SAM Linux - Review

SAM Linux Live Distro.

Ok lets begin from the start. I insert the Live CD and boot. I come to the boot menu which gives me several options including to boot SAM Linux, boot into console mode, memory tests and a few other options.

Login user names and passwords are shown on the boot menu for both a normal user and root user which is good because on of the first live cds I tried I could never find the root password. Its great there is a boot to console mode, it cuts down on memory and loads a little faster. Also half the reason you want a live CD is so you can quickly go and repair a setting in VI (Emacs isn’t included) or backup a some files to a FTP server or ssh account or even a removable drive. So you can then format the non bootable Windows PC and reinstall an an OS again (hopefully Linux this time ;) but more on these things latter.

One thing that was disappointing is the network configuration Wizard isn’t included if you boot to a console only environment which means depending on your network type and network interface getting a connection could mean allot of configuration.

Also a nice feature was the ability to hide and show the kernel loading and the systems boot process by simply toggling it on and off with the escape key. Ive used some distros that try to be more user friendly by hiding this information but when something goes wrong like a drive doesn’t mount your left wondering why.

Once your logged in and the intro music plays your left with the Xfce Windows manager. Which I like to think is a light weight Gnome. I say this because Xfce 4 is based of the Gnome tool kit 2 (Gtk2). Xfce is perfect for a live cd because its not only light but a very powerful desktop manager.

Network

Before you get to the desktop you can opt to set up a network adapter through a convenient wizard. The wizard interestingly had options for GPRS, Edge and 3G which is I believe are wireless cell phone transport technologys. There were also for options for IDSN, modem, Ethernet, DSL and even Blue tooth! I also have a good feeling that wireless connections wouldnt be to difficult to get running provided you had the correct Windows driver.

Network tools

SAM comes with several networking tools which above others includes Firefox 2, gFTP, ssh (must have for me)/ Putty (which seems to be emulated through WINE), TightVNC, Skype, Gaim (must have for me), Xchat and Gnutella client (I would of preferred a Bittorrent client).

Multimedia

I dont really expect much multimedia capability’s to be on a live CD but SAM comes packed full of options. My media player of choice is Mplayer which as a bonus comes with a nice GUI. I was able to watch every multimedia file on the PC including a xvid/divx encoded movie and play a WMA encoded song with no extra codecs required, I would be interested to know if commercial DVD playback works straight out of the box as well and wasnt able to check this out as the live cd occupied my only drive. As for Mp3 players both Winamp(XMMS) and Itunes (Exaile) clones/alternatives are included.

Development / programming

This is a interesting section. Im in two minds weather you actually need development tools on a live CD. But as myself being a programmer I’m going to say its a good thing and here’s why.

Perl - Yes Perl is included, Perl is an amazing powerful OS scripting language and can be used to automate a complex task.

GCC - (Gnu Compiler Collection) I guess this could come in handy if you need to do some quick hacking.

Python - I think this was included primarily for Xchat. But hey its there! I even use a few Python programs my self Shuffle-db http://shuffle-db.sourceforge.net so I cant complain.

IDE - Disappointingly there is no good IDE and not even a editor with syntax highlighting included. On top of this the GNU debugger (GDB) isnt even included. Having said that, there is ‘Bluefish’ which seems to be a good web development IDE.

Windows support

As I mentioned earlier one thing I use a live cd for is to resolve issues with a computer which is either miss-configured or non booting or even to get important files before the final solution of a system wipe.

SAM Linux makes this ideal with its many networking applications and support for Windows programs and partitions.

Wine (the Windows emulator (sic)) is included which allows you to run handy Win32 system applications such as Regedit.exe to get rid of that malicious software or fix miss configured setting.

It also comes with fat32 read/write and NTFS read support.

Eye candy.

If you wish SAM Linux gives you the option of turning on Beryl and Compiz which gives you desktop effects that out amaze even that seen in MS Vista. Whats even move amazing is I didnt even have to install any ATI graphics drivers for my 9600 pro GFX card. This allowed me to play the 3D OpenGL game ‘Warsow’ which I had on another partition straight out of the box!

Speaking of FPS games - Tilda is also included, which is a Terminal emulator which works like the consoles in First Person Shooter games. So when you press the ‘~’ key a terminal scrolls down where you can execute bash commands and pressing ‘~’ again will send it scrolling back out of the way until you need it again.

Other notable programs

JAVA, The full Open Office 2 suit (which im using now), Gimp, Gnome Baker (CD/DVD burning) a PDF viewer and a archiving tool. Even the Flash player is installed.

Disk/Partition management

SAM Linux also comes with an Disk partitioning tool which can handle many types of file system which is always useful on a live cd.

