Linux Distro: Linux Console
The strangely named Linux Console seems to be designed to work equally well as a Live distribution and as a permanent installation. It offers an LXDE based desktop alongside a collection of standard applications. It could be used as a typical desktop Linux distro, but I have a feeling that it could see some use as a front-end in appliance type set-ups that need to be a bit more of a typical desktop layout than some of the kiosk or media player distributions. However, I'm not absolutely sure what the aim of this distro actually is.
Linux Console isn't derived from any of the main distributions. Variety is the hallmark of the Linux scene, and it's a boon to be able to tailor the choice of distro to a given situation. However, in such a crowded field, the smaller distributions have to offer distinct functionality and a niche to be worth looking at.
Hard disk installation is carried out from the boot menu if you're installing from the CDROM. There are two options, an autoinstall that carries out the installation without asking any questions and a more typical Linux distribution that does. Installations that proceed without asking the user for input are useful because being interrupted to answer some questions becomes tedious if you want to install multiple machines. I wish more distros featured an option like this.
Automatic installs are, however, potentially dangerous and Linux Console's solution to this dilemma has its good and bad points. On the positive side, it will halt the installation if there is anything at all on the hard disk. It then prompts the user to open a virtual console and run command line Fdisk in order to wipe the partitions. The problem with Linux's standard Fdisk program is that it's not very easy to use. It's a shame that, given what I presume to be the expected audience for this distro, the developers couldn't have knocked together an Ubuntu-style guided partitioning tool.
By default, Linux Console offers an LXDE based desktop along with some media players and a few other applications. The standard launch bar features an icon to launch the Firefox web browser or the Thunderbird email client, but in actual fact, these options download and install the latest version. If you're running Linux Console as a Live CD, you'll have to repeat the procedure after a shutdown. In practice, this isn't a huge problem as it takes less than a minute to install Firefox in this way. Speaking of which, Linux Console boots quickly from a CD, no doubt thanks to custom architecture.
The main aspect that makes Linux Console stand out from the crowd is that it is a custom distribution, and this brings with it both benefits and disadvantages. For example, a positive feature is that all operations, from package installation, booting from CD or the hard disk drive to application launch are noticeably fast.
The disadvantage is that, if you get stuck, you're completely at sea because Linux Console isn't quite like anything else. In contrast, many is the time that I have managed to troubleshoot a Debian problem by making use of information that turned up on a Ubuntu forum, for example. It even has it's own, custom package format, but that's not exactly brimming with installable software.
The other problem is that a custom distribution misses out on upstream developments of a mainstream distribution. With Linux Console, improvements are limited to those offered by the available packages and the efforts of the Linux Console development team.
As I said at the beginning, every distribution has to prove its worth by successfully carving out a niche for itself. The question of whether or not Linux Console has a place is made more difficult by the fact that it offers a confusing mix of newbie friendly features mixed in with those that require expertise.
In conclusion, I find it hard to recommend Linux Console above other similar distributions such as Puppy Linux or Tiny Core. It deviates from the standards of other distributions, but I can't honestly say that it offered enough advantages to outweigh the potential problems that brings. However, it's worth having a look at, just to see something a bit different. What exists so far is well made, and in the future, it might branch out in a way that gives it a clearly defined advantage and identity. On the other hand, you might find that the slightly odd mix of approaches is just the odd mix of approaches that you've been looking for. And that, my friend, is part of the beauty of Linux.
UK based freelance writer Michael Reed writes about technology, retro computing, geek culture and gender politics.
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