RoboLinux Smooths the Linux Migration Path

RoboLinux is an impressive traditional Linux desktop distro. It could be an ideal vehicle for both enterprises and SOHOs to make the migration to Linux. RoboLinux comes with a few extra features that solve some of the potential problems of leaving other desktop platforms. One of its more enticing migration tools is a preconfigured virtual machine add-on that greatly reduces the IT burden of setting up Windows XP or Windows 7 to run in a VM environment within the Linux distro.

The website gives the impression that RoboLinux is unique in that it lets you run Windows in a VM setting that is immune to viruses and malware. However, all Linux distros are immune to the targeting attacks of decades-old viruses, as well as new malware. Running Windows in a VM setting within any VM-capable Linux distro will achieve the same degree of safety for Microsoft Windows.

Still, RoboLinux has an additional feature set that provides its own process for doing this. For example, it comes with desktop links to download C Drive to VM and Stealth VM Software. These packages work with RoboLinux to clone an existing Windows installation and transfer it to a virtual machine in RoboLinux.

Under the Hood

The latest release is version 7.5.2 available since May 20. It includes a number of fixes in the previous release of version 7.5.1 earlier in May. These include rewritten code for the Robolinux Stealth VM Software that lets RoboLinux utilize Robolinux C: Drive to VM Support Package.

RoboLinux is based on Debian (Stable) Linux and supports i386 and x86_64 architectures. Its desktop engine is an optimized Gnome 3 Classic Desktop.

RoboLinux Main Menu

RoboLinux uses the very functional classic main menu.

This Gnome 3 desktop structure is partly responsible for the easy migration users experience in transitioning to RoboLinux. It puts five workspaces right on the top panel bar. Adding or removing workspaces is as easy as making mouse clicks on the panel bar.

The top bar holds the notification icons, access to basic system controls, and a Windows XP-style menu launcher. The bottom panel bar shows minimized and opened windows and numerous quick-launch icons for favorite programs.

Look and Feel

Anyone coming to RoboLinux as a first-time Linux user will avoid the typical adjustments needed to navigate most modernized Linux GUIs. The modified Gnome 3 shell eliminates any frustration from hidden side panels that display multiple workstations.

Users do not lose their comfort zones. The desktop works much like it did in earlier Microsoft Windows iterations. The vast majority of stock applications are well integrated into the RoboLinux desktop, giving users the impression that the system is well-designed and unified.

RoboLinux Tips

Getting support and how-to instructions are just mouse clicks away in RoboLinux.

I test a variety of Linux distros weekly. I run several favorite Linux desktops on my arsenal of work computers. I tend to favor the Linux Mint Cinnamon desktop on well-endowed hardware and the Xfce desktop on distros running on my older and slower gear.

I tested RoboLinux on a single-core desktop with barely 1 GB of RAM. I was very pleased with its performance. I missed nothing from the snazzier eye-popping effects of other Linux desktops.

Loaded Software

RoboLinux uses the gpk-application Package Manager for Gnome. I had not run a traditional Gnome 3 Linux system in quite a while. so I was a bit surprised to see Add/Remove Software in the Systems menu. I had to remind myself that I was not running Microsoft Windows.

You also can add and remove Linux software using the Synaptic Package Manager. Under System Tools are several levels of add-on options, such as a Proprietary Software Installer, Additional Drivers, installers for the Oracle VM VirtualBox, and 32- and 64-bit VM installers for Windows XP and Windows 7.

Another set of special system tools lets you back up and restore the Windows Virtual Machine and turn on/off the RoboLinux VM Data Sync control.

The process of maintaining RoboLinux packages is about the same as with any Linux distro. The Software Update Manager is easy to use. IT staff will love the Admin Tools that provide several dozen scripts for tasks that otherwise would require proficiency in using the command line.

Nice Touches

RoboLinux adds several special touches to bridge the gap between the older-style Gnome desktop and more modern desktop styles. One is the 3D Applications Dock, which is available in the Applications menu.

This launches a 2D Docky bar on the bottom of the screen, as well as a 2D favorites bar that slides out from the right edge of the screen.

RoboLinux Docky Menu

RoboLinux lacks much in the way of eye candy, but its 3D Docky menu add-on sweetens the GUI.

Another nice touch is the CompizConfig Settings Manager in the Preferences menu. Many of the settings are already checked to activate the screen effects that make the earlier Gnome desktop design a standard that is missed in other desktop systems.