System/Software management

System management is basically identical to Mandriva’s. Which I have found to be probably the best out of any distros.

Software management takes place in Synaptic which is a computer user interface and front-end to the Advanced Packaging Tool. I am still unsure how difficult it would be to get packaged software for PCLinux (which same Linux) hopefully you would be able to use the Mandriva packages because PCLinux is based of Mandriva. If this is not the case finding aditonal software would be a problem until the distribution becomes more popular.

Final comments

SAM Linux is a very exceptional live CD and would make and very nice light Linux OS if installed.

The inclusion of ‘commercial’ software such as flash and 3D GFX card drivers make the experience even better. SAM linux dosnt excel in any one area which makes it a hugely versatile portable OS.

I could install SAM to my HDD right now and not need any more additional software packages apart from GDB and a good IDE but for 90% of uses they could use it straight out of the box.

The combination of Xfce and Beryl and Compiz make for a smooth experience on the front end yet SAM includes enough versatility behind the scenes to get the ‘real’ work done when needed.

4 Responses to “SAM Linux - Review”

  1. Orb!ter Says:

    Very interesting review. Haven’t tried SAM myself, but if it does the job for you then all the more better. Check out Ubuntu 7.04 - I’ve had a great deal of success with this compared to other versions. Definitely worth the squiz anyway…

  2. Jason Says:

    Thanks Orb, I have Feisty Fawn (Ubunti 7.04) but am yet to try it. I will probably put it on my laptop once I get it to work again.

  3. manmath sahu Says:

    Thanks for the review. I tried it on an old PIII 450MHz computer, it still worked great. Wonder it will sky-rocket on Duo Core computers.
    Waiting for the next Sam.

  4. epidenimus Says:

    As the SAM guys just released a Test 2 version yesterday, I started looking at it a little more seriously and reading some of these reviews.

    I’m guessing that the author has not played with various other distributions, which is cool, it’s always helpful to know how someone sees things at a glance and assesses how well it will meet their needs.

    SAM, like LinuxMint, takes on the BASF/ameliorative approach: we don’t make anything, we make it better. It is based on PCLinuxOS, which I and many others consider a solid and revolutionary distro. I am familiar with PCLinuxOS’s strengths and weaknesses and how it compares to Ubuntu. So when I look at a derivative like SAM, I have to ask, “How is this better than the original?”

    1.) The lightweight Xfce interface makes it a little faster on newer machines and perhaps available to more aged machines. Being that PCLinuxOS is a KDE-based distro, this makes it GNOME-ish out of the box, which will appeal to many.

    If this is the goal, then why have the developers not opted to include an option to opt out of the Beryl/Compiz 3D desktop that will drag on slower systems? This would be advantageous to those who have newer systems and still opt for speed over eyecandy. This would be a way to improve on the base. Also, the new test version has upgraded to CompizFusion, something PCLinuxOS will not likely do till this coming spring.

    2.) The new distro test version has omitted the application you were using when you typed this: OpenOffice.org. They opt for the dumbed down, less featured, declared M$ clones Abiword and Gnumeric. To save disc space, that’s understandable, but that’s giving up a lot of ground. Being that this distro doesn’t seem to be really adding anything discerniblly unique to PCLinuxOS, why does it need to take away one of the most powerful tools it includes?? Maybe I’m missing something.

    I like the idea of this: taking PCLinuxOS and making it better, faster, more portable and versatile. Yet I am struggling with the idea that taking an existing distro, changing the Desktop Environment and adding some different art at the expense of the office suite is a bonafide unique distro. I will download the final release and play with it more, but I beg to know what it offers the Linux community that is unique. No offense to Nico, but shouldn’t they have just sent it back upstream to become XPCLOS, much like Ubuntu has Xubuntu? But this is a bigger Linux philosophy debate that has its place elsewhere.

    Also, I would like to say that there are a few different reasons to make a LiveCD. Some will use it to perform functions on an HDD where they need it to effectively be a mounted slave drive (e.g. Gparted LiveCD). Others seek a means of portability for their Linux desktop where they can setup a viable system at a school terminal or a coffee shop. But probably the most common use is as a hands on demo of a particular distro (or maybe Linux itself) to see how compatible it is with the hardware and what software it has to offer. That is why it may be confusing as to why some things are included on the LiveCD. I’ve never used Tilda , but if it’s a feature that the distro has on the LiveCD and I happen to like it, it is a selling point for both.

    Again, I’m optimistic to see where this project will take things. They are already onto improving the package management issue, which is probably the biggest downside of PCLinuxOS, and are working with the blessing of the PCLinuxOS guys. This alone makes the SAM worth watching.

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