I’ve poked around with some distros over the last few days. They’ve all been Live Distros running in VMWare. Some of the Distros ran very well like this (Fedora, Mandriva, openSUSE, and Ubuntu), but others failed miserably in one way or another (Linux Mint, Sabayon). Unfortunately, CentOS cannot be installed from a Live CD, so I was unable to test out its installer in VMWare.

Starting Over

I realized that running all these Distros in a Live environment and in VMWare may be unfair. So I’m going to start from scratch, and do all the processes by directly running each Live Distro on the machine directly. This time, I’ve created a list of tasks to do in each Distro. I’ll make notes as I try to do each step for each Distro.

Test Basics

I will run each Distro through as much of the list as I can (some Distros may not be able to do certain tests). For each item, I will record how easy it is for me to complete (five-point scale), how well errors or potential problems are reported (five-point scale), and make general notes about the process.

Live Distro Test

The idea for this test is to get a good idea of how much functionality each Distro can provide without having to be installed. I’ll be looking for the best out of box experience. Unless the Distro provides a clear way to allow the task to work, I won’t make any changes to the installation. Since this is a live run of the Distro, making a bunch of changes each time just to do a task would be very unproductive.

  • Boot to GUI desktop. This will test how easily the Distro deals with a dynamic mix of hardware and how well it auto-configures itself.
  • Test keyboard buttons. I’ll press the non-standard, Microsoft-specific and media keys) on my keyboard and see how many of them are recognized by the Distro.
  • Run Firefox and load Google.  This will test for automatic discovery and connection to the network. The internet connection will be handled by the router, so connection to the network should be sufficient.
  • While Firefox is still open, I’ll test to see if my additional mouse buttons are recognized and mapped to the back and forward functions of the browser.
  • Mount the existing NTFS drives.
    • Copy files back and forth.
    • Test loading media from an NTFS drive.
  • Play an audio CD. This will test the ability to auto-load an audio disk. It will also test whether or not the sound card was correctly identified and appropriate drivers were loaded for it.
  • Play a DVD movie. Similar to the audio CD test, this test will test whether the Distro can automatically load a movie when popped in, how well the audio works, and how smoothly it renders the video. I expect at least a couple Distros to fail this test due to the DVD decoders being proprietary.
  • I’d like to find out how well the automatic mounting of USB drives works, so I’ll connect a USB flash drive and a USB hard drive. I’ll then move and copy files around to get a good feel for the performance.
  • Play audio files. I’ll test the playback ability for mp3 and wma. I might also test Vorbis and FLAC. This will be yet another test of the sound playback and will test codec decoder ability.
  • Play video files. I’ll assemble a collection of video files with different encoding schemes and test them out. This will test the sound playback, smoothness of video rendering, and decoder ability.
  • Load Firefox and visit some sites.
    • First I’ll visit homestarrunner.com and watch the intro video. This will be a good test to check for Flash support.
    • Next I’ll go to the Red vs. Blue site and check out their latest video. These videos are much more intense than the Home Star Runner ones and will be a better test of the performance of the Flash video.
    • For the final stop on the Flash tour, I’ll load up Newgrounds.com and play a game. This will be another good Flash performance check.
    • I’ll then log into my Gmail account, and check my messages, send a message, and do some basic browsing around. This should work smoothly, but I’d like to check just to make sure.
    • Gametrailers.com has content in Flash, QuickTime, and Windows Media formats, so I’ll stop there next and check out a game trailer in the different formats. I don’t expect any of the Distros to render QuickTime or Windows Media videos, but I’d love to know if any of them can.
    • A final test is to go to Apple’s Movie Trailers site and try to watch a movie preview in high quality. Once again, I don’t expect any Distro to do this without any tweaking, but I’d love to know if any can.
  • SSH into another box. I don’t expect any Distro to have a problem with this, but I’d love to know if any do.
  • Load up OpenOffice Writer, add some text, and try to send the file as an email attachment. I’d love to know the different approaches each Distro has to sending an email without a configured Email client.
  • Run the Unigine demo as a benchmark for 3D rendering.

Installation Test

After testing out how well the Live Distro works, it’s time to get to business and install to the disk. This process will be done through each Distro’s live installer (except CentOS which will be installed from the DVD due to not having a live installer). This test doesn’t have any steps and each installation will be done with most of the options left as default.

Using the Installed Distro

Unlike my process for the Live Distro, if the task fails, I’ll try my best to make changes that will result in successfully running the task.

  • Update all packages.
  • Run through all the Live Distro steps again. This will check for any enhancements that came from package upgrades or potential differences between the live and installed versions.
  • Connect my USB printer. I’d like to see if any Distro will automatically configure the printer.
    • Install the printer, if necessary.
    • Print out a document with images.
  • Connect my camera via USB.
  • Install and test Ventrilo.
  • Install Wine.
    • Install and test Steam.
    • Install and test Team Fortress 2.
    • Install and test Crimson Editor.
  • Get the fancy Compiz/Beryl desktop stuff working. I’m not sure if I will actually use such a desktop, but I would like to see what it takes to get each Distro to do it.

Distros to be Tested

I’ve made a couple of additions to my list. The list of Distros I want to test are as follows:

Final Thoughts

In the end, I’d like to get a good feeling for what some of the major Linux Distros are capable of and how easy they are to work with. From the results of my tests, I plan to select my favorite and start using it as my primary desktop for a while.

I’ll post my reviews as I progress through the tests.

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