By popular demand, I downloaded, installed, and worked with the new Hannah Montana Linux distribution, and decided to post a review of this product, as well as some tips and tricks on how to get the most out of this niche Linux distro.
To aid the reader in following this review visually, I have taken numerous screenshots and included them here.
I was able to download the ISO for HMLinux from the Sourceforge homepage of it. I downloaded “v2″ of it, using Bittorrent. It downloaded quite rapidly, only taking 15 minutes or so, leading me to believe that it is well-seeded as a torrent.
The ISO is a combination LiveCD and installation CD. I think it’s nice when distro developers/packagers do this, as it gives one the chance to see if the distro is going to work on one’s hardware simply by booting from the CD, and making that determination BEFORE one actually has to install anything to the hard drive.
Setup and installation
Since I don’t have a spare machine at the moment which could have served as home for Hannah Montana Linux, I opted instead to virtualize this installation. To this end, I used Sun’s VirtualBox, version 3.0.0, setting up the virtual machine with 387 MB of RAM, 64 MB of video memory and an 8 GB expandable virtual hard drive. I realize that this is probably insufficient hardware for purposes of a review, but it occurs to me that a Linux distro should be able to run on limited hardware as well as the most advanced.
Therefore, I make no apologies for virtualizing this machine in less than optimal conditions; the onus of stellar performance, it is my belief, lies upon those who package and distribute a Linux distro.
I mounted the ISO and had the virtual machine boot from it like I would a real computer utilizing a real installation CD. There, I was given the option to boot into the LiveCD environment, or “install to computer” (I selected the latter).
From there, the installation process moved on to a graphical environment that had me select my language, time zone, and preferred keyboard layout (all in a garish light purple, I might add).
It allows the user to select any customized partitioning options, or, as I did, one can select the default partitioning options. The next step asks for user information — user name, what password you would like that user to have, and what you want for the computer name/hostname. I entered “trent” as my user name, and I selected “hmlinux” as the hostname.
I considered this a good sign (the fact that it asked me to set up a password), as some Linux distros default to auto-logins, which is inherently insecure.
By the partitioning dialogue, it appears that Hannah Montana Linux utilizes ext3 as a filesystem, which I find to be quite acceptable.
Once all of these options are decided (which is a pretty painless process of question and answer where one can very safely just accept the defaults for most of these options), the actual installation runs. For me, on the virtualized hardware installing from a mounted ISO file of the LiveCD/installation CD, this part of the process took merely 12 minutes to complete, a fact with which I was impressed.
Overall the installation and setup of Hannah Montana Linux is very easy, very user friendly, and very fast, all three of which merit a thumbs up in my book.
Running Hannah Montana Linux
I could see on its first boot that it uses GRUB as its default boot manager, which isn’t surprising, as Hannah Montana Linux is based off of Kubuntu, which also uses GRUB.
It brought me to a login prompt, as I had suspected, where I entered my password and arrived at the default Hannah Montana Linux desktop, which appears at right.
The desktop starts up with a short piece of audio that is presumably from the Hannah Montana repertoire.
Hannah Montana Linux uses KDE 4.2.2, and there is no other window manager or desktop environment installed, so what you see is what you get as far as the user environment goes. My primary aesthetic problem with Hannah Montana Linux is related to the version of KDE which the makers of this distro decided to use. The main toolbar/panel is just too reminiscent of Windows 7′s ugly toolbar; I’m of the opinion that a Linux desktop environment shouldn’t waste time copying Microsoft’s efforts. A better choice for Hannah Montana Linux’s desktop would have been KDE 3.5.10, which is much more robust, much more user friendly, and far more stable.
For some reason, this interface has no desktop shortcuts or applications readily visible, but it instead opens with the “Desktop” folder in a separate window. I couldn’t figure out how to make actual application shortcuts on the desktop, but I could make them in the separate desktop window. This is a very puzzling way to do things, and it may hinder some less computer-savvy users’ ability to use this environment.
Applications can, however, be accessed via the menu in the lower left-hand side of the toolbar, like so:
I found the menu to be nearly unusable; in order to find anything in it, instead of wasting time fumbling around, I simply used the “search” function to find any of the applications for which I was looking.
In my poking around, I found that Hannah Montana Linux ships with the 2.6.28-13 Linux kernel. It also ships with no browser to speak of except Konqueror, which I found to be unsatisfactory and insufficient. A functional Linux distro should at least ship with a recent build of Firefox!
Problems and solutions
Since this wonderful tool was available at my fingertips, I decided to remedy the browser situation by installing Firefox via apt-get.
However, about halfway through the installation of it, the entire machine locked up (the Hannah Montana Linux machine, not my host machine) and was completely unresponsive. I rebooted, tried again, and crashed a second time while trying to install Firefox from apt-get.
Since there was apparently a problem installing software via apt-get while KDE was running, I logged out, selected the “console login” option, and logged in command line only. At that point, I decided I had had enough of the KDE 4.2.2 instability and usability issues entirely, so I utilized the command console to install Fluxbox via apt-get, a much more stable, resource friendly, configurable, and in my opinion user friendly window manager than KDE has become.
Hannah Montana Linux, properly configured
Once I had Fluxbox installed and configured, Hannah Montana Linux was a dream. Fast, stable, and user friendly, I was able to perform normal tasks without any issues or crashing (though attempting to install Firefox via apt-get still locked up the machine, even though I was able to eventually install it manually from a download without any problems).
I installed aterm to use instead of the much heavier/bulkier Konsole, and XFE to use as a file manager instead of the rather ill-designed Dolphin file manager, and things moved a long quite well on the rather limited resources I had allocated this virtual machine.
Along with some custom user styles, some new wallpaper, and utilization of the Fluxbox fbsetbg command, I finally had Hannah Montana Linux properly configured, as you can see below:
Hannah Montana Linux, while it has a seemingly stable underpinning of a Debian based Linux architecture, needs some work. Its default desktop environment is barely usable, very unstable and buggy, and has a selection of applications that are, in this reviewer’s opinion, sub-par for any serious computer user.
However, with a little bit of effort, the desktop environment can be easily replaced with a faster, more stable one, and other applications can be installed and configured to make even this relatively quirky Linux distro a robust environment that can be used for programming, heavy software development, or writing Linux related blog posts reviewing odd Linux distributions.
As always, your mileage may vary.