It started out as a project to patch Android so you could run the open source operating system on netbooks and laggy tablets. They still have a long way to go before they have a run-anywhere version, but Release Candidate 1 of Android x86 shows some promise. With this build, you should be able to run Android on any computer, quite an improvement over having it stuck on your smart phone. Once they get the bugs out of it, it ought to be a lot of fun to be able to run all of those apps on your desktop.
If you are into science in any form, or any kind of educational software, Scientific Linux is your best choice. It is put together by the folks at Fermilab in collaboration with the team at CERN, and you would be hard pressed to find a better group of pure scientists on the planet. It has install distro’s, which is where the real power is; the packages you install will determine what all it can do. Right out of the box it comes with Apache installed and ready to run, like any good variant of Enterprise Linux, and it uses the openafs file system, making it fully compatible with most education and research facilities. To start with I recommend going for the Live CD or Live DVD, which you can run right off the disk, without touching your currently installed operating system. That will give you the opportunity to get familiar with the operating system before you decide to install it, as well as give you a collection of office, programming, internet, and multimedia software. If you have an older system you want to install it to, it has the option of using icewm as your desktop rather thane Gnome or KDE, which need a lot more RAM. It is built on top of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, which is an incredibly stable environment. And if you think it is missing some important software, one of the kinds of tool sets it has are things that allow you to install it, install whatever additional software packages you like, and then make your own Live CD, Live DVD, or boot-able memory stick from it, using things like revisor, livecd-tools, or liveusb-creator. The latest version, 6.5, was just released and is ready to be run.
AV Linux is another incredibly powerful boot-from-DVD build focused on a specialist task set and workflow, and once again it is centered around audio/video production (hence the name). It has all the tools most of us will ever need to create, edit, and compile our projects into coherent multimedia presentations. Like most Linux builds, the default menu buttons and icons are aligned across the top of the screen (although you can move them to any screen border you like best), and they have a small collection of the links to the stuff the developers felt was most important on the screen proper, like help files and the install tools.
Like more and more operating systems, they also have an Icon Bar running down one edge of the screen, giving you a smartphone-like collection of apps/programs to access from your start screen. Again, you can rearrange any component of the desktop to suit your own preferences and habits, like throwing the Icon Bar to any other border, but since this is a Live DVD, you will either have to remaster it, or install it on a Flash Drive/Hard Drive, to get it to remember your preferences from boot to boot. Besides making your choices persistent, installing it on a thumb drive will also allow you to update all the programs and install more of your own, so you can tweak it into the perfect tool set for your projects.
The build itself includes an amazing range of Audio, Graphics and Video content creation software demonstrating the excellence of Open-Source solutions, and the fact that they are free is just making a good thing better. This one is designed for a 32bit computer, meaning this Operating System is designed to turn a regular OLD PC or Intel Mac into an Audio/Graphics/Video workstation with power you won’t believe. I have been somewhat surprised to discover some of my legacy computers are able to outclass some of my newer Windows systems for multimedia creation after booting them from this kind of Linux Live DVD.
The video at the end of this post is for the LAST version of AV Linux; this version is way better! But he covers a ton of stuff included with the OpSys (no great surprise, he coordinated building it, so he knows it best), and most of the basic stuff is the same. Only the names have changed, to protect the innocent Apps (sorry, I couldn’t resist). It gives you a wonderful overview of a lot of the software packages included in the last release, and as always the latest version has all of that and so much more. If you are an audio or video creator and work inside computer environments, this will give you an excellent understanding of which tools you will want to call up for what processes.
The Musix Linux Live and Install build was originally built strictly for music creators of all kinds, but with the release this week of the stable version of Musix GNU+Linux 3.0 they have expanded out to include some graphics and video creation software. One of the strong points of this Distro is that everything included is completely free, with no proprietary programs or modules, so you do not need to pay any licensing or other fees for things you make with it. This live disk is Debien-based, so there is a huge world wide community constantly developing and debugging everything included.
This distribution was created primarily by the Spanish speaking computer aware musical community, headed up by Marcos Guglielmetti (or at least, he is the person doing their announcements these days, and his name is all over the disc; I have even fewer words of Spanish than I do of Japanese, so I don’t know more than that). Don’t let that put you off if Spanish is not your first language. They have done an excellent job of translating everything into English, as well as French, German, and several other European based languages. Their User Forums likewise support both English and Spanish to give you all the help, tips, and hints you could ever require with your projects.
When you boot from the DVD and the initial selection screen pops up, be sure to scroll to your two letter language indicator; it defaults to /es for Spanish, I went for /en for English, and so forth. If you have problems seeing it on your monitor, they have a VESA selection for the English selection to give you legacy hardware support, on some others it is identified as 800×600. Make sure you see “live” in the boot name so you run it directly from the DVD. Once it all finishes loading the log-in is “user” with the password “live”.
