GeckoLinux is an openSUSE based operating system that is using either Leap or Tumbleweed underpinnings. I should also mention that openSUSE isn’t the distribution, it is the project so that first sentence maybe, in a way, factually inaccurate. That said, with any corrections there, GeckoLinux has many offerings that I find incredibly fascinating. It is a similar experience as you would get if you downloaded a Fedora spin or one of the Ubuntu derivatives. By that I mean, you select the desktop environment you want, go through a very simple Installation process and you are up and operational with openSUSE but without the openSUSE branding.
I have this ongoing fascination with Elementary OS’s Pantheon desktop environment. I know it is not for me but I also love it. I love the design, I appreciate that the designers have a vision and are marching forward with this digital masterpiece and I want to see how it continues to develop. I have been intrigued by the idea of having a hybrid Elementary / openSUSE Experience so this seemed like a fantastic opportunity to play around and see what it would be like. There are many other flavors of GeckoLinux but Pantheon on Tumbleweed is what I wanted to spend some time exploring.
Bottom Line Up Front: I like the GeckoLinux project and my only real criticism with it is the lack of openSUSE branding. This distribution provides all the bells and whistles of having an openSUSE operating system, plus the codecs that are not permitted with a default openSUSE installation in an easy to download and deploy package. Pantheon is a lot of fun but it suffers from the lack of user experience cohesion that persists on Pantheon’s true home, Elementary OS. I don’t see myself giving up Plasma for Pantheon any time soon but I do like some of the defaults on GeckoLinux better than on Elementary. Overall, I found this to be quite fun. This is my biased review of of GeckoLinux with Pantheon as an openSUSE User.
Booting up GeckoLinux from the live media was without incident. I didn’t spend much time touring the live session as I really wanted to go through the installation process. The installer, Calamares sits right on the desktop just waiting for you to activate it.
Like a customary Calamares installer, you are greeted and asked to select your language, followed by your location.
Next you will have to ensure that the keyboard layout is your desired configuration. The disk layout is interesting because you are given three straight forward options. Firstly, the default of BTRFS for the file system is fantastic with Snapper working beautifully, as expected. You can select your Swap preference of using a partition, Swap file or none. Since “Swap to file” was an option, I thought I’d try it.
Before you commit to the installation, you are given a sanity check and last chance to bail out. Once you decide you are ready, proceed with the installation.
Upon completion of the installation, restart and enjoy the fresh, new, Pantheon, openSUSE Tumbleweed experience. I do want to note, this was an incredibly fast installation. Much faster than a standard openSUSE installation.
You are greeted with a well themed login screen. A hint of openSUSE in the Gecko flavor plus a dark themed login dialog it top notch. When you log in, you are presented a greeter to get you started in this world of openSUSE + Pantheon with a GeckoLinux wrapper.
Pressing Next will begin the tour and initial setup of your Pantheon experience. I went for a dark theme with the green accent color because green is a nice calming, welcoming color and this is openSUSE based, after all.
If you are interested in setting a “nightlight” feature, here is where you can do it. This will red-shift your display as you go into the evening to reduce the amount of blue light to which you are subjected. The advantage of this is to prevent the disruption of your sleep cycle. The housekeeping options is fantastic and all desktop environments should take queue from this as a user enhancement. Giving the system permission to automatically delete old temporary files and trashed items will keep your storage drive clear of clutter.
If you have any online accounts you wish to connect, this is the time to do it. If you are not ready, you can skip this step and return to it through the system settings.
In a quick exploration of the available applications, I was very pleased to see Firefox as the default web browser. Unfortunately, it is not able to automatically match its theme with the Pantheon Dark theme and you are left with a light colored theme. This is easily fixable as there is an option to manually make it nice and dark. The draw back is the titlebar icons will no longer match the rest of Pantheon. It’s a small thing but a noticeable thing.
YaST software is the default software manager and it sits right there in the dock but as much as I like using it and as often as I do use it, I don’t feel like it is the best for general desktop users. At one time, I wouldn’t dare say such a thing but I think I have to acknowledge that this is the way of things, today. People like easy to digest interfaces.
I also noticed that Flatpak wasn’t installed by default, I did go through the steps to install it as per the directions laid out on the Flatpak website. I find, more and more, I really appreciate universal package formats like Flatpak and Snaps.
I was very happy to see that the Elementary Sideload package is in the repositories. I find that for a better experience, installing that as well as GNOME Software was in order. I would go so far as to say that these should be a part of the installation process. This will make using Flatpak much more enjoyable.
