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Dyne:bolic 2.3 dhoruba review December 5, 2006

Posted by oktyabr in audio, digg, distro reviews, linux, make music, opinions, personal, realtime, screenshots.
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Today I’m going to (try to) review Dyne:bolic 2.3, code named “Dhoruba Solid State”!

Dyne:bolic 2.3 is a “live CD” meaning that you can run it anywhere on any machine that has a CD-ROM drive. The computer doesn’t even need a harddrive to run a “live” CD! But best of all this is a live “multimedia” distro!


Dyne:bolic’s website states that :

\o/

Ok, so we know we are dealing with a “multimedia” distro and indeed this version comes with a very usuable low-latency kernel and a fine selection of audio, video and graphics apps “out of the box”… but that’s pretty much where any comparisons to other “multimedia distros” ends.

 

WHAAAA???? No, really! Dyne:bolic is, I believe quite unique in it’s answer to harddrive installs. Hey, they say a picture is worth a thousand words so (click the thumbnails for larger versions)…

welcome 1

Here you see a screenshot of the intial desktop! By default Dyne:bolic uses a pretty modern version of the Windowmaker desktop enviroment with “tearable” (persistant) menus, clear indicators of detected harddrives and more. Fairly light and yet still easy enough to get stuff done on without digging through a bunch of submenus and extra mouse-clicks. Present in the center of the screen is the “welcome center”.

There is included a pretty nifty build of Fluxbox too, in case you want to try something besides the default:



We’ll go quickly through the various tabs in the welcome screen next:

This is the second tab of the welcome screen which gives fairly simple instructions on how to create a more “permanent” installation, called a “dock” in Dyne:bolic… If you want to run Dyne:bolic from your sytem’s harddrive it’s as simple as clicking on the CDROM icon on the right then clicking on the harddrive icon for the drive you want to install to and then dragging the “dyne” folder from the CD to the harddrive.

dockYou MUST drag it to the root partition of your harddrive because at the moment that is the only place the OS looks for a hard install at boot… On a windows machine this would produce something like “C:/dyne/” and on a linux box it would look like “/dyne/” on your primary partition. According to the website this works whether you are running “ext2/3, reiserfs, NTFS, all kind of DOS FAT, BeOS, or *BSD” on the drive! Once this is done just reboot the computer with your Dyne:bolic CD in the drive, “ok” the run when your “dock” is detected and the CD will eject running the entire OS from your harddrive instead of memory, which is of course much faster and easier on resources, especially on lower end equipment. Pretty handy! Get tired of it just delete the “dyne” folder from your drive and you are all done.


Next is “Nesting” and like a handful of other live CD distros this means creating a seperate location for you to retain personal files and information between boots into your Dyne:bolic OS whether it’s from the harddrive “dock” or from the original “live CD”. Linux users will understand what this is like when I say it’s basically a fancy form of dedicated, persistant “/home” directory. Where this OS takes the extra step is offering the option of creating your “nest” on a removable USB device like a flash thumb drive! In essence that means you can carry a copy of the “live CD” and your “nest” on a thumb drive where ever you go and always have easy access to both this nifty OS as well as your personal files… just pop them into a computer with a CD-ROM drive and USB capability and reboot! Unfortunately I don’t yet own a thumb drive so I didn’t get to try this capability out (yet) but skimming the mail lists didn’t suggest there were any problems doing it this way so I assume that it works *as advertised*. I did notice one peculiarity… it seems that no matter how much free space you have available the “nesting” code limits you to a maximum next size of 1024MB (one gigabyte)?

Of course like any distro there are ways to install it using grub or lilo, like any other harddrive linux install, but I didn’t really explore this angle much. There are many other distros out there that can install to a harddrive by conventional means so I thought I would focus more on what makes this one different. Still, if you are curious, there seem to be directions that you can follow to achieve this sort of install on the Dyne:bolic Wiki.

