Pardus has been around for years, and occupies a luxury-car niche in the Linux world: easy to install and configure, extremely stable, very friendly, and very KDE-centric. It is not related to Mepis, but its rôle in the Penguinist ecosystem is comparable. There are differences, of course. Pardus is a government-sponsored project, and it exists for the benefit of Turkish universities and research centers. The main support board is in Turkish, and the independent international one is hosted in Germany.
Most of the current code has been developed from the ground up, and it is considered an independent distribution. As far as I know, it has no derivatives, either, and no spins from outside the development team. In the Linux family tree, it is the sharp-dressed uncle you saw at funerals and liked, but whenever you suggested visiting him your parents suggested that he was probably out of town.
I myself have had that kind of relationship with Pardus: cordial but infrequent. It was one of the first distros on which I got wireless to work, back in 2008. Because of that early triumph, I have at least sampled most of the Pardus releases since then, and I’ve usually kept one stashed on a partition somewhere. Except for those early wireless days, though, Pardus has never been my go-to distribution. Early on, I tended to gravitate to Gnome and I also developed preferences in what applications I used. I consider KDE one of the major technological triumphs of the open source world, but the way I work is not always compatible with the way KDE presents itself.
Pardus has traditionally had only the KDE desktop, so I was surprised—and thrilled—to learn of the existence of an Xfce version. It is not marked “beta” (actually, later on I saw the B-word flash across the screen during boot) (and as I was doing a late draft, I noted that Pardus’s entry in my Grub–which is owned by the Ubuntu 10.04 LTS installation on Partition 1–now displays Pardus 2011.1 Beta), but there are some uncharacteristic roughnesses. For instance, the slide show that is provided for your entertainment whilst the files are being copied still points to KDE and makes an offhand reference to the “less feature-rich” Enlightenment and Xfce desktops. The title of this article is from the slide show: “Pardus experience may be summarized as a bright and powerful parade of free and open source softwares.” I just love that.
Installation was easy, with a couple of tricks. In particular: the installer asked me which partition I wished to use, but it didn’t identify them clearly. The primary partition was noted as sda1, and the extended one was sda2. Fair enough. But all my logical partitions were listed under sda2 in a tree form, without identifiers, and were in physical order, not numerical. Fortunately, at one point in my life I woke up from my torpor just enough to (a) make all the logical partitions slightly different sizes, and (b) print out a chart telling me what was where. Cooler heads might say, “If you’re going to have 16 partitions, maybe you shouldn’t rely on somebody else to keep track of them.” Some might even say, “16 partitions? What a distro slut!” I would retort that I’m just trying to keep up with the frequent and remarkable advances in Linux. And I would be right. True fact. I’m not a distro slut, I’m a walking, talking public service.
Otherwise, if you have ever installed Pardus, you know how easy it is. What you don’t get with this Xfce mix is Kaptan, the irrepressibly cheerful configuration concierge that is a long-running hallmark of the Pardus desktop experience.
When I booted in, I got two error messages that needed to be dismissed: Could not update ICEauthority file /var/.ICEauthority and the more ominous There is a problem with the configuration server (/usr/libexe/gconf-sanity-check-2 exited with status 256). I’ve honestly never seen an error message in Pardus, much less one that questioned my sanity.
Anyway, I got the error messages to disappear. I wish I could say I’m a genius, but it was an accident. I poked around in Applications Menu | System | Login Screen and changed a couple of settings there: first to make Xfce the default session (it was set, somewhat confusingly, to “Default”), and second to log myself in automatically. One of these (or the combination) did the trick; neither the ICEauthority, which sounds like a hip-hop compilation, nor the sanity check have been heard from since.
The Xfce Pardus looks like the KDE Pardus, if you ignore little things like software selection and Plasma Desktops. At least the desktop backdrop is the same. Gone is the lush maroon of the 2009 series, replaced by a dignified dark gray surrounding a baleful gray leopard (Panthera pardus is the Linnaean name for the leopard). If the maroon of past versions was too warm, this might be too cold. The Xfce desktop is arranged like the one I described in my Foresight review—the menus and taskbars are in the same places—but it is clearer-looking, and the fonts are nicer out of the box. Pardus has always made a fine visual impression, and this is no exception.
You know what else made a fine impression? On every other distro I’ve ever tried, when I’m working in Emacs, the tab says emacs23@hostname. In Pardus, the tab has the name of the document. I just can’t even tell you how cool that is. Superlatives fail me.
The software is a mixed bag. Under Multimedia, you’ll find a multicultural entrepôt of utilities. Parole Media Player, a somewhat unambitious but competent player that frequents Xfce desktops, is here. The even more minimalist Gnome MPlayer is also here. And so, representin’ from Pardus’s KDE heritage, is Clementine. (I’ve only tried Clementine once before, and I crashed it so badly I could never revive it. It works fine here, so far. If I could import all my Web radio streams from my Rhythmbox database, I’d be a happy camper.)
