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1. Introduction

This distribution we chose to show you today sure is an interesting combination. According to their Distrowatch page, it's a combination of features from Mandriva, on which is based, Fedora and Ubuntu, and can be used at school, work or home. Are these rather bold statements true? Stay tuned to find out. You don't need to have any special knowledge, just 10 minutes of your time is all we're asking. If you have questions on how to try blackPanther or you already tried it and have an opinion, please visit our linux forums and share!

2. A few words about blackPanther OS

As stated, blackPanther (or bP, as we will name it) has its origins from Mandriva and, just like another successor of the classic distribution, PCLinuxOS, is available for i586 only, so no 64-bit or non-PC architectures. The first thing we can gather from here is that it's a desktop- oriented distribution, although no one is stopping you from using it as a server, should you choose that. The latest version is 11.1 and it's available from the download section of their website. Regarding the origin, it's Hungary, and this will be visible to you if you will try it out as there are a few slips of Hungarian or bad English in the interface, but nothing as bad as to become bothersome. The website is simple, and it offers mainly the information necessary to get started, and since this is a small project, I'd say they have done their job pretty well, especially considering that there are two versions of said website: one in English and one in Hungarian. Now, let's get started and see what this distribution has to offer.

3. Using bP OS

After some trial-and-error, we realize that two of the bootloader entries are one and the same thing, both leading to the same live environment, from which you can install the OS after you tried it out. So, folks, the first two GRUB entries are the same. However, the completeness of the rest of the menu and the looks made us forgive this small issue and concentrate on the rest of the package. The theme is dark, but unlike many other themes in this manner, is not eye-wearing and quite pleasant. One of the things I really liked is that bP starts as a live CD, but contrary to other (too many!) Linux live CDs, it asks some questions before it gives you access to the live goodness. Also, it practically forces the user to choose a root password and create a normal username/password for general use, and afterwards dumps you to the login screen, which is, like all the other graphical components, consistent with the dark theme we spoke about earlier.

3.1. The live environment

Mandriva, like Mandrake before it, while being known for the user-friendliness, is also known for being pretty beefy, and as a consequence, slow. Especially with the default desktop, KDE, which had/has it's fair share of critics regarding bloat. Despite all that, and me being able to confirm those statements personally, bP feels snappy, given that it's running in a virtual machine with 768 MB in live mode. That is something, and I am curious if these are the default Mandriva KDE packages or they have been compiled with custom flags to improve performance. Of course, said performance has a lot to do with the kernel, which is a pretty conservative option, namely 2.6.38 . This is not to be taken as criticism, as desktop users must have a compromise between stability and bleeding-edge features, and this is accomplished by the custom .38 kernel and KDE 4.6.2 . You will say "OK, mate , but where's the bleeding edge part?" I think the beautiful overall look, combined with the unusual (in a pleasant way) menu layout will make up for the somewhat dated software you get.

The blackPanther OS desktop

3.2. The installed environment and package management

One of the first things I tried to do after installation, which, by the way, went very smoothly, despite the limited resources of my virtual machine, is to update my system. Here's where some ups and downs of blackPanther OS begin to surface. Obviously, I tried to use the command line first, with the urpm* series of executables, since those are the tools used for package management on Mandriva. Surprise! /usr/sbin, where those are located, isn't even in root's PATH. Clearly, I understand that this is a system that's not tailored for geeks like me. So, onwards to the PackageKit GUI. I used to have some issues in the past with it on Fedora, from which it's actually borrowed, but here it works well. Except... when I try to change my repositories, all I get is a list of them, aptly named Media 1, Media 2, and so on. And I only get to enable/disable, not edit. But, regarding package management, I forgot to tell you one cool thing, that I personally haven't seen anywhere else. Then again, I am not your average Linux desktop user, I guess. So, on first boot, you get a screen asking you what desktop you want to use, and, if you choose something different from the already installed KDE, the system will install the DE/WM of your choice (you get a lot of options: Gnome, E17, Openbox...) and then offer it as an option at the login menu. This, in my opinion, is just way cool. But I digress. The CLI commands for package management were hidden from me for a simple reason. There are bP-specific commands for this task. Just type 'commands' and you will get the whole list. After some digging, I find that these replacements are nothing but shell scripts, but more than simple wrappers: they look like cleverly written software, with the only minus that a better English translator would help. It's nothing that makes the commands impossible to understand, but it makes for a bad impression next to the beautifully polished desktop. Then again, as a desktop user and GUI aficionado, you probably won't have to use the CLI that much. If that's good or bad, I'd rather not say.

 

blackPanther OS KDE menu

The software bundled with the CD is quite a lot, given the size limit imposed by the 700 MB and the fact that KDE is pretty big in itself. You have Chromium as the browser, and lots of KDE goodness, like Kmess as a messaging program, Konversation for an IRC client and so on. However, no e-mail client appears in the internet section of the menu, so if you need one, you'll have to install it. That, I guess, stems from that lack of space on a CD that we talked about earlier. However, the developers aren't shy to include Libreoffice, the whole suite, and GIMP, all big apps that take lots of space. Perhaps a more balanced software choice would be recommended, as an e-mail client is important for a desktop user, in my opinion. In the end, speaking of software choice, especially since the distribution is boasting that it's destined to be used at work, school, or home, vital applications like sudo or man should be present, no excuse.

blackPanther OS desktop selector

 

4. Conclusion

Usually, after reading such a review, people expect to see "I recommend/don't recommend this distribution.". Well, no. I admit to being subjective, as we all are, so what I see you may not see, or the other way around, and what I like might simply bother you. However, some advice is appropriate. So, if you are the kind of distro-hopper, who likes some eye-candy and don't mind some here-and-there English mistakes, go for blackPanther OS, or at least take a look at it, via the live CD. Of course, if you speak Hungarian, all the better, especially since the forums are restricted to that, although the effort to translate in English is commendable. If any of the points above scare you, perhaps you should try it when you have a few minutes anyway, because who knows? If you're the geeky control freak that likes to edit files by hand and can't live without the CLI, perhaps you should go with Arch or Gentoo.

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