Martine OS 2.0When I am considering trying out a new operating system or distribution one thing I always find interesting is how the developers present their software. Some take an understated, technical approach, explaining what their distribution is based on and how it differs from its parent. These distributions usually do exactly what they say on the website without any surprises. Then there are projects which make lots of wild, clearly inaccurate promises about how their distribution will magically prevent tracking, revolutionize the desktop, or be 100% secure against attackers. These projects usually turn out to be really just a popular distribution such as Debian or Ubuntu with an alternative desktop theme.
Then there are projects which aim high, offering something truly eye-catching. Whether the project succeeds or not is sometimes less intriguing than how the developers went about trying to make it happen and what they accomplished or sacrificed along the way.
The Martine OS distribution falls into this last category. It's a Linux distribution which reportedly has a "modern" look and claims to be "universal". Universal in what way? Well, the Martine OS project claims the distribution will run applications written for Windows, Linux and Android. I decided to take Martine OS 2.0 for a test drive to see how these claims measured up to reality.
I could find very little information about Martine OS - which desktop it runs, how it accomplishes its goals of running applications from other platforms, or what its base distribution is. Once I had downloaded the project's ISO file, which is a 6.0GB download for x86_64 processors, I was able to explore the distribution and discover a few things. One is that it is Ubuntu 21.04 under the hood. The other is that the distribution runs the Deepin desktop.
Booting from the live media brings up a boot menu asking if we'd like to try the live desktop or launch the project's system installer. Both options cause the live mode to run and launch the Deepin desktop.
It took several minutes to load the live session and the desktop was unusually slow to respond. A quick check showed that all CPU resources were being consumed, even while sitting idle at the Deepin desktop. As a result, it took over a minute for applications to load.
Martine OS 2.0 -- Running the Deepin desktop (full image size: 1.2MB, resolution: 1536x839 pixels)
I discovered the culprit behind the excessive CPU usage was the Clam anti-virus software which was running in the background, constantly scanning the live media. I tried to terminate the anti-virus process, but ran into a few issues while doing this. One is that both the root account and sudo access are password protected, but there is no indication of what the passwords are. I eventually guessed the sudo password was "user" and was able to terminate ClamAV. The desktop still wasn't snappy, but it became usable.
The next hurdle I ran into is some of the text in the user interface is displayed in English and some in Polish. When I checked the settings panel it indicated my preferred language was already set to English only, so it seems there are bits of the desktop not yet translated. While exploring the settings panel the desktop locked up and necessitated a reboot.
Since the boot menu option to launch the system installer just brought me back to the desktop I did some more exploring of the live interface (once ClamAV had been terminated again). The distribution includes WINE's development branch which explains the project's claim it can run Windows software. Being based on Ubuntu, Martine OS can also install Snap and Flatpak packages, plus any of the thousands of packages in Ubuntu's repositories. I was unable to find any hint as to how the distribution would attempt to run Android applications.
There doesn't seem to be any Android compatibility software installed or Android-related tools. Nothing in the application menu or package list appeared relevant to running Android packages. While I could simply be missing a key component, the project's website doesn't offer any pointers or documentation to help in this area.
Martine OS is a distribution which aims high (running software developed for three different platforms), but lacks an easy way to do this, documentation, and a working installer. I also find it odd that this is the second Linux distribution I've tried in recent months that automatically runs anti-virus software. Granted, anti-virus can be useful in some scenarios, but it's a terrible idea on live media. Live media is often read-only, Linux distributions are unlikely to be attacked by most types of malware, and disk performance on live media (typically DVDs and USB thumb drives) is terrible, causing the anti-virus software to bring the whole system to its knees as it thrashes the live media.
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Airyx 0.2.2The Airyx project is another one which is making some bold attempts these days. Using FreeBSD and helloSystem as its foundation, Airyx is trying to bring a macOS-style desktop to a FreeBSD base that runs on x86_64 systems. The project will reportedly try to use existing open source software to accomplish most of its goals and write new code to fill in gaps.
The download for Airyx 0.2.2 is 1.3GB. Booting from the live media requires the host machine has at least 4GB of RAM available and will refuse to boot if the desired memory is not found. This appears to be a requirement because the live filesystem is loaded into RAM and it is a restriction shared with helloSystem.
The operating system then boots and presents us with a welcome window which says "Welcome" in multiple languages. A tune plays in the background on a loop until we go through the welcome window's screens which basically just tell us what Airyx is trying to accomplish.
The desktop is powered by Openbox and is arranged to look a lot like the macOS desktop. There is a panel across the top of the screen which shows a global menu bar and system tray. A dock at the bottom of the display offers launchers for commonly used applications and the settings panel.
At first I had trouble finding the system installer as there wasn't any launcher on the desktop. I eventually found the installer in the Utilities panel which can be opened via an icon on the dock. The installer is called Install FreeBSD.
Airyx uses a graphical installer which begins by asking us to select a disk to wipe. We can then make up a username and password for ourselves. The installer offers to automatically detect our time zone (which it did successfully). We are asked if wish to enable the OpenSSH service and then our hard drive is wiped and files are copied to the disk. A progress bar is displayed while the installer is working, though no details are displayed by default. If we want a better sense of what is happening we can click a button to show the installer's log. Once the process is finished the installer offers to reboot the computer.
When Airyx first boots we are automatically signed into the desktop environment. As far as I can tell there is no option to disable auto-login, at least not through the graphical environment. We are then shown the same welcome window as before which assures us the system is designed to be private and simple. A single icon sits on the desktop which opens a file manager to display the root filesystem. It seems the filesystem has been tweaked to display just the classic macOS folder names rather than the more cryptic FreeBSD directory names like /usr and /etc. Every time we sign in a small window opens in the corner of the desktop and displays the word "Welcome" in multiple languages. Its yellow background makes it look like a post-in note.
One unfortunate drawback to the unified application menu is that it does not respond to common shortcut keys. For example, if I press Alt+F the File menu is not opened. This makes navigating menus on Airyx jarring when coming from other open source desktop environments.
I started playing with Airyx in a VirtualBox environment where the operating system performed well. The desktop was responsive, the system booted quickly, and everything felt quick and light. While Airyx did not automatically resize its desktop to match the VirtualBox window's dimensions, the system otherwise performed well in the virtual machine.
When switching over to trying Airyx on my laptop performance was again good. Audio worked out of the box and everything ran smoothly. However, while Airyx detected that I had a wireless card, it was unable to use my network card. Attempting to scan for local networks did not detect any despite six being available. This meant, when running Airyx on my laptop, I was using a stand alone computer.
The operating system was relatively light on memory, using about 400MB of active memory and 310MB of wired. This was enough memory to both run the desktop and run ZFS as the root filesystem. A fresh install consumed 2GB of disk space.
While Airyx ships with a desktop that imitates macOS, the included software is mostly made up of standard open source applications. The Falkon web browser is installed for us along with FreeCAD. Blender and the GNU Image Manipulation Program are included too. The Krita and Scribus applications are provided as is the QTerminal virtual terminal. The Qt Creator software is available for developers along with the Clang compiler.
The Audacity audio editor, LMMS player, and mpv video player are included. Multimedia codecs are available, though mpv fails to run. Trying to run mpv results in an immediate failure with the software reporting it is missing a dependency. I installed VLC and it worked to play video, though audio would sometimes fail with an error printed to the console saying "oss audio output error".
There is a launcher for LibreOffice in the application menu, but it is not installed. Clicking the LibreOffice launcher opens a window which offers to download and install the productivity suite. LibreOffice is then downloaded from the FreeBSD repositories.
There are utilities included in Airyx for managing boot environments (provided through ZFS snapshots). The operating system includes manual pages for available commands and uses the zsh command line shell by default. The operating system is based on FreeBSD 12.2 and sometimes refers to itself as being FreeBSD; other times it identifies as helloSystem too, so you can clearly see recent generations of the family tree in Airyx.
Apart from the issues I had with the media players, the software included with Airyx worked well. The system has relatively few pre-installed applications and configuration tools, but the ones featured tended to work as expected. One of the few exceptions was the user account manager. We can create new accounts, but we can not edit existing ones (to change our password or auto-login options). Clicking the Remove button to try to erase an existing account fails with a warning this option has not yet been implemented.
Airyx 0.2.2 -- Unable to remove user accounts (full image size: 357kB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
There does not appear to be any graphical front-end to software management included with Airyx. The pkg command line package manager is included, though it is somewhat crippled compared to the version of pkg used by FreeBSD.
The first thing I did with pkg was try to update the package manager's repository information. Performing "pkg update" produced an error saying "pkg update is not yet supported in helloSystem". This same error appears when trying to upgrade local packages using "pkg upgrade". So, at first, it seemed as though Airyx's version of pkg could not fetch repository information. However, running "pkg install" and providing a package name did work. The package manager downloads repository information, checks for the latest version of the software I requested and installs it.
All of which is to say, pkg on Airyx can install new software, but is unable to upgrade it, which I am concerned means the user will always end up running out of date applications.
I did not spend a lot of time with Airyx, just a few days. Mostly this was due to the operating system not playing well with my wireless card, an issue most flavours of BSD run into. However, while my experience was brief, I will say that I see the appeal of Airyx (and by extension helloSystem). For people who like the macOS style desktop, this experience should make people feel at home. The unified application menu on the top panel, the icons, the utility and settings panels, and the overall theme all share a strong similarity with macOS.
The system installer is quite simple and can be navigated with a few mouse clicks so the barrier to entry is relatively low, assuming your computer has at least 4GB of memory for the live media. The operating system, even running ZFS, is quite light in memory and includes some standard open source tools.
There were two weak points I encountered. The first was hardware support, which is often a problem I run into with flavours of BSD. Wireless and suspend support in particular tend to be missing. The other issue was the lack of a fully functioning package manager. I'm not sure why pkg has been hobbled in Airyx, but the fact it still refreshes repository information and installs packages from FreeBSD suggests to me that the limitation is unnecessary.
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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