BeatrIX Linux Review :: Installation and Operation
techAdmin
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Joined: 26 Sep 2003
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I've been looking for a very small GNU / Linux to put on my trusty old 200 megahertz laptop, and I ran across this one: BeatrIX Linux. It's another Debian based distro, and comes in at about 200 mB, but unlike some other very small distros, this one comes with the 2.6 kernel, and features Debian's great apt system for doing OS and software installs and upgrades.

It comes with Gnome 2.8, and even OpenOffice.org, which is amazing for a < 200 mB installation. It even has Firefox 1.0. Very nice. Of course, you can add anything you need with apt so it's not really a big question when it comes to what software it has.

This one is too good to pass up, I'm starting to see myself moving to a debian based distro, there's just no other one out there that has the kind of software and developer base.

Once I get it installed I'll post a more in depth review, it's supposed to work very well on slower old machines, we'll see if that claim is true or not, I hope so.

BeatrIX shares the Ubuntu Linux source packages, but even Ubuntu seems to recommend BeatrIX at some points.
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Review of Beatrix
techAdmin
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Joined: 26 Sep 2003
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Well, I have to admit, I was going to make this a pretty negative review, all about how slow Gnu/linux is compared to Windows 2000 on the same hardware. Unfortunately, when I did some timed tests, this belief, which comes from I think the lags you see on Gnome, simply didn't hold up.

So, with that said, here we go:

Current Hardware and setup
System:
Gateway Solo 2300 Laptop.
200 MMX Pentium 2.
196 mB PC100 sdram
10 gigabyte 4200 rpm hard drive.
Netgear pcmcia networking card
PCMCIA modem

Currently running Windows 2000 on hda1, and a test SUSE on hda3 before this install.

Background
I've used this laptop for years to test Linux distros, figuring that if I could find one that worked, that's a pretty good product. Redhat 8 performed poorly but acceptably, just barely. SUSE 9.1 was completely unacceptable, running KDE.

So I figured, ok, I'll give beatrix a try. It comes with the 2.6.7 kernel, which was one thing I hadn't liked about all the other lightweight linux distros, a lot of them used the 2.4 or even older kernel. Beatrix is based around the ubuntu distribution, but can also get its packages from debian I believe.

Bootable CD
Beatrix is a very nicely thought out product. Once I'd burned the install cd, which came in at about 180 mB total, and made my smartboot floppy disk [that allows you to boot from any medium, hard drive, cd rom, floppy, and I think usb device.]. I need the smartboot floppy because my laptop doesn't support cdrom boots, which a lof of older machines don't. But with smartboot floppies, you can boot fine from cd roms.

Again, Beatrix really impressed me, they have set up their cdrom to allow you to first run the install from cdrom, meaning nothing is lost if it won't work on your hardware, like with knoppix.

Loading from the cd did not take nearly as long as I thought it would, especailly given that the laptop cdrom is either 1x or 2x, which usually with linux distros has translated to over 3 hours to do one install. This one took about 1/2 an hour, give or take.

Once I booted up into the beatrix distro, and found that everything was working perfectly, including having automounted both my NTFS windows 2000 partition and my fat 32 data partition, as well as the current suse partition, I set up the network, which also went flawlessly, and started trying the system out. Everything worked.

Except of cource the pcmcia modem, but that's too be expected since it's a winmodem type modem. And the sound doesn't work, I'm not sure if I can get it working or not, I think it's possible.

Negatives
Let me say straight off: I don't like Gnome, and I especially don't like the new stripped down Gnome 2.8 Beatrix comes with. Because of how the distro is made, you can't switch desktops, I'm not sure if I can run another window manager with beatrix or not.

Gnome comes with almost no easily visible configuration options. I still haven't figured out how to set different desktop workspaces to have a different background color, for example.

On a fresh install, there is no workspace switcher on the task panel. Which took a little figuring out since it's always been there [right click on panel bar, click add panel item, select workspace switcher. Then you right click on the workspace switcher icon, and select preferences, and declare how many workspaces you want.

The decision to have two text based choices in the panel, 'Applications' and 'Computer' is just a waste of space, especially on smaller screen resolutions, and would be much better to just be a single icon like most other distros use, a 'B' or whatever. Users are all accustomed to having a single item to reach their options, whether windows or linux, so this seems like a completely unnecessary extra piece of information. The choices also are somewhat reduntant between the two, and confusing, since 'applications' also has system configuration. This is simply a bad idea, and should be changed.

Since beatrix explicitly does not want to make beatrix an audio/video multimedia type distro, mainly because it's made for slower older pcs, the lack of multimedia is fine.