Getting Things Done

The only specialized Linux software I had to add for my own needs was the Geany IDE Text Editor. Otherwise, RoboLinux came with more preinstalled applications than I typically see in Linux distros.

For example, both the Firefox and Google Chrome Web browsers were provided. So was the LibreOffice Suite. Included as well were Inkscape Vector Graphics Editor and Shotwell Photo Manager, and GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program).

Even my must-have tools were waiting for me — namely, Brassero Disc Burner, Kazam Screencaster, Rythmbox music Player, VLC Media Player and Sound Juicer Audio CD Extractor.

Causing Confusion

RoboLinux is fast and easy to download and install, but its developer may be a bit overzealous in his marketing efforts. Attempting to get potential users to pay for RoboLinux could turn off potential users not accustomed to Linux easily.

I’m not talking about support contracts or business add-on packages; I mean requiring donations just to download free open-source software.

The main page has several sections with video links and download links to various virtual machine packages. These are the same ones available donation-free from within RoboLinux itself.

The download page presents some of this same marketing material as information about RoboLinux VM and Stealth VM support. All of this precedes the bottom link to download RoboLinux itself, creating a maze of confusion.

Pay No Money

The very bottom of the download page presents the links to get RoboLinux and the Robolinux Stealth VM Software Installer. However, the first is accompanied by a button that seems to require a US$2 minimum contribution, and the second has a button that appears to require a $7 minimum contribution.

Both of these download buttons from the developer’s website take you to the PayPal transaction page. You cannot proceed without entering payment details. The only other option is a link to cancel and return to the RoboLinux website.

I encourage everyone to support open-source developers with contributions — but I oppose mandatory “contributions” to download free open-source Linux distros.

Should you pay to download RoboLinux? You might decide to do that — but a better option might be to get the same current releases from a source that does not beg for or require contributions. I downloaded RoboLinux from Sourceforge, for example.

Bottom Line

RoboLinux is an excellent Linux distro for businesses looking to avoid the Windows XP and Windows 8 fiascoes. However, the traditional Gnome 3 desktop design may not please experienced Linux power users.

RoboLinux is a robust Linux desktop solution for a home office, as well as for SOHO and enterprise users looking for a well-protected migration path away from other operating systems. Its modified traditional desktop design and built-in virtual machine packages for running Windows XP and Windows 7 from within the Linux desktop make it an easy and reliable alternative to Linux distros that lack the built-in preconfigured VM feature.

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?

Email your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future column.

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

Jack M. Germain

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 is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

1 Comment

  • I read your review with great interest and have read most of the Linux reviews for distro’s on your site for the last year. I was looking for a suitable distro to trial on a new laptop. I have had some experiences with the Robolinux donation system, and thought would relay some supporting comments. I have made several donations over a period of 6 months, initially to support what I saw as a great effort by the developers on something unique and very promising. For the first donation I was to receive the link to download an important aspect of the software. The link was not received, and some annoying problems prevented me from installing it onto my PC, but revisited the idea when I had to fix my sisters PC several thousand miles away, and did not have my original receipt details to try and get the link again. I paid another $10 to get a new link however it arrived a few days later than would have been useful – as I had to fly back home. I tried to install a simple program to allow me to assist my sister remotely (Teamviewer) and Robolinux hung up (caused an unusual issue with the updater) and now a year later it is still unable to download upgrades or any software. When I contacted Robolinux I was told I would need a higher level of support and upwards of $100 was suggested. The big issue for me is that the service was not fast enough, every piece of advice costs money, the software is not perfect and there is poor documentation when things go pearshaped, and there is no public forum – in short it has a closed ecosystem that is not in the spirit of Open Source, although the objectives as stated sound amazing and I truely wished it fulfilled the promise advertised. I have donated money several times to worthy linux distros, however I was frustrated that I received many quite rude responses when I asked for the links promised and paid for. I suspect that when they started the CEO was idealistic and unrealistic in expectations of workload and support required and wanted to make a business model that needed paid staff and donations did not rush in. I doubt they will see this or care what I say, but just in case they could emulate the VMware model (and in some ways Apple) – get it out there at low cost for those that don’t make money from it, and for companies find features that they have to have and students and home users will suggest or demand to have it in the workplace!

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