The world of Linux operating systems can fill a new user with high expectations only to be met with glaring disappointment in a later reunion. That describes my experience with a Linux distro not well known beyond Europe, Austrumi Linux 2.2.9.

I first stumbled on Austrumi Linux last year and was immediately drawn to its innovative nature. I loved the small group of Latvian developers’ interesting approach to providing a computing platform dangling numerous trinkets of usefulness.

Now, after revisiting the latest upgrade, version 2.2.9 released on June 8, I feel somewhat like a jilted lover mumbling, “Is that all there is, still?”

Austrumi Linux is an unusual distribution. With a little more polish, it could be a good tool for running the Linux operating system on any computer you touch without changing anything on the hard drive.

There lies the reason for my disappointment. That hope for polish is still missing.

Slackware Roots

Austrumi is a bootable live Linux distribution based on Slackware, an old yet still reliable Linux family that spawned numerous portable installations. It requires limited system resources, and the entire operating system with all of its applications run from RAM, making this distro a fast and functional system.

Austrumi runs blazingly fast on any old or new computer. I have several really old Intel-compatible computers with 512MB of RAM that remain very functional on distros such as Austrumi and Puppy Linux.

Once you burn the ISO file to a CD-ROM or USB drive, you can choose to run Austrumi Linux by first loading it into the host computer’s memory. That lets you remove the CD or USB storage after booting the computer to use the optical drive or USB port for other purposes.

You can plug the Austrumi bootable medium into any computer. Booting from the CD or USB, with or without transferring it completely to the host computer’s memory, allows you to turn any computer into a Linux box without ever touching the hard drive.

Secrecy Supreme

Save your data to a USB stick or the cloud (if you have an Internet connection). Turn off the computer, and your presence on that machine is non-existent.

Some other well-known Linux distros have that same ability. However, Austrumi has the added advantage of allowing users to choose options at each bootup with absolutely no special setup required for use.

Austrumi Linux is a handy, all-purpose Linux OS. It can be an instant fix for data rescue. It is credited as being among the fastest Linux distributions with 3D support for ATI, Nvidia, and Intel video cards.

So its performance is no slacker.

Something Different

One of the things that makes Austrumi Linux so interesting is its desktop — FVWM, or Feeble Virtual Window Manager. The FVWM environment provides a basic desktop display that does not get in the way.

FVWM is clean and simple. It is also easy to use. Over the years, its default desktop appearance changed. The current release makes it easy to click an icon that gives you a totally different look.

For example, the default desktop look has a panel bar across the top of the screen and a transparent favorites panel anchored along the right edge of the screen. Right-click on the desktop to get a pop-up menu.

This default view offers basic displays and menus. It has a virtual workspace switcher at the bottom of the favorites panel with three workspaces.

Austrumi Linux's default desktop

Austrumi Linux’s new default desktop is sparse, with a panel bar on top and a favorites bar along the right edge of the screen.


Much of the desktop’s functionality is similar to using other really lightweight environments like Openbox and Xfce. However, FVWM is much less configurable and simpler to use.

Click and Change

With Austrumi Linux, you do not have to spend considerable time fiddling with style and theme configurations to change the look and feel. All you have to do is use the change option in system settings.

It took a single click to morph the default desktop view into a more modern looking desktop with a MacOS-style dock at the bottom, and several docky-style applets on the desktop.

In this setup, you no longer have the transparent panel hanging off the right edge of the screen. It is a much neater look.

Austrumi Linux's System menu

A single click within the System menu radically changes the desktop style in the latest release of Austrumi Linux.

– click image to enlarge –


Persistent Language Failure

The problem with Austrumi is the same issue that existed in my initial hands-on review last year. The developers basically ignore language localization.

If you speak Latvian, you will feel right at home. Other languages are available that include Russian, English, Greek, and a few more.

But you cannot download a language-specific ISO to install the language of your choice. There is only one download file. Its default language is Latvian.

I was hoping that this situation was updated with this latest upgrade release. It is not.

If or when this problem is corrected, Austrumi Linux has the potential to gain far more notoriety than is provided by its limited exposure in central
Europe. It’s really too bad the developers continue to ignore this language laziness legacy.

Many of the features, along with the ease of use, makes this distro an option over more established and more popular Linux distros. How the developer team mishandles language localization in this distro removes most incentive for using Austrumi Linux unless, like me, you are a Linux distro-hopping nerd.

Dare to Use It

Austrumi booted straight into the Latvian language. Obviously, this is confusing. Those users who have a sense for the Linux OSes and how desktop menus work can make their way through the system to get a sense for how Austrumi works.

I admit to being a language nerd of sorts. That, coupled with my familiarity with last year’s earlier version, became a puzzle-solving challenge. This latest release, however, was uniquely changed.

The desktop design’s appearance was different. But the built-in language tool remained.

To change the Latvian menus to English, click on the Top Menu label at the far right of the panel bar at the top of the screen. Then count down five Latvian words to the wrench and screwdriver (system) icon, and right-click it.

Then select the last label in the list (flag icon-Voladyus) to open a short list of languages in a drop-down panel. The British Flag-English button is the first option here. No other English country option is available. Click it or another language of your choice.

The screen reloads and Voila (that’s French), you still have mostly Latvian words visible in the right edge panel and across the top of the screen. The main system menus mostly display Latvian words.

But when you launch individual icons to run an application, you see more use of English. At best, the use of localized language is a mixed bag.

Disappointing Results

The language localization is a big failure. It involves more than just messing up English. I used the language menu option to see if the other choices got rid of the Latvian vocabulary. They did not.

This is a big disappointment. I experienced the same reaction a year ago when I first tried an earlier version of Austrumi Linux.

The use of English was more prominent then, however. Perhaps this is because I downloaded an updated release months after the original upgrade circulated.

I grabbed this latest release days after it became available. So, the language localization is probably a very hit-or-miss thing with this distro.

Bottom Line

Austrumi Linux contains all the necessary basic programs for work and entertainment. It boots from CD, flash drive or a hard drive installation and can be used on servers and workstations.

Austrumi Linux is not well known, but it checks most of the usability boxes. The only technical requirement is the ability to burn the ISO to a DVD or USB.

Do not expect much from the Austrumi web site. It is poorly designed and has no information about using the distro or getting help. Several of the pages are blank or not there.

Beyond that process, just turn on the computer and use Austrumi. No installation is needed. Nor is there any need for system configurations.

Of course, that all depends on whether Latvia is your native language.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you’d like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

Please
email your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Reader Comments feature below to provide your input!


Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.



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