Linux distro spotlight: OS4 OpenDesktop

OS4's developers have worked to deliver an easy-to-use desktop operating system, with a focus on squarely on the Linux distribution's end users

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He says the team's approach also "takes the politics out of Linux". "The end user is the most important and every advance made [to the distro] is based on user feedback," he says.

"We are probably the most open [distro] in terms of dealing with our users. Whether interaction through forums and social networking to the fact I have my own personal e-mail address to my phone number posted [on the OS4 website]."

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The project was started in 2006, and was released publically in 2008. "I was one of the core developers in 2006 that started OS4 as an in-house project and when the company that was funding it went bankrupt, thanks to the economy, myself and the team decided in 2008 to release OS4 as a public distribution," Dohnert explains.

Along with OS4, he has worked on the GNU Darwin Distribution and Darwin on Intel, and did freelance work on Red Hat Linux in the '90s.

The primary OS4 OpenDesktop distribution is available in 32-bit and 64-bit flavours, and works on standard PCs and Macs. There's also an SMB-targeted OpenServer variant.

The team has also released OS4 Mobile for "appliances and netbooks". The Mobile version of OS4 only runs three desktop applications locally — a browser, a music player and a video player. All other applications are Web-based.

"Its small footprint makes it ideal for people who just want a kiosk deployed, hotels that want a system than can easily be wiped of user data, and users who want to deploy XMBC and run an entertainment system," Dohnert says.

There have been more than 18,000 downloads of OS4. In addition the team has shipped about 300 copies of the distro on installable media (including about 100 copies of OS4 OpenServer).

The primary sponsor of the distribution is PC/OpenSystems LLC, a Franklinton, North Carolina-based IT consulting firm that Dohnert is part of. "PC/OpenSystems LLC does everything from custom system building, custom software development and building websites," he says. "We are on the Microsoft and Oracle Partner Networks as well as authorized resellers of those products."

The company also offers computer systems with OS4 preinstalled, including PCs from Dell and HP. Dohnert says the company has seen "tremendous interest" in these systems, mainly from some enterprise customers.

Although PC/OpenSystems LLC sponsors the system, it's "very easy" for interested people to get involved in the distribution.

"Users just need to contact me and we will find the perfect placement for them," Dohnert says. "Some of the gaps we need to fill are kernel and system development, artwork and design and evangelism." At the moment there is a core group of six developers working on the disto, including Dohnert

The OS4 team is currently working its roadmap for the year ahead. Some of the highlights for 2013 will be the release of OS4 Mobile 2.0, TrustedOS4, based on NSA's work enhancing Linux's security, the release of OS4 version 14, and adding support for ARM processors. "We also have some unique hardware products which will come around the summer," Dohnert says.

Distribution: OS4

Latest version: 13.2 (released January 2013)


Desktop environment: Xfce

Kernel: 3.2.0-35

System requirements:

32-bit: 800mhz PIII CPU; 512mb RAM; 10GB of hard drive space
64-bit: 1GHz AMD64 or Intel 64 CPU, 1GB RAM, 10GB hard drive space

Rohan Pearce is the editor of Techworld Australia and Computerworld Australia. Contact him at rohan_pearce at

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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