|What is it?||Justify||Functions||On Desktop||Details||Installation||Top|
|KDE (Version 3)||www.kde.org|
|Microsoft Windows XP||www.microsoft.com/windows|
While Jacinth is primarily a home server, I need to be able to work on it
for maintenance, and also, colleagues at work are interested to know how useful
this class of machine might be as a substitute for
Pentium-class desktop machines in the student computing laboratory, and on the
desktops of faculty and office staff. Therefore I installed the complete
Gnome, KDE and XFCE desktop environments, using the SuSE standard package
groups and not trying to suppress elements that I normally do not use.
This is not a comparative evaluation of the desktop environments; I'm trying to evaluate whether they start up, behave reasonably normally, and do the functions people expect to have. Some activities were tested more extensively in one of the desktop environments; one may reasonably assume that similar activities would proceed at a similar speed in the other environments.
Also, OpenOffice.org is included as a separate section in this evaluation because its functions may be needed in any of the desktop environments.
The first time I logged in it fired off zypper and opensuse-update (for checking if software is up to date) and beagled-helper (a content indexer). Hiss, boo. These hogged the CPU and prevented a good timing test for how long it took to start up. Fortunately all packages were up to date. A number of my users have complained about Beagle, and I think we should suppress it: we don't get a lot of use from it and it takes a lot of both disc and CPU resources.
The shell for a default user is bash.
Basic operations are fine: gnome-terminal, less, vi, man pages. My impression is that things take slightly longer than on a big machine, but response is by no means slow.
Firefox web browser: 20 secs to open for the first time, 8 secs the 2nd time. Works fine, and responds reasonably fast, on jimc's home page and the Math department home page.
Edit and compile a
Hello World program in
gcc compiles it and it runs.
A USB storage device was mounted and a file browser (Nautilus) was started automatically for it. Unmounting is done through the menu attached to its desktop icon.
Multimedia: The most sanitary audio player in this environment is Totem, normally a video player, using gstreamer. It played a M3U playlist of MP3 files out of the box (Fluendo codec). I tried to do a list of Ogg Vorbis, but got Totem too tangled up to continue. This is not an issue with the Koolu; I'm sure the problem is with my unfamiliarity with the player. See also the multimedia tests under XFCE which include video. (The default player in OpenSuSE is Real Media's Helix Banshee.)
Conclusion: Except for not being exactly swift when starting up, all the
Gnome functions (that were tested) were just about the same as on a big
desktop machine. The Koolu is marketed as a
thin client which
interacts with web-based services or acts as a terminal server, e.g. to a
Windows server via a Citrix client. Insofar as the typical computer user
spends most of his or her time viewing web pages and reading e-mail, the
Koolu will be completely adequate. However if you are doing scientific
computation or playing Linux games with highly detailed graphics, you
will not get the CPU throughput that you need.
This is KDE version 3. Version 4 is available as an
edition in SuSE 10.3, but many elements were not available and I did
not test it. (Starting with the official release of KDE-4 on about
2008-01-15, SuSE has an add-on DVD with the complete KDE-4 suite.)
The first time it started it ran zypper (the online update checker), and I believe this slowed it down a lot: it took about 120 secs to get all the components started. Second time, only 45 secs. A machine with more CPU power would start up faster (and use more power and cost more).
The available terminal emulators are gnome-terminal, Terminal, and xterm. What happened to konsole, the KDE-3 standard terminal emulator? Perhaps SuSE did something to the menus. I'm trying out Terminal, which is actually from XFCE. It seems fine. No response time issues.
Konqueror, the normal web browser for KDE, was not in the SuSE-provided menus and I had to exec it manually. Once started it worked fine, except I don't know how to set the home page on this browser.
Editing a text file: I picked gvim to test. It started up with no problems and acted normal. Kate is the standard text editor for KDE-3 but was not in the menus from SuSE.
Playing audio: I used Amarok. In
Add Media it will take a URL
pointing to a M3U file of Ogg Vorbis tracks, and will play them, as well as
a M3U file of MP3. It is using
the GStreamer/yauap engine (Fluendo codec for MP3), and Xine is also
available. To play the MP3 requires 75% of the CPU: Amarok 41%, yauap
13%, X-server 10%, load varies a lot; I assume the number for yauap is the
direct usage of the codec. The Ogg Vorbis files take 82%.
The conclusion on this is that there's plenty of CPU power to decode the
audio, fancy visualization raises the CPU load a lot, but Amarok can
functionally play the audio (and visualize) with either codec.
Conclusion: Similar to Gnome, KDE is a suitable environment for
thin client activities and users will find it similar to the
same distro installed on a big desktop machine, as long as they don't
stray into CPU-intensive activities.
Upon startup it took 25 secs to the complete desktop, quite a bit faster than either of the others.
Using Terminal from the XFCE suite as a terminal emulator. It works fine and has no response time issues.
Firefox is the typical web browser in this environment. It was tested already, with Gnome.
Text editing: I used mousepad, the standard editor for flat files in the XFCE environment. The file opener was a little slow to show the list of files, as if a scripting language were being used, though I could not identify which one from the list of shared libraries. Other than that, it's competent as a text editor.
