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FoX Desktop Lite 1.0

Friday 27th January 2006


So, what is FoX Desktop Lite? It is based upon Fedora Core 4, with KDE 3.5. After a quick e-mail fired off to FoX themselves, and an equally quick reply, I found out that is aimed at users that are not neccessarily an expert at computing. So, does it work?


Getting FoX proved to be harder than most distributions. There is only the one CD, which will be a bonus to some people, especially those with slow connections. Sadly, the link on the FoX website didn't work - I had to get it from Bittorrent, with the torrent itself not on the Fox website - instead, I got it from As you might expect, you put the CD in the drive, and it whizzes off. The first choice is between a text mode and graphical mode, both of which were perfectly capable of installation. Unsurprisingly, the installation will be extremely familiar if you've ever used Fedora Core 4.

The good points? I got to select the packages I wanted, and it kept the secure arrangement of a root user, and an ordinary user. A firewall is installed by default, and you can choose what services to allow (SSH, HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, SMTP). Networking is set up well, with the choice between DHCP or a manual setup. This gives you a greater degree of control over the settings, which I found useful. The other usual suspects popped up: language, keyboard, partitioning (using Disk Druid), timezone, and so on. All of them were competent and perfectly fine to use, if nothing spectacular.

You also get the package selection screen, which, as in Fedora, gives you a list of headings, such as Desktop or Applications, and groups of applications below them, such as Editors and Graphics. You can select these groups as you wish, and, by clicking on 'Details', you can select the individual programs to install.

At the start of the installation, I choose a 'Custom' installation, rather than 'Personal Desktop'. This is a nice arrangement since it allows people to configure their systems to a degree, while the Personal Desktop selection cuts out some of the choices that some users, such as 'beginners', might not want.

However, there are also some bad points. There is the media check at the start, which doesn't work (apparently, there is no checksum on disk to use - note that it works fine on Fedora Core 4); the GRUB installation didn't detect my Debian system; and, worst of all, the installation doesn't always work perfectly.

The first time I used the installation, I got to the logon screen without a problem, and got into KDE without trouble. However, I had chosen to install GNOME when selecting packages, yet there was no GNOME choice in the sessions list - the closest was Metacity. Trying that resulted in a blue background, and not much else. It is a bit misleading to have GNOME as a selection for Desktops, but not to actually install GNOME itself. I tried reinstalling Fox, in case I'd accidentally hit one of the wrong options.

This is where the major problems started. The first re-installation went fine until it started installing packages, at which point it told me that there was a problem with, without really telling me why. It then rebooted.

The next time, it told me it couldn't copy the install image over to the hard drive, for a reason I couldn't fathom. The time after that, the installer just crashed half way through. I then tried text mode, which went fine for a while, but eventually just turned into a screen of scattered writing, the bottom if which read that I could now reboot the computer.

Finally, I remembered something from Fedora Core 4. There was a problem with reading CDs in Fedora, which manifested itself first in the media check (which is why it is a shame this doesn't work in FoX). This was solved by using the option on the very first command line: linux ide=nodma. I tried this on Fox, and, hoorah, it worked!

Unfortunately, still no GNOME desktop. I wouldn't mind if the installation didn't make it seem as though you could have a GNOME desktop.

Overall, the installation is relatively good. It is generally simple to use, and gives users a good balance between control and ease of use. However, the problems of crashing if you don't use linux ide=nodma, not finding my Debian system, the fact that the media check doesn't work, and the misleading GNOME entry somewhat negate the positive points. Ultimately, it is extremely similar to Fedora Core 4's installation, only with a couple of extra problems.

General Use

So, after that rather long installation, what is the desktop actually like? To start with, it has the panel at the top of the screen, which goes against most defaults in distributions, although this isn't really a bad, nor good, point. There is also an applet at the bottom of the screen, which provides launchers for a few programs, and the KDE menu. I'm not particularly fond of this - it will magnify the icon you hover over, and the others around it, meaning that the icons keep moving around. I'm sure some people will like it, and it does make things look nicer, but I feel it is a bit of unneeded complexity.

The applet at the bottom of the screen in FoX Desktop.
The applet at the bottom of the screen in FoX Desktop.

