Review: Impi Linux 2

By   |  October 15, 2004

As introduction to every review I write, I give an overview of my walk with Linux up to date, in order to set the scene. Here goes. The first distribution I ever installed was RedHat 6, in March 2000. Since then I have used, tested, or played with around thirty different distros. From five-CD enterprise ready SuSE, to 50MB bootable-business-card-CD DAMNSmallLinux In the past four years, one single distro has stood out above the others: Peanut Linux. According to DistroWatch.com, Peanut is not based on any other distro, but users know that it smells an awful lot like Slackware. I also used Slackware 9 for a while and found that Peanut is like Slack with a lot of add-ons. I used Peanut 9.5 exclusively for about 14 months. So, after finding out that Impi 2 is loosely based on Slackware, I had to give it a try.

When I first heard about Impi around November last year, I immediately got my hands on a CD and tried it out. I was very disappointed with versions 1.1 and 1.3. The Impi team, however have been re-designing the distro since that release and, on Software Freedom Day, released Impi 2. Version 1 was based on Debian, running Gnome as default desktop. I had several issues with version 1, most notably performance. Impi 2 is a total re-work.

I have spent almost a month with the distro now and it feels like my mojo is back. Recently I received SuSE 9.1 Pro CD\’s via the CSSA\’s OSS SIG. I was extremely impressed with SuSE. But that\’s where things started going wrong. Used to the cushy arms of rpm and Yast2 for a while, I didn\’t notice that life had become too easy. Unfortunately I am not in a position where I use Linux at work (yet), so I am what you would call a hobbyist. SuSE isn\’t much of a hobbyist distro in my opinion. It is too rock-solid and hassle-free and comes with 3100 rpms, ready to be installed at the click of a button. Not to say that Impi 2 is not solid, but you may have to look under the hood once in a while.

Install

As reviews go everything starts with a description of the installation process. Impi 2 is aimed at the small enterprise new to Linux in the backoffice and on the desktop. Therefore Impi 2\’s curses-type installation is quite newbie-friendly without too many options. It is, however, frustrating for the advanced user who wants to customise his setup. I am afraid to set it up on my laptop in case I fry my hda1 partition where I am running another operating system. The disk partition interface, for instance, needs a lot of work before I will be confident. You have the option to add one normal user during install but once you hit the enter button it is not possible to go back and edit your username or password until after the install. André Coetzee, of the Impi team, assures me that there is a better installer on the way and written in C. As it is, Impi installs very fast.

KDE

As soon as you are logged in the power of a statically compiled source-based distro hits you in the face. I\’ve never seen KDE running so fast. The Impi team\’s decision to replace Gnome with KDE (3.2.3) is undoubtedly to make users of other operating systems feel more at home, and as far as I know KDE is available in some South African languages.

Unfortunately the default fonts in KDE are quite ugly. This was soon rectified in the control centre. However, my LG Studioworks 17-inch monitor and Riva TNT2 card were not allowed to display a higher resolution than 1024×768 using the setup tools. I know that much better is possible, but even after reconfiguring,a higher resolution was not possible. This is a hardware support issue I will discuss in more detail later.

Another KDE issue is that by default, all the sound channels are set to zero, which initially made me think my soundcard was not working. Only after increasing the volume with KMix did I hear anything. Impi 2 ships with Xine and MPlayer, and K3B and XMMS have plugins included out of the box.

Under the hood

The FSH standard /media/cdrom is used, which I have become accustomed to. There is no /mnt so I created /mnt/hdb1 for my second hard disk with all my data on. For some reason the fstab entry that I normally use for this disk gives an error at boot: /dev/hdb1 /mnt/hdb1 vfat users,iocharset=iso8859-15,codepage=850,auto,umask=0,defaults 0 0. I could mount it with mount -t vfat /dev/hdb1 /mnt/hdb1, though as root, but could not mount this disk as normal user, nor access it as normal user when mounted. The desktop has an icon for a memory stick, which worked surprisingly well. Right-click to mount or unmount. I have heard that it works equally well for camera\’s.

