UbuntuDDE | Review from an openSUSE User

The Linux and open source community is a wonderful thing and as part of a BDLL community we have these distribution challenges. Try out a different distribution and talk about your experience. There was a lot of excitement about having the Deepin Desktop on the Ubuntu base and I decided to commit to this challenge. After using I was thinking, you will often hear that the Deepin Desktop is something remarkable and “beautiful” and stands apart from other desktops because of this. I also find, that for some reason, there are these ideas that stick in people’s heads that is so matter of fact, that going against this is like passing gas in church during communion.

This is my biased review as a fairly seasoned openSUSE User. I openly admit that my views are heavily slanted towards a very specific paradigm and not eager to change, but I am open minded to different ideas and make an effort to appreciate the art in a distribution. I should also note, I have a strong disposition towards to KDE Plasma for my Desktop Environment. That, to me, is the pinnacle of the desktop experience.

Bottom Line Up Front: Ubuntu DDE appears to be a distribution that is well on its way to becoming something special. It is built on a fantastic foundation of Ubuntu. The team building it haven’t made any bazaar choices for limiting universal package functionality. Right out of the gate, you have access to the wealth of AppImages, Flatpacks and Snaps. The Deepin environment is okay. I don’t really see what the big deal is but there is certainly a fan base. Would I use it? Nope. There is far too much functionality I would miss that is easily accessible within Plasma that I enjoy using too much and although it has the great Ubuntu foundation, I just happen to prefer the openSUSE base.

Installation

I navigated to the UbuntuDDE site to get the ISO to try out this Respin of Ubuntu. The site is clean, uncluttered experience with a pretty bold claim. “…the most beautiful desktop environment”. That certainly ratchets up my expectations of this experience.

I selected the Download menu option and chose the Torrent link. Maybe it is an old-fashioned idea, but I like using and seeding torrents of any distribution I try out in order to a very tiny part of helping out with the network effect. If torrents are not your thing, there are other options.

After the ISO downloaded, I set out to test UbuntuDDE in a VM. When I try out a ‘new’ distribution, I do it in a VM first. If I really like what I see and find something really compelling, I will move to actual hardware and kick the tires some more, really open it up, as it were. I knew that I am stepping into something real beautiful so prepped my socks to be blown off.

On the initial boot of the ISO, it goes through a check process. I don’t recall going through this on other distributions, but not a huge deal, I’m patient and maybe I will thank it later?

I am also given a “Friendly Reminder” that it has detected my use of a virtual machine which will affect the system performance and operation. I am a bit puzzled on the wording of “Friendly Reminder” as I am quite aware of the performance penalties of using a VM. I went for “Normal” mode to enjoy the fast performance. I think a better explanation is in order here as it also hampers the usability. More on that later.

My initial impressions, welp, my socks were still in place. The desktop was okay. I’m not sure it lives up to the claim of being “the most beautiful desktop environment” but it is very okay. I have to let things slide as I am using it in a VM. Perhaps my experience would be different if I chose to use effects instead.

The next step was to go through the installation process. Thankfully, it was super simple as it uses the well known and loved Calamares Installer. Once you launch the installer, select your language, hit next then your location.

Your next task will be to specify your keyboard layout followed by your partition preference. Since I am running this in a VM, I want to just have it use the entire virtual disk. After that you will have to supply user information. There is no option to set a root password.

Last step is to review, do a sanity check and think about your actions you are about to take.

The installation process takes a bit longer than you might be expect for an Ubuntu Distribution. Not a huge deal just noteworthy. It’s not like you install Linux every day so a super fast installer is not that critical.

Once you are done, you can reboot and experience the all the wonders of the Deepin Desktop on Ubuntu

First Run and Impressions

The login screen is pretty nice. Very pleasant and not the boring flatness that seems to be trending. So points there. The default picture is a little funny… kind of makes me miss the days of old when default users where whimsical Linux and open source related clipart.

After logging in and waiting for the desktop to settle I was greeted with a little error.

I of course selected to report that problem.

The default menu is by far my least favorite style of menu. It takes over the whole screen, there is no organization and hovering over an icon provides no further information.

Thankfully, there is an option to change the menu style to a more sensible menu. Still no organization but it does provide quick links to locations in your home directory. I think, if you are going to have one of these two lack-luster menus, the second should be default.

My next area of exploration was to look at the control center and view my options there. I have heard many good things about it and now it was time to see what all this goodness is about.