Hard drive install
Once I saw that beatrix ran fine on the laptop, I clicked 'Application' -> 'Other' -> install beatrix to hard drive.

This brought up a terminal window, which began the install process, without having to reboot. The install went perfectly. All partitions, ntfs, fat32, and the other linux partitions, were correctly detected. This part had worried me since I didn't know how its multiboot support would be.

I ran through the familiar options, selecting the partition I wanted beatrix installed on. Since I already had a swap partition installed I didn't have to make one of those. Then the bootloader, grub in this case, was installed, again asking me if I wanted to install it on the mbr or in the beatrix install parition, hda3 in this case. I selected the mbr, figuring it was better to know if it would find my windows 2000 by itself. Had it not, I could easily have added that later to the grub configuration file.

However, it worked fine. I rebooted, hit escape per grub instructions to access the boot menu. I would prefer to have it default to see the boot menu, but this is ok. The system booted fine.

The time to load the distro from memory and the cdrom was amazingly short, as noted, this machine usually takes about 3-4 hours to load a full install cd, which isn't fun.

I added a few programs using apt-get update to update my package list, and apt-get install to install a few programs. Because thunderbird email client didn't work as a program choice, I ended up apt-get installing synaptic, the gui front end for apt.

Using Synaptic, I browsed to the right category, selected thunderbird [apt name is 'mozilla-thunderbird], installed that, then tried OO.o Writer. This program takes forever to start, OOo has a long way to go in terms of improving their start up times. Apparently the latest test builds, 1.9.5 for 2.0 still aren't showing much startup time improvement, but I don't really need this.

However, I did need a word processor that could work on my .doc files stored in my fat32 shared partition. I selected apt-get install abiword, then ran that. It's a much smaller program, and works very well on this machine. Because I don't work on complexly formatted word documents as a rule, my word documents were opened fine.

And here's the first major surprise: all my ntfs and fat32 partitions were already mounted and ready to go, in /mnt/, I didn't have to do anything.

The testing: expectations versus fact
Now, however, I was faced with the a fear that even if this distro actually installed well, and seemed to work, it would still be a big step down performance wise from my venerable w2k installation.

I began the testing fully expecting there to be a significant speed difference, which would make the use of beatrix on this laptop something of a sacrifice. With this in mind, I decided to run some basic tests, and compare the results:

Boot time: time taken to reach the login screen from grub:
Beatrix: 2:15
W2K: 2:35
And this is debian, supposedly a somewhat slow distro.

Next was the time from entering username and password to the full loading of the OS - using the very scientific method of listening to when the hard drive stops chattering and all windowing features are loaded:
Beatrix: 60 seconds
W2K: 2:00

That's right, twice as long. To be fair, the w2k has to do some more work to start, it runs mysql and apache as services, and has antivirus protection and a firewall. But it's a very lightweight antivirus program, antivir. And both the antivirus and the firewall are necessary to keep the windows os secure, and so have to be counted as part of the OS startup. I may install apache and mysql and run them as daemons just to make a more fair comparison.

Then I had to update my antivirus protection, which takes about 2 minutes. Since windows requires av protection, this time also needs to be counted. If you were running either Norton or Mcafee this time would be significanly longer, and the overall system performance would be even slower, since those programs are major system resource hogs.

So that was a total of 185 seconds to a ready to go working desktop in beatrix, and 275 seconds in w2k. Plus the 2 minutes to update the av.

I have to admit, I was surprised. This is not what I had been expecting.

I did one further test, just to double check what I was seeing, and opened firefox, which tends to take a while. Again, the results surprised me:
beatrix: 20 seconds
w2k: 35 seconds

OO.o writer takes unacceptable long to load, which makes a small and lightweight program like abiword a very good option. Abiword seems to adequately support simple .doc formats, both for reading and writing.

Apt-get
Apt-get, especially if you are using a debian based distro, with access to the full debian package repositories, is simply an amazing product. Windows cannot even come close to the ease and simplicity of software installation. Everything from Apache 2 to the smallest utility are only a few keystrokes away.

As always, the workspace option is something you can't dream of in windows.

Conclusion
My initial impression of the gnome desktop is I simply hate it. Maybe there is stuff under the covers that make it more configurable, or maybe beatrix stripped out many options to keep the package size to a minimum, but whatever it is, gnome is not a direction I would go in. For my main boxes I'm going to stick with KDE, which is getting better and better with each version.

Hopefully I can install a different manager in beatrix, but their website says you can't, although that may just be referring to another full desktop like kde, I'll see. Icewm or one of the other would be much more pleasant all around, but it's also good to have to work with gnome in order to get it going, but that will require more command line work from what I can tell, which is actually a good thing now that I think about it.