One tool that I missed is Midnight Commander. I downloaded the latest source and compiled without an issue. Perl modules also seemed to compile without any problems and I successfully installed acroread.

Cubit & management tools

Probably the most notable feature of Impi 2 is the Cubit accounting package that is bundled with the OS. The team have also created additional configuration tools.

Apart from tools to set up the server components, there are additional config utilities such as user addition and the option to re-configure X at next reboot. Unfortunately, though I chose 1600×1200, KDE would still only display 1024×768. The team has done very interesting work with runlevel editor. It is a simple check-box for services you want started at boot. I don\’t think it can be updated, for instance if I install an FTP server. By the way, new users added are not automatically added in the KDM list, and if you use useradd at the CLI, it doesn\’t copy across a skeleton home directory, causing an error on that user\’s first login.

The package is designed to be an off-the-shelf backoffice solution. Included is Samba, Squid, Apache, MySQL, PostgreSQL Spamasassin and a host of other typical tools. For a list of packages included see the Impi page at Distrowatch. André assures me that the Exim mail server has been tested with 10000 mails per second, with favourable results.

Included in the business tools is a link to configure internet connections. Impi 2 supports Sentech\’s MyWireless out of the box, and there are also utilities to configure other types of connections. I tried the modem dialup tool, and the configuration is well laid out and pleasant to use. But, on dialing, all the user does is click on a link. The modem speaker is on by default. I wanted to stop the dialup and switch off the speaker but you can\’t. By fluke, my ISP\’s line gave a busy signal, which caused the dialup tool to retry over and over. The only way I could get out of this was with the kill command. I had to reboot and then used kppp with success. Once on the net, I couldn\’t access any web pages. I haven\’t had time to look into this, but I assume it is a default setting in the firewall, which, by the way, can also be configured from within the Cubit management suite. I urge André and the team to spend time refining the management suite, as that is the tool that will make business people want to use Impi 2.

Personalisation

The management suite is written in PHP, using Firefox. I had the tools open and launched Firefox from the menu, and an error popped up about my default profile. The default mail client is KMail, and I think that if they can include Firefox, they should have included Thunderbird.

I always find it interesting to run Kappfinder to see what has not been included in the KDE menu. MPlayer was added, among others. I had to copy the /etc/profile file to my home directory to get the coloured text working in my terminal.

There is an OpenOffice link on the desktop which, when selected, does a quick install for the user. OpenOffice too is remarkably fast.

Hardware compatibility

Now for that hardware issue I mentioned earlier. My machine doesn\’t power off at shutdown. Also, MPlayer is broken on my installation. The error looks like this:

After a discussion with André about this issue, I can understand why it happens. The Impi 2 team has limited diversity in hardware resources for testing purposes. They have been sponsored with a few machines, and the distro works perfectly on hardware they have had access to. I have an AMD Thunderbird and, as can be seen in the error dialogue, it is not supported. The team is desperate to lay their hands on more hardware to increase Impi\’s compatibility. I know that if I took my box to their offices it would be a matter of hours and I will have full compatibility. Therefore, the team requested I include in this review a call for hardware. Donate, loan, they\’ll accept anything. If you have hardware issues with Impi and can let them use your machine, let them know via the Impi website and they will make sure your hardware is supported.

Packaging

Impi\’s package system is known as IMP. You can request an IMP of your favourite application on the site. The team developed their own compression algorithm, which makes it possible for them to put three and a half GB of software on a single CD. The team is apparently still putting the final touches on this and is using bz2 until its release.

Peripheral value-adds

The distribution is still very young, the team small and accessible. You can contact them directly. The web forum on the Impi site is not very active, but the GLUG-tech mailing list is an active support channel. There is also an 0861 number for support between 9am and 5pm.

Conclusion

Now that I am running a Slack-like distro again I find myself in and out of learning curves most of the time. I enjoy that. I absolutely recommend at least a look at Impi 2. It will not be for everyone but I am pleased with the distro so far and will continue monitoring it\’s progress. In the long term, I hope to see it deployed in small businesses all over the place.

Walter Kruse can be contacted at www.ou_ryperd.net

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