The control center is fine. I don’t mind it. I think it is a nice consolidated and simple example of what a control center can be. Overall, I find the experience to be straight forward and simple but in a way also quite limiting. To be clear, it is very functional but very controlled with a reduced set of options. I would venture to guess that it will suffice for most but it lacks a lot of the detailed control I enjoy in Plasma. I don’t fault the DE for this as I think the user focus is different than what you would have on Plasma.

I do like this neat feature of of the control center of the double-click test. You have a Kawaii looking cat that when you successfully double-click will appear raise and lower behind a kind of concealment .

When I decided to use the pager or virtual desktop switcher I would get this error that I need to have effects enabled. To fix this, you have to go into the Control Center > Display and toggle the effects there.

Another VM-ism, perhaps but I was super annoyed with the Normal Mode not being able to use the virtual desktops. If you recall earlier, there were two options, “Normal Mode” and “Effects Mode.” This leads me to believe that “normal mode” means, limited functionality mode. I don’t find that to be “normal”. It would be better if that screen that asks you what mode you want actually spelled this out a bit more clearly. “Effects Mode” means fully functional, while “Normal” means limited functionality. I personally am not okay with using a system that doesn’t have multiple desktops.

Once activated, you will have access to the wonders and freedom of virtual desktops.

Selecting a “Dark Theme” doesn’t mean that you will have a dark theme throughout your desktop. I can specifically specify that the file manager use a dark theme but even after doing so, the settings window still does not respect the dark theme. I would say, this anti-feature alone makes this NOT the most beautiful desktop.

On a positive, without having to fuss at all, Firefox is multimedia ready. I can watch YouTube or Netflix without having any issues. I don’t have any issues with adding restricted codecs but having them readily available is a huge plus, especially for new users.

The standard office applications are available right from the installation making access to spreadsheets, presentations and word-processing readily available.

Disappointingly, there is no consideration into the Qt theming. I checked Kdenlive, a very important application and not only was it the wrong theme, but there were no options out of the gate. It is usable but it doesn’t feel like it is part of my Deepin Desktop experience, at all.

In the end, it is not a bad desktop. I have my issues with it and if not having used Plasma, before, I would have probably been far more accepting of all the little quarks.

What I Like

There are a lot of cute little things about the desktop. The attention to the double-click is what stands out the most for me. I like how accessible and fun that little bit is and I encourage such creative ideas.

I can use AppImages, Flatpak and Snaps right out of the gate on UbuntuDDE without having to fuss with anything., I think this is such an smart way to go about building a desktop. Not even my beloved openSUSE makes it this easy. You have to turn on Flatpak and Snaps in order to use them, which is not a big deal but I want to give marks where marks are appropriate for UbuntuDDE

The whole process was clean. Everything from downloading through the installation process. There were no headaches in any of it. I appreciate that and it tells me that UbuntuDDE is targeting a user that doesn’t want to fuss around with mundane details.

What I Don’t Like

The Normal Mode or Effects Mode needs some clarification on what you are losing out on. This isn’t a just a difference between having the nifty effects or not. This is a reduction in functionality and having “normal mode” therefore means “less usable” mode and this needs to be corrected.

Not a huge deal, but when I would change the resolution on the VM to match my actual display, I would be logged out of the session. I chalk this up to a VM-ism and something I wouldn’t have to deal with on actual hardware

Not all applications respect the theme selection by the control center. This to me is a rather large irritation. I could deal with it more so if it was just Qt applications that were not respecting GTK themes as that is basically expected with all GTK based desktops. My issue is that the file manager didn’t respect the dark theme and that is just no good. I would call my experience here, far, far less than beautiful.

Final Thoughts

UbuntuDDE is a satisfactory Desktop Environment. Would I say it is the most beautiful? No, not a chance. I think it is fine though. What bothers me most about it is the very limiting feeling I get from it. I don’t feel attached to the desktop. I don’t feel like it is mine and things like not all applications respecting the dark theme just added more to that pile.

Despite my experience with the desktop. I think you should give it a try, in a VM or on actual hardware. After all, your experience may be far different than mine. It could be all roses and puppy dogs or maybe Kawaii cats hiding and appearing. After all, I am a biased openSUSE Plasma user that wants his bacon fried to a certain perfection. My tastes are different than yours so you should explore and find your Desktop Home.

References

UbuntuDDE Home Page
Calamares Installer
BDLL community

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