Sunday, 9 December 2007

gOS - My Official Review!

As I'm sure you're all aware, I have been raving about gOS for some time. But I didn't really tell you much about it. So, I thought I'd give you a bit of a walkthrough of it.

Here's the desktop as it appears on my laptop. Nice, huh? Of course, this doesn't give you the full picture, as the bar at the bottom (called, in true Apple-like fashion, the iBar) scrolls smoothly along if (like me) you don't have a large enough screen to display all the icons.

It was easy to boot it up from the CD - being based on Ubuntu, it's similarly straightforward. I didn't install it, I was running it in LiveCD mode. Configuring wireless was a breeze. Just click on the two computers icon at the side, select your device (here I was using wlan) and you're confronted with this screen:

From here, it was just a matter of selecting my network and filling in my password for WPA.

The one issue I did have is the one I have mentioned earlier (the DNS issue, which also affects Ubuntu). I've heard that this issue is to do with certain wireless routers which have issues with some Linux kernels (I had it with Edgy and Gutsy, but not Feisty), but I believe it can be resolved by updating your router's firmware (I haven't yet done this as I found an alternative fix, but I'll have to get round to doing it sooner or later). However, I believe this is quite rare - the firmware update was actually issued around the same time as I bought this router in September 2006 so I would think that any new router you buy now would already have this issue resolved. If you bought a gPC for your granny and bought a new router to go with it, you'd almost certainly not have an issue with it.

As you can see, there's a very nice desktop indeed installed by default (the people who normally whinge about Ubuntu being brown won't have any issues with it - although there's nothing wrong with the Gutsy desktop, it's chocolate brown), but there are no doubt other desktops available, though as I'm only trying this as a Live CD I'm not going to be able to find out.

Despite its bias towards web apps, it does still have an excellent series of desktop applications - the full Open Office suite, The GIMP (which I used to capture the screenshots), Firefox as the default web browser, Thunderbird as your e-mail client (and unlike in Ubuntu, it includes easy Gmail configuration - why was this taken out of Ubuntu?) and Pidgin for IM - all excellent applications which are more than able replacements for the kind of thing you get on a brand-new Windows desktop - in fact, I'd say they are far better apps than what I got with my Vista laptop.

The media player that comes with it is Rhythmbox. I'd rather use Amarok, but I understand why they used Rhythmbox instead - although great, Amarok is quite complex, and is a bit harder to get your head round than Rhythmbox. Also, as it's a KDE app, Amarok would need the Qt widget toolkit installed to work, which would mean that gOS would have to make more space on the disc, and would slow it down. Rhythmbox is a good choice under the circumstances, and is nice and straightforward, although maybe they might consider Banshee instead in future, as that aims to be an "Amarok for GNOME".

But of course it's on web apps that gOS really shines. Startup times in LiveCD mode for most apps were on the order of twenty seconds, but much shorter if Firefox was already running - in practice you'd probably have Firefox running in the background most of the time, so it would be quite quick, and of course you'd normally have it installed. The apps are well-chosen ones that people use a lot anyway, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Wikipedia, as well as others that people may not be so aware of, but deserve to be more popular, such as Meebo or Google Docs.

Even running as a Live CD it's surprisingly fast - faster than Ubuntu would be as a Live CD, so it would be blazingly fast if I installed it (and this laptop is not terribly fast - a three-year old Dell Inspiron with 512MB ram, a Celeron processor and a 40GB hard drive - it was painfully slow running Windows XP with Service Pack 2).

And it's almost childishly simple to use - everything you might need is clearly indicated - for Wikipedia, you click on the easily recognisable Wikipedia icon. Anyone can use this - if you think Linux is for nerds only, try gOS and you'll think again. But, at the same time, its Linux underpinnings give it speed and reliability - no need to worry about malware.

Inevitably, there's some bad: The Google search box on the desktop is a great idea, and is really useful, but for some reason the creators of gOS chose not to open the results in Firefox. Instead, it uses WebRunner, a fast but not very well-featured browser. Why? It's probably faster than Firefox, but you have to start it from scratch, whereas Firefox will probably be open all the time. It takes up additional space on the disc, and it doesn't show a consistent approach - a better way would have been for it to have automatically opened a new tab in Firefox. As it is, it forces you to often have two browsers open when you can make do with one.

But that's the only real issue I have with it. I'm rather a technical user, so it's never going to be my main OS (Kubuntu fills that role very well, thank you), but I admire gOS for its simplicity, ease of use, and wonderfully attractive and intuitive interface.

There are a couple of suggestions I would make to the creators. First of all, as mentioned above, I'd keep an eye on Banshee and consider making that the default media player, it might make a better choice than Rhythmbox. Second, as above, lose WebRunner, and just open queries in Firefox instead. Third, it might be worth their while considering having Flock as the browser instead of Firefox - it's ideal for the sort of people who might want to use gOS, as it includes full integration with YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr etc, and the makers have also resolved many issues from Firefox.

Otherwise, I'm very impressed. As I mentioned, it'll never be my main OS, but if I had an old computer that I wanted to give to a relative for them to use just for e-mail, browsing the web and so on, gOS fulfills that role admirably. Well done gOS!


mandog said...

Your review was slightly different to the norm. And you live down the road as i live in Thetford. Your review was fairly accurate, But Goss was to hurried and needs thunar to make it work as it should I use E17 as default when set up correctly
nothing gets a look in, Goss needs to do more work on its OS but it helping to make E17 popular are i see in the next few months as it rising to the top.But it needs someone like Ubuntu really make its presence known

Poiema said...

As gOS is one of my favorite installed distros almost since its introduction I wanted to share an update regarding your thoughts on WebRunner. The gOS devs are indeed working on a different solution for providing the Google search. WebRunner was used because it was already available, but it is clearly not the optimal solution.