Bodhi Linux: a featherweight with style

Bodhi with the default theme and compositing profile selected gets you a very close to stock enlightenment setup.

In anticipation of a new Ubuntu release and in need of a fresh install on my Dell “test” laptop (11.6 inch, i3 1.2ghz, 4gb RAM) I thought I’d use the time to test drive some other distros.

One that has been near and dear to me for some time is Bodhi Linux. When I first decided to get off the Apple money train and assemble my own desktop, I started with a super low cost bare bones machine with an Atom processor. Bodhi, because of its reputation as super for low spec machines was one of the first distro’s I tried.

Based on Enlightenment, or e17, Bodhi was pretty cool. It offered a lot of polish for a low RAM DE and was nearly endlessly customizable. It didn’t work out for me then due to hardware issues — and later when I’d try it, it never quite provided me with the experience I was looking for. If it wasn’t a graphics glitch, I’d just decide I didn’t have the time to install all the software I needed to get going and would go elsewhere.

This time, I noticed that the Bodhi team had just released version 2.1.0. Based on Ubuntu 12.04, the latest Bodhi build is closer to what would be a stock configuration of e17, the main difference I see being the removal of the PCManFM file manager in favour of e17′s native, fileman. I’m sure there’s more, but this was the main change I found.

So onto the experience. Bodhi is a breeze to install — I think the whole thing took 10 to 15 minutes — and it starts quickly. I went from cold boot to on the desktop within 30 seconds and that’s with a 5200 rpm traditional hard drive. Not bad.

One of Bodhi’s great strengths is in it’s series of modes. There are fancy modes, desktop modes, simple, laptop and even a tablet mode. I chose the compositing mode to get great desktop effects. This left me with a simple, default bottom panel that I configured a bit to my liking with a digital clock, a task bar and a battery widget. All are available in a panel called modules.

Here it’s worth noting that configuring the Bodhi desktop is a different animal with its own vocabulary. There are modules and gadgets, which can be placed on what are called shelves, or what everyone else calls panels. They can also be placed right on the desktop. Like Android or KDE, you can place a nice analogue clock right on top of the desktop, if you like. As powerful and cool as these tools are, there will be a learning curve for anyone used to other DE’s. Bodhi’s Enlightenment Guide is a worthwhile read for users who are new to e17.

What’s not to like

First, the cons. Aside from the fact that you will need the time it will take to learn something new, Bodhi comes with very little software. You get the desktop environment and settings, Leafpad text editor, Midori browser and Terminology terminal emulator. And that’s about it. If you don’t mind building your own software library, this is probably preferable. But just be warned, you’ll need to download even the basics like a photo viewer, CUPS if you want to print, media codecs, etc.

Bodhi is not a download and go distro. You need to run Networking and be sure it’s set to startup in startup applications. If you want to run dropbox, you’ll need to be sure to set it there as well. Also, after a lot of noodling, I learned that I could set the graphics effects to OpenGL instead of software rendering which helped a bunch. This is not for noobs.

Also, Bodhi is extremely stable but it has its bugs. Or at least, it’s fair to say e17 has its bugs. I always run into strange glitches when configuring gadgets on the shelf, for example. An icon will disappear. Or a gadget will suddenly stop working. I had my systray evaporate every time I changed my shelf background. When I tried to add it back, I got an error message informing me it was already there. I could get it back by removing and re-adding.

Finally, font anti-aliasing is not great. You can add lxappearance through Synaptic Package Manager which adds options for font appearance. It’s good, but you don’t get the same crips font appearance as Ubuntu or even other distros I’ve used including Peppermint OS.

What’s good

I think the pros are quite a bit worth living through the cons, especially for anyone looking for an alternative the increasingly RAM heavy GNOME 3-based DEs like Unity and Cinnamon.

Bodhi’s web-based app center. I configured the shelf here to transparent and expanded it to stretch across the bottom of the screen.

The compositing effects on Bodhi are really quite cool and remarkable given the small RAM footprint. When changing workspaces with ctrl+alt+arrow keys, you zoom out into an overview mode and zoom back into the desktop you choose. Swapping applications and windows through alt+tab are handled by an expose-like effect that would make Unity users jealous. More importantly, it adds an ease of use for swapping applications and viewing all open windows that is not available in other lightweight DEs.

Next is Everything Launcher. This is excellent. super+space launches what is called the everything launcher. It’s essentially a turbo-charged GnomeDO application that can be extended to also browse files and even the Web. For me, a user that no longer has the patience to browse menus, this is essential. Run Everything Launcher and start typing to get what you want. Also, the Everything launcher stores a number of favourite applications based on past use which makes it even easier to launch the application you want.

All of this, of course, is super fast. Bodhi boots quickly and applications are launched instantly. If you just really want fast access to your computer and your applications to launch instantly, AND you want eye candy, this is your distro. Nothing else really combines that best-of-both-worlds quite the same way.

Up to date: Bodhi is based on Ubuntu 12.04, but it offers the most up to date software packages, including LibreOffice 3.6, GIMP 2.8 and Bodhi is built on the 3.5 kernel. All of this is available on Bodhi’s own repository which can be accessed through a web-based app center, that depends on Midori for one-click install

Finally, the community. Bodhi has an awesome community with a head developer, Jeff Hoogland, who is always responsive, helpful and present. If you’re looking for help with something, you will find it on Bodhi’s forums.

So, if you’re looking for a little adventure and want a fast distro with the eye candy, and don’t mind building you’re own software collection, Bodhi is worth a look. I think it’s especially ideal for that second netbook that you want to use for browsing, word processing and maybe a little GIMP work.

Bodhi Linux: a featherweight with style
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