The Linux Project IV:
Test two: PHLAK version 0.3
As I have been working on The Linux Project, I have noticed that things aren't always as they appear. When it comes to the world of Linux, you have to look really hard to be sure you know what you think you know. Also, never second guess the power of forums; help files, and little blurbs that appear at the beginning screens of the Linux distribution installation CD's. Those forums, files, and blurbs can answer so many questions you didn't even know you had to ask.
Such is the reality that has been coming to me as I have progressed in trying out different Linux distributions. Many times, what appears to be a bad disk is actually a problem caused by hardware glitches that Microsoft products can handle, but Linux can't. I happened to discover this when working with a distribution known as Gentoo (to be reviewed later upon successful installation). From just this distribution, I discovered sometimes it pays to read the blurbs that appear at the beginning of starting the standard Linux bootable CD.
Since part of this project is to assist those who want to set up Linux on their systems, I will note the little gems I discover on the way. When I find a distribution that needs special help to get going, I'll note that in the article about said distribution. It is only fair. Just think of me as a large, hairy minesweeper in the digital underworld of Linux. You can learn many lessons if you take the time to take time.
Such is the case with the second Linux distribution to find its way to my digital chopping block: PHLAK. 0.3. PHLAK 0.3 refused installation. It did this because of a functional bug in the IDE hard drive controller of this machine. I mistook this functional glitch as an error on the disk. That took a while to figure out.
If you have trouble installing PHLAK 0.3, choose the "failsafe mode" at the initial installation boot screen. This will clear up most glitches and get you to a point of installing PHLAK 0.3 on your hard drive. It did for me anyway. With the problems I was having getting the CD to even run, I considered getting it to run at all to be a real blessing indeed.
So, now I am sitting typing on the main computer as I watch the progress of PHLAK 0.3's installation process. I guess now would be the time to say that PHLAK 0.3 installs every bit as easily as PHLAK 0.21 once you get past the controller issue. While by all rights, I should gig PHLAK 0.3 for not its CD not booting properly on my test machine, I can't. The fact that I was unwilling to see what was causing the problems is my fault. The fact I was unwilling to experiment when I first began having problems was again my fault, not the fault of the distribution. Considering how easy it is to get into failsafe mode with PHLAK 0.3, I can't for the life of my understand why I didn't think of it earlier. I guess it's that seat of the pants geek thing again.
Therefore, I give PHLAK 0.3 all five stars for installation. Once you get past the "failsafe mode" boot glitch, it is every bit as easy to install as PHLAK 0.21, if not a bit easier. Everything works a little better straight off the CD than it does with PHLAK 0.21. Even now, as I am typing this and watching as PHLAK 0.3 installs, I am listening to Bear Radio Dot Net ( http://www.bearradio.net ) on the test machine. That means the network, the browser, and the sound programs are all working properly off just the install disk. That's so much better than PHLAK 0.21,which had a non-functional network even after installation. It's time to stop because PHLAK 0.3 is at ninety-nine percent installed. I have to switch keyboards. I'll be back with more information as soon as I get into the other criteria.
I'm back, and I should have known it would be a futile mess to attempt to get PHLAK 0.3 to a state of functionality. I guess I am a sucker for an underdog, and PHLAK 0.3 qualifies as just that. Actually, I should get down on my knees before PHLAK 0.3 because it started The Linux Project in earnest. Had it not been for PHLAK 0.3 pissing me off by not installing, I'd have never downloaded the Debian net install disk. Had I not done that and been waylaid by Debian, I'd have never built the resolve to see if there were truly usable, functional, and fun Linux distributions. Yes, had it not been for PHLAK 0.3 followed quickly be Debian, I'd have not considered devoting so many hours to The Linux Project. So, even though PHLAK 0.3 isn't going to score high, I am still happy that it came into my reality.
Let's go back to the criteria, shall we? On criterion two, system operation, PHLAK gets barely two stars. I have never seen such an easily killed operating system. I killed it three times accidentally, and the last time on purpose. Much like it's older version, PHLAK 0.21, it has all kinds of problems on the Internet. The Internet never worked properly after a reboot. I had to open the control panel and tell the network to operate. Even though it didn't bring about as many problems and require as many tricks as its predecessor, PHLAK 0.3 still didn't hop onto the Internet without training wheels and a push. Not impressive in the least! Does anyone involved in the PHLAK project even try it out?
The rest of the programs were about what they were in PHLAK 0.21. About the only real leg up this version had is the Debian package update utility. The big downside to this is, while PHLAK may be built on Debian by way of Morpix, it's not Debian. Just installing a GUI based CD burner utility literally dealt PHLAK 0.3 the final coup de grace. The program in question has been installed on at least three other distributions I have dealt with, and not a one died from it. Not the same could be said of PHLAK 0.3. Honestly, I knew it would kill it, but I had to see for sure. That would be the time I killed it on purpose. It makes me wonder who put PHLAK 0.3 together, and why they seem to have so much trouble making a usable stable distribution.
PHLAK 0.3 gets two stars for device operability. Technically, it found the sound card and the net card right off the bat. The problem is the proper operational drivers weren't fully installed for the sound card after initial install. In order to get the sound card running at one hundred percent, I had to use the package update utility to get the rest of the sound drivers. PHLAK 0.21 made it work right off the bat. Talk about an unacceptable step in the wrong direction! Also, the problems with Internet operation also caused much consternation. The net card may have been found and set up, but the way it interfaced to the net wasn't set up properly in the least.
On the fourth criterion, look and feel, I will graciously give it four stars. While it relied on the same desktop as PHLAK 0.21, there were some points of extra cool about it. One of them was the militant penguin that shows up as you are installing PHLAK 0.3 onto your hard drive. I got to know him rather well. I saw him three times! The military themed icons are also a real hoot! It's too bad the folks who set it up didn't spend as much time in getting it functional as they did getting it visually cool. Frankly, I'll take visually blah and functional over flashy and functionally worthless. Once again, I want my computer to work when I set up an operating system on it. PHLAK just can't seem to get there, no matter which version you use.
On the fifth criterion, overall impression, I have to say PHLAK gets one star. It's pretty to look at, but that's where it begins and ends. Next to Debian, it's the most delicate Linux distribution I have used since I began The Linux Project. While it didn't crash like Debian, it died miserably thrice! The first time I killed it, I was simply trying to change screen resolution. The second time, I pressed the reset button because the Internet browser locked up. The third, I simply tried to install X CD Roast on it. When you add to that the problems I had for quite some time even getting it installed, it was hardly worth the effort to me.
Now while all may appear bleak and dark as far as my opinion of PHLAK 0.3 is concerned, there is another side to it. For the person out there who wants to get experience making Linux work, PHLAK 0.3 is good for that. If you really want to get experience in making a shoddy operating system operate, PHLAK 0.3 is there to please! If you can iron out all its bugs, it might be a pretty good operating system. There are plenty of people who know how to work with it, and there are always people on their support forums. Although honestly some of them tend to come off like total a**holes, there are some folks who are interested in being helpful. There is much in the way of information available. PHLAK 0.3 is good for giving you experience. It can fit comfortably on a two gig hard drive as well.
So, PHLAK is both good and bad. It's not the worst distribution I have used, but it's close. There aren't any bugs in it that can't be fixed. I just didn't want to fix them. If you do, in doing so, you will gain a lot of experience in editing text files, and working with basic Linux operation.
I don't have time to iron out the bugs. I have other distributions that are much more friendly in every sense of the word. Maybe when PHLAK 0.4 comes out, the folks who set it up might just iron out all the bugs. If that happens, and they keep the cool, PHLAK could be a real pleasure to use. I hope they go there.
For the serious user though, steer way clear of either version of PHLAK. There are so many more workable Linux distributions available; it is really not worth your time or effort to get frustrated by PHLAK's way too numerous problems.
It's up to you to decide what is most important: using your computer, or gaining experience fixing it. If your choice is the former, stay away from PHLAK. If the latter, there is no better barely functional bug fest available!