The ability to “sideload” applications into the system is absolutely fantastic. This will allow navigating to Flathub to select and install the application easily as you would with Discover on a Plasma based Desktop.
The other option is to install and use GNOME Software and use that client to search and install applications from there just as easily. What I really like about GNOME Software is how it presents the applications and does a great job of presenting new applications to you. There is something to be said for that whole “discoverability of applications” that these software managers do.
I installed a few things, played around with it. You know the essentials like VICE (the Versatile Commodore Emulator), and LeoCAD, just to see how it would be to run those on this distribution. I can say they both happily work but there is that pesky theme integration thing. I will admit that it might also be a Flatpak issue and not that with Pantheon.
The bottom line is, Flatpak has been such a great thing for the Linux Ecosystem as a whole. There are no real limits to application selection anymore.
Pantheon is a nice desktop environment with great ambitions and I would go so far as to say my favorite execution of the desktop is on openSUSE. For one, you do get the latest and greatest underpinnings. GeckoLinux makes for having Pantheon very easy on openSUSE but there are a few areas I think that would make it better.
GNOME Software and Elementary-Sideload should be installed by default. Because I do know openSUSE very well, and I am at home managing software in the terminal, I also realize that this is not ideal for the everyday, common, computer user. Maybe that is okay as one could argue openSUSE is not for the common, every day user of computers as it is targeted towards developers and sysadmins. YaST is great but that is just not as good for software discovery and such. I think the distribution of software through Flatpak is arguably the way forward and would be far less work for distributions to continue to maintain the vastness of packages, but that is a discussion for another time.
Although, in every sense, I prefer the Plasma desktop and I have great appreciation for LXQt and XFCE desktops because of the incredible flexibility, there is something incredibly appealing about Pantheon. It is just a good experience weather it is here or on Elementary OS. My only real criticism of this desktop is the inconsistent theme integration of applications. Maybe it is more of a Flatpak issue, maybe it is a Pantheon issue but regardless of the selection of a dark theme, few applications seem to respect that preference.
What I Like
GeckoLinux provides a very simple, straight forward method of determining your desktop environment, Pantheon in this case was very easy to pull down and install without fussing about with package selection. The installation process was also accomplished very quickly.
Pantheon, with GeckoLinux, has more sane defaults than other expressions of Pantheon in that I don’t have to do some crazy hack to get that minimize button. Sure, I understand the reasons for not needing it, there are shortcuts you can use but one little icon on the titlebar of the window to minimize is a small ask.
Pantheon on openSUSE is by far my favorite of the options to get Pantheon. I love having the openSUSE underpinnings of the desktop with the tools for which I am most familiar, expect and enjoy using.
What I Don’t Like
GeckoLinux really needs to have GNOME Software and the Elementary-Sideload packages installed by default. This will make adding Flatpak applications from Flathub very simple for users.
Pantheon has an issue where the dark theme is not respected among all applications so it is not the best experience with all applications. I had this same problem when I recently explored Elementary OS 6.0. If you don’t mind some visual inconsistencies, when using a dark theme, this is not a big issue. However, I do think that dark theme displays should be considered an accessibility issue and should be a priority. Alternatively, since there are better options for dark theme desktops, use one of those if this is a deal breaker.
Tumbleweed based GeckoLinux doesn’t have a proper GUI based update mechanism. This is an issue with Zypper and PackageKit not getting along and seemingly no desire for anyone to fix this. If GNOME Software could properly handle the rolling updates to the system, Pantheon would be absolutely fantastic sitting on the openSUSE Tumbleweed base.
GeckoLinux is the easy button for openSUSE. They give you a fantastic package of openSUSE in whatever flavor you choose. I would actually prefer if they just used the openSUSE branding but I understand why this is not included by default. Thankfully, it’s easy to just plug those things in as you see fit to give you the openSUSE joy you may want.
I really like what GeckoLinux is doing. I have but only two simple recommendations to make it a better out-of-box experience: Adding GNOME Software and the elementary-sideload packages. Having those installed by default would be a vast improvement on the user experience.
There is something unique and compelling about selecting your desktop environment in a simple, single ISO download. I chose Pantheon because it is the GTK based desktop that seems to have its own unique special sauce that you just don’t get from other DEs. Although it is not my cup of tea, it is the fancy “pinky out” as you sip sort which makes it fun to try out from time to time. GeckoLinux makes it easy to take a tour of an openSUSE Flavored Pantheon, and that alone is a compelling prospect.