Playing audio: The future standard player for XFCE is xfmedia, but it is not completely finished and cannot be recommeded for standard use. But within its capabilities so far, it performed reasonably. I used it to play an Ogg Vorbis track; it used the Xine codec framework and took 11% of CPU.
Playing video: I used Totem to play Lennart Pottering's PulseAudio talk at linux.conf.au 2007 in Sydney. It played with no drama, using 39% of CPU; it was using the GStreamer codec framework with the Xvimagesink (Xv and Xshm extensions, more efficient), and the video data was in the Theora format; the audio format was Vorbis; and the container format was Ogg.
It should be noted that the XFCE
Settings menu includes an item
for GStreamer Properties, which is how you choose the codec to be used
for audio and video in that framework -- the individual players generally
do not have codec configuration dialogs of their own, unlike for Xine.
Conclusion: Like the other desktop environments, XFCE performs well as a desktop environment on the Koolu.
I did a simple evaluation of this suite of programs, particularly whether they function with reasonable alacrity on the Koolu, since they are notorious bloatware analogous to Microsoft Office, with much of the code in Java. This is version 2.3.0. I had a bad experience with an early version of OpenOffice and avoided it after that, but evidently the current version is a lot better, and I should put more credence in this software suite.
It appears that each program takes about 15 seconds to start up; most of the work is in setting up the OpenOffice framework.
After I dug around in the help viewer I was able to create a short inter-office memo and print it. The process was generally smooth and did not overload the system's resources. In particular, Writer sent PostScript to the printer and it was rendered successfully and without overloading the CPU, unlike other PostScript documents I tried -- but it was very short. After a little training, your users will find this program to be a reasonable substitute for Microsoft Word and they will not regret running it on a Koolu.
Again after a trip to the help viewer, I was able to create a simple spreadsheet (computes the powers of 2) and print it. The features seem generally similar to what's in Gnumeric or Microsoft Excel. Although some complex spreadsheets can require a lot of CPU time to evaluate, and the Koolu would then be at a disadvantage, this simple one gave essentially instant results.
I didn't finish my presentation because it was too easy; I was putting too much time into fantasy content as the big business executive, and not enough into evaluating the product. I'm not familiar with Microsoft Power Point, but this program seems to do the job very effectively. There were no speed or resource issues from running it on the Koolu.
This program competes with Microsoft Access, and unlike previous versions it has a backend for databases in local files, in a private format, as well as a variety of database engines either natively or through ODBC or JDBC. It was noticeably slower on the Koolu than the other OpenOffice programs, though not really slow. To evaluate a database GUI for functionality takes a lot of learning, but comparing it to the ones I'm familiar with, it seems to have a similar range of functions.
This is a vector graphics program; in the corporate world its main use would be in drawing organization charts, but it seems to have facilities also for CAD-CAM type drawing. Not being familiar with the program I was not able to give it a rigorous test, e.g. importing and modifying one of my architectural blueprints, but I was able to make a simple drawing. The program performed competently and promptly.
This appears to be a subsystem which the other components can call to compose mathematical formulae to be displayed in a document, not really intended for standalone use. (It is not a super-calculator like Octave or Matlab.) Nonetheless, by using the help system I was able to create some equations. My impression was that it was using the CPU a lot more than the other OpenOffice components do, and in particular, some of the help pages have long lists of examples created by this program, and it took quite a long time to get them all rendered.
In conclusion about OpenOffice.org, it performs competently, and with the good hard disc I have in my machine, all the programs load and execute reasonably quickly. The Koolu would be a good choice for a machine to run them on, particularly if other considerations add to the need for an inexpensive or low-power machine.
Time to install: about 1.5 hours, not bad. WinXP SP2 does recognize the processor type.
Rebooting (with nothing in the start menu): starting at 0 with the first BIOS message, 4 secs to the Windows booter splash screen, and 29 secs to the desktop (only 1 user and no password, so auto-login). Surprisingly fast.
Video: I could tell that it was using a generic VESA framebuffer driver similar to fbdev in Linux, because it did not do DPMS at all: the VESA BIOS Core API does not include DPMS.
Internet connectivity works the same as it would on an Intel laptop or desktop machine running Windows.
I viewed an HTML photo album featuring JPEG images, mostly 1280x960px, using Microsoft Internet Explorer, from a local server on 100 MHz Ethernet. They were displayed reasonably quickly. I can tell that it isn't instant, but the delay is only slightly longer than when I do the same thing on an Intel T5600 at 1.83 GHz using Opera for Linux.
Awww, I couldn't test the MP3 codec because there is no sound driver. But see here for a link to where to get Windows drivers. I will need to re-do this test with those drivers installed.
Standard applications like Wordpad work normally. I didn't push this test to the point of installing and exercising Microsoft Office.
Conclusion: The Koolu is normally used with Linux, but if you have a good reason to run Windows XP and aren't doing CPU-intensive activities, the basic operations work fine, particularly showing static web pages. (The test was done with XP, not Vista, and one should make sure that Vista drivers can be found before committing to run Vista on the Koolu.)
|What is it?||Justify||Functions||On Desktop||Details||Installation||Top|