I plan on using this box for basic word processing and similar tasks, and maybe for lightweight travel web work.

All in all, I have to say I'm more than pleasantly surprised, and will now install simply mepis on my main linux box, which is currently running Yoper and SUSE. The suse is not something I'm interested in using to be honest, I see little reason to leave one proprietary commercial system for another, albeit much less commercial, and much more open one.

What I've seen from Beatrix gives me some confidence that mepis may be the right distro, it comes with KDE 3.3 and firefox 1.0, which makes it a bit more uptodate than the stock debian distros.

It's possible some of the gnome issues I'm seeing are a result of cutting out everything but the very bare essentials to keep the package size manageable.

Again, I am surprised at these results. This is a very slow machine, and I was almost going to give up getting a decent linux install running on it. If I can get an even lighter weight window manager this machine, while not setting any speed records, would be more than fine. As it is it's very good, I'm writing this review on it. Two thumbs up, great job Beatrix.
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minck
Status: Interested
Joined: 02 Nov 2004
Posts: 39
Location: Belgium
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Very nice review. I have an old 333MHz 192MB box that needs reanimation, had been thinking of Deli Linux, but a lightweight Debian sounds real sweet.
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vkaryl
Status: Contributor
Joined: 31 Oct 2004
Posts: 273
Location: back of beyond - s. UT, closer to Vegas than SLC
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Would this distro be usable on a 150 mhz ThinkPad?
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techAdmin
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Joined: 26 Sep 2003
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Location: East Coast, West Coast? I know it's one of them.
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There's some more discussion on the beatrix forums, the beatrix / forum admin was nice enough to take the time to respond fairly in depth to this review.

Minck, I think you'll be very happy with the beatrix distro on that box, it's already feeling nicer and nicer, except the gnome, and the fact I can't figure out how to get different colored workspaces going, that's annoying. But that's the only real annoyance. Once I figured out that gnome still doesn't let you set the default terminal window size easily, I found the way to do that, it's easy but silly to have to do:
Create a shortcut [a 'launcher' in gnome speak], make the command this:
:: Code ::
gnome-terminal --Geometry=80x32

Note: --Geometry=80x32 can be whatever you want, that's 80 columns by 32 rows, for an 800x600 monitor, 90x32 will pretty much fill it all up.

I still haven't found the configuration file for gnome terminal on the menus, it's somewhere in there, buried.

A very nice file browser that runs in the command line is midnight commander, I created a launcher for it like this:

:: Code ::
[in the command line]
sudo su
[switches you to superuser mode, no password]
apt-get install mc
[installs midnight commander]


right click on desktop, make new launcher, call it whatever, make the command this:
:: Code ::
gnome-terminal --Geometry=90x32 -x mc


When you click the shortcut, terminal window will open, resize to the correct geometry, then load midnight commander. Fun with Linux.

By the way, in this case, running on the command line isn't what you think, it's much more like a graphic dos type program, it works with a mouse, even the scroll wheel works, has drop menus, but the graphics are just very plain.

Vkaryl, yes, it will run great on that ibm I think, I'm assuming that the ibm is technically superior to my gateway, and so will run at least as well. The main thing is the memory, the more the merrier, but I think if you have 128 mB or more you should be fine, beatrix claims to run fine on 64 mB. I'll mail you a copy of beatrix and mepis as soon as I get some cdrom blanks, this week. Keep in mind however that modem support will be poor at best, so unless you have an external modem using apt will be a problem, but you can always connect to an office or friend's network when you visit to do any package installs.

You'll want to install nano [atp-get install nano] at least, nano is the debian version of pico, which is a user friendly command line text editor, very useful to work with configuration files like /etc/fstab, and not nearly as intimidating as the more hardcore emacs or vi, which are not for newbies.

:: Code ::
sudo su [enter]
apt-get install nano [enter]
// once complete
nano /etc/fstab [enter]

That's it, from software installation to running the file you need to run, notice that you'll be in su mode, that's admin.

to get out of admin mode, do this:
:: Code ::
su <yourusername> [enter]


And that's it.
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BeatrIX is back
oskarku
Status: New User - Welcome
Joined: 03 Jun 2008
Posts: 3
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Greets,

I've been through a lot the last few years after bring Bea to market. Check my homepage for particulars.

I have ressurected BeatrIX, BeaFX and their latest, Debris, which are downloadable from our site.

If I can scare up a programmer, hey, I'll continue BeatrIX, which made the first pendrive OS and the first silent computer, so there's some thought going into it.

swatsky.freeweb7.com will getcha there.

Many thanks and cheers,

oskarku
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