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Introduction to Linux - A Hands on Guide
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SymphonyOS(http://www.symphonyos.com) is a GNU / Linux distribution that utilizes a new desktop environment called Mezzo. I was not overly thrilled with their packaging for the operating system overall, but that really wasn't the fault of the UI. However, while I think that the new UI is relatively well designed and rather polished, I feel that there are small aspects of it that keep it at merely Okay at best and hardly usable at worst.
Well, what does Mezzo look like? Well, check it out here:http://www.jdistro.com/mezzo/?num=034f. Notice that there is quite a bit different from KDE / GNOME or Windows Explorer. Mezzo seeks to do away with the idea that the desktop is a glorified view into your file manager (Everything that goes into the Desktop folder shows up on the desktop.) The four corners of the screen are utilized such that one corner is designated a commonly performed action. The top left corner is like "My Computer" in that it opens a link between you and your file manager. The top right is like "My Documents", lower left like the "KMenu" or the "Start Menu" from KDE and Windows, and the lower right is your trashcan. This allows users to ram the mouse into any corner and get a commonly performed action. So far everything looks good, but it isn't until you start using the software that its flaws become painfully apparent.
I must admit. I don't like eyecandy. Useless things just serve to distract me. I use Openbox and pypanel in GNU / Linux and keep most things minimized to the system tray in Windows, just so I don't go on a tangent and lose an hour of work. It still happens this way, there's just not much of a way to keep me more focused short of medication. I also use GNU / Linux because I enjoy taking something apart just to put it back together. I enjoy the inner workings of the system. SymphonyOS has taken up the banner of the newer "desktop" oriented GNU / Linux distributions, working to hide as much of the configuration from the end-user as possible. This is an admirable enough goal, but what happens when something goes wrong? This is exactly what happened to me.
I happily booted the latest SymphonyOS live CD and all went well until I had to actually login. At this point (which is right after the graphical server starts) all I could see were four words printed in white on a black screen. "Cannot display this Resolution". "No problem," I thought, "I'll just edit the configuration file to support my screen." I then commenced to bail out of the GUI into the Command line. I was fine until I found out that the system didn't contain any other editor than vi. Again - I must confess. I think of myself as a power user, but the thought of using emacs or vi just scares me a little bit. I know how to use joe, nano and pico and that has never been a problem because at least one of these three has been present on a new install of just about every distribution of Linux / herd / bsd I have ever installed. Not in Symphony. I was forced to use vi. I suppose this is because the team at Symphony supposes their default is good enough for most systems. However, the problem was in the refresh rate. Most geeks worth their weight in silicon realize that all LCD's have a constant refresh rate of 60 Hz. This default is set for 75 - 85 Hz and this was causing my problem. The fact that I could not use any text editor that I was accustomed to added to the difficulty of actually editing the config file.
Once I had everything set the way it should have been, I got to actually get into the UI and I have to say - the UI is definitely different. The first thing I went to do was setup my Ethernet connection, which meant I had to open a terminal. To do this I had to click on the lower left corner of the screen and then click on Terminal in the favorite applications column. This is intuitive, quick and painless. No problems here. After I had setup my Ethernet connection I simply wanted to browse the web with some music playing so I started Firefox. When Firefox was started, I wanted to start a music player (didn't really matter which one as It was just a test of the OS, and Symphony is Debian based so i could install any I wanted relatively easily if and when I booted into a real installation of it for the first time). However, I found that when I pressed the program button, the current programs weren't minimized and the menu popped up behind them. Oops.
I also had an unsolved problem with launching Xterm. I launched the first session to do the Ethernet configuration, and then closed it. However, I could not launch any subsequent instances of the program. I also could not figure out how to make it any other way than the Favorite program list. It's usability problems like these two that have made me wait until Mezzo is a bit more mature to try again. (I've neglected that these usability issues were present in a beta I tested approximately 10 to 12 months ago) However, I do believe that Mezzo is rounding itself out nicely, as a lot of things that were not present in my first test are now close to complete.
All things aside, Mezzo looks to be shaping into a promising, albeit different, user interface for a GNU / Linux desktop. My main issues were not actually with the interface but more so with the developers lack of consideration for the experienced GNU / Linux user. There is no real portal into the core of the system here. This coupled with the shortcomings of the default build itself make for a sub par user experience at this point in Symphony's development.