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Kate OS 3.0 Beta

Date: July 25, 2006
Author(s): Rob Williams

Kate OS 3 is nearing it’s final stages, so I thought I would take a look at the recent beta. This is a lightweight distro with the goals of providing what you need to get a great system up and running, and also the security and efficiency you need.


Though I am unsure when the project began, Kate OS has been around for a little while. 2.0 was released early last year and was well received. Fast forward more than a year later, and we see 3.0 final on the horizon. Kate OS is a Polish lightweight distribution for Linux users who want control over their system and want access to some great functionality. The lightweight part is evidenced by Xfce4 being the default desktop environment.

The developers behind Kate are noticeably passionate about what they do, and are huge free software buffs. The premise behind the OS is to have a secure and efficient system, being able to do the normal everyday things you love while running a completely cost-free OS.

I have in the past meant to check Kate OS out, but never found the time. A recent quick look in DistroWatch piqued my interest, so I had to give it a go. The default theme for the system is colorful, which I am not usually a fan of, but it caught my eye. What also grabbed me were the clear goals of the developers. They know what they want from their Linux, and pursue those ideas until they get done. Kate is designed to function well on even a small machine, but can be scaled up to take full advantage of your beefy system. The OS is designed to be secure, so they chose to use the proven PAM authorization system.

They encourage use of GTK+ in order to keep things compatible. You want to be able to install Kate OS and play music and use GTK+ reliant programs, so this saves some hassle. Earlier versions of Kate OS were based on Slackware, as so many other distros are, but are not so anymore. They are built from scratch on top of the kernel, with all the necessary goodies thrown in. So… time to install.

Kate OS Installation

After you boot with the install CD, you will find yourself staring as massive text saying something like, “KATE III BETA”. It’s a straight forward greeting if I’ve ever seen one! If you have a clean hard drive and don’t need to worry about a Windows install, this will be simple. If you are dual-booting, then you just have to understand partitions and how to use fdisk. If the drive is completely clean, you will need to create a swap and root partition, and any others that you may need.

The entire install process is done through a DOS-style install. It’s not pretty, but it works. After you create the partitions and are ready to go, the setup program will give you the option to set the swap partition active, and also create the root directory on the other partition. Then comes the software selection. Right off the bat there are around 15 options, and by default only 14 are checked. If you have patience, you can go through all of the menus and customize your install to your liking. I took the easy route though and just chose the full install, which ends up being around 4GB. A heavyweight install, for a lightweight distro ;)

After the software is installed, which took no time at all, you will have the option to manually configure initrd or have it done for you. For simples sake, I took the latter route. Then you can configure LILO and choose where you would like to install it. I found it odd that I didn’t have an option for a GRUB installer, even though I selected it from the software package list. Regardless, LILO functions well enough for now.

There are a few different window managers that you can choose from, the default being of course Xfce4. You can also choose from Fluxbox and WindowMaker, upon a few others. You will not have the option here to install KDE or GNOME, but can use the updateos to do so after the system is installed. Creating the users was also proven extremely easy, especially since the setup automatically adds the user to a pre-selected list of groups. You can of course edit these groups to your liking.

Overall, the installation was straightforward, but will not likely be if you have never used Linux before. With a little reading, you should have no problem, but you should know at least the basics before you jump in here. If you are interested in giving the version we are looking at a try, but don’t want to install it, you will be happy to know that they have recently released a Live CD version on their website.

First Boot

Ok, this is one sharp Xfce theme. While I couldn’t snapshot it, the boot screen is composed of a light orange background, with a small strawberry and loading bar in the center. Clean and colorful stuff. The first window you will see upon entering your new environment is a tips box. As you can see, this is why Kate OS 3.0 is still in beta ;-)

Kate OS 3 uses the kernel, which could very well change upon final release. 2.6.17 has been out for over a month now and has been running stable on all three of my machines, so we may see this version included in the final release. The same goes for GCC, although 4.0.3 has been a stable version for a few months now, so you shouldn’t really need a newer and potentially unstable version. Ahh… X version 7.1.0. I have had bad luck with 7.1 in the past, and end up running into a similar problem here also. I will get into that soon though.