I should probably mention that this Distro used to be a geek-oriented package, requiring a Linux nerd to operate it. Things like knowing you had to launch the JACK server to give the various music programs a way to talk to the hardware meant you were doomed to failure without such an expert. They claim they have corrected that issue, and to a goodly extent they have (there are still some “gotcha’s” in the collection; us geeks have a hard time remembering which are the bits other folks don’t know about). Now, the JACK server launches on boot, and if you run something that conflicts with it, it gets shut down automatically.
The menu system launches Icons in the task bar at the top of the screen, and each time you pick one it gives you another set of icons on the screen to access a different set of programs. This visual interface structure gives you a way to access the basic core programs of this build organized by workflow, but does not give you access to the entire collection. If you prefer a smartphone this is perfect, it has that look and feel. In order to get past the icon interface and have access to the actual menu, select the calligraphy M at the left of the icon menu; it will give you the traditional drop-down Linux menu, complete with the usual organized sub-directories.
This particular build takes a unique approach to helping. They created the folder /home/user/demos/starters/ and packed it with .starter demos (yes, the dot indicates a file extension; Linux has a longer string than Windows for extension names). Use the File Browser to go to the folder, right click on the demo you want to check out, and open it with -> musixstarter. While the process may not be as mindless as doing the same kind of things in Windoze, the price tag will be a world smaller for the same capabilities, which seems like a fair trade off to me.
The last stable release for Musix came out in 2009, so the operating system it runs on and the various software packages themselves have both gone through some major improvements over the last half decade. But to me, what makes Musix special is the thought the developers have put into trying to make it the best one-stop solution for musicians/composers and recording artists/producers. While some of the included tools still require a bit more of a learning curve than some people may want to devote to the effort, the complete toolkit is a rival to anything else you will find online for these tasks, and often better at the same task for the price (did I mention it was free?).
If you are an artist or creative media enthusiast of any kind, I would like to recommend the boot-from-DVD Linux build known as Open Artist. They took the kitchen sink approach, throwing in every piece of free and open source software that might be useful, and compiled them into folders organized by the type of task you were trying to accomplish. So if you feel like creating or modifying your own font, there is a subfolder under Graphics with about 5 different font editors, as an example. They have some general category icons across the top of the screen, 2D, 3D, Audio, Video, and so forth, as well as the main menu, to help you jump right into the tool suite you need to create or modify your current project. After booting it a number of times and exploring (and launching a bunch of programs to check them out), I can honestly say I have never seen a more far ranging collection of creative programs. It includes everything I would expect to be in such a tool set, and a bunch of stuff I never even knew existed. It also includes a full range of servers and other distribution tools, plus all the normal software any good operating system should have, so you can surf the web or read your email while working on your projects.
The build is based on Ubuntu 12.04 but they installed a lot of non-Ubuntu programs, configuring them to play nice in the environment, including not just other flavors of Linux but also Windows code running under Wine. One of the most impressive details is they tweaked the GNOME and NAUTILUS interfaces so the key-press shortcuts don’t interfere with most of the program shortcuts; so you wont accidentally launch an FTP program while you were trying to save a graphics image, again as an example. There was a lot of thought put into making the entire package work as a whole, and keeping the fiddly bits from biting you in the posterior while trying to use it.
If you want to make it boot and run faster, update your software packages to the latest and greatest versions, and have space to store your raw materials and project files, but don’t want to impair your computers normal operating system, the 2.5Gig live boot DVD can be installed to a 16Gig USB stick. That gives you 10Gig for the existing software to unpack and install itself to, 4Gig in a separate partition to save all your project files to, and another 2Gig of expansion space to add any other software you think might be useful. It also gives you the option of using a lot of other features only accessible from an installed version, like alternative desktops with a minimum footprint, launching a specific program or set of programs you always work in at boot, and so forth. And let’s not forget being able to set up all your software to load with your own preferences already configured, which is always a plus.
You can also do like I did, and use a 32Gig USB stick, partitioning the other 16Gig in Fat32 (or whatever your preferred Windows file system format is). Then you can use that partition as both still more storage for your project files, and a convenient way to transfer the various media between your two operating systems. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.
Bottom line, I like this Live DVD build a lot. Download Open Artist, burn the ISO (Image File) to DVD, and start checking it out; you might be just as impressed as I am! Be sure to grab the DVD version, which is a Live DVD, rather than the Base Distro, which needs to be installed to a hard drive before you can add the other programs yourself (WAY too much work for me!).