BeeFree OS 18.1.2BeeFree OS is a Linux distribution which tries to combine characteristics of Linux Mint, Ubuntu and Windows 7. Specifically, BeeFree OS uses Linux Mint as a base and includes Mint administration utilities and the Cinnamon desktop. The desktop is themed so that windows have the look of applications running on Ubuntu's Unity desktop. The application menu is arranged to resemble the Windows 7 Start menu.
In addition to these features, BeeFree offers a few other special characteristics. The distribution includes the BeeBEEP peer-to-peer (P2P) chat and file sharing application. The project also supports downloading software from an on-line store and these packages are portable, allowing them to be installed on a computer which does not have a working Internet connection.
The latest release of BeeFree OS at the time of writing is version 18.1.2 and is based on Linux Mint 18.1. The distribution is available exclusively for 64-bit x86 computers. The project is available in just one edition, featuring the Cinnamon desktop and its installation disc is 1.8GB in size.
The project's live disc boots directly into the Cinnamon desktop environment. The desktop has a dark theme with a panel placed across the bottom of the display. The panel includes an application menu, task switcher and system tray. The task switcher displays small icons for each window rather than a wider button containing the name of the application. When moving the mouse over a window's button a preview of the application window's contents is displayed. The application menu's button is labeled "Stark" instead of "Start", perhaps to avoid a trademark dispute. On the desktop are icons for opening the Nemo file manager and launching the system installer.
BeeFree OS 18.1.2 -- The application menu (full image size: 790kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
BeeFree OS uses the Ubiquity system installer, a friendly, graphical installer which will be familiar to users of Ubuntu and Linux Mint. BeeFree does not appear to have customized the installer at all (clicking the installer's link to view release notes brings up the release notes for Linux Mint 18) and I will skip over the details. I found the installer worked well for me, walking me through the usual steps of disk partitioning and creating a user account.
BeeFree OS boots to a grey login screen where we can sign into the account we set up at install time. Logging in brings us back to the Cinnamon desktop. We are not greeted by any welcome screen or pop-ups, however there is an icon which appears in the system tray letting us know security updates are available.
Clicking the update icon in the system tray opens the graphical update manager. The first time we run the update manager we are asked to select one of three update policies. One policy displays and automatically selects all available package updates, another displays and selects only updates known to be stable and safe, while the third policy automatically selects stable updates while showing the remaining packages which might pose a risk if they are upgraded. This allows us to find a balance between keeping our system running the same from day-to-day and keeping up with security updates at a potential risk of breaking functionality.
Once a policy has been selected, the update manager displays the available software updates along with each package's safety ranking. We can select which software updates we want to install. The update manager worked well for me, successfully applying all available security updates.
I experimented with BeeFree in a VirtualBox virtual machine and on a desktop computer. When running in VirtualBox BeeFree integrated with the virtual environment and was able to make use of my host computer's full screen resolution. The desktop lagged a bit when the distribution was running in VirtualBox, even with 3-D support enabled. I was able to coax some more speed out of the Cinnamon desktop by disabling visual effects, but the desktop always lagged a little.
I encountered no problems with BeeFree on my desktop hardware. My computer's hardware was all properly detected and the Cinnamon desktop was very responsive on my physical computer. In either environment a fresh installation of BeeFree used around 7GB of hard drive space and 360MB of RAM when logged into the Cinnamon desktop.
For the most part, BeeFree OS ships with the same applications and software as Linux Mint 18 does and it uses the same core packages as Ubuntu 16.04 LTS. Popular items in the application menu include the Firefox web browser (with Flash support), the HexChat IRC client, the Thunderbird e-mail software and LibreOffice. Network Manager is available to help us connect to the Internet. The Transmission bittorrent software is included along with the GNU Image Manipulation Program and the Brasero disc burning software. BeeFree makes media codecs available along with the Rhythmbox audio player, the VLC multimedia player and the Xplayer video player. BeeFree includes the Mint Help documentation, Mint's domain blocker and the Nemo file manager.
In addition, we are given a settings panel with controls for adjusting the look and feel of the Cinnamon desktop and its extensions. There are also configuration modules for setting up printers, managing user accounts and blocking access to websites. BeeFree ships with Java, the GNU Compiler Collection and systemd as the init software. The distribution runs on version 4.4.0 of the Linux kernel.
Generally speaking, the applications which ship with BeeFree all worked well. The default collection of software covers a wide range of functionality without overly cluttering the application menu. The configuration tools worked well and it was easy to set up new users and connect to a printer.
