I was very excited when I read the release announcement for a new Linux
distribution based on Gentoo Linux. I used Gentoo for several years and
admire Sabayon Linux, so I was quite anxious to test another derivative.
After all the testing I was pleased to find that Toorox 06.2009 delivers a
Gentoo experience but is much easier to install and use.
Toorox Linux ships as a
live DVD featuring KDE 4.2.4, Linux 2.6.28, and lots of useful
applications. It uses KNOPPIX hardware detection, but what makes Toorox
stand out is its extra tools and utilities.
One interesting feature set is the system installation tools. From the
live DVD environment one can choose to install to a hard drive or USB
stick. These tools aren't especially elaborate, but they get the job done.
The best thing for me was the ability to install on a partition further
down the disk than 16. One can select one of the listed partitions or
input the desired number. Beyond the install partition the simple
installer only asks for a user account, root password, and whether
to install GRUB. What makes these installers outstanding is the fact that
they work, which is a goal that Gentoo developers themselves continue to
The Systemconfig browser contains links to KDE configuration tools such
as the System Settings, desktop configuration module, Display options,
Effects, and System Information. However, there's much more. One of the
most handy additions is the "Driver, Multimedia" folder. This leads users to
scripts that install proprietary graphic drivers, files and
codecs for multimedia enjoyment, as well as the Adobe Flash browser plugin.
while Toorox may not ship with these proprietary and closed-source files,
it does provide an easy way to obtain them.
Portage is the Gentoo package manager
that downloads, compiles, and installs source packages onto users' systems.
Portage was the main feature of Gentoo that propelled it to popularity in
the past, but massive emerge failures probably contributed to Gentoo's
decline after the departure of Daniel Robbins. However, the development
team has persevered and the stable software tree functions well today.
The best thing found in the Systemconfig browser is probably Porthole.
Porthole is a graphical front-end for Portage. I've tested several
graphical Portage front-ends over the years, but most are
disappointing. Porthole seems to be the most consistently stable and
reliable front-end I've used. It allows for the configuration of advanced
compiler options, similar to what one might set in the
file. It functions very much like Synaptic does for APT. It can list
packages by category, allows searching by package name, and all that's
required to install is right-clicking on the package name and selecting
"pretend emerge". The latter doesn't install the package, but will provide
alerts for various problems that may be encountered when installing it for
Unlike Sabayon, Toorox uses the Gentoo package tree and is fully
compatible with Gentoo. This also means any updates will come straight
from Gentoo. Portage in Toorox is set up to install from the
unstable branch of software, probably to accommodate KDE 4 and its
dependencies. The unstable branch includes the newest versions of
software, sometimes beta, that may not compile or function properly.
Used as configured, Porthole had no problems installing individual
packages without dependencies or desired packages with just a few
dependencies, but new users may wish to
avoid "update world" (synonymous with APT dist-upgrade).
Toorox ships with the main 2.6.28 Gentoo kernel. Gentoo has several
kernel choices available such as a hardened kernel with extra security
patches and higher security settings, a multimedia-oriented kernel, Xen,
vanilla, TuxOnIce, and OpenVZ. All are highly patched except the vanilla
sources and some are very specialized, such as the Xbox kernels.
Hardware support is thus up-to-par and sometimes surpasses that found
with the vanilla kernel. Toorox uses the KNOPPIX hardware detection scripts
and does an adequate job. Most hardware is autodetected and
autoconfigured. Although battery monitoring was automatic, I needed to
manually configure powersaving features.
On machines with at least 1 GB of RAM, Toorox performance was
acceptable. However, on machines with, for example, 512 MB, Toorox
was a bit slow. Internet connections with supported hardware and
using the DHCP protocol were configured automatically. Screen resolution
is chosen by the user at the start of the live DVD and passed on to the hard
drive install, but a machine with dual monitors required manual
configuration. In fact, I had to disconnect my secondary monitor in order
to fully boot the live DVD or fresh install.
Interface and Software
Toorox has done a nice job of trying to
make the desktop accommodating for new users. On the desktop is a widget
that lists all the partitions that can be mounted and browsed in Dolphin
with a single click. Another desktop widget features some helpful, if
redundant, applications such as Starter, Systemconfig, File Manager
(Dolphin), and the Terminal. One other contains connection information.
The panels again house widgets and launchers for much the same: Starter,
Systemconfig, Terminal, and Trash; with a few additions such as Iceweasel
and Device Notifier.
Starter is a link to an application browser containing many of the
applications Toorox developers think may be of particular interest to
users. Toorox even comes with two menus. One is the newer KickOff menu
popularized by openSUSE and now default in KDE and the other is a
traditional category/list menu. No one should have any difficulties
finding applications to use.
The Toorox image is 1.7 GB and contains lots of applications. The
standards are there such as OpenOffice.org, the GIMP, KDE essentials, and
lots of games. But there are lots of extras as well such as Wine, VLC,
XChat, XSane, Epiphany, Debian's Iceweasel, and Qt Designer. There are
thousands more in the Portage package tree.
All told, Toorox does a nice job of packaging up Gentoo, KDE 4, and a
working installer to give an interesting and off-the-beaten-path Linux
experience. There will always be niggles with Gentoo and so Toorox has its
share - especially since it is using the unstable branch of software. But
overall the system is stable, responsive, and just plain fun to use.
The default language for Toorox is German, but English is fully
supported and easily chosen when booting the live DVD. Toorox has forums for user support, but
they, too, are in German. Fortunately, for any issues I needed to resolve,
the regular Gentoo forum
was the answer. The best part about the Gentoo forum is that most
questions have already been answered and are a mere search away.
Most of my recurring issues with Toorox are actually because of KDE 4.
This is the best implementation of KDE 4 that I've tried, but, due to the
way I work, I still had issues. Toorox developers have tried to make the
KDE 4 desktop as usable as possible while making sure folks can find the
modules needed to customize to their liking. For those without 50,000 email
messages, 1,500 news feeds, and who don't accumulate too many open
Konqueror windows, Toorox's KDE 4 could probably fill the bill. Under heavy
loads KDE 4 performed rather poorly, even becoming completely unresponsive
Toorox is ideal for someone who'd like to be introduced to Gentoo
without the complications and time investment. It'd be great for those who
like to use something different from the many cookie-cutter derivatives
offered today. Unlike Sabayon, whose developers compile their own packages
and use their own repositories, Toorox is very close to being a true Gentoo
desktop with the advantages of easy installer, simple software management,
some great tools, good looks, and a ready-to-use KDE 4 desktop.
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