2800+ (2.08 GHz)
Memory: 512 MB
Video: Onboard S3 chipset
Audio: Onboard AC97
Hard Drive: 60 GB
Network: Onboard 1394 Net Adapter connected directly to the Internet

Yoper Linux is a distribution release from New Zealand based Yoper Ltd. Unlike a lot of distributions that are built on top of another, Yoper is built from scratch. Version V2 comes with a performance enhanced kernel 2.6.7 and KDE 3.2.3. Yoper seems to be a fairly up-to-date distribution with all software included being the latest stable versions. It comes on a single CD that you can download for free or purchase from a site such as linuxcd.org

Click for a larger view I put the Yoper CD in the drive, and rebooted my system. After being greeted by a strange-looking Welcome screen, the installation threw me into a Linux prompt and informed me that I could start setup by typing in “yoper”. I played around a little bit at the prompt and found out there were commands to mount partitions, chroot into an environment etc. It even had Vim for editing files. This means that the Yoper installation CD can be used as a rescue CD (which is always a good thing). After a while, I decided to launch the setup program.

The Yoper installer is a text-mode affair, something like Slackware’s. After agreeing to the license agreement, the installer let me choose whether I wanted to check the integrity of my installation media. I decided to go ahead and do it even though the installer told me it’s required only if you’re having installation problems.

The next step was partitioning. The installer provided me with a list of my hard drives and told me to pick the one I wanted to install Yoper on. The installer informed me that I had to manually create exactly two partitions, a swap greater than 128 MB and root that was at least 3GB. I thought it was strange that I couldn’t have more than two partitions. Like a lot of other installers such as Debian, Yoper’s uses cfdisk for partitioning purposes. I created a 200 MB swap partition and a 4 GB root partition. The next step involved picking a swap partition and a root partition to use.
Next came package selection. The installer then launched a utility called Ychooser with two choices. The first one was “Ydesktop: APT-able KDE base system” and the second was “Ycore – APT-able core linux”. At this point I noticed the absence of any online help in the installer. I would have liked to have read a more detailed description of what packages I got with both Ycore and Ydesktop. I selected Ydesktop. The installer didn’t let me select individual packages like I had hoped to.

Usually package selection is the last step before installation begins, but the installer asked me which filesystem I wanted. The choices available to me were Ext2, Ext3, ReiserFS. I chose ReiserFS (the default). I was dumped back to a prompt asking me to confirm the format which I did.

The installation itself didn’t provide with any progress bars. It simply told me that installation would take between five and fifteen minutes. Meanwhile, I could watch the debug messages on the screen. But not for long, the install was done in about five minutes.

The post install first asked me if I wanted to run networksetup, to which I said yes since I am connected to a broadband connection. It also asked whether I wanted DHCP, to which I said yes again.

Click for a larger view Next up was bootloader configuration. I was surprised that such a new distribution used my old friend LILO instead of the more modern GRUB. I could find no option to use GRUB as an alternative. The bootloader configuration screen was very confusing and even though I figured it out I was recommend that the Yoper folks think about changing it. The installer didn’t ask me where I wanted to install LILO, so I’m assuming it was installed in the MBR.

Next on the agenda was selecting a time zone which turned out to be more complicated than it should have been. The last step required me to type 1 to confirm my timezone and 2 for not confirming it. Without reading I typed y for yes (that does make more sense) but the installer kept asking me to confirm my selection. It was only after I read the instructions, I realized I needed to type a 1. I do admit I am at fault for not reading but this step is still not very intuitive. In the next step, I was required to add a user and set the root password.

Finally, the installer was finished. I had to type “exit” and the enter. Then type “reboot” and enter. This could easily have done automatically for me, but it wasn’t. The system restarted and Yoper was launched.

The Desktop

Click for a larger view I was a little disappointed by the bootup process. For a distribution that claimed to be very fast, it still took about a minute to bootup. This is quite average on my system. Bootup messages were hidden by a Yoper logo and progress bar. Yoper launched a graphical utility for my X configuration. I selected my settings and I landed up at the login prompt. Yoper uses a slightly modified version of kdm for the desktop manager. I logged in with the normal user I had created during the installation.

I clicked login and then something strange happened. The KDE desktop loaded at a shocking speed. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had a fully loaded desktop in about 3-5 seconds. With most other distributions (yes, even Gentoo) I’m used to seeing KDE take around 10 seconds. Yoper uses a slightly modified version of KDE with the Keramik theme selected by default. KNemo (KDE Network Monitor) is also loaded by default and offers network monitoring that is similar to Windows. Overall, the desktop is very snappy and responsive. I was quite pleased with it.

