gOS: Undocumented Enlightenment

gOS, the hot new Linux distribution, is generating a lot of buzz because it comes with the Everex Green PC, sold at Wal-Mart for $200. Does it live up to the hype?
gOS, the hot new Linux distribution, has been generating a lot of buzz because it comes with the Everex Green PC, sold at Wal-Mart for $200. Linux reviewers are totally in love with it, and are praising it to the skies. Naturally, I had to find out if it lives up to the hype.

gOS (either Green OS or Good OS, depending on what you read) takes a different approach from most general-purpose Linux distributions. It uses the Enlightenment desktop environment instead of the usual KDE or Gnome. In addition to the usual productivity applications (OpenOffice, the Gimp, Web browser, email, and so forth) it comes with a raft of Google apps, such as Gmail, News, Calendar, Docs, and Maps. So you could use it as an Internet thin client, storing your documents on Box.net, never bother with local storage of your documents or email at all, and always have access to them anywhere you find an Internet-connected computer. It also comes with a Skype client, and links to Facebook, Meebo, Blogger, Box.net, and YouTube.

gOS comes on the usual LiveCD, with an easy hard-drive installation from the LiveCD. There are also VMWare editions for Windows and Mac. Enlightenment doesn't need big horsepowers, so I tried both the LiveCD and the hard drive installation on two older computers: a Thinkpad R32 with a 1.6 GHz mobile P4 and 256 MB RAM, and an old homebuilt desktop machine powered by an 800 MHz Duron processor, also with 256 rams. Nothing exciting about either one; it was easy as pie, as all Linux installations are these days, with one weird glitch--gOS does not create a gOS boot menu entry, but simply recycles the Ubuntu entry. So when you boot up, choose Ubuntu.

My first stop, as always with anything, was the gOS Web site. What a fascinating experience that was- I read every word in under five minutes. To call it "undocumented" is an understatement. Perhaps "allergic to documentation" is more accurate. And to think I crabbed at the lack of release documentation in Ubuntu Server--they serve up an encyclopedic feast in comparison. You won't even find many screenshots, though they do make a big deal out of--I am not making this up--the Capsule. Which looks like late 90s Apple art, and they even use "think" in the URL. Not Apple's ungrammatical "think different", just "think". Maybe it's an homage to the old IBM THINK signs.

When you click on the Support link, you are taken to a literal FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)--it is full of questions, but not many answers. Even more fun is they borked the browser back button--when you want to return to the main FAQ page after reading a FAQ entry, you either have no back button at all, depending how you got to the page, or it takes you all the way back to the Support page. Want to get back to the main gOS site? Lots of luck--there are no links from the FAQ page; you're on your own. If there is a user mailing list or forum somewhere, it's a secret.

The technology is summed up in a sentence: "gOS runs on Ubuntu + Enlightenment which in geek means... very sexy." Strangely, I didn't find any nekked or otherwise sexy piccies, or even any racy stories. I didn't find any release notes or anything pertaining to gOS' actual technology, either.

gOS is an Ubuntu 7.10 derivative that uses Enlightenment DR17. Enlightenment DR17 has not been officially released and is not supported by the Enlightenment team, and Ubuntu pulls packages from Debian testing, unstable, and experimental, so gOS is a bundle of bleeding-edge packages. It's not clear who the target market is--I hope it's not unsophisticated users or Windows refugees who are not experienced with Linux, because there is no help for noobs.

One difference between the free download and the Everex GPC is you won't get multimedia by default; you'll have to install DVD and mp3 players yourself.

It found all of my hardware, except for the AC97 modem on the Thinkpad. This isn't well-supported on Linux, so that's no big deal. The default menus are well-organized. It lacks a font manager, a graphical sound configuration tool, and a graphical firewall builder. Suspend worked fine, but Hibernation was a total bust--it never worked at all. Adding and removing USB devices worked fine. It found and mounted all local partitions, and it found local networked printers. It did not configure any wireless NICs that I tested during installation, which seems a strange omission for a Web PC.

The real prize of gOS is Enlightenment, and it's a shame there isn't even a basic howto on using it, because it's beautiful, fast, and very configurable.

gOS seems raw and unfinished, and visibly bolted together; a slapdash slightly-modified Ubuntu with Apple-flavored artwork, and Ubuntu splash screens and other Ubuntu bits all over the place. Experienced computer users from any platform will be able to poke around and run applications without much fuss, but if they run into trouble they're not going to find much help.

Check out the Everex GPC owner reviews--the ones complaining about the lack of Windows drivers are good for a few chuckles.

This article was first published on LinuxPlanet.

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