Bodhi Linux 5.0.0Bodhi Linux is a lightweight Ubuntu-based distribution featuring Moksha, an Enlightenment-based desktop environment. The latest version of Bodhi is based on Ubuntu 18.04 and is binary compatible with its parent. There have been very few adjustments to Bodhi's software and desktop for version 5.0.0, the changes all seem to be behind the scenes, originating from the shift to the new Ubuntu 18.04 base.
Bodhi is available in three editions. Apart from the main (Standard) edition, which offers only a small collection of applications and the Moksha desktop environment, there is an AppPack edition which features more desktop applications (such as LibreOffice, Chromium, the Transmission bittorrent client, the VLC media player, the Synaptic package manager, and PlayOnLinux for installing Windows software) out of the box. The third edition is called Legacy and it is intended to be used on older computers with limited amounts of memory, including those running 32-bit CPUs. The Standard edition is 706MB in size, the AppPack edition weighs in at about 1,400MB and the Legacy edition is a 725MB download.
I downloaded the Standard edition. Booting from the live media brings up the Moksha desktop and opens the Midori web browser to display a local copy of the distribution's manual. The documentation covers such topics as connecting to networks, installing new software packages, and how to navigate the Moksha desktop. I did not find a section on installing the distribution. The distribution's installer is a bit tricky to find; it is accessed through the application menu, under Applications -> Preferences.
Bodhi uses Ubuntu's Ubiquity system installer. The installer asks us for our preferred language, offers to download updates and third-party add-ons such as media support, and handles disk partitioning. I like that Ubiquity offers both easy manual and guided partitioning options. The installer then asks for our time zone and gets us to make up a username and password for ourselves. The whole process should be familiar to anyone who has installed a member of the Ubuntu family. The installer finished very quickly and offered to reboot the computer.
Once installed, Bodhi boots to a graphical login screen which we can use to sign into the Moksha desktop. Moksha is arranged with a panel at the bottom of the display. To the left of the panel is an application menu and some quick-launch icons. Over on the right side is the system tray. The default theme is dark (appropriately named Arc Dark). A pager widget on the panel lets us switch between two virtual desktops.
Left-clicking on an empty area of the Moksha desktop opens the application menu next to the mouse pointer. Right-clicking on the desktop has no effect, which is the opposite behaviour we would typically find on other open source desktops.
Bodhi Linux 5.0.0 -- Connecting to the network guide (full image size: 264kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
The first time I signed into my account the Midori web browser opened again to display the project's documentation. While most of the information provided was useful, I ran into a minor issue while browsing the manual pages. Specifically, the instructions for connecting to the Internet were out of date. The documentation expects there to be a Network Manager icon in the system tray, but this applet is not present. The Network Manager software can be run manually to restore this icon, but it is unlikely people reading the documentation will know how to access Network Manager without its icon.
After using Bodhi for a while I realized there had been no indication of available software updates. I found a graphical update manager in the application menu which displays a list of new updates along with their version information. The update utility is unusual in that no packages are marked for updating by default. We can either manually select the ones we want to install or click a button to select all available packages.
The first time I ran the update manager the upgrade process seemed to stall after a minute. There was no visible progress and no disk activity and I eventually killed the update manager's process. I ended up using the update manager a few times later in the week and in each time after it completed its update process successfully.
Software packages are mostly provided by Ubuntu's repositories with a few custom packages coming from a separate Bodhi repository.
I tried running Bodhi in a VirtualBox virtual machine with a lot of success. The distribution automatically integrates with VirtualBox and was able to use my host system's full screen resolution. The distribution was stable and the desktop was highly responsive in the virtual environment. For the most part, Bodhi performed similarly well on my laptop computer. I found the trackpad wouldn't interpret taps as mouse clicks by default, but this was a minor issue. Performance was equally good on the laptop computer.
One serious issue I ran into with my laptop was I could not get Bodhi to connect to a wireless network. My wireless card was detected and it was able to see local wireless networks, but I could not get Network Manager to connect to any available networks. Connecting to a wired network though was as easy as plugging in the cable.
Bodhi Linux 5.0.0 -- Browsing Bodhi's wiki (full image size: 317kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
In either testing environment Bodhi used about 150MB of RAM when logged into Moksha and consumed 3.7GB of disk space with a fresh install. I eventually used quite a bit more disk space as I ended up installing several additional desktop applications. Once LibreOffice, Thunderbird, a few media players and a few other programs were installed, I had used up over 5GB of space.
Bodhi's main edition ships with a small selection of applications. We are given the Midori web browser, the Ephoto image viewer and ePad text editor. The PCManFM file manager is included along with a volume control and two settings panels. There are no multimedia or productivity applications included by default. In the background we find init is provided by systemd and the distribution runs on Linux 4.15.
Bodhi Linux 5.0.0 -- The two settings panels (full image size: 383kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
There were two pieces of software in the application menu which I felt stood out. One was the settings panel, or panels. The Moksha settings are arranged a bit differently than the settings modules we find in GNOME, KDE Plasma or other mainstream desktops. While panels in those environments are typically arranged into grids of icons which open modules, the Moksha desktop forms tabs of modules which are arranged into lists. The organization difference probably wouldn't have made any difference to me except that not all the tabs fit in the window, requiring us to scroll through them and I found this, combined with the lack of a search box, slowed me down when trying to find specific options.
The other application I want to mention is Terminology, the Moksha virtual terminal. Usually, as far as I am concerned, one virtual terminal application is functionally the same as any other and I can comfortably switch between Konsole, QTerminal or GNOME Terminal. But Terminology has defaults which break my focus. For example, whenever Tab is pressed to auto-complete a filename, the terminal makes a noise and flashes red. I also found that the first time I'd open the terminal, after signing into my account, the first letter I would type would always be uppercase. This only happened immediately after logging in and only with the first letter, so the first command I typed would always be wrong. My final issue was that sometimes, when opening the application's settings, the settings panel would be transparent. This made it difficult to read the options. Other times the panel would be a solid colour and be easy to read, so this appears to be a graphical glitch. This transparency issue may have been related to the terminal being run in VirtualBox as that was the only place I observed it, but it is an issue other virtual terminal applications have not had in my experience.
Bodhi Linux 5.0.0 -- The terminal settings panel (full image size: 633kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
Since Bodhi's main edition does not ship with much software, we will want to download additional applications. This can be done through the project's AppCenter. AppCenter is not a local package manager, but a web-based repository where a small number of popular open source applications are organized into categories. Each category (such as Multimedia or Web Browsers) might only have, on average, half a dozen applications. We can browse through categories or try to find programs by name. Clicking an application brings up a page with a detailed description, screen shot, user rating and an Install button. When we click the Install button we are prompted for our password and the package is installed.
Bodhi Linux 5.0.0 -- The AppCenter (full image size: 189kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
Should we wish to access Ubuntu's massive collection of software, we can use the APT command line package manager or install the graphical Synaptic package manager from the AppCenter. I have mixed feelings about this arrangement. On the one hand, Bodhi's approach is very streamlined and will likely appeal to less technical users. There is virtually no clutter and I think most people will feel comfortable in the web-based environment. On the other hand, this does limit our selection of easily accessible applications a lot and is quite a different approach from the software managers of Fedora, Ubuntu and Linux Mint.
Sometimes when reviewing an operating system it is difficult to separate the question "Is this a good distribution?" from "Is this a good distribution for me?" Bodhi is one of those projects where the answers to these questions are quite different, mostly over matters of style rather than functionality. On a personal level, I don't think I would ever be inclined to use Bodhi myself because I don't like the Moksha/Enlightenment style of desktop. It does a lot of little things differently (not badly, just differently) from other open source desktops and its style is not one I ever seem to find comfortable. This, combined with the streamlined, web-based AppCenter and unusual settings panel, makes Bodhi a distribution which always feels a bit alien to me.
Let's put aside my personal style preferences though and try to look at the distribution objectively. Bodhi is trying to provide a lightweight, visually attractive distribution with a wide range of hardware support. It manages to do all of these things and do them well. The distribution is paying special attention to lower-end hardware, including 32-bit systems, and maintains a remarkably small memory footprint given the amount of functionality and eye candy included. Most lightweight distributions sacrifice quite a bit visually in order to provide the lightest interface possible, but Bodhi does a nice job of balancing low resource requirements with an attractive desktop environment.
Bodhi is pleasantly easy to install, thanks to the Ubiquity installer, has a minimal collection of software (in the main edition) that allows us to craft our own experience and, for people who need more applications out of the box, there is the AppPack edition.
All of this is to say that, for me personally, I spent more time that I would have liked this week searching through settings, trying to get used to how Moksha's panel works, tracking down less popular applications and re-learning when to use right-click versus left-click on the desktop. But, objectively, I would be hard pressed to name another distribution that more elegantly offers a lightweight desktop with visual effects, or that offers such easy access to both legacy and modern hardware support. In short, I think Bodhi Linux is a good distribution for those who want to get the most performance out of their operating system without sacrificing hardware support or the appearance of the interface. There are a few little glitches here and there, but sothing show-stopping and, overall, Bodhi is a well put together distribution.
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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