In 2019, I bought into DeWalt 20v MAX cordless tool platform as part of my mission to reduce complexity in and improve efficiency in as many aspects of my life as possible. This is a long term mission of mine with many facets but basic tools was at the foundation of this plan. DeWalt has a great line of tools to choose from, but they are aimed at the commercial, industrial or professional builder. I would consider myself an intermediate or advanced DIY-er with the occasional moonlighting as either a handyman or builder, so I wanted some of those higher end tools to be available.
I also found that there were some Ryobi cordless tools that I wanted as well. I didn’t, however, want to have another battery platform as that would go against my mission of reducing complexity. The good news is, I was able to find this adapter on eBay from a US Seller, the cost $25. Significantly cheaper than a Ryobi battery plus charger.
Design fit and Function
This is actually the second adapter I bought but what caught my eye is that it is a more simplified design and I am certain I prefer this. There are no moving parts, the battery retention latches into the tool but this is very welcome as it makes the design far more low profile than another version I have purchased. It almost makes using a DeWalt battery on a Ryobi tool purposeful looking.
The design of this appears to be quite rigid too. It doesn’t feel flimsy or fragile. The manufacturer claims it is has been rigorously tested for shatter resistance and general wear and tear. I do think that to be an accurate statement based on how it feels. The wall thickness is between approximately 2.5 mm and 3 mm with what appears to be a glass filled plastic. Interestingly, the Ryobi battery packs I have disassembled have a wall thickness of about 2 mm.
I am very confident in the design of this adapter that I will get many years of use out of it. It feels quite robust in the design. It’s rigid and the marketing on the website promises it won’t shatter!
The tools that I currently use with my Badapter are a hot glue gun, caulk dispenser (something of which DeWalt does have but I already had in my possession), and a chemical sprayer that I use around my home for fertilizing my small garden and flower beds as well as spraying for insects. At the time of writing, DeWalt doesn’t have a hot glue gun or chemical sprayer. Maybe that will change in the future? No idea. I don’t really see them adding such things as those are more “hobby” or “home-gamer” type tools, not something you would see in the commercial or industrial space.
There aren’t many Ryobi tools that I want or need but this really opens up the possibilities to getting whatever tools I think will make taking on challenges and home owner responsibilities a bit more enjoyable. I do believe that work and accomplishment should be a rewarding experience. Badapter certainly is an efficiency multiplier.
It should also be noted that Badapter has other adapters as well. Bosch, Milwaukee and Makita to Ryobi. If those are of interest to you, check them out.
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.
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.
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.
Outside of the Linux thing and retro tech hobbies of mine, I like to build things and generally improve my domicile so I enjoy tools, especially cordless power tools. Not having that tether to the wall has a kind of freedom to it that makes working with your hands much more enjoyable. I have been using cordless tools in the form of the Porter Cable 18 volt line for about 10 years. It has been a fantastic platform of cordless tools but unfortunately, it was the decision by the company to abandon the 18 volt line and move to this 20 volt Max line without an upgrade path. I stuck with the Porter-Cable tools for quite a while but in the last year or so, the batteries were all giving out. No batteries were available in the stores anymore so I bought some knock off batteries on eBay. I had to repair both of them after using them due to a manufacturing flaw but that was the deciding factor that I could not continue to stay with the Porter-Cable 18v line of tools.
Did a lot of research online, wanted to hear harsh opinions of all of the tools, read or watch anything that told me the good and the bad with every aspect I could fine. I wanted a tool I could afford but one I could rely on with a broad selection of tools and a non-restrictive technology. I wanted to have some level of trust for the intentions and motivations of the company that owns the brand. After all of my searching, studying and evaluating each of the value propositions, I landed on DeWALT.
How I ended up on this decision. Keep in mind, this is an evaluation of what I value that works best for me. This is not universal to all people, nor should you take this as a recommendation that works best for you. You will have to determine this for yourself using your own value proposition wheel.