Next you get the last three tabs that include “Support”, “License” and “Credits” screen. The “Support” tab in particular hints at how easy it might be to get a live internet broadcast going with this OS as well as making it easy to support the development efforts with a modest donation:


One of the truly neat things about this distro is that it has been designed to run on just about *anthing* with a CD-ROM drive as well as featuring clustering abilities! Truly remarkable for a “live CD”, and it has suprisingly low system requirements as well! Again, from the website:

It is optimized to run on slower computers, turning them into a full media stations: the minimum you need is a pentium1 or k5 PC 64Mb RAM and IDE CD-ROM, or a modded XBOX game console – and if you have more than one, you can easily do clusters.

I dare say that this rather ambitious project may very well be the first free operating system that can cluster multiple X BOXs!!!! Eat your heart out Billy! Unfortunately I don’t have an X-Box to try this on yet either! Here’s looking forward to a PS2/PS3 and Wii v.2 compatible version 😉

I did say that Dyne:bolic is intended to be a multimedia distro and I’m happy to report that my rather quick foray into this OS proved nothing otherwise:


video
Here you see a quick dip into the included Windowmaker “left click” menus, accessable any where on the desktop. I didn’t explore the video submenus much but I think you can get the idea from this screenshot. “Veejay” apps as well as streaming , editing, recording and of course playing apps for video are all present. It didn’t look like a huge assortment but as long as all the bases are covered and the apps that are supplied do the job well then how much more can you ask for from a single CD ISO?

audio

Here you see an expansion of the “audio” menus. As I mentioned the Windowmaker desktop enviroment has “tearable” menus meaning that if you are using a particular submenu often it is a snap to simply grab it with your mouse and drag it away from the parent menu which will then make it “persistant”… it won’t close again until you tell it to by clicking on the “X” button in the upper right corner. This distro has all the bases covered in the “audio” department too!


So what good is a bunch of “serious” multimedia apps if the underlying distro doesn’t work well with them? I’m happy to report that both under “live” mode as well as “docked” in my harddrive jack performed admirably, even using my onboard Realtek AC850 sound chip! As you can see by this screenshot I’ve got qjackctl running in the default “realtime” mode with only 5.8ms of latency and ZERO xruns! This was the case even while I was taking screenshots, playing with menus and basically seeing if I couldn’t make it choke a couple of times. This shot shows Ardour running four realtime enviroment control envelopes from a phaser plugin while processing a drum track I recorded from Hydrogen… all without a single hickup!

Very impressive for a “live CD” in every way I’ve discussed and certainly THE cd for emergency guerilla recording and broadcasting! You know that movie where the hero has to break away from the cops and air that recording he made of the bad politician confessing his evil ways, in order to save the entire human race? Ok, me neither… but I bet if such a movie is ever made that hero will whip a copy of Dyne:bolic out of his coat pocket to get the job done, if the writer knows what he’s talking about! It’s THAT good.

And yet all is not peaches and cream in the Dyne:bolic world…

Part of achieving what Dyne:bolic has was done by basically building the entire distribution from SCRATCH. Literally! This OS was created at least in part by following the ultra-hardcore reference Linux From Scratch (newbies beware!). That means that this distribution does things it’s own way. It’s not based on Redhat or Ubuntu or Slackware or SuSE or… you get the picture. What I’m trying to say is that if your experience is grounded in one of the bigger, better known distros like those I just mentioned you are likely to feel a bit lost when you start peeling back the top layer off this distro and looking at the guts underneath the covers. Even the use of /bin/zsh as it’s default shell threw me for a bit of a loop. No bash?!?!? Complicate things more by using it’s unique “dock” installation and you basically end up with a file system nested (not to be confused with creating a “nest” as mentioned previously!) inside a filesystem and in the case of a “nest” maybe one more level beyond that. Where are things? How do you configure this? What the $#@*! is THAT?!? Still, as the homepage and even the “welcome” box states this distro IS “hackable” and there seem to be many resources available to help those intending to explore this distro that much further. Like any linux you CAN learn to make it do what you want but be prepared for some reading and serious trial and error!

