TurboLinux 10f Review

Introduction

TurboLinux recently released a Linux Distribution with full Multimedia Capabilities, TurboLinux 10F. This latest release of TurboLinux is actually just an updated version of the TurboLinux 10 Desktop, released back in October 2003, with the addition of a few multimedia applications. The most notable additions are the inclusion of a Linux version of PowerDVD (finally a commercial Linux DVD Player), the inclusion of Microsoft licensed windows media codecs, along with the ability to connect with Apple's iPods. This review will cover most of the addtional multimedia features of TurboLinux 10F, as well as cover all the other aspects of this Operating System.

Company Info: TurboLinux is a Japanese Linux Distributor that specializes in creating stable enterprise level Operating Systems. Most of TurboLinux's customers are from Asian Countries, but a lot of work has also been done to make this distribution usable for English speaking and other countries. TurboLinux's main customer base is the corporate enviornment and because of this, each release is thoroughly tested and the release cycles are quite long for a Linux Distribution, averaging in to around 1.5 years between major releases. TurboLinux also has one of the longest support policies in the business, 5 years of security updates for their server platforms.

What's Included

Like many other "corporate" distributions, TurboLinux only includes the most popular, most used OpenSource Applications on the install CDs. This is a two edged sword, it cuts down the support level, but alienates users who are used to a choice with applications that are included. However, unlike most "corporate" distributions which only provide either the KDE or GNOME Desktop, TurboLinux gives the user a choice of running either the KDE or GNOME Desktop Enviornments, as well as the lightweight XFCE Window Manager.

The Packages that have been updated from TurboLinux 10Desktop include: the Linux Kernel, K3b, Mozilla, qt and the KDE Desktop. Gaim and Evolution have also been added since the release of 10D. The following chart shows the various software included and its version.

X Windows - Xfree 4.3 Samba - 2.2.8a
GNOME - 2.4.x OpenOffice.org - 1.1.0
KDE - 3.1.5 Evolution - 1.4.5
XFCE - 3.8.18 Mozilla - 1.5
Linux Kernel - 2.6.0 Gimp - 1.2.5
GCC - 3.3.1 K3b - 0.11.9
Glibc - 2.3.2 XEmacs - 21.4
PowerDVD - 3.00.0608 Xine - 0.9.23

The selection of which software that is provided is somewhat sensible, they chose OpenOffice.org for the Office Suite, Mozilla 1.5 for the Web Browser, Xine for the multimedia player, etc. More importantly, however, are the packages that are not included. TurboLinux does not provide a choice in Office Suites, you must use OpenOffice.org since neither Koffice, nor Gnome Office (Gnumeric, Abiword, etc) are included. If you are a web developer, you will not like the fact that PHP or any SQL databases are not included. If you plan to do any Desktop Publishing, Scribus and LyX are not included, however TurboLinux does include the Docbook, TeTex, texinfo, jadetex and Groff formatting systems. Also missing is one package that really surprised me, IPTables. It is almost a sin these days to not include any type of Firewall.

Installation

TurboLinux's installation routine, codenamed Mongoose, is very polished and stable. Mongoose is actually based off of code from RedHat's Anaconda Installer, thus the inventive "Mongoose" name. Like Red Hat's Anaconda, it utilizes the same idea with the majority of Graphical Linux Installers where there is a list of what is to be done on the left, and the actual installation is done to the right, allowing you to know exactly where you are in the installation.

Beginning of TurboLinux's Install
Language Selection Screen, notice the Eastern Language Dominance

One of the things that sets this installaion routine apart from other installers is the inclusion of a "TurboInstall". What the TurboInstall does, is allow you to install the system pretty much automatically, the only thing you need to enter is a root password. The downside of this is that you will have to manually change things later that would normally be configured during install, such as networking, users, timezone, etc. TurboInstall could be a real timesaver if you need to install multiple machines and do not want to hassle with making a custom install routine.

