4MLinux 21.04MLinux is a lightweight Linux distribution designed to provide four key areas of functionality. With just the software available on the ISO, 4MLinux provides a wide variety of applications for performing system maintenance; playing many types of multimedia files; offering a miniserver to provide a basic web server; and it has a decent selection of games, which the distribution places in a category it calls mystery. Those four functions provide the basis of the distribution's name. Four things that start with "M", so 4MLinux.
Honestly, those four categories are very different things, so can one distribution do them all without losing focus? In 4MLinux's case, it can, up to a point. In a 550MB ISO, 4MLinux provides a lot of software to do each of its four specializations. Granted, it does some better than others, but it does not fail at any of its tasks.
Below, I take a look at 4MLinux's 21.0 release in depth. I begin with a look at the distribution as a whole, focusing on things that are shared across the entire experience, basically the desktop environment and parts of the user experience that span multiple categories. After that, I explore each of the four M's in more detail before concluding with my final thoughts.
4MLinux's desktop environment
Booting 4MLinux from a flash drive is a quick process. I was quickly and automatically logged in as root and could start working in the desktop environment. For the desktop, 4MLinux uses JVM combined with a Wbar launcher at the top of the screen that provides shortcuts to major programs. Plus there is IDesk to manage the desktop, and Conky to provide basic system status information. Wbar, IDesk, and Conky can all be switched off, but the system is already very light when they are in their default, enabled state. When I tried running 4MLinux in a (somewhat) low memory virtual machine with 1GB of RAM, the top process monitor reported the system was using only 160MB of RAM. 4MLinux was quick and responsive when run in a virtual machine or on bare metal.
Out of the box, 4MLinux comes with a decent selection of software. In the JVM application menu there are shortcuts for a terminal, Internet applications, maintenance, multimedia, miniserver, and mystery. The Internet sub-menu contains Links for web browsing, HexChat for IRC, Sylpheed for e-mail, Transmission for Bittorrent, uGet for downloading, a utility to share files via Bluetooth, GNOME PPP for dial-up Internet connections, and an option to toggle Tor on and off. I will cover the contents of the four "M" sub-menus in the respective sections below. There is also a section for extensions, which contains shortcuts that will prompt the user to install a selection of add-on applications, such as LibreOffice, GIMP, various web browsers, and VLC, to name just a few.
There are two drawbacks with the software selection. One: there is no modern, graphical web browser pre-installed. Yes, they are all much heavier than Links, which does get run in its graphical mode, but 4MLinx provides a graphical application for e-mail, so including a single lightweight graphical web browser as the default would be a welcome change. Many of the major browsers, including Chromium and Firefox, are listed in the extension sub-menu for easy installation, but they need to be downloaded and installed before use. Two: some of the packages included in the menu are not actually already installed. This is to be expected for applications in the Extension sub-menu, but there are applications in the other parts of the menu that require packages to be installed from the 4MLinux disc or from the Internet.
4MLinux 21.0 -- Help and FAQ text (full image size: 230kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
In addition to the selection of software packages, 4MLinux provides a few 4MLinux-specific utilities and help files. There is an updater script to update 4MLinux, an installer script to copy the distribution to a hard drive partition, and text-based help and FAQ files. The help file and the FAQ cover a lot, but not absolutely everything. Unfortunately, the help file and the FAQ file make up the majority of the text-based help available on the system; it looks like man pages were not included in order to save space.
The overall user experience for 4MLinux is pretty good. The desktop environment is pleasant to use, giving a user a way to use the various software packages that make up each of 4MLinux's four M's without getting in the way or taking up too many system resources. Since the four areas of specialization are what set 4MLinux apart from other distributions, I will now take a look at each of them.
Maintenance is 4MLinux's best aspect. The distribution comes with a large selection of utilities pre-installed. There are applications for partitioning hard drives, backing up data, recovering deleted files, burning files to CD/DVD, and most of the other common system maintenance tasks. One drawback, however, is the fact that the included anti-virus software, Clam Anti-virus, does not have any virus definitions pre-installed. Instead, on first run the software attempts to download the virus definitions from the Internet. This does ensure that the newest virus definitions are used, but in cases where there is no Internet access, it is impossible to scan for viruses. Shipping with outdated definitions that can be used if needed is better than having an anti-virus program that can only work if there is Internet access.
