I was recently informed about a new distribution aimed at old hardware. That distro is Bodhi. With minimum hardware requirements coming in at a 300 MHz i386 for the processor, 128 MB RAM, and 1.5 GB for hard-drive space, this distro promises to give Puppy Linux a run for its money. (You’d have to go with DSL to get lower minimum specs.) With the Enlightenment Desktop Environment for the GUI and access to distro-specific and Ubuntu repositories, Bodhi seems as though it will be impressive for any system. Unfortunately, it doesn’t yet live up to that promise.
The first thing I see as a problem, before I even begin to download, is the lack of a 64-bit version. I do understand that a 64-bit version goes somewhat against the idea of working on outdated hardware, but now, there are even 64-bit systems that could be considered obsolete. A resource-friendly 64-bit distribution is definitely in order. Another thing that I was initially concerned about was overall functionality. Bodhi seemed to be priding itself on being “free.” This is often a sign that non-free (a.k.a. non-open-source) software and drivers are not available. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I tend to be more practical about what software I choose. I was relieved to see that this was not the case. The distro is compatible with Ubuntu’s “Lucid Lynx” (10.04 LTS) repositories, so there’s plenty of software available to meet your needs, both free and non-free. Now to the fun stuff. Time to boot!
First thing I noticed when booting from the CD is the unique boot screen. Normally, this is not that big of a deal, but it was actually rather attractive, and I thought the floating leaves were a nice touch. I was then presented with a menu to select what configuration I wanted for the desktop. There were options for a bare-bones desktop, a fully composting desktop that supported either hardware or software rendering, a desktop for general use, an alternative “artistic” layout, a laptop or netbook configuration, a tablet option for small and/or touch screens, as well as a tiling option for which I didn’t quite understand the purpose. Naturally, I chose the composting option.
In the past, I’ve always shied away from the Enlightenment Desktop Environment. It’s functionality and stability have always been issues for me. What I saw on the distro’s website, though, was nothing like the Enlightenment I remember. The screen shots are spectacular. Seriously, these are on par if not superior to some that I’ve seen using Gnome and KDE. Screen shots, however, only tell the visual part of the story. After choosing my theme, I was taken to the desktop. After playing around with what little software there is on the live CD, I gathered that the actual visual experience lived up to the screen shots. The composting effects, while not quite as impressive as those available in Compiz, certainly were better than what you get from XFWM. Not being familiar with Enlightenment, it took me a while to find all the controls, but ultimately I did and immediately started playing with settings. This is where things began to fall apart.
This may be due to my unfamiliarity with Enlightenment, or it may be a genuine problem with the desktop environment itself; I’m not sure which. Regardless of the reason, I managed to break the desktop and nothing I did (short of rebooting the computer) would put it back to right. I made some modifications to the virtual desktop settings and ended up with no right-click menu on the desktop, and the wallpaper was no longer filling my screen, but rather pushed to the left with a big stripe of background color on the right. I tried to restore the original settings, refresh the composting engine, restart Enlightenment, log out and back in, etcetera. Nothing fixed either the right-click menu problem or the wallpaper issue.
The next difficulty I encountered was regarding software. While it’s all well and good for the distro to run on obsolete hardware, it needs applications to be of any use. There is not much in the line of software already on the CD, and you aren’t necessarily given insight as to the best applications for older hardware. This is a key difference between this distribution and other lightweight distros, such as Puppy Linux and DSL. Both of these come equipped with applications ideal for the minimum hardware requirements for which they were designed. If you aren’t careful about what you choose with Bodhi, you can easily bloat your system beyond your hardware’s capabilities when installing to obsolete equipment. The only advantage Bodhi has over Puppy Linux and DSL is that it is a full distro intended for hard drive installation rather than being run from a CD, and that is not always an advantage.
All this negative said, I do think that Bodhi is on the right track. There needs to be a lightweight flexible distribution with a desktop that can be configured easily for different hardware environments and leave the majority of resources available for applications. Likewise, this lightweight base system and desktop need to be installable to the hardware, not just run from removable media. Bodhi with the Enlightenment Desktop Environment seems to be headed in this direction, and will certainly be a distro worth keeping an eye on.