Linux speaks Italian: review of Semplice Linux 7.0 ‘Comfortably Numb’

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This article has been originally published in Italian (here). Feedbacks on content and translation are appreciated. Contributions are welcome. The original article must be considered the reference in case of updates.

It’s time, after the oh-so-long chat/interview to Eugenio Paolantonio, developer of Semplice Linux, to see how well he did in the latest release, Semplice Linux 7.0 ‘Comfortably Numb’.


Basic information (“Just the basic facts“)

Edition Based on DE/WM Available
architectures
ISO
file size
Semplice 7.0
‘Comfortably Numb’
Debian sid Openbox x86 32bit
x86 64bit
695.2 MB
685.1 MB
Semplice for Workstations
2015.2 ‘Jethro Tull’
Debian stable Openbox x86 32bit
x86 64bit
704.9 MB
694.1 MB

sticky_notes_128I have chosen current 7.0 edition, 64bit version, rather than the one “for Workstations” to feel the thrill of the unstable branch and see which nasty tricks Sid would play on me. However, it is worth noting that Semplice for Workstations is at its first official release: one reason more to try out this distribution with the Debian Stable rock solid reliability. And, by the way, what could possibly go wrong with Debian Stable?

ISO files all fit in one CD (yeah, maybe we should just push a little to cram even 32bit Jethro Tull in!) but who cares about CDs anymore? 😉


Live session (“Hello / Is there anybody in there?“)

Semplice reveals its personality right from first start (both in live and installed system): users are given directions on how to open the menu and the application launcher, all you need to get started with your distro! It’s a small detail, very appreciated, that shows attention for new users, who possibly have never used Openbox or even Linux. Components of vera-desktop will take care of the rest, once installation is over.

Semplice – first start: “To start, right-click anywhere in the desktop”

You’ll find the usual minimal look of Openbox-based distributions, with tint2 panel shown at the bottom of the screen: program menu, constantly watched and updated by alan2 after any software addition or removal (here some tips to customize the menu), is already filled with a nice selection of tools. Time has not come yet for vera to show itself (herself?).

Semplice Linux_install_startPre-installed programmes cover all the basic needs, as you might expect from any distributions that aims to be ready to use: ROXterm, PCmanfm, Firefox, Gnome Player, Xchat and more, chosen also to limit resource usage. Insecurity lovers will be happy to have Flash Player plugin on board.

Default look & feel (that I promptly fuc**d up, and luckily restored) is pleasing: Moka icons and Zukitre-vera (Zuki Themes fork) theme.

Hardware-wise, 64bit live session takes about 280 MB RAM: not so much, considering also the autostarted tray applets. Live 32bit would use shy below 180 MB RAM: the old box that seemed useless might resurrect in the shining glory of Debian!

Regarding memory usage, Eugenio points out that

[it is] partially due to zram kernel module, loaded by default on machines with RAM < 4 GB. RAM usage is often criticized in the forums: it can be improved, for sure, but it already includes the amount of RAM used by this module. You can check zram active devices using “lsmod | grep zram” or, even better, “swapon -s“. By default it uses 25% of physical RAM: the amount can be changed editing /etc/default/zramcfg and issuing “sudo zramcfg” from the command line.

Took a note, will look into it after installation. Semplice current is based on sid and should therefore “attract” mildly experienced users, who won’t lay in despair if an update breaks down the whole damn thing. For once, I’ll be part of such a pack of bold geeks and go on to install & update Semplice!


Installation (“That’ll keep you going through the show / Come on it’s time to go“)

In addition to the usual steps of installation, the custom installer in Semplice (linstaller) integrates some tools specific to the distribution. The “Features Selection” (bricks – a very appropriate naming – available in the installed system, too) for example, lets the user add or remove applications and services from the very beginning. Same story for language selection and additional locales, that can be removed by keeptalking2.