I need tools that will handle my level of abuse. I do try to be careful with them and I do keep them clean but I am not exactly good at preventing me from happening to my things. I am prone to drop, kick, knock off high places and so forth my power tools. I need things that can survive my usage. Based on my contractor friends’ preferences. DeWALT tends to be their preference. Though, my plumber friends tend to go Milwaukee for some of their plumbing specific tools, I don’t have Milwaukee money.
Variety of Tools
The next most important aspect of my choice was to have a large variety of tools to remove complexity in accomplishing tasks in my life. My time is limited and I need to maximize efficiency whenever possible (side note, much of the reason I use Linux and specifically openSUSE but that is another discussion for another time). Suffice to say, I want options, lots of options and DeWALT has the best score here for my preferences. I also want the ability to use easily use batteries with other tool platforms (supported or not). Since DeWALT is a popular platform, there are many hacks out there so that is also a big win.
It was a absolutely a necessary requirement to have options for large capacity batteries for higher draw tools. I don’t like extension cords. Sure, that is the universal power source but it is also very inconvenient and I tend to mangle my extension cords over time. In this are, DeWALT really fit the bill. Not only do they have their 20 volt Max line with 6 Amp Hour batteries but they also have batteries that will flip to 60 volts (actually 54v nominal) for a chain saw, table saw, and a miter saw. These vast options bolstered my decision to go with the 20 volt Max platform.
As an aside, Makita cordless tools batteries had the high capacities but should I choose to refurbish them with new cells, they would no longer function. This would not work for me. Milwaukee arguably have the best battery in the business and the price reflects it.
Commitment of Long Term Support
My experience with the 18 Volt Porter-Cable line was good, but within 4 years they started their transition to the 20 Volt Max along with their DeWALT and Black & Decker counter parts. Unlike DeWALT, there was no provided upgrade path. Had I bought into DeWALT 18 volt line years ago, I could have upgraded batteries over time and slowly transitioning to the 20 Volt Max line. I wanted to have some kind of corporate commitment or at least the perceived commitment that I would be able to use these tools for many, many years. Based on the rate of expansion of the tool line, there is some sort of engineering and product development commitment and therefore, it is likely to be around for a while.
Based on these three bits of criteria plus the bonus if it being “manufactured in the USA with globally sourced materials” I decided that DeWALT would be my best decision. It hit with the highest marks on all parts.
The First Purchase
I was at Lowe’s to get materials for a project and I saw there was special on DeWALT Tools. What cought my eye was a 10-pc tools set, last one and when I did the math, I would spend less than $60 per tool, factoring the two batteries and charger, it appeared to be a spectacular deal for DeWALT. Buying so many, tools at once meant I could completely change over my cordless platform. I am not going to give a full review on each component, just the highlights and drawbacks.
This model has brushed motor, feels good in the hand, slightly smaller, faster and more powerful than the 10 year old Porter-Cable 18v cordless drill. A nice feature of it is the work light in the front turns off after approximately 20 seconds after you release the trigger.
The anti-feature of this drill is the speed selector switch is a bit ropey. The one and only feature that is lack luster. This would have been a top-of-the-line drill 10 years ago but today, there are many better options.
This model has a brushed motor and is much more compact than the Porter-Cable 18v equivalent model. The 3-LED front work light with similar delayed turn off feature makes this fantastic for working in dimly lit areas, which seem to be the work environment I end up more frequently than not.
The anti-feature of this is that although more compact than what I have been used to, not as much as I have seen and a brushless motor would be nice, even if not necessary.
This is the larger, brushed motor model, feels beefy in the heads and is a bit weightier than the Porter-Cable 18v unit it was replacing. It looks and feels like it will take more of a beating than it is likely to get in my possession.
The anti-feature is that it is longer and heavier than what I would like but it’s really not worth complaining about as this isn’t a tool for which I am likely to put a ton of hours.
This is the brushed motor model with the 6-½” blade. It is well balance and the over all use and feel of it is quite satisfactory. This has seen many linear foot of wood travel past it’s spinning teeth. Since I have used it quite a lot I can confirm that it does the job very well.