The KDE menu itself isn't organised wonderfully either. It can be hard to find the configuration screen you want - there are various sections, including System Settings, System Tools, Utilities, Control Centre, and Settings. For a distribution that should be making life easy, there are a great many seemingly similar menus. Personally, I have no idea when something would go in Settings, rather than System Settings, or Systems Tools rather than Utilities.

Speaking of settings, I couldn't get file sharing to work. In Konqueror, in the properties menu of a directory, there is a Share tab. Within that tab is a button that reads 'Configure File Sharing'. You click it, then enter the root password and... nothing happens. There is also the Fox Control Centre (not to be confused with the Control Centre in the KDE menu, which is for KDE), with a tab called Network Administration. I click the relevant button to set up shares and... nothing happens. Not even a request for a root password. I ended up just using e-mail to transfer files since I didn't have a USB stick handy.

What about adding more packages? Well, the place to start is the Fox Control Centre. I click on the button to add packages, and... I get an error message, telling me 'Configuration is in read only mode'. How useful. From investigation on the Internet, I find that I need to close KSmartTray - I do, and I can now add some packages. It seems unable to connect to certain repositories, specifically Fox repositories, but it uses Fedora repositories without a problem. This allows you to install a much greater range of packages, so there should be something in there for almost any needs.

One final note on KDE is the theme. It is generally a pleasant theme, that isn't overly bright or taxing on my system. The only problem is that it is extremely difficult to read the text in the Window Bar when it is not in focus - the text is a dark grey, while the background is half black, and half dark grey. Also, in applications that use GTK, in the menus, the text is black on a dark blue background. Again, the similar colours can make it difficult for some people to read the menus.

Of course, there are other programs included, which, fortunately, seem to be both recent and stable. I've already mentioned that Fox comes with KDE 3.5, which is the latest version at the time of writing. It also comes with Firefox 1.5, and 2. The other packages are fairly unremarkable, such as KWrite and K3b. It would be nice if a few more packages were included, such as the GIMP, GAIM or Kopete. Although normally this could be countered by the ability to install these later, this is made more difficult since package installation does not work on a fresh installation. Besides, these are very popular programs, and are relatively small. Having them there by default would be useful, especially for the user migrating from Windows.

A relatively minor niggle is the quality of English, which is to be expected from what appears to be an Italian distribution. There are some phrases that don't quite make sense, such as "Hardware Monitor: View all the hardware connected, here you can't apply any modify." While this doesn't affect the usability of the system, it will make it seem less professional, and detracts from the overall quality of the distribution.

There are a few positives about FoX Linux. For example, the FoX Control Centre does allow some settings to be changed from a single starting point, which makes management of the system easier. For example, installing a printer was as simple as selecting the make and model. Although it cannot match other similar packages, such as SUSE's YaST, or the utilities found in GNOME, it is a decent enough start.

KSmartTray acts as an auto updater - it notifies of you whenever updates are available. Once I had run the software update manually, KSmartTray started working again once I turned it back on. This makes it much easier to keep the system up to date, and makes sure that you have the latest updates - which is becoming more and more crucial as exploits, viruses, and other assorted nasties constantly appear.


You may have got the impression that I didn't like this distribution... you'd be wrong. It certainly has its flaws, both in installation and when trying to set certain things up. Having said that, it does look different from most other distributions, and makes for a refreshing change. There are some things that I haven't mentioned in great detail, such as the high stability of the system, that are generally expected from modern distributions. By default, the distribution looks quite good, without being tacky or causing a significant performance hit. This can be quite important to some people, since so much can be judged on first appearances. Some of the things implemented, such as the FoX Control Centre, are reasonably useful, and hopefully future versions will prove them to be invaluable. But perhaps that's the most important thing about this distribution: the future.

You see, things don't work fantastically at the moment. The panel can be hard to be use, the auto updater (or, indeed, the manual updater) needs some jiggery pokery to get it going, not everything works, etc. Yet, if they manage to iron out these problems, FoX could become very interesting, and a very good Linux distribution - a distribution that can face others by being different, rather than having to be better outright. Having said that, they will need to have something more special than a different way to launch programs. Right now, I can't really recommend FoX above some of the bigger competitors, such as Ubuntu or Fedora Core itself. I can, however, look forward to watching FoX grow and mature.