NetRunner (19.08) is not one of those distributions I hear touting its uniqueness and wonders loudly on the Internet. As part of a two week challenge for BigDaddyLinux Live, I lassoed an ISO and took it for a spin on a VM. Some may argue that a VM doesn’t make for a good test experience and I would agree to that, sort of… This is not going to be a test of NetRunner’s performance on bare metal but rather, this is an impression of how the developers are answering the operating system question.
Bottom Line Up Front, NetRunner has a look of its own. The default software is refreshingly not minimal as that seems to be the talk of many Linux enthusiasts (I blame Arch for that). The included pieces of software makes for a great showcase of the various KDE applications. Personally, this is a good approach for most users. Those minimal installation folks should just learn to remove software using the package manager if that is such a huge issue. I am not keen on the default theme with the red cursor and the lack of a usable Dark NetRunner theme. Aside from that, it appears to be a good KDE Plasma experience and a fine showcase of the various applications a Linux user should try. This is my biased review of NetRunner as an openSUSE user.
The installation of NetRunner, like most of the Linux world is very straight forward and not problematic. Although, I realize that this is not a shared view among all users, this is my experience.
The bootloader gave some options so I wanted to play around with them. Unfortunately, the Memory test didn’t work for me but it was a neat idea.
Rather than continue to play around with these tools, I decided I would go ahead and unwrap this NetRunner present and see how it goes for me.
Essentially, a few moments later and the Desktop presented itself in all it’s KDE Plasma beauty. The default look is fine with me. Not my preference but I don’t expect every distribution to ship my preference, that would be silly and would undoubtedly make touring other distros incredibly boring.
The installation process uses the Calamares installer so it is incredibly easy to do. Thankfully, there isn’t any scavenger hunt required to initiate the installation. Once the installer has settled, select your Language and Location.
Next will be your keyboard layout and your partition scheme. I chose to erase the entire disk. It is interesting to note that the default Swap size is twice your RAM amount plus a little extra for good measure.
The last bit of using your noodle to get this set up is to set your user name and root password. Once complete, you are given a Summary and final sanity check before you commit to the installation.
The installation doesn’t take before it is finished which gives you a great opportunity to read the installation propaganda as you wait, or you can go do other things as I did and come back when it is done.
When you are done, feel free to reboot or hang out in the live session, whichever works for you. I wanted to see how quickly this would boot and I wanted to dig into it.
First Run and Impressions
The boot time was reasonable. Not lighting fast but reasonable and of the speed that I would have no complaints. Ultimately, I would rather it boot every time than boot occasionally really fast and leave you scratching your head when it doesn’t choose to boot.
The login screen or sometimes called “Display Manager” looked nice enough. I couldn’t put my finger on it but it made me feel like it was an older layout. That might be me and if we were in court, I would expect the other lawyer to object to that and strike it from the record.
The desktop does look nice, but I am not sure about that red cursor. It does bring back the happy smiles of the Amiga OS as it did back in the early 90s. The version of Plasma that shipped with NetRunner 19.08 is 5.14.5. A bit older as it was released in October of 2018 but not a bad version at all. It should also be noted that this is not an LTS version either.
The menu is the Application Dashboard. This is not my favorite menu system but that is easily changed. I do admit, it is a nice looking interface but it is just not for me. I don’t like menus that block out my desktop.
The game selection brought a smile to my face. I am glad to see Steam is installed by default. If you are into gaming, Steam is your portal to a wide selection of electric joy. I would have liked to have seen Lutris too but one out of two is not too bad. Excitingly, a game that I did forget about was BurgerSpace. It is a BurgerTime clone that I played on the Intellivision as a kid. Although, BurgerSpace doesn’t have the fun 8-bit music as the original, it was still fun to play… until I couldn’t get down the ladder…
I wanted to explore further the different applications. I found it interesting that there is a Skype client by default. The multimedia applications installed by default are some that I use. Handbrake and Kdenlive are two that I use with some frequency. There isn’t VLC but SMPlayer is available which is fine. The Web Camera application is Cheese which is also fine.
The Web applications section I thought was curious. Telegram was good to see but I scratched my head on the WhatsApp. I know that is used by many but the juxtaposition with having it alongside Hooktube seemed odd. Hooktube divorces you from the YouTube-ness of YouTube while WhatsApp is an application that will be collecting on you. It is easy enough to remove but I just thought it odd. I am sure that there is a valid reason for the selection, I just don’t know what that is.