The same can be said about installing software… Digging around in the wiki some shows that Dyne:bolic is basically source based but should be compatible with many binaries including some rpms, debs and even autopackage. However due to the very specific versions of included development tools and libraries getting second party software to run on this OS can be quite the challenge. Forget package managers like Synaptic or even gentoo’s emerge too. You are basically on your own when it comes to finding the correct source and dependancies, IF all the needed tools are there. Dyne:bolic‘s mission statement is VERY clear about only using Free Software. Yup, this means drivers too, unfortunately…

As an example, in my case I use my primary machine for all my serious desktop (blogging) and audio creation work. I run a pair of 21″ Dell Trinitrons in “twinview” mode through an Nvidia 7800GT PCIxpress card at a combined desktop resolution of 3200×1200@85Hz. This REQUIRES the use of nvidia’s non-free drivers. To utilize an OS that limited me to half of my available work space is just not a workable solution no matter it’s best intentions. Try to build the nvidia drivers? Forget about it. I searched google and yahoo for hours too, hoping someone had solved this equation and could tell me an easy way to get BOTH of my monitors chugging along with this distro. Not today I’m afraid…

Even the default boot, while it did appy the free “nv” driver, was severely lacking in default configuration desiring to run at 800×600 @60Hz… talk about flicker city! I fixed this on my second boot with the boot option “linux vga=775” which provides 24bit color @ 1280×1024 but it took manually editing /etc/X11/xorg.conf and commenting out the default Horizontal and Vertical Sync lines so the hardware could detect a more appropriate refresh rate on it’s own (this is called “DDC” and is NOT recommended if you are running very old or exotic hardware! Attempt at your own risk!) I’ve got a few years of linux tinkering under my belt so this wasn’t really all that big a deal but for the newbie?

I even had hopes that something like the excellent klik web installer might work for this OS and it might have, had the OS contained the correct libs to install the klik interface in the first place. This can only be a couple hundred KBs at the most so it can’t take up a ton of room on the live CD… so all I can think is that even Klik isn’t pure enough for the “only free software” philosophy of this distro or the developers haven’t heard about Klik yet?

It’s polished, but a cockroach, even a very small one, laquered in lots of wax and varnish is still a *bug*, and Dye:bolic 2.3 isn’t entirely free of such tidbits. For example, even though I read every word in the quite well written user’s manual (included on the CD with easy access) and tried both the “Adduser” icon in the “Configuration” panel as well as “adduser” from the command line I could *not* get this distro to build me a new user account! It kept tripping up over default group “[user]:” providing an error that it did not recieve the numerical value it had apparantly expected, no matter what I tried. And how about being able to configure a screensaver as well as other power saving options (especially if you are running this on a laptop?) Maybe I’m just going blind in my old age but I couldn’t find these in the Configuration options anywhere and as I described this OS is a bit unusual, even for a linux, so I didn’t spend more than an hour or two trying to figure it out…

Summary: A lean, mean multimedia distro created from scratch to give you a live “cd” with an incredibly easy install and portability functions.

Pros: The kernel is awesome, even in “live” mode, and while the software selection is perhaps a bit thin everything that I could try worked “as advertised” without a single crash, lockup or error message. Included documentation is quite good and what guidance there is is well thought out and works well. Fun for anyone looking for a quick and easy yet powerful multimedia production enviroment with plenty to explore and learn if you want to delve deeper. The ability to rebuild the “live CD” customized to your own desires (to an extent anyway) looks very good as well. Unique in a novel sort of way which should interest the die-hard hackers too.

Cons: Very difficult to add any software or drivers (proprietary anyway) to the existing system unless you make use of the small handful of extra “modules” mentioned on the website. The use of relatively “alternative” desktop enviroments mean that some of the standard libraries supplied by either Gnome and/or KDE are also missing making building from source quite an undertaking. Still a bug or two to be squashed in basic system configuration areas.

Score:7 / 10

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