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J. Corbet
October 11, 1999

Exploring Corel's beta distribution

The delivery folks brought a nice present the other day - the beta release of Corel's upcoming Linux distribution. I had wanted a closer look at this ever since seeing the demo at LinuxWorld. Here's a set of first impressions.

The CD boots quickly into an eye-catching splash screen, thinks for a while, gives a quick root prompt, then brings up the X window system server. That is, if you have the right hardware. The current beta has a number of limitations: it only works with PS/2 keyboards and mice, no laptops, no PCMCIA, ... Oh, well, it's a beta.

The very first question is not what one might expect - it wants to know the name of a user account to add. Encouraging new users to add a nonprivileged account is a good thing - as long as you're not trying to set up a whole network of systems. In the latter case, user accounts are generally handled centrally, and having to add one at install time is just an annoyance.

Interestingly, no password is assigned to this user account.

Then, the user is given the option of creating a recovery disk. At least, in the future one assumes the option will be given - the screen comes out but the "yes" answer is disabled in the beta.

[Installation screen]
Installation type screen (386kb)
Then it's time to select what kind of system to install. The options on the screen include "Desktop," "Desktop Plus," "Server," and "Custom." Only the two "desktop" options were actually active, however. Hmm...I guess I'll go for the desktop installation....

Last question: partitioning. Options include taking over the whole disk, using "free space", or "custom." The last option gives a nice-looking partition editor, except that the "add" button doesn't do anything. But it let me delete a partition just fine.

Then you hit "install" to make it all go. Only in this case I got a little dialog saying something useful like "Sorry, it didn't work." Not very helpful. Switching over to virtual console 3 (the X server runs in VC 2, strangely) pointed at partitioning problems.

So I started over again but didn't mess around with the partition editor, and the problem didn't recur. Instead I got a progress bar window that zoomed almost immediately to 89%, then sat there forever while the disk rattled. Pretty boring, but you can always go over to VC3 and watch the packages actually install.

OK, it's installed, now what?

On reboot, you get what looks like a pseudo-graphical interface to LILO. Even on a Linux-only system, there are five boot options: Corel Linux, Linux VGA mode, Linux Console mode, Linux Debug mode, and Linux Expert mode. I'm curious as to what they all are, but settle for Corel Linux for now.

After the first boot, it spends several minutes configuring the system without any sort of feedback. But the disk rattles so you know something
[Network configuration screen]
Network configuration screen (17kb)
is going on...eventually a graphical login comes up. Root without a password gets you in, and you're faced with fairly normal KDE desktop, with no windows. They really need a help browser showing a "welcome to Corel Linux" document here. Otherwise their attempt at an absolutely friendly Linux falls apart here.

The system at this point lacks a fair amount of configuration. For example, networking is not set up. Fortunately, there's a "control panel" option, and that gets you to an ethernet screen. Unfortunately, the DHCP mode fails to work. But it's happy with a static address, and networking comes up.

The desktop includes a "CDROM" icon which does nothing, and a "WordPerfect" icon which, of all things, brings up WordPerfect. There's a fairly normal set of KDE applications; extensive testing shows that the Tetris game works as expected.

Speaking of CDROMs, the beta distribution came with a screen shots CD - that's where the screen dumps used in this article come from. Said CD has one directory, called "Corel Linux" - yes, with a space. At least, on my Red Hat box it has that name - on the Corel system the directory was called "corell~1" instead. Seems they left out the Rock Ridge option in their (2.2.10) kernel configuration?

There's some other goodies supplied by Corel on the system. There is an "event browser" which looks at the event logs and displays things of interest. This could be of interest, especially since their syslog configuration splits logging information into 88 (!) different files under /var/log.
[Package manager]
Corel's package manager (41kb)

Also included is Corel's package manager - a nice, graphical front end to apt. Unfortunately, it still contains the Corel advertisements at the bottom. And it's an obnoxious, animated advertisement at that - one that can't be turned off. I finally got the package manager into a usable state by hiding the advertisement under another window.

Corel is going to have to lose the advertisement here. They will take far more grief than it can ever be worth if the ad bar persists. Why go so far to aggravate your customers?

Corel offers some nice Windows integration features, like the ability to graphically browse an SMB network. Unfortunately, I didn't have such a network handy, and so didn't test out that feature.

Beyond that, it looks mostly like a Debian Linux system. It's nice to see that they have PAM support included. And, of course, Corel has carefully whittled down the set of packages - it all fits on one CD. The package manager can be used, of course, to fill in any desired packages from the Debian FTP site.

This distribution has some rough edges - but then, it's a beta. If Corel takes the time to smooth things out properly - and doesn't rush too much to get a Comdex release - it may well have a winner on its hands. Corel could well take the lead in bringing Linux to the masses.

Eklektix, Inc. Linux powered! Copyright 1999 Eklektix, Inc. all rights reserved.
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