The maintenance utilities that are included in 4MLinux can be found in many other distributions, but 4MLinux does have a few extras that are unique. Some of the utilities have custom shell script menus that help the user select the right options and use the programs without having to know all the various command line options. Little things like those custom scripts make 4MLinux a good choice to use as a system rescue distribution.
4MLinux can play many audio and video files without having to add or tweak anything. I had no problem playing any of the files I tried. I was even able to play a DVD movie without problems. 4MLinux should be able to play Blu-ray after installing a few extra packages from the installation disc, but I do not have the hardware required to play Blu-ray discs, so I was unable to verify if it works.
The only issue with the multimedia aspect of 4MLinux is the included software. For the most part the selection is good. There are applications to play music, movies, rip files from CD/DVD, and view/edit images. However, the selection of software for playing video files is confusing because there are five different MPlayer-based user applications. MPlayer GUI, MPlayer TUI, SMPlayer, GNOME MPlayer, and Baka MPlayer are all listed in the menu, which seems more redundant than useful. The various MPlayer applications are not all that different, so including all of them just leads to possible confusion about which one is better or the "right" application. Perhaps the worst thing is that despite including five different MPlayer interfaces, VLC is not included by default and needs to be installed from the Extensions section of the application menu. Personally, I would have preferred to have one MPlayer interface installed by default alongside VLC, but that is personal preference. I honestly had zero issues playing media with the included software.
I have mixed feelings about 4MLinux's miniserver functionality. It is does provide SSH, FTP and a useful basic LAMP stack with a nice web-based administrative interface, but in order to get the full functionality it is necessary to install a bunch of packages from the installation disc. Like much of the software that is included as add-on packages on the 4MLinux disc, I would have preferred to have the software pre-installed. Granted, installing the full set of LAMP packages only requires running a single shell script from the lamp directory on the disc (individual packages can be installed using the zk command), but if miniserver is one of the key selling points of the distribution, all of it should be included by default.
4MLinux 21.0 -- Server Admin Area displayed in Links browser (full image size: 163kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
Quibbles about having to install packages to get the full LAMP functionality aside, I do like the minisever aspect of 4MLinux. It is implemented well and provides a good, pre-configured web server for basic testing purposes, but realistically, I seriously doubt I would ever recommend using it for much more than quick and simple testing. Personally, I am far more likely to start up a CentOS virtual machine as a testing server than use 4MLinux's miniserver, but other people might find it useful.
4MLinux comes with a variety of games. The selection is diverse, so there should be something for most people. The games range from things like GNU Chess and solitaire to many of id Software's older first person shooters. Though in the case of the id Software games, the data files need to be downloaded before the game can be played. Also included are some old DOS games that run under DOSBox, but DOSBox has not been tweaked to provide optimal performance, so I had to manually increase the number of cycles in DOSBox to get the games to run smoothly. Another problem with the DOSBox games is that there are potentially intellectual property issues with some of the games included. There is a Super Mario game, which is most certainly not an official Nintendo game, and a Pac-Man clone that has similar issues, so if those might be a problem where you live and a cause for concern for you, you might want to avoid 4MLinux.
4MLinux 21.0 -- Installing WINE as a dependency (full image size: 153kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
One thing that is really strange is the fact that four of the games require WINE to run even though these games have native Linux versions. If you want to play SuperTux, TuxRacer, Chromium, or GLtron, a prompt asking if the user wants to install WINE pops up. Selecting Yes installs WINE and all of the WINE games. I am at a complete loss as to why these games are using the Windows versions when Linux versions are available.
I am not a huge gamer, so I found the selection of game to be adequate. If I were able to add to the selection of games, I would have included ScummVM and a few of the games that are freely available for it, just to provide a little more diversity to the selection of games. I would also remove the problematic DOSBox games. Additionally, native Linux versions of the WINE games would be very welcome.
4MLinux provides a lot of software in a small package. For system maintenance it is good choice to have on hand. For multimedia, miniserver, and mystery it provides a useful selection of software, but there are other distributions that focus on only one of those tasks and do it better by being more focused. That is not to say that 4MLinux is bad, but it tries to do too many different things at once. To be completely honest, I think 4MLinux would be a stronger offering if it were 3MLinux and dropped the mystery aspect entirely. Maybe including just solitaire or some other light game to have as a diversion while maintenance tasks run and use the space freed up by removing the games to include some of the optional extension applications by default.
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Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a Lenovo Ideapad 100-15IBD laptop with the following specifications: