February 01, 2005
This article was first published on Linuxtimes.net.
Of all the distros that I have used, Beatrix has got to be one of the most interesting. The title of this article is derived from something I read in the Beatrix Design Goals.
“The goal is very simple: We want to provide as many end-users as possible with an interface that they are familiar enough with to use without or with little aid from instructions. It is definitely Linux. But that’s secondary to the end-user ”
What the Beatrix team has done is think out of the box. They did not sit and say, “Let’s make the biggest, baddest Linux distro”. They didn’t say, “What the world needs is a simple Linux distro”. Nope. They started from a simple premise. “Make an OS which lets people actually WORK on their old machines. Make it small, make it simple, make it easy to use.”
Notice the most important thing? The emphasis is not on Linux, rather it’s on WORK. In fact the team says that the only reason they used Linux is that it is the only way to do what they did. If there was an easier way, or in fact any other way, I am sure they would have explored it.
This subtle, yet all important shift in emphasis ends up making Beatrix very different from the umpteen Linux distros out there. It is, in marketing terms, a USP! Of course, Beatrix is absolutely free, and the team has pledged to keep it that way.
Beatrix is unique in many ways. It is supposed to work on any Pentium class machine with 64 Mb of RAM. The size of the download is another unique feature. The ISO image is 188 MB. Yes, One Hundred and Eighty Eight Mega Bytes! It fits on one of those little CD’s that you always thought were cool, but way too small to keep anything useful on. And even though it’s a tiny download by Linux distro standards, that doesn’t mean that it’s crippled. A list of the software that is included is :
- kernel 2.6.7
- Gnome 2.8
- Firefox 1.0 with AdBlock
- Evolution 2.0
- Open Office 1.1.2
- Beep music player.
In short, it has every thing that you need to get productive. Of course productive here means normal computer user productive, not geek/sysadmin productive. It is geared towards people who need to get on the net, read mail, and write the occasional document. In fact, according to the Forums, the Final release of 2005.1 will drop Beep and Kernel 2.6.7 in favour of no music player and Kernel 2.4.27. This is because the developers are keeping the PRIMARY goal of Beatrix at the forefront of everything else. Of course, since it ships with apt, you can add what you need, with some exceptions.
Does it succeed in fulfilling it’s goals? Let’s find out. I downloaded the ISO of 2005.1PR ( Preview Release) from the website. 188 MB downloaded quickly. I burnt it onto a CD-R ( full-size, not mini, alas!), and got started. My computer is not really the best place to test Beatrix, since it has 1 GB of RAM and a 2 Ghz processor. So I took the CD over to a friend who uses a P-4, 1.5 Ghz, and 128 MB of RAM. I did want to test on older machines, but I wasn’t able to find any.
Unsurprisingly, the bootup sequence was similar to Knoppix, since Beatrix has used Knoppix as their starting point. It was a very fast bootup, much faster than Knoppix, Gnoppix or Mepis on the same hardware. The tag line was at the bottom of my screen was “Welcome to BeatrIX – Linux that Purrs!” .
Very clean, elegant, and .. looks like Ubuntu! The taskbar is at the bottom of the screen, but it closely resembles Ubuntu otherwise. A little bit of digging around on the forums revealed that Beatrix follows Ubuntu. More on this later.. As you can see in the screen shot, the default desktop has only four icons on it. These represent the four most commonly performed tasks, and have been given clear labels. Anyone who has used any Graphical OS, will find it easy to navigate. The apps included for these are top of their class. All four, OpenOffice, Evolution, Gaim and Firefox, are very easy to use and extremely robust. A good choice of apps, and one that is becoming the standard across the Linux world. The first thing that I did was start up Firefox. I was pleased to note that Beatrix had setup my network card with absolutely no input. My network uses DHCP. If you need to assign a static IP, or connect through a dial-up connection, the place to go is Computer > System Configuration > Networking.
What really impressed me was the ease with which I was able to traverse my Windows Network. This is something that many distros have a problem with, due to certain problems on our network.. But Beatrix was able to do so without a hitch, faster than my XP install!! Of course, Gnome 2.8 is the real star here…
Firefox worked as it always does. Ditto for Openoffice, Evolution and Gaim. I did not test the multimedia capabilities, since they will be excluded from the final release. I did install Synaptic, a great front-end to apt-get and used it to install various programs, ranging from a HTML editor ( Screem) to XMMS. They worked fine. The only things that you can’t install are any sort of kernel update, or window manager. This is because Gnome is tied into the kernel, and it’s not possible to upgrade anything. This is also the reason why it is so fast.
The Gnome Menu and the “About” screen in OpenOffice, reveal the Ubuntu underpinnings of Beatrix. This is a good thing, since Ubuntu is rapidly moving us the ladder in Linux land ( No.7 in www.distrowatch.org as I write.) Apt uses the Ubuntu repositories, which are well stocked with software. You can of course change the default repositories, but most people will find them sufficient. The link with Ubuntu is significant in that as Ubuntu improves, which it shows every sign of doing, Beatrix ought to as well.
The installer is also easy enough to use. You do need some knowledge of disk partitions and the like, but since Beatrix will typically be installed by an experienced user for a non-geek, it does not make that much difference. Not that you need to be a geek to install, you just need some basic knowledge. If you have installed any Linux distro, you’ll be fine.
Beatrix does work as advertised. I used it for a few days as my exclusive OS and I was able to get most of my work done. In fact, it’d be ideal for a cyber cafe or computer used only for net access. It worked well on 128 MB of RAM, and the system felt responsive. It’s not really a distro for serious Linux users, but it doesn’t pretend to be, either. It clearly identifies it’s target audience and aims squarely for them. Beatrix does a damm fine job too.
It really does breath life into those old computers you have lying in your closet. ( circa late 90’s at least!). A lot of places which get donated hardware (libraries, schools, community centers..) will really appreciate Beatrix. It lets you use modern tools on obsolete, or semi-obsolete hardware.
I must note here that I did not even try to install Nvidia drivers, or perform any esoteric system configuration tasks on Beatrix. I used it for what it is, a OS to get work done, where work denotes internet access, email access, and word processing. My sound card worked fine,using the OSS drivers, and the 1024×768 mode looked good. I think it was using the vesa driver, but I did not bother to check. I didn’t even ls the /etc directory! I tried as much as possible to keep it simple.
It may be possible to expand Beatrix by adding lots of software, and making it a more full blown distro, but I believe that you may as well use Ubuntu, or one of the other fine alternatives. The whole point of Beatrix is to be non-Linux like! And also non-Windows like.. non-OSX like…. The question is, Does it work? And the answer is a resounding YES!
The only problem is that it is an effort that is being spearheaded by a small group of people. As the project has grown in size and complexity, they are finding it difficult to manage Beatrix and their other work as well. In fact, the amount of work they put into maintaining their distro is phenomenal. They are still having some problems with manpower, so the release for the final version of Beatrix has been pushed back to March.
So if you are interested in working with them, do check out their website, and offer some help.. This is the spirit of OpenSource, helping worthy projects.. and believe me, Beatrix is more than worthy.