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Review: Nautilus 1.0: Has Eazel Earned Its Place in GNOME? - page 2

Going into launch day: a quick Eazel and Nautilus backgrounder

  • March 15, 2001
  • By Michael Hall

Early on in Nautilus' development, it was clear that Eazel's team preferred to stick to Red Hat as a reference platform for their software. The earliest code was written against Red Hat's 6.x series in a deliberate effort to avoid spending too much effort on resolving the differences between distributions. Mandrake users reported some success with RPM-based preview releases, and a Debian developer began providing .deb packages for the unstable branch of that distribution, but Eazel's goal all along has been to have a successful launch oriented around Red Hat.

Not surprisingly then, Tuesday's release offered a handful of options:

  • a Red Hat 6.1/6.2 autoinstaller
  • a Red Hat 7 autoinstaller
  • downloadable RPM's for Red Hat 6/7
  • autoinstallable hourly snapshots
  • downloadable tarballs of the source code

We took a look at Nautilus on a fresh Red Hat 7 installation with a complete set of Ximian GNOME 1.2 packages, as recommended by Eazel. We also attempted to build it from source on both Debian 2.2 (Potato) and Debian Testing (Woody) machines.

Using the autoinstaller program was a simple matter of downloading the 1.7 meg program eazel-installer-rpm4.sh and running it. After that, there was no interaction to speak of as the installer went about verifying the packages currently installed and deciding what to download. Once it completed downloading and installing the packages (which totalled about 35MB), it launched Nautilus.

Nautilus provides three levels of complexity in terms of configuration, and a window pops up to make this the first choice users are presented with the first time Nautilus is launched. The lower the experience level of the user, the less configurability Nautilus allows. The value in this is two-fold: it permits new users some breathing room as they learn their way around, and it prevents them from impairing the usability of the software by flipping the wrong switch in a control panel somewhere.

After setting a skill level, users are immediately taken to the Eazel services page. At this point, the company's services involve 'net based file storage that presents itself as part of the user's local desktop, a software catalog that permits download and installation of a variety of packages (with dependency and conflict checking), and a Red Hat Network Update Agent launcher that doesn't seem to tie in to Eazel as much as it demonstrates that the company can seamlessly blend remote content (file storage, software downloads) with local.

Registering for Eazel's services is straightforward, relatively non-intrusive, and not very time consuming.

The file storage component is designed to present a familiar folder-and-file interface for moving data across the Internet via Nautilus without breaking the desktop paradigm. Files are retrievable via either Nautilus itself or a standard web browser. In addition, the storage area is broken down into a private area, accessible only to the subscriber, and a public area, conceivably open to anybody though how to share files in this manner isn't immediately clear.

The software catalog component presents a web portal-style directory of packages available for download. In addition, Eazel provides some featured selections (while we were logged on, these included StarOffice, Netscape 6, the GIMP, and a suite of tools for CD ripping.) There are also links to reviews of some of the featured software from various web publications, and reviews written by Eazel staff. Besides the link directory, there's also a search form that allows for searches by package name or description, and by distribution. Though Mandrake wasn't an officially supported download option, it seems clear Eazel will likely be providing specific support for the distribution soon, as Mandrake versions 7.0, 7.1, and 7.2 were all search targets in addition to the expected Red Hat 6.1/6.2.

Once a package is selected for download, a dependency check is run and the user is informed of any additional packages required for installation. The download screen itself is very simple, providing basic progress bars. Once finished downloading and ready to install the package, Nautilus presents a password dialog with the 'root' username appearing but grayed out and prompting for the root password to install the package. It's a step toward a solution to the "problem with root" where new users are concerned, since it nearly relegates the issue of "becoming root" to install a package to "knowing a special code," which is a lot easier to grasp than the notion of an all-powerful account you have to know about but must never log in as normally.

For this component, Eazel has also provided several package sources for each of their offerings. Users with the basic Red Hat GNOME installation, for instance, can install generic GNOME RPM's. Users who run Ximian's GNOME distribution have the choice of using Ximian's packages.

Finally, we tried out the Red Hat Network Update Agent component, which appeared to be nothing more than an app launcher for the Update Agent that shipped with Red Hat 7.0. On attempting to update our fresh installation, we promptly encountered what the Agent referred to as "circular dependencies," and it crashed on exit with no chance to go back and correct what we thought was a routine laundry list of security updates and patches. A second attempt with a smaller list cause a second crash so we gave up, assuming that any problems with this part of our test drive were probably not Eazel's issue.

Overall, Nautilus 1.0 and the basic services provided for it demonstrate that Eazel can deliver software over their new conduit fairly seamlessly. Demand for the software was fairly high the first two days of release, so we can't evaluate how responsive their web-based conduit will be once that demand levels off, but over our 1.5Mbs DSL connection, we had a fairly painless experience and never felt like our wait was excessive.

At the same time, and by way of comparison, Ximian's Red Carpet is more responsive in the long run because it downloads its data and caches it once per session. While the startup may seem a little slow, it's much faster in operation over a period of time. Nautilus is the more versatile tool, obviously, but we're partial to Red Carpet's approach to this particular issue.

We also felt the dependency checking was handled well, especially with an eye to how new users would deal with it. The informational messages were in plain English as opposed to the occasionally hostile squawkings some package management systems will deliver. We used the interface to add some packages to our Red Hat install and found it much more preferable than hunting them down on CD and coping with the usual one-package-at-a-time approach to solving dependencies that's part of the RPM territory.

 

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