OEone HomeBase Offers Computing, Simplified

By Timothy R. Butler | Posted at 10:26 PM

Many companies have attempted to make computing easier - the latest releases of most Linux distributions, Apple Mac OS, and Windows all showcase different companies' varying visions on how to reach that goal. However, on closer inspection, one realizes that in fact all these different approaches really are not that different at all.

Sadly, ever since the windowing system became the defacto standard in computing interfaces over a decade ago, no one has really tried to move user interfaces to a different paradigm. Sure, there were halfhearted attempts such as Microsoft Bob, but even that was mostly an application launcher and not a true replacement for the existing windowing systems. This, perhaps, is the beauty of the OEone's desktop environment - finally someone dared to try something different, and came up with a new UI concept that actually works.

Unlike the all too familiar window-centric interfaces seen in mainstream desktop operating systems, OEone instead uses a full screen interface with windows only appearing for error messages and the few applications it includes that do not integrate into the system. While this limits the ability to take advantage of Linux's powerful multitasking, it does greatly simplify usage - something that is probably more important for many users.

OEone's web browser with “Web Tools” sidebar expanded.
What's Under the Hood

Below OEone's unique interface, the system is basically a RedHat Linux 7 installation. The installer is a modified version of RedHat's anaconda tool, and most of the RedHat console utilities are available should you need them. The upside of this is that choosing OEone does not mean giving up the wide variety of applications available for the Linux platform, something any company that has already switched to some Linux applications should appreciate.

For the most part, OEone erred on the side of stability by including older, better tested versions of its key packages such as XFree86 (4.0.3) and Mozilla (0.9.5). On the other hand, HomeBase uses the recent Linux 2.4.17 kernel, which was a very good choice considering some of the problems with the early 2.4-series kernels.

OEone also made a very good decision by going with the ReiserFS filesystem, an extremely stable and powerful system also offered by Mandrake and SuSE. The advantage of ReiserFS over the older “ext2” system is that it monitors the changes to the hard disk thus greatly decreasing the chances for data corruption. ReiserFS also has the added benefit that the user does not have to wait for “fsck” (similar to Windows Scandisk) to run after an improper shutdown.

In the Cabin

Perhaps the most difficult challenge the OEone developers encountered was to create a user interface that was simple without limiting the user. While most attempts to create a simple user interface end up providing something less then what the user needs, HomeBase's interface does not feel lacking in functionality even though it has been greatly simplified over normal user interfaces. This is by no means a small accomplishment.

As mentioned in passing before, OEone does away with the standard “windows” used by most computer operating systems. Instead, this desktop consists of a greatly enhanced and redesigned version of the Mozilla web browser (the open source foundation of Netscape 6.x). This may sound like an odd user interface, but in practice this design works very well.

When the system starts, the user is presented with a neat internet start page that merges weather and news with local content such as a listing of appointments, e-mail, and contacts. This is a unique design that seems to combine the best elements of Microsoft Outlook's “Outlook Today” feature with your favorite internet start page.

Moving beyond the “My Page” function, OEone brings to the table a variety of other basic functionality ideal for a PC dedicated to standard office tasks. The integrated Mozilla e-mail client should be quite enough for the average user's e-mail needs, the included address book offers the novel ability to add photos to your contacts for quick recognition, and the calendaring functionality seems competent. HomeBase's PIM functionality is rounded out by both Palm and online storage synchronization features.

The intuitive interface for adding events to the calendar.
Also included in the basic list of applications is the lightweight word processor AbiWord modified to fit into the Mozilla-based interface. Those who need a more robust solution will find the Microsoft Office-compatible OpenOffice suite included as well. Additionally a nicely designed file management tool is included that only shows the user's data files. This avoids any potential confusion that might be caused if the user would accidentally wander around the full Linux file system.

Finally, the desktop includes a handful of other programs including a combination IRC/ICQ chat and instant messaging program, a media player (which did not function on our test system), and a handful of arcade games. The popular Photoshop-like Gimp image editor and Gnumeric spread sheet application complete HomeBase's collection of software.

The Oil Leaks

While OEone is very polished in most places, especially for being a relatively new system, there are a few problems that must be pointed out. At press time, the OEone 1.3 maintenance release had just been made available, so some of these problems may already be solved.

The first notable problem arose at the installation step that sets up the “boot manager.” The included tool is supposed to allow the user to choose from a menu at computer startup between the OEone HomeBase environment and Windows. However, the system did not detect that both Windows 2000 and Windows XP were installed which made dual booting a potentially daunting task for someone without prior Linux experience.

After installation, the system booted, however the installer failed to properly set up the video card. This caused the system to go into a never ending attempt to start the graphical environment without the needed settings. That left the system in a nearly inoperable state, so we sent off a message to OEone support for help resolving the problem. We were pleasantly surprised to receive very fast, helpful replies from the technician assigned to our problem, something highly unusual from most support departments. Using a few tricks that may have been intimidating to a novice, but none the less, well documented by the technician, we were able to get our system up and running within just minutes of receiving the first support message.

Unfortunately, OfB Labs ran into two more hardware-related problems in short order. The installer had also failed to detect the network card (required for initial registration and web browsing) and the sound card. While we solved these problems by spending a little time at the Linux console, we were surprised that these problems arose since all of the system's hardware is well supported under Linux.

When I approached Peter Bojanic, OEone's vice president of software development, about these problems he pointed out that initially OEone has been targeting their software toward OEM's such as FuturePower and ASUS. Both companies have recently introduced lowcost computer systems with hardware specifications that OEone has tuned HomeBase to work much better with.

Should You Drive it Home?

In the end, OEone offers a refreshingly simple computing environment perfect for those who are not familiar with computers and even experienced users who do not need all the bells and whistles of normal desktop environments. The design is cheerful, and productive, and is really a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, with the hardware detection problems we point out above, installation is not a task for those unfamiliar with Linux. Still, considering the fact that the system is so very simple after installation, the initial hurdles may be well worth overcoming to gain a user interface that will surely reduce calls to the help desk.


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OEone HomeBase offers a very unique interface that is a pleasure to use and full of functionality. Save a weak installation tool, this is truly an excellent product. $29 boxed set or $499-$649 for OEone-based computer,

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Timothy R. Butler is Editor-in-Chief of Open for Business. You can reach him at tbutler@uninetsolutions. com.