Here we see some of the menu options under the settings tab. There are not that many programs listed throughout the menu, but this is a lightweight distro after all. The basics are there, and even a couple games to keep you busy. For web browsers, you will find Firefox, Seamonkey and a few others.

Xfce4 and Mousepad. Simple, but sweet.

File manager and Super Tux. Tux Racer is not included, but could easily be downloaded if you so desired. I mean.. come on.. it’s a classic!

The latest version of The Gimp and Open Office are included, so you are really ready to go with things out of the box. While some distros enjoy installing Open Office with preset configurations, you will have a completely clean install with Kate OS. Upon opening, you will be asked for your name and initials before jumping in.

Bluefish is also pre-installed, which is a great choice for anyone looking for the best (in my opinion) HTML editor for Linux. A few media players are also included, but for a music player you will have XMMS. Kate picked up on my onboard audio no problem, so I was able to also listen to music from the get go. While Xine didn’t have the required codecs to play some video, MPlayer didn’t seem to have much of a problem at all.

We also have Wine, so you can run your simple Windows app’s if you wish. Up to this point, I found Kate to be running extremely stable, with no problems to speak of.

updateos, Final Thoughts

One of the big features with Kate OS is the updateos command. Similar to yum or emerge, it has the ability to upgrade or install new applications, and also update your entire PC. After the installation, I ran ‘updateos -ud’ and it proceeded to update a total of 6 applications. This will vary depending on what you have installed, of course.

You will get something like this if you run the ‘updateos –find program’ command.

I tried to install X-Chat because I didn’t realize it was already installed, and it simply told me so. So I tried to install k3b, and it did so without a hitch. It first downloaded the required dependencies and then the program. After it was finished, it installed a shortcut in the Xfce menu.

I had originally tried to install the NVIDIA driver through the updateos command, but it would not compile. So, I downloaded the latest version off the NVIDIA website and installed it. After restarting the X server though, it was apparent things were wrong. 7.1 seems to have issues with current NVIDIA drivers, and possibly ATI. As you can see in the following picture, the fonts are not readable, and the GUI flickers when I hover over it. I had figured maybe changing the current color scheme would fix things, but not so.

Even with the debunked looking OS, OpenGL functioned fine. It was just the rest of the UI that was having problems. I hope to see these issues fixed when Kate OS 3.0 is released, although this specific problem is not the developers problem. However, it will still be hard to use a system with a version of X that’s incompatible with new video drivers. If anyone has suggestions regarding this, or want to correct me, feel free :-)

Final Thoughts

I have wanted to give Kate OS a try for a few months now, and I am glad that I finally have. Despite it’s lightweight moniker, it’s quite a robust distro. The developers have not cut any corners, and all of the base packages you will need are there. They have even included a few of my favorite CLI applications, including lftp and lynx. Many of the installed packages, including the kernel, gcc, X and others are pretty well up to date. Some have had newer versions for a few months now, but completely stable versions may be the goal here. X 7.1 is the biggest gripe with me though, so I am hopeful that NVIDIA will get on the ball and release some updated drivers soon.

There’s no doubt that Kate OS earned it’s lightweight status, even though the ‘full’ install took 4GB. The system ran very smoothly from the get go, with no sign of lag or slowdown. Though Xfce is the recommended DE, there’s nothing stopping you from using WindowMaker, KDE, GNOME or whatever else suits your fancy.

updateos is a great feature of Kate, and was easy to use. If you’ve used anything similar, then you will feel right at home once you learn the tweaked commands. To update your systems packages with ‘updateos -ud’… what could be easier? I have only spent a day in Kate, but walk away impressed. I look forward to seeing the progress of this distro, and plan to take a deeper look at 3.0 when the final version is released.

And for the fun of it, if anyone happens to know more information on these X 7.1 video driver bugs, feel free to shoot me an e-mail :-)

If you wish to give Kate a try for yourself, you can head on over to their website.

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