I discovered to my delight that Yoper had detected both my sound and my network. Both were working flawlessly. So I decided to celebrate and play some music. To my disappointment and surprise, the Linux multimedia favorite XMMS was nowhere to be found. Going through the menus, I noticed most of the application were KDE programs. One that wasn’t was Synaptic. Synaptic as many of you already know is a popular frontend to the APT system used in Debian. Since I am a Debian user, I am familiar with using Synaptic. I launched it and searched for xmms and it produced no results. Then I realized I probably had to update my package sources.

Click for a larger view For those unfamiliar with the APT system, there is a file called sources.list which contains a list of sites Synaptic can get packages from. If you install a package, Synaptic will take care of all the package dependencies. So I updated my sources and viola! Now searching for xmms in Synaptic showed me the package I needed. I installed xmms and within a couple of minutes, I was listening to some fun tunes. Overall, Yoper’s package management is pretty good. The packages were downloaded from Yoper’s ftp site and I have no doubt they are optimized for speed just like the Yoper system itself. Their site claims currently their repository has around 500 packages which should satisfy most users. Yoper can also manage to install rpm, deb, and tgz packages. So basically it can handle pretty much every package you can give it. I never got a chance to test this out though.

Besides XMMS, CD burning software K3b was also nowhere to be found. Moreover, another thing that was sorely missing was an office suite. When I noticed OpenOffice wasn’t installed, I figured that surely such a KDE-centric distribution would have KOffice. But it doesn’t. While I could easily have installed them using Synaptic, Yoper should consider having these packages installed by default.
So I went on a bit of an installation spree by installing whatever I needed. All the programs I added to the system did indeed launch noticeably faster than other distributions.

I decided I had to know how Yoper managed to get all these performance boosts. I headed to the Yoper Forums to see if I could find an answer.
I did. According to one post (apparently by a Yoper developer), some of the tactics they use are:

-Performance patches for the kernel
-Compiled with i686 against latest gcc
-Hdparm on install

A little explanation. Stripping is basically removing the debug symbols and other junk information from binaries to make them smaller and hence faster. I would think that most packages would be stripped by default, but I’m not sure. Prelinking is a way to speed up loading of dynamic libraries because there is some overhead with locating these libraries. Hdparm lets you turn on a few optimization flags for your hard drive access (such as DMA). Hdparm is usually include by default by most distributions. Yoper developers openly claim that yes, all these optimizations can be done manually on other distributions. It would take a lot of time and effort, but it can be done. Doing a simple Google search will find excellent resources for the optimizations above.

Yoper is an interesting little distribution with definite speed benefits as we have noted. However, I do have a few complaints about it.

First of all, the default packages is a little strange. The absence of XMMS, K3b, and an office suite is pretty glaring when you consider that almost all users will want to use an office suite and most distributions do provide one. On the other hand, they provide three different web browsers (Mozilla, Konqueror and Epiphany). The CD contains around 640 MB of data which means the developers could squeeze an office suite onto it by removing a few extraneous packages.

Click for a larger view Also, Yoper needs to decide where they are taking the distribution. I couldn’t decide whether this distribution is meant for novices or expert Linux users. A perfect example of this is the installation. I’m doubtful if a novice would be able to install Yoper. Some of the installation messages are outright weird and even left me scratching my head for a minute. On the other hand, if the distribution is aimed at an expert, then why doesn’t the install let you choose individual packages (or even groups of packages)? Another thing that bothered me was the installation didn’t ask me where I would like my LILO to be installed. I think most Linux experts would prefer to see that option in the installation.

Yoper’s website does not offer any formal documentation whatsoever (besides a FAQ). In fact the website is one giant message board. They need to polish up their site and put some real documentation so new users can easily learn how to use features such as package management.

These are just a few examples of the quirks that need to be eliminated from future releases. However, Yoper is a worthy distribution and assuming that Yoper developers keep the distribution as fast as it is now and iron out some of the bugs, Yoper will be a distribution to contend with.

About the Author:
Tarun Agnani is a senior in Computer Science at university. He has a internship doing software development at the current moment. When he’s not tinkering with computers (and breaking them), he enjoys pursuing the Rich Inner Life through friends, family, and fun. You can find his website here.

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