Type of Installation Package Installation
Type of Installation Screen and Detailed Package Installation Information

If you do not like the autoinstall routine, TurboLinux includes a standard install option where you have full control of how TurboLinux will be installed on your computer. Although some of the options may be hard to find, such as adding users (hidden on a seperate tab on the Configure Accounts section), they are there. Surprisingly, TurboLinux even gives you the option of choosing between Lilo and Grub as the boot loader, sensibly TurboLinux defaults to the Grub boot loader.

Default Grub Bootloader
Grub is the Default Boot Loader

Overall I did not have too much trouble installing TurboLinux on any of the machines I tested it on. The only issue I did have was that the atapidma service, which enables DMA mode on IDE hard drives and CDROMs, is not enabled by default, no big deal though. I also recommend that during installation, go ahead and select to install all packages, as the standalone package manager is a pain to use.

Configuration

TurboLinux includes some graphical utilties to help you maintain and change settings on your system. These utilities can be accessed through either the KDE or GNOME desktops. Under KDE, the utilities are "embedded" into the KDE Control Center, while under GNOME you can access them directly from the "start menu".

Accessing TurboTools within KDE Accessing TurboTools within GNOME
Accessing TurboTools within KDE and GNOME

Some of these tools are polished graphical utilities, while some are very hard to use utilities that actually run within a console window. One of the harder to use utilities is the netconfig utility, which I could not get to change the IP address. Fortunately, TurboLinux utilizes the /etc/sysconfig directory to hold most of the system settings, so it is very easy to configure the network by just using a text editor.

TurboLinux's Graphical Netconfig Utility
TurboLinux's Netconfig "Graphical" Utility runs within a console

The only other configuration utilites that run within a console are the wmanager utility, which allows you to select the default Window Manager, and the tboot utility which allows you to create a custom boot disk. The other configuration utilities are polished and easy to use. These include: Language Selector, Serviceboard, Soundconfig, timeconfig, turboupdate and zabom (package installer).

Serviceboard allows you complete control of the different services running on your computer. With Serviceboard you can enable/disable default services individually, it also provides a nice status function to allow you to view what services are running at a glance, including what Process ID each specific server is using, along with what port is being enable by the server.

TurboLinux's Service Board
Serviceboard allows complete control of running services

Serviceboard also allows you to enable/disable different services based on a level of security (High, Medium or Open). As stated before, TurboLinux does not include IPTables, it simply relies on the user/administrator to know what services can or cannot be run on their computer when connected to the internet.

TurboLinux's Package Management is handled by a program called Zabom. Once the application is open, it gives you 3 choices; to add new packages to your system, to remove packages from your system, or to make a packagelist and/or backup configuration files on your system. The backup part of the program is very handy, it allows you to either backup all the configuration files on your system, or just the ones that have changed from the default install. You would think that this is just a front-end to running a tar czf on the /etc directory, but you would be surprised at the location of some of the configuration files.

TurboLinux's Application Maintenance
TurboLinux's very basic Package Install/Removal Utility

The package installation/removal section of Zabom does need something to be desired, there is no way to adjust how the program is displayed, you are stuck with a single flat list of all the programs available, and to view the details of the package you must right click the package and select show details. However, when adding or removing any packages, Zabom will automatically select any dependencies that need to be installed for the program to be installed properly. Unfortunately, Zabom only works with the packages that are included on the CDs, in order to install packages from other sources, TurboLinux includes a program called Cuickin (Quick Install I guess), which is basically a frontend to rpm -Uvh.

The TurboUpdate Utility is TurboLinux's answer to Microsoft's WindowsUpdate. TurboUpdate runs as a separate application and gives you the ability to select which mirror you want to download the updates from. When choosing a mirror it also allows you to actually test the connection speed to each different site to see which one would have the fastest downloads. It may not be the nicest program, but TurboUpdate does what it was created for, update your system.

TurboLinux's System Utilities may not be the best available for Linux, but the majority of them do what they are designed for, and I am sure the more arcane utilities will be updated soon to at least be usable. Also, if you don't like to use graphical configuration utilities, TurboLinux's startup scripts and configuration files are well documented and easy to understand.