The software package manager is very decent and I like the interface very much. It’s very clear on how to use, perhaps overwhelming for a new or less technical user but it is perfectly usable. I have found that there is this rather large section of the populous that doesn’t like to read and a wall of text can be overwhelming when there isn’t a giant “GO” or “NEXT” button to guide their eyes. When committing to updates, authentication is required. This is in contrast to what I am most accustomed in openSUSE.
What I found fascinating is that I found interesting is that it looked like the critical updates were not automatically included. Perhaps they were not selected or I had done something wrong but I would assume that these would be priority. I completed these updates and rebooted the system to take advantage of the new kernel and such.
The default NetRunner theme is too light for my liking. I went into the System Settings to correct this deficiency and unfortunately, I was met with less than stellar results. Somehow there seems to be something wedged in the theme engine that makes even the Breeze Dark theme unusable.
It didn’t seem to matter which dark theme I chose, NetRunner, changed the colors, Breeze Dark, use the Dark Color scheme, the result was the same in that it was not possible to read the text as any contrast was lost. For whatever reason, the desktop was not respecting my request.
This is basically a deal breaker for me. I do not like light themes… at all… and if I cannot allow my eyes to take a break from the light pollution, I am not a happy user. Just a mention, but I did notice that there was some reorganizing in the menu selection. Plasma Tweaks was an additional section that included all the visual tweaking settings. It seemed redundant and a silly call back to the Gnome Tweaks mess of applications.
There are some other interesting applications included in NetRunner that are worth looking into but I have already blathered on far too long about my first impressions.
What I Like
NetRunner does not do the rather common nonsense approach of not bundling software with their desktop environment. They have taken the time to include a nice and sensible selection of applications to get you going right out of the gate. Quite literally, after a short installation cycle, you can be up and running, creating, playing or doing very typical computer based tasks. The selection, although somewhat peculiar is a great showcase of applications.
The package manger, Synaptic, is frankly, one of my long time favorite package managers ever in Linux. It is the Debian staple of managing your packages and no Debian system should be without it. The fact that it is installed by default is a huge positive. As nice as the software centers are for discovery of applications, Synaptic just does the job better.
What I Don’t Like
The theme, something is wrong with the theme and how Plasma handles themes. I am sure I could correct it with enough time but that is a pretty significant annoyance. I would prefer NetRunner just use the standard Breeze themes and modify it to whatever would make it uniquely NetRunner with maybe a different shade of blue and the logos. Making the theme as such that I cannot read the text when switching it to a dark color scheme is a no go.
There isn’t a system control panel like you would find on the openSUSE or MX Linux distributions. I find YaST to be such an important tool for any system I set up. The KDE System Settings is great for user level settings but not the best for system wide settings, user management and the like. If I could wave the magic wand, I would like to seem more distributions use something like YaST, if not YaST itself on their distros for better system management.
The Software selection, although mostly great had me less than happy about having Skype and WhatsApp installed by default. This might make me sound like an old man yelling at kids to get off my lawn, but I have made it a point to push people away from such services and use them only if necessary. Having these installed by default don’t make me smile, I would much prefer to see other, less invasive applications in their place. Telegram was nice to see so there is that.
NetRunner is a distribution that is clearly focused squarely on it’s own goals and appearance. If you aren’t going to stray from what they have set in place, this will do nicely for you. The software selection is a great start as a sensible base of applications and also has some applications that should probably be removed
I am not exactly sure what I think of NetRunner. I like much of what they are trying to accomplish, I appreciate that they are doing their own thing and seemingly have a goal in mind of targeting a general user with this distribution. At the same time, I do not like some of their defaults and find some of there selection, not to my liking. Would I recommend NetRunner for someone to try? Yes, but it wouldn’t be the first I would recommend. It scores high on the ease of installation but low on the ability to cleanly customize it. It scores high on default software selection but bothers me that they have selected some other applications. Overall, it is a decent distribution and if you are not satisfied with your current experience, this is worth a try.
Would I switch from openSUSE to NetRunner? No, not a chance but I am glad NetRunner is out there and answering the software needs for many people.