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RAM and disk usage (“The child is grown“)

I am going now to check the “vital signs” of the installed system right after the first boot: a little more than 2 GB on disk and kernel 3.19 (the one available at the date of release – April 2015). From here on, I’ll start shaking my lucky charms while throwing in “apt-get update && apt-get dist-upgrade” and “apt-get install -f” until I get a fully updated system – or a royal mess I’ll have to clean up. That’s Sid, baby! It’s “Just a little pin prick / There’ll be no more aaah!” 😉

post install

The whole operation takes quite long but – SPOILER! – ends up quite well: I am a bit surprised… I can now look into zram settings, that actually takes about 25MB RAM usage.

Semplice Linux_zram

Despite the few resources (1GB di RAM, 1 core CPU 1.6GHz) I have made available to the virtual machine, Semplice is still fast and snappy: of course Openbox helps the overall performances a lot, but all the tools especially made for the distribution play nicely together as well. It’s about time to look at them in greater detail.


Vera, Alan and the others (“I hear you are feeling down / I can ease your pain“)

Let’s start the launcher, as suggested at first start: vera-launcher (still a proof-of-concept, though, with a few details to “smooth” here and there) helps me to find the default music player Pragha, not chosen by chance.

Semplice Linux_appl_finder

Details about playing media are channeled by alan2 into the menu: alan2 extension for media players is just one of those already available. More can be created using Python, as Eugenio explained in the interview, and be added to the list (read related forum post for details).

Semplice Linux_music_player

Semplice’s Control center is the main tool to configure all those settings that, in distributions without a full DE, should be instead modified manually. Development of vera-desktop might eventually lead to a full DE-like environment based on Openbox (an approach similar to LXDE, for example) and it is going on to include several system settings, as well as the ones of Openbox in the future.

Semplice Linux_impostazioni

Some settings are already managed by the available tools: a tab in the control center windows shows compositing options (provided by compton), launchers addition on tint2 panel e graphic settings. Moreover, theme settings are integrated by vera-plugin-desktop-vera-color-gtk2 / -gtk3, that modify some colors to match the wallpaper. Transition from GTK2 to GTK3 is one more “work in progress” in Semplice, while all the relevant applications are being migrated to the new toolkit.

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Update management only affects Semplice repositories (carefully listed in a separate file under /etc/apt/sources.list.d), while Synaptic – or users themselves – manages official Debian ones.


Conclusions (“I have become comfortably numb“)

It was a short ride with Semplice 7.0 but I was able to get the clear feeling of a well refined distribution, meant to provide a pleasing and full user experience even to those who are used to more “traditional” DEs. Semplice is responsive and snappy thanks to the clean Debian base coupled with Openbox. The distinctive features of vera (and all the components mentioned before, included in Semplice since release 6.0) actually add the right amount of useful tools and “shortcuts” for system management and usage.

I have fought just a little with alan2 to decide who had to take care of the program menu: I wanted some old style tinkering, as I did here (in the same post I was also mentioning Semplice, clearly a sign of fate), but Alan kept getting in the way, unassumingly making his breakfast. I finally understood (I searched the forums!) and told to myself: “Well, that’s what you’re meant for, after all. Do what you have to!” 😀 .

To ease also the “hardware experience“, lots of firmwares are already included (mostly from non-free repositories, purists you’ve been warned!): Atheros, Broadcom, Intel Wireless and Realtek among others are all covered.

In conclusion, and that’s the strongest point of the distro in my opinion, you can get Semplice from Debian vanilla and vice versa, just managing the packages from dedicated repositories (alan2*, bricks, cymbaline, semplice-*vera-* and the meta-* ones, that match items listed in the “Features selection” tool), without hunting down modifications made somewhere in the system. On the other hand -I am stressing this point again for extra caution- Semplice current is based on sid and so it behaves (words from Debian people themselves): it works wow! until, all of a sudden, something breaks and it’s up to us to know how to fix it. If you are not sure you can cope with that, you’d rather go with Semplice “for Workstations“.

Final word: thanks again to Eugenio who has always been extremely helpful and replied to all sorts of questions and doubts I had while writing both articles.

And now, of course, the absolutely related soundtrack.

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