Desktop Enviornments

Immediately you can tell that quite a bit of work has been done to each individual desktop environment to provide a nice user experience. The first thing you will notice is the excellent themes, wallpapers and icons included for each desktop. The overall look and feel of each desktop is very pleasing to the eyes. Other nice touches include a "My Computer" icon for easy access to devices, and a Windows Network Icon that actually works "out of the box" (although I had some difficulty access shares on an Active Directory Domain Controller).

GDM's Login Screen
TurboLinux utilizes GDM for the logon screen by default

TurboLinux utilizes GDM (GNOME Display Manager) as the default Login Manager, which is kind of odd since the default desktop is KDE. Additional work has also been done to GDM for this release. Not only does it utilize a custom theme, but you can also shutdown the computer from within both the KDE and GNOME Desktops, provided you know the root password. Otherwise any user can still shutdown the computer by selecting shutdown from the GDM menu.

KDE

The KDE Desktop included is version 3.1.5, the latest release of the 3.1 series released in January 2004. The basic setup varies little from the default setup from the sources at www.kde.org. The changes made include a customized theme and background, a customized "start menu" and little changes such as double-clicking icons instead of single-clicking. KDE's Kicker panel is also reduced in width instead of utilizing the entire width of the screen.

The menu system has been reorganized to allow more of a outline layout to reduce the number of choices within each container. This reduces the possibility that a menu will need roll off the edge of the screen to display all its contents. The most important applications are available on the first or second panel, while the less popular applications are nested deep within the menu system. Unfortunately, if a program you regularly use is located deep in the menu system, it quickly becomes a pain to continuously try to find the application. Some distributions would benefit greatly from this type of menuing system because of the huge amount of software that is installed (Debian is a prime candiate). TurboLinux, however, just does not include that many applications to merit a total rework of the KDE Menus.

TurboLinux's KDE Desktop TurboLinux's GNOME Desktop
TurboLinux's default KDE and GNOME Desktops

GNOME

TurboLinux has changed very little from a default 2.4 GNOME release for their implementation of the GNOME Desktop. Apart from the default Theme, the only other noticeable difference I found were customized GTK dialog boxes such as the Open/Save and Print Dialog Boxes.

Custom GTK Dialog Boxes
TurboLinux includes customized GTK Dialog Boxes

Missing from TurboLinux's version of GNOME is the "My Computer" and "Windows Network" icons that are available under TurboLinux's KDE Desktop. Even though the My Computer icon is missing, you can still graphically mount a device by right-clicking on the desktop, select disks, then select what device you want to mount. However, without the "Windows Network" icon, it is impossible to browse a Windows Network from within GNOME (nautilus was apparently not built with that functionality included) without resorting to launching Konqueror, or manually mounting the SMB/CIFS filesystems from within a terminal.

eDesk

One of the most interesting features of TurboLinux 10F is the inclusion of a Desktop Utility to "lock down" the KDE desktop for use as a Kiosk or Public Terminal. What the edesk-config utility does is it links the default desktop for a user to a limited KDE profile. This limited profile disables the launching of Kicker, removes most of the desktop icons and includes a huge menu in the middle of the screen, which allows the user to open: The Mozilla Web Browser, The Mozilla Mail Application, The OpenOffice.org Word Processor and The Konqueror file manager to view the "My Documents" folder. There is also a logout button to exit the desktop.

eDesk Default Desktop eDesk running Mozilla
eDesk's Default View and eDesk with Mozilla running

Unfortunately there are a few problems with the eDesk implementation. First, whenever you open an application, if you maximize it, the application only covers the top half of the desktop. If you try to manually allow it to cover the entire desktop, the "application menu" will always cover the bottom half of the application (as shown above). The second issue I had (other than the button's being in a foreign language) is the fact that when you open "My Documents", konqueror is launched with only the toolbars hidden. An experienced user will quickly have access to the full desktop since konqueror includes a "run" command. All someone needs to do is to open the "Run Command", type in konsole, and launch anything you want. Not very secure or "locked down" for what the feature is created for.