One thing I kept noticing is the BeeFree team has left Linux Mint branding intact in their distribution. The Help documentation viewer, for example, refers to the distribution as Linux Mint and uses screen shots from Mint to demonstrate how to access features. The package management tools not only pull from Ubuntu's and Mint's software repositories, but tend to refer to the operating system as Linux Mint. The bookmarks which are included by default in Firefox are all for Linux Mint's resources. The only BeeFree customization I noticed was Firefox's default start page is YouTube where a video showing a Lego-style Deadpool character automatically plays.
BeeFree OS 18.1.2 -- The BeeBEEP chat application (full image size: 434kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
There are two applications included in BeeFree which I do not think I have encountered elsewhere. One is the BeeBEEP messaging software. BeeBEEP is a peer-to-peer instant messaging application which allows people on the same local network (LAN) to send text-based messages and files to each other. The layout of the BeeBEEP application is pretty simple, reminding me of IRC clients like HexChat. Other people using BeeBEEP on the LAN are detected automatically and I like that there is no requirement to have a central chat server set up. I was hoping to find a way to use BeeBEEP over the Internet, but it appears to be focused on scenarios where users are all on the same local network, like in a business.
There is another tool included in BeeFree OS called B1 Free Archiver. This utility appears to be a fairy standard file archiver. I did not notice anything about it which stood out, either in favour of using it or any bugs.
BeeFree inherits Linux Mint's software management tools. Synaptic is present for people who want to manipulate specific packages and manage repositories. Synaptic worked well for me and performed its installation and removal actions quickly. The distribution also ships with the mintInstall software manager. I really like mintInstall. It has a friendly, straight forward interface where we can select a software category and see a list of available packages, ranked with user ratings. mintInstall worked quickly for me and I think it's one of the more easy to use software managers currently available. It may not have a lot of features, but it makes browsing for and installing software quick and easy.
BeeFree OS 18.1.2 -- Installing software with mintInstall (full image size: 677kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
A third option BeeFree users have when it comes to installing software is visiting a web-based software repository called CenterFree.cf. The CenterFree site shows us lists of applications grouped by popularity and by category. Clicking on a category header brings up a box near the top of the page where we can browse all items in the selected category. Clicking on a specific package displays a full description of the application along with a screen shot. We can click a download button to download an archive containing the desired application and its dependencies. While most software managers are designed to be used while on-line so that dependencies can be downloaded at install time, the CenterFree packages can be ported to another computer and installed, even if the computer has no network connection.
I had thought CenterFree packages would be recognized and opened by BeeFree's web browser, but I was mistaken. There is no action associated with the CenterFree packages. To install one of these archives we need to open a virtual terminal, make the archive executable and then run it from the command line. The package will then unpack itself, prompt us for our sudo password to gain admin privileges and install itself.
BeeFree OS 18.1.2 -- Browsing applications on CenterFree (full image size: 185kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
This process of installing applications is not exactly convenient, the way a point-n-click approach would be, but it does appear to be portable and new applications I installed were automatically added to BeeFree's application menu. One of the few lingering complaints I had about the process of using the CenterFree repository is the website is not secured using HTTPS, pages (including checksums) are transmitted over plain HTTP. And, while checksums of packages are displayed, I do not think packages are signed. This makes using CenterFree less secure than using the distribution's built-in package manager, but most of the available software is the same.
Sometimes when a distribution tries to combine together ideas or technology from multiple sources, it creates something brilliant, like mixing peanut butter and chocolate. Other times the execution comes across more like an unfinished platypus. BeeFree -- with its Mint-based operating system, Ubuntu-themed desktop and Windows application menu -- feels like it falls in the latter category. To some people, this combination of styles may hold appeal, but I feel the implementation is not yet polished enough. The interface's background colours switch between green, purple and orange a bit too often for my taste.
BeeFree OS 18.1.2 -- Adjusting desktop settings and adding a printer (full image size: 604kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
While the look of the distribution did not appeal to me, the CenterFree application bundles do hold promise. There are many popular applications featured, including the WPS productivity suite, and the idea of having off-line bundles I could port across distributions certainly appealed. I think the on-line app store still needs a little work to make it more user friendly though. The website should probably be secured by HTTPS and, ideally, the BeeFree distribution should recognize CenterFree bundles and be able to install them without a trip to the command line. In short, I like the concept, I just think the approach needs some final touches to make the on-line store easier for newcomers to use.
In the end, I came away from using BeeFree OS thinking that the project may hold some promise, but I think more time is needed for the distribution to go from a mash-up of other projects to having its own, polished identity and style.
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Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a desktop HP Pavilon p6 Series with the following specifications: