JingOS 0.8One of the most recent additions to the DistroWatch database is JingOS, an Ubuntu-based Linux distribution for tablet computers. The project aims to run both GNU/Linux and Android applications via a graphical user interface which is designed to work in a familiar way on touch screens. While early versions of JingOS were developed for ARM-based devices, JingOS 0.8 is the project's first version to run on x86 processors.
The JingOS project requires that people register their e-mail address to obtain the project's free download. A download link is then sent to our e-mail address. When I downloaded an earlier version of JingOS (version 0.6) the download link was for the distribution's ISO file directly. When I downloaded version 0.8 I was given a link to the project's torrent file. At first my torrent download only had two seeders with an average download speed of 20kB/s. This eventually rose to eight seeders at 400kB/s, which is unusually slow compared to most free mirrors available these days. The ISO file's total size is 2.4GB so the download took over two hours.
Booting from the distribution's install media causes the system to start with a self-check of the media. This check can be skipped by pressing Ctrl+C. The screen then goes entirely black for a while. After a few minutes I started testing keyboard input without any response. The only thing I could do was to switch between terminals using the Ctrl+Alt+Function keys.
I found the first terminal remained blank, the second terminal showed a colourful background and a clock displaying UTC time. Terminals three through six all displayed a console login prompt. The login prompts identify the distribution as KDE neon's Unstable Edition.
There are no controls we can interact with on the graphical terminals and no obvious username/password combination worked on the text consoles. I checked the JingOS documentation and found no login information. The website's only instructions for working with the live media are as follows:
Install guide(English): Boot from USB or CD, click Install System.
This is not helpful as there are no buttons or windows in any of the available terminals or screens. I tried booting JingOS a few times and never found a way to get it to proceed any further than these bare screens.
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TribblixThe next project I decided to take a look at this week was Tribblix. The Tribblix project offers an "operating system distribution derived from OpenSolaris, OpenIndiana, and illumos, with a retro style and modern components. The base kernel and commands are from illumos, with a few components currently repackaged from OpenIndiana (mostly X11, some other oddments); pretty much everything else has been rebuilt from scratch. It is very much a traditional system. Software is distributed as SVR4 packages, lightweight window managers are preferred over heavy desktop environments, the primary desktop option is Xfce, and MATE and Enlightenment are also available, plus many others. The system is flexible, fast, and familiar to those who've used Solaris in the past, while shipping modern software on the solid foundation it's based on.
Tribblix isn't just a spin or repackaging of another illumos distribution. It's a completely independent distribution that, while sharing the key illumos technologies such as ZFS, zones, DTrace, and SMF, has been essentially built from scratch, with its own build and packaging system."
(Thank you to the developers for this rather detailed and technical description. It's a rare treat to know exactly what a project is and what it is meant to do.)
Tribblix is currently available for 64-bit (x86_64) processors and there is an older, legacy build for 32-bit (x86) machines. The project currently supplies a build for SPARC machines too. The operating system comes in two main editions: Standard (999MB) and Minimal (238MB). I decided to try the Standard edition, which is tagged as version 0m24.1.
Booting from the Tribblix media brings up a text console that displays green font on a black background. Apparently we are going really retro with this distribution. We are asked to pick our language from a numbered list and then shown a text console with a login prompt.
The Tribblix website provides the default login credentials (the username and password are both "jack"). The website's documentation also tells us we can run a script called live_install.sh to install the operating system to our hard drive. The script just needs to be given the device name of our hard drive.
A wall of text scrolls by as the operating system is installed. When it is finished we are returned to the command prompt. According to the website's documentation we can run the install script again and pass it the names of package bundles to add extra software such as desktop environments and development tools. There is a meta package called kitchen-sink which installs both desktop and development utilities and is the recommended approach to setting up a multi-purpose system.
I tried to install the kitchen-sink package and this appeared to work at first, but ended up displaying thousands of "cannot open file" errors on the terminal. This was followed by new packages being downloaded and then another series of errors indicating there was no space left on the storage device. This seemed odd at first because only about 10% of my on-disk filesystem was consumed. However, in hindsight, I suspect the download process was trying to save new packages either in RAM or to my live media, rather than the hard drive. I resolved to try installing packages again later, once I had booted into my new copy of Tribblix.
First impressions and package management
My fresh copy of Tribblix booted to a console and displayed a login prompt. The "jack" username and password still worked on the locally installed copy of Tribblix. I tried to use the startx and startxfce4 commands mentioned in the documentation and discovered neither command was found. This confirmed that the errors displayed during the initial setup had been accurate and no package bundles (Tribblix calls them "overlays") had been set up successfully.
The Tribblix website mentions a tool called zap which handles fetching new overlays once the operating system has been installed. We can use zap to list installed overlays, see which ones are available, and fetch new ones. The zap command works a lot like APT or DNF in the Linux world, but with a slightly modified syntax.
I again opted to try to install the kitchen-sink overlay and this appeared to be successful. I did end up with some development tools install and I could run startx to get a minimal window manager, powered by TWM. Unfortunately TWM doesn't provide us with much apart from opening a few virtual terminals and displaying a clock. It's a very minimal interface and one which did not respond to mouse input.
I decided to close TWM and switch to the Xfce desktop environment. The Xfce environment started to load and then crashed. This happened each time I tried to start Xfce, whether it was set to be my default graphical interface or not. Since TWM had worked, at least partially, I then tried to install the Openbox window manager to see if it would get me further along. Openbox failed to install, but the MATE desktop did install through zap. However, the MATE session also crashed prior to successfully getting to the desktop screen.
This left me, effectively, without a desktop environment. Running TWM worked, but wasn't much help as far as dealing with graphical workloads and so I played around with Tribblix as a console-only system. I found the operating system consumed about 250MB of RAM when logged into the console. A chunk of this memory appears to be used as cache for ZFS which is the default filesystem. The ZFS tools are installed and worked successfully for me.
Some software on the operating system is showing its age. For instance, the GNU Compiler Collection is available, but is stuck on version 7.3 while modern Linux distributions ship version 10 and even Debian's aging Stable branch uses version 8.3. It seems Tribblix suffers from the same issue OpenIndiana has of often trailing behind in software versions.
Tribblix ships with standard UNIX command line tools and manual pages. However, some components seem to be missing. For instance, whenever I ran the shutdown command to halt or reboot the system, an error would be displayed saying the wall command could not be found. This is the program which would normally inform other users on the system that Tribblix was being shutdown.
Originally I had started testing Tribblix in a VirtualBox instance. I did switch gears and try the operating system on my laptop too for a while. However, Tribblix was unable to detect my laptop's wireless card which meant it was limited to working as a standalone machine during that portion of my trial and unable to install new software.
I did not have a great time with Tribblix. The concept of the illumos platform with a classic style appealed to me as I was a fan of Solaris in the early days of my career. On paper this operating system does offer some attractive features. I like that it provides ZFS out of the box and a fairly minimal default platform. The zap overlay manager does a nice job of fetching and setting up software on the system, at least most of the time.
However, Tribblix did not do well with regards to supporting my laptop's hardware, with getting a desktop environment up and running, or with providing even semi-recent versions of open source applications. Like its siblings in the illumos family, Tribblix feels like it is slipping behind the times and struggling to provide a polished user experience.
There are some positive aspects here and if I were setting up a server operating system or NAS that was expected to run without a desktop then I could certainly see the appeal of Tribblix, especially for people who are fans of the Solaris family of operating systems. However, there are still a number of rough edges to deal with before I think Tribblix will be in a position to replace FreeBSD or one of the mainstream Linux distributions in common roles.
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Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a de-branded HP laptop with the followingspecifications:
Processor: Intel i3 2.5GHz CPU
Display: Intel integrated video
Storage: Western Digital 700GB hard drive
Memory: 6GB of RAM
Wired network device: Realtek RTL8101E/RTL8102E PCI Express Fast