PowerDVD for Linux

One of the biggest complaints about every Linux Distribution is the fact that it cannot play commercial DVDs. This issue comes about not for technological reasons, but for legal reasons. It stems from the fact that most commercial DVDs are encrypted with CSS (Content Scramble System) to allow only "licensed" DVD Players to read them. The weird thing is that CSS does not prevent "piracy", as a perfect copy of a DVD will still be played on a "licensed" DVD Player. CSS is simply a control measure used by the MPAA.

Until late 1999, it was impossible to play a commercial DVD on a Linux based computer, even though you purchased the DVD. In 1999 a program, DeCSS, was made available on the Internet that would allow you to access the content of a commercial DVD regardless if the DVD Player was "licensed" or not. Unfortunately the legality of the DeCSS program (actually just the algorithm) is hazy because of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). To prevent themselves from being opened up to lawsuits, Linux Distributors do not include commercial DVD playback functionality into their distributions, although it is relatively easy for an advanced user to add this functionality.

The DVD Playback issue under Linux has now changed, TurboLinux 10f is the first Linux Distribution to include the legal commercial application PowerDVD for Linux from CyberLink.

The good news is that this version of PowerDVD is a native Linux application (I was worried that they were just going to write a WINE wrapper). PowerDVD for Linux seems to be a stable, fast Linux application. The total install is just over 9MB, and 8MB of it is the skin files.

DVD Playback is very smooth, and the entire application seems very responsive, during testing I don't think I noticed a single dropped frame or stuttering sound. PowerDVD also has the ability to output to Dolby Surround Sound, but unfortunately, in its current state it is unable to output to 5.1 surround or better.

This version seems to run exactly like the Windows version. The only differences I found between the Linux version and the Windows version are that I cannot get the custom skins from Cyberlink's website to work on the Linux version, and double-clicking on the screen in Windows will switch the window to fullscreen, whereas in Linux, clicking on the window will hide the controls (under Windows, you cannot hide the controls).

The biggest issue I found while running PowerDVD under Linux was simply that PowerDVD will not cover any toolbars (including Kicker) when running Fullscreen.

PowerDVD running Fullscreen under KDE PowerDVD running Fullscreen under GNOME
PowerDVD running Fullscreen under KDE and GNOME, notice the visible Kicker and Toolbars

Many people may be wondering, can I install this version of PowerDVD onto the Linux distribution that I use ? The answer is Probably. Most distributions will install all of the libraries that PowerDVD will utilize, except for libXv.so and libXxf86dga.so. Xfree86 4.x does not build these libraries by default (however, some distros include a compat-libs package which includes these files). If your distribution does not include these, it is simple to add them. As root, run the following in the Xfree86 lib directory, and they will be built.

        # ld --whole-archive -shared -o libXv.so libXv.a
        # ld --whole-archive -shared -o libXxf86dga.so libXxf86dga.a	
			

You may also need to link libXv.so to libXv.so.1 and libXxf86dga.so to libXxf86dga.so.1 in order for PowerDVD to recognize the libraries (also you will need to run ldconfig after the libraries are built and linked). I successfully got this version of PowerDVD to run on Suse Linux 9.1, Slackware 10 and Fedora release 2.

The biggest surprise I had was when I decided to really stress test the application. On my laptop, a Dell Inspiron 2650 Pentium4 1700 running the latest 2.6.7 Kernel, I watched The Return of the King while simultaneously transferring 4GB of data over a SFTP connection AND compiling a Linux Kernel....Not a single frame was dropped or a sound stutter was heard. Very impressive. This is something that neither Mplayer nor Xine will do, even the Windows version of PowerDVD will start to stutter the sound under heavy load.

Now that the cat is out of the bag so to speak, hopefully other commercial Linux Distributions will be able to include PowerDVD with their Distributions. Until then, the inclusion of PowerDVD for Linux makes the purchase of TurboLinux 10F a "no-brainer".

