The Dyne:bolic Media Studio LiveCD

I think this will be a mini-review, but often times, I start as a mini-review, but end up with more than enough for a full-on, double-quarter-pounder with cheese regular review. (Finished writing it: Well, so much for the mini-review…)

Let me pre-apologize for the computer-centric nature of this, but the “product” was a big enough let-down that being that I write reviews for a reviews website, I might as well weigh-in. Also, the offical name of the “product” isn’t “Dyne:bolic Media Studio LiveCD, it’s just Dyne:bolic, but that’s stupid so I’m including the rest of the name I assigned to it.

First, for those that probably stopped reading when I said “computer-centric:” a LiveCD is a CD you put in your computer as it starts up. Instead of Windows or Apple OS X loading from the hard drive, an operating system loads from the CD drive. This might not mean much to the non-computer people out there, but it allows for a completely different operating system to run on the same computer without anything being deleted (you just eject the CD when you’re done), overwritten, copied, or modified (unless that was your goal). With a LiveCD, you can start a computer whose Windows installation has gone the way of the buffalo and have practically full access to the files. If Windows needs to be re-installed, you can copy the relevant files to a USB key or (in some of the fancier liveCDs) even burn them to a CD-R. People who use computers for more abstract purposes (i.e. Linux users) use LiveCDs to sample new flavors of Linux before installing them. Windows has to no offical LiveCD version as few people would be compelled to buy the program if they could just copy it and take it to whichever computer they (or a friend of family member) would use. (Not that this isn’t rampant with regular Windows install CDs as it is).

Yeah, I can make up words too, Mr. “Hacktive.” KOFTOFTIC!! Take that dyne:bolic people.

In terms of troubleshooting, LiveCDs most useful aspect is that one can figure out if a problem is with the computer’s hardware or Windows. In fact, I troubleshooted the hell out of Adam’s computer when he was having network problems using a LiveCD version of Puppy Linux.

Anyway, Dyne:bolic is a linux-based LiveCD that portrays itself as a completely free, complete multimedia solution on a CD. You don’t install anything; you just put the CD in, start the computer, then you’re in a dreamworld of magic desktop filled with free software for internet broadcasting, audio and video editing, print editing, vector graphics (think Adobe Illustrator), raster graphics (think Adobe Photoshop), and more. It’s sounds great in theory. In fact, it sounds revolutionary in theory. In theory. The user interface is simple enough to figure out (it’s probably simpler to use than Windows, especially because it’s so specialized).

BUT, like a lot of the Linux theories, it’s better as just that, a theory. As you turn the computer on, you’re greeted with a prompt that says “boot:” and has instructions for choosing video modes or entering debug mode. Well, I guess I’d consider myself a power user, so I want to set the resolution to the optimum setting for the LCD screen in front of me. Skipping the intermediate step, you choose your resolution and the screen says “Could not find kernel” then it boots into the desktop, running at 800×600. This isn’t enough for power users, and video editing at 800×600 is practically useless as video from a full-resolution DV source will fill most of the space. Aside from the fact that a non-linux user would be dumbfounded by that “kernel error,” as a reasonably experienced (unfortunately, even with Linux) computer user, it’s bad user interface design if you display a serious-looking error, then have the computer seemingly do something unrelated (such as boot into the desktop). Does this mean that the kernel error wasn’t very serious? That I’ll be able to change resolutions once it’s booted?(you can’t) Who knows.

I’d give a a more thorough review, but trying it on various hardware,- I couldn’t get it to run higher than 800×600 and beyond that, the support for the CD was (dis)organized into a “cute” page with very little content, most focused on the individual included programs (which I could already find on the homepages of the included programs), but the not the actual CD itself.

I’m not sure if Dyne:bolic is a one man project, but if it is, it’s quite the accomplishment (in theory) for one person, but as the Linux community is so often to say, “Use this! Windows would never be this good, and you’re stupid if you don’t use flavor of the week. If it doesn’t work for you, then fix it yourself. It’s open source!” I know enough about Linux to say that the kernel error when choosing a resolution probably has something to do with the detection of the video card’s applicable settings (or settings in general), but that doesn’t mean I have the means to fix it. If other Linux-based LiveCD’s can work, this one should too, especially if it’s supposed to be so “ultimate.” I tried it with both ATi and nVidia videocards and had the same error. Linux etiquette says that I’m supposed to go to the forums or wiki if I have a problem, but I’d prefer my “amazing” solution to just work.If it’s a one man project, it’ll probably work fine on his hardware, so he probably has an Intel video card/onboard chip. But, of course, lots of people don’t have his exact setup, so maybe it’s the ultimate setup on his computer. But that’s about it.


The Dyne:bolic Media Studio LiveCD receives one-and-a-half stars due to it setting high expectations but failing to deliver on them. The concept (a standalone CD that turns any computer into a fully-featured media studio) is rock solid, but it’s unfortunately brought down by two of the pillars of Microsoft’s supposed FUD anti-Linux marketing: “questionable hardware support” and “lack of documentation”. Sure, it’s free, but that doesn’t make it better than commercial alternatives, even if they don’t come bundled on one standalone CD (that doesn’t completely work). Oh yeah, and the name stinks.

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