The Reglue project was, as many were, caught off guard when both Gnome and Canonical simultaneously lost their minds. With their eyes solidly focused on the mobile market, each moved swiftly to develop an environment that would be both friendly and useful on tablets and phones.
It looks like they've done a good job of it. Both work extremely well in their suited place.
Unfortunately, both thought this environment would work as a one-size-fits-all solution for the desktop as well.
Apparently, it wasn't such a good idea. And no....I don't believe citation is needed for this particular statement...unless you've been vacationing on Ganymede.
It seems that younger folks, who seldom take their eyes off their cell phones, accept these changes, and actually like them. People who are paid to get work done haven't much cared for the slab-O-meat style on the desktop.
I include myself in those numbers.
So when our folks at Reglue talked it over, we decided to look around and see what we could use to replace our default distro for our Reglue kids. Currently, we have about an even mix of our HeliOS respin and a default install of Linux Mint, Mate edition. The main mission was to find a desktop environment that was usable, easy to customize, and have long term support.
For those that have used our 10.04 Ubuntu respin (it's a 2.3 gig download), you know that it is top-heavy in educational apps and games. Our objective is to make our distro choice as rich as possible, without being boring or lacking in the tools our students might need. Since support for this release ends in April of 2013, we have some time to look around.
We also want to provide an environment that is clearly NOT designed for a mobile device.
Our biggest challenge is in the actual customization of the base system. UCK worked well for us all the way up to the 10.10 release. After that, not so much. Errors were thrown about like virgins on Mount Olympus and I simply couldn't get it to work on the latest Ubuntu or Mint LTS.
Ikey Doherty steps in. (Link to G+ page)
Many of you know that I've suffered long-term catastrophic eyesight and hearing failure from recent chemo therapy. The odd part of the sight loss is that I only have problems with extremely short distances, mostly from 6 to 24 inches away. Other than that, I can see fine. Working in any environment that uses a backlight causes nasty nausea and I can only sit at a terminal for 10 minutes at a time. Dark, dark glasses will extend that period by almost three times but we are talking darkness produced by welder's goggles....damn near black out shutters.
This makes stuff like writing scripts and working with columns and lines of data frustrating....stuff like doing distro respins for example.
So after test driving distros for several days, I was extremely impressed with a fairly new Debian-based distro called SolusOS. (server upgrade has home website temporarily offline). The forums are up and running.
Ikey, much like Clem Lefebvre, has heard the wail and gnashing of teeth over Unity and Gnome 3. He set out to make SolusOS user-friendly while maintaining a long term support operating system. Using patches and scripts mostly written himself, Ikey went about the business of making the Gnome Shell an almost identical replica of the Gnome 2 desktop. That will be the goal of the next release, SolusOS 2.
But what cinched the deal for us wasn't only a return to sanity....the Mint Mate and Cinnamon desktops do that...It was Ikey's interest in making and maintaining a Reglue-specific respin of SolusOS.
I have some specific ideas of what I want in a Reglue Linux distro...many of those ideas just were not of interest to those I have previously asked for assistance.
Ikey is more than happy to help in realizing these ideas.
So over the past week or so, there have been a flurry of emails between me and Ikey, and he's committed to making this happen. Once the next stable release of SolusOS is up, there will be a "SolusOS Jr. for Reglue. Is it on?
Oh, it's on.
However, there were concerns. Ubuntu and the Gnome Project are either backed by corporations or non profits with financial support. Our worries gathered around the ability for SolusOS to be here for the long term. I was also concerned about the software itself. While efforts like Mint have actually improved on Ubuntu, other releases or derivatives are nothing more than a simple re-theming. What makes SolusOS different from the standard Debian release?
These are the things we discussed and I'll share them with you here:
1. People will say and do say about new "derivative" distros. It's just (Ubuntu/Debian/Mandriva) with a fresh coat of paint and some theme changes. Even though they haven't tried them, people still say the same thing about Mint or Mageia. What makes Solus an effort worth an actual introduction as a stand-alone distro? What have you done besides re-theming Debian?
SolusOS is indeed based on Debian. With SolusOS 1 we chose to use Debian Stable as our base, to ensure the stability of the distribution as a whole. Your point is entirely valid. Had we just stuck with the base and changed the app selection and artwork, it would be nothing more than a respin. However Debian Stable comes at a price, you are limited to a somewhat older selection of packages.
We choose to provide a rolling application stream on top of a stable base, ensuring you have recent desktop applications and a rock solid core. You're not going to find another Squeeze-based distro packing Firefox 14 and LibreOffice 3.5.5 for example. We don't just stop with the applications though.
It's all well and good having a desktop system but you need to be able to use it as well as you can. We maintain our own kernel builds, ensuring desktop optimizations, including the BFS patch and preempt. We've also made it easier to use your desktop day to day by including and maintaining recent versions of all the multimedia packages you'll need, even down to VLC 2.0.2. To make life that bit easier we even have an automated driver installer. With SolusOS 1 you have all this on top of the stable and well known Gnome 2.30 desktop.
The only other alternative was MATE, which is a fork of GNOME 2.32. After some research I quickly discovered there was no plan to port it to GTK3 and newer technologies so I felt it would quickly stagnate.
So I took a new tactic. I saw that even though fallback was limited, it was only on the surface. I set about writing a set of patches, which I'm still doing, that restore traditional GNOME 2 behaviour in GNOME 3.
We don't use the shell. We're using metacity, gnome-panel and nautilus. Like you'd expect to find. You can interact with it exactly as you would with SolusOS 1's GNOME 2.30.
Anything that's missing we re-implement or write from scratch. We're using the installer I wrote for LMDE, and decided even that needs a refresh. SolusOS 2 is getting a brand new installer that I'm writing now which has better partitioning support, automation, OEM, LVM, encryption, amonst other options.
SolusOS is more than just a distribution. It is a software collection, a distribution, a desktop environment and a rolling application stream with stability, ease of use and performance as key factors.
2. Many of us use Ubuntu because it seems to be the most stable Linux available....a five year LTS is reassuring to the user. It has corporate backing and a huge following. Some folks are afraid to commit to a distro because they see it as a "one man show" and worry that in a year, or in five years, the developer will get tired of it, get bored or decide there is no way to make a living from it and just walk away. As well, many corporate entities shy away from Linux because there is no financial responsibility to keep it alive...a distro developer can walk away at any time and leave thousands or hundreds of thousands of people twisting in the wind. Where do you plan to be in one or five years concerning Solus.
When SolusOS 2 goes "final", there will be a fully automated upgrade path from SolusOS 1. It's going to do a lot more than just upgrade a bunch of packages. There will be proper migration paths in place to handle different API changes and new config styles, locations, etc.
Install once, and forget about it until you're asked to update. I made a promise to our users that users would not be able to tell the difference between SolusOS 1 and SolusOS 2 desktop just by looking at or using. If anything, it'd be an improvement. And we're well on the way to that goal.
With SolusOS 2 we'll be bringing in a new snapshot manager so you wont have to worry anymore if you ever do manage to trash your install. Just roll back :)
As for me leaving, you got no chance. As much as I'm the SolusOS founder I am a member of its community. And I'm too strongly tied to it. It would hurt me at a personal level to remove myself from the strong friendships I have formed with the SolusOS Community. Besides, a true Irishman doesn't break a promise :)
Ikey is an Irishman living and working in the UK.