Multimedia Capabilities

Video Playback

Along with including PowerDVD, TurboLinux also includes the ability to playback nearly every video and audio codec available. The included Turbo Media Player (aka Kaffeine) has the ability to playback many types of video files thanks to the included Microsoft WMA codecs, which were licensed directly from Microsoft. The package that allows Windows Media playback simply provides a shared library called libwmfdecode.so that programs can call on to play Windows Media Files. Unfortunately, in true Microsoft fashion, just because you paid good money for TurboLinux, doesn't mean you can install this package on any other Linux distribution. Here is the license:

This product includes technology owned by Microsoft Corporation and under a license from Microsoft Licensing, GP. Use or distribution of such technology outside of this product is prohibited without a license from Microsoft Corporation and/or Microsoft Licensing, GP as applicable.

Realplayer is also included to handle MP3s and Real Media files, unfortunately it is RealPlayer 8, which will not handle over half of the streaming real content on the web. There is work being done on the next release of Realplayer based on their Helix technology, but until it becomes more stable, it is becoming more and more of a hassle to try to get Real's content to be played within Linux. According to this press release, expect the next version of TurboLinux to include an updated Realplayer.

With the inclusion of all these video and audio playback capabilities, along with the inclusion of browser plugins such as Flash, Sun's JavaRE and Adobe Acrobat, TurboLinux has one of the best Internet Browsing experiences of any Linux Distribution "out of the box". Granted, when you try to open a video on a web page, instead of showing the video "embeded" on the page, the Turbo Media Player launches as a separate application, at least you are able to view the content. Both Quicktime and Windows Media files are supported in this way.

Audio Playback

TurboLinux utilizes ALSA to provide an interface to the sound devices on your system. They also provide a nice graphical utility to setup the soundcard. With this utility you can add nearly any additional parameter available for your specific sound card (if you know what they are).

TurboLinux's Sound Card Config Tool
TurboLinux's Sound Card Config Tool

MP3 playback is hit-n-miss with each application. The XMMS media player, the K3B CD Writing Utility and all of the Xine based media players (turbomedia player and totem) will not handle MP3s, while the KDE media players Kaboodle and Noatun will play MP3s. MP3 encoding is also not included, although you can create OGG files with the CD to OGG converter KaudioCreator. Other Audio applications that may be missed when running TurboLinux are the inclusion of a Music Library "Jukebox" such as KDE's Juk, Rhythmbox or Muine, as well as advanced sound editors, such as Audacity.

3D Drivers

When trying to install the latest nVidia drivers, the installation program gave me warnings about the rivafb module being available. The installation program built the needed module, and completed successfully, but no matter what I tried, X11 would not start up with TurboLinux's default kernel.

After downloading and compiling the latest Kernel (2.6.7), the nVidia drivers installed and loaded successfully. So be aware that if you are going to run TurboLinux on a computer with nVidia hardware, you must build a custom Kernel in order for the advanced 3D features to be enabled.

Conclusion

Like most Linux Distributions, there are small annoyances that you must overcome when running TurboLinux 10f. Whether or not you can deal with these issues will determine whether or not you will enjoy TurboLinux 10F. These issues include: requiring a password to shutdown from within a desktop - overcoming some of the arcane configuration tools by manually editing configuration files by hand - finding applications in the strung out KDE Menus - the necessity of compiling your own kernel to utilize new hardware or an nVidia graphics adapter.

If you like to live your computing life on the bleeding edge, you probably will not like TurboLinux 10F as it utilizes slightly outdated packages. Also, there are not that many software packages included on the CDs, and it is nearly impossible to find any website with TurboLinux RPMs unless you have the ability to read Japanese or Chinese.

Overall TurboLinux 10F is a very quick and responsive Operating System, one of the fastest distributions I have used. No unneeded services are enabled (or included) and the configuration structure seems very easy to follow. With all the extra browser plugins, the ability to decode Windows Media Files and the inclusion of the excellent PowerDVD, this Operating System is great for those who want to use a fully functional Linux System "Out of the Box" (as long as you can live with the annoyances and the lack of choice in software).

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