Bodhi Brings Enlightenment to Linux Desktop

Bodhi Brings Enlightenment to Linux Desktop

Bodhi Linux logo Fans of Enlightenment -- the window manager, not the intellectual movement -- have a treat to look forward to as Bodhi Linux, a new Ubuntu- and Enlightenment-based distribution, nears its first stable release. In anticipation, we gave Bodhi a spin. Here's what we found.

Ubuntu is already available in a number of different flavors, from KDE-based Kubuntu to Xfce-oriented Xubuntu to Lubuntu, which runs LXDE. Conspicuously absent from this lineup of Ubuntu spinoffs, however, is a build based on Enlightenment, a window manager (or, perhaps more properly speaking in Bodhi's case, a full-fledged desktop environment) designed to be lightweight, attractive and -- in its most recent iteration -- functional on an expansive range of hardware, from desktops to phones to e-paper.

The Bodhi project promises to help fill this gap in the Ubuntu family picture, and the open-source world more generally, by building a Linux distribution with an Ubuntu core and an Enlightenment frontend. As lead Bodhi developer Jeff Hoogland explained in an email:

The thing that makes Bodhi diffrerent from other distros is the Enlightenment desktop. There are fewer than a dozen active distros that use E as their default desktop and we feel none of the others do it quite as well as Bodhi does. Bodhi exists partially for the same reason spins such as Lubuntu and Kubuntu (you could just install LXDE or KDE on Ubuntu) do -- a distribution dedicated to a certain desktop provides a better experience on that desktop.
For clarity's sake, we should point out that Bodhi is not an official Ubuntu spinoff; it's a completely independent distribution -- which is probably for the best, since otherwise the project would presumably have to call itself Eubuntu, and the last thing the Ubuntu world needs is another name that no one knows how to spell or pronounce.

Defining Bodhi

But Bodhi is much more than Enlightenment running on top of Ubuntu. Its philosophy and default application stack -- or lack thereof -- set it apart from Ubuntu in important ways.

For one, the Bodhi developers are dead serious when they talk about keeping the distribution lightweight. They ship Firefox, NetworkManager and LXTerminal as the only pre-installed applications; even non-essential command-line tools like "iwconfig" are left out of the default build. If you like conserving disk space and memory -- or if you have old hardware -- this is the distribution for you.

In addition, rather than relying on a desktop application like Ubuntu Software Center to help users find and install software, the Bodhi project is pushing the Web-based "Bodhi Software Center" as the primary interface for adding programs. Complete with apt: links, the site allows users to install applications directly from the Web page.

Bodhi also prioritizes customizability, offering a variety of different desktop layouts and themes that users can select the first time they log in. Here's a look, based on our tests with the 0.1.6RC2 build of Bodhi, the latest prerelease uploaded last weekend:

Bodhi profile selector

Bodhi profile selector

Bodhi theme selector

Bodhi theme selector

Thoughts

The Linux world has never been short on diversity, and Bodhi enters a niche with plenty of competition. But it sets itself apart in two important ways: its focus on leanness and its use of Enlightenment.

Plenty of Linux distributions claim to be lightweight; indeed, the idea that Linux itself provides a faster and more efficient computing experience than proprietary operating systems, regardless of whether that's actually true, is embedded into the open-source mantra. What makes Bodhi stand out, however, is its extreme frugality when it comes to system resources. Even more than Lubuntu, Bodhi out-of-the-box is really about as light as it gets with a 2.6.x kernel and full X11 environment.

In addition, Bodhi's focus on Enlightenment represents a particularly notable feature, coming as it does at a time when other popular desktop environments are in a moment of crisis, or at least confusion. Ubuntu's decision to default to Unity beginning in April has generated more than a little controversy, while GNOME Shell may or may not turn out to be the radical success that its developers hope.

Hoogland, however, noted these uncertainties surrounding Unity and GNOME had no influence over the decision to launch Bodhi, which was the result primarily of the fact that "the Enlightenment desktop is fantastic and the lack of current projects that use the desktop was just wrong. We began Bodhi to give users an Enlightenment desktop that is functional and elegant."

But, Hoogland added, "I think Ubuntu's switch to Unity is going to cause many users to seek other things -- meaning more than a few will end up finding their way to Bodhi." And while I wouldn't hold my breath for hordes of disgruntled Unity users to jump ship for Bodhi just yet, Ubuntu's decisions on that front are certainly not going to hurt.

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