Office applications are taken care of with LibreOffice 220.127.116.11. Boy, are they! Base, Libre/OpenOffice’s database component, which I’ve never been able to make heads nor tails out of, is rarely to be found in a default installation these days, but it’s here. LibreOffice Extension Manager gets its own menu entry.
The menu has a Development category. Emacs didn’t show up there; it was banished to “Other”, along with Java Web Start, a programmer’s text editor called medit (it’s developed by Yevgen Muntyan; the link in the About screen has quaffed too deeply from the waters of Lethe, but you can find out slightly more at this SourceForge page), and a creepy thing called CNazar, which puts a big ol’ eyeball up in your task bar. (It’s enabled by default, and I had to go into Settings | Session and Startup | Application Autostart to make it go away. Googling “CNazar” turned up two people named Robert C. Nazar; Googling “CNazar Pardus” turned up quite a few sites, but the first 100 were in Turkish. Maybe it has some significance in Turkey.) So what is in Development, if not the ‘Macs? Glade, and something called D-Feet, which when my curiosity overcame my fear of humiliation I discovered was a D-Bus debugger. Or at least that’s what it said in the title bar.
A couple of problems
Pardus retains one persistent bug. The clock got set for UTC-1, which according to Time and Date is known variously as Azores Time, Cape Verde Time, and East Greenland Time (I mean, how cool is that?) and includes Reykjavik and Dakar. In virtually every distro I’ve ever tried, I can adjust the clock. In Pardus, if I try, every other partition on the machine will be five hours slow.
I tried to install Pardus on my laptop twice, but twice did I wash up on the rocky shores of failure. I was able to install without errors, but when I rebooted and tried to go into Pardus, the desktop had nothing on it except the gray wallpaper and an instance of XTerm. Common experience is that you can stick a Pardus DVD into an Archie comic book and be running KJughead in 20 minutes, so I was, to say the least, surprised.
Sound didn’t work out of the box on the “fun computer”; I had to run a modprobe on my Realtek soundcard. Again, I was a bit surprised, because Pardus is traditionally masterful at hardware support, and the most recent KDE edition found it. This seems like exactly the thing that the development team will nail before the final release. This is, after all, a beta.
In the repos
One persistent criticism of Pardus is that its repos are sparsely populated compared to those of other front-line distros. I have run into that, and I finally ran into a showstopper: no clipboard manager. I downloaded a .tar.gz of Parcellite, tried the old configure-make-make install, got a message that a C compiler wasn’t available, installed gcc, tried again, and got the same message. (Oddly, I couldn’t even find Klipper in the repos; it must be buried in a KDE base package.) As host of a group on the Postcrossing Forums, I work with a lot of boilerplate text, and I need a clipboard utility. ClipMan used to be a good soldier in the small but doughty core of Xfce utilities, but it got left behind in the rapturous events surrounding Xfce 4.8.
To solve the clipboard problem, I asked on the pardus-users mailing list and got a good answer: I needed to install the development environment (pisi it -c system.devel). My copy of Parcellite doesn’t work the same way it does on some other Linux installations I have around here, but it works, and for now that is the important thing. The copy I snagged was actually a beta; I thought Parcellite was abandoned, and that the living branch was a fork called ClipIt, but somebody who signs himself RickyRockRat has adopted Parcellite and was working on it as recently as April.
I couldn’t get Claws Mail from the repos, so I had to settle for Sylpheed. (This Pardus mix comes with an email client called Postler, part of the Elementary OS project—as is Midori, it sez here—but I confess I found it inadequate.) Neither AbiWord nor Gnumeric (which are part of the soi-disant Gnome Office, but are less often found in Gnome-based distros these days than in the middleweight ones) are available in the repos.
(This page from the Pardus Wiki has basic instructions on how to create PiSi (the name kind of rhymes with “easy” and is the Turkish equivalent of “kitty”) packages. A little ways down, there’s a link to a rather large (788 kB) Open Document-format exegesis. It looks like brain surgery, y’wanna know the truth, but maybe that’s just me.)
Anglophone-style support is done on the mailing list I linked to a couple of paragraphs ago, and also on the Pardus World Forum. Both are relatively lightly populated. I spent more time on the forum back in 2007 and 08 and enjoyed it; these days, it seems less friendly, but in its defense, relatively few people on there have English as their first language. To register on the forum, you have to send an email to an administrator, and it has been known to take some time to establish an account.
A bright and powerful future
I started writing this several weeks ago, and at the time I was less than impressed. I reinstalled Pardus Xfce more recently, but I couldn’t find the disk I’d used at first, so I downloaded the .iso again and burned another copy. I think that this must be a more advanced version (a later beta or something), because the results are considerably smoother than I had in April. I hope, and I expect, that the final release of the Pardus Xfce mix will eventually have all the sleekness of its KDE big brother. The technological quality and design elegance of Pardus joined to the flexibility and nimbleness of Xfce will certainly help advance the Linux cause, a development that will of course be welcomed everywhere.