The Anti-Features of this tools is that the chips from cutting wood somehow seem to jump into my face more than my previous Porter-Cable model, it also lacks a laser guide and a 7-¼” blade would have been preferred. This also does not have a laser guide like you would see on some brands as standard.
This tool is very similar to the Porter-Cable 18v unit it has replaced. Although I haven’t heavily used this tool, it has chewed through many pipes and nails. I like how the design of the tool has a built in hand guard.
The anti-feature is that it has a slightly slower maximum rotational speed (RPMs) than my previous cordless unit but it seems to perform similarly. No complaints here.
Oscillating Multi-tool, XR model
This is the brushless motor model and at first, I didn’t like the trigger vs switch as compared to the Porter-Cable equivalent. After actually using it, I found that the trigger with the lock was more ergonomic and ultimately easier to use. It also has a very bright work light in the front with a similar delayed shut off.
Anti-feature, the learning curve for this different switch mechanism but I wouldn’t change this.
I have used this for numerous functions around the house besides blowing sawdust off of my projects. It’s great for clearing the driveway and the front porch. I have also used it to inflate an air mattress or exercise ball more than once. It isn’t loud and painful on the ears like some air pumps.
Anti-features, it could be more powerful and have a longer nozzle attachment but that would likely put it in another class of blower so I will not complain about this either.
This could almost be my favorite tool in the pack and it is the one that gets used nearly every day. I have found that this vacuum is not only great for cleaning up your work, the tools after getting them dirty but also great for quick cleanups around the house and in my truck. The detachable hose makes it very useful for cleaning up dust bunnies in corners, or on ceiling fan blades and when paired with round brush attachment makes quick work of cobwebs between the floor joists or cleaning underneath the couch cushions. It should also be noted that this is a wet/dry vacuum, of which I have used it for both.
Anti-feature, it could suck with a bit more force but considering the size of it, I believe it to be adequate.
It’s a nice portable speaker that I pair with my computer, usually my Dell Latitude E6440 and listen to podcasts while I work around the house. The KDE Plasma Bluetooth module had no issues pairing and remember this device (the Linux tie-in). I find that this one gets a lot of use too. Also, with the Plasma Media Integration, starting and stopping the podcast or YouTube video playing on Firefox worked perfectly. Additionally, I could use my phone to stop the media playback using KDE Connect. Pretty fantastic.
Anti-feature, it could be louder.
Frequently, this is considered the “throw off” or “sandbag” item, and I can agree to that with some sets but this is a nice flashlight and also gets a lot of use, mostly by my kids. The pivoting head is great for setting it in a particular direction to light up your work.
Anti-feature, it could be brighter or have an adjustable focus.
These are not DeWALT’s finest tools by a long shot but spending about $60 per tool, I would say that it was quite worth it. Admittedly, the flashlight isn’t worth $60 but as a package deal, very worth it. There really is only one tool for which I am not completely satisfied and that would be the drill. I knew this going into it and I wasn’t about to drop the coin on having a set that consisted of nothing but the top of the line XR tools as I don’t use them enough to warrant that.
Tools that I like most in the set
Impact Driver – The key feature of the impact driver I like most is how compact it is and the three LEDs on the front of it. It feels good in the hand when pared with a 5 cell battery and spectacularly drives screws into stubborn materials.
Vacuum – Although not exactly a tool someone is likely to seek out, this is the tool that gets the most use in my house, day in and day out. It is a wet dry vacuum that really sucks. I have used it more for cleaning dust bunnies, crumbs and floor dirt than anything else but with the hose being an integral part of the tool, makes this fantastic for quickly cleaning up the messes of life. This has done more to simplify and improve efficiency of my life than any of the other tools in the group.
Blower – As odd as it may sound, this cheap tool has been used a lot. Everything from blowing leaves, cleaning grass off the sidewalks to inflating exercise balls (darn thing had a leak).
Tools I Don’t Like as Much
It is not that I am disappointed with anything it is just to give an honest bottom three in this 10 piece tool set ranked from least to most disappointing.
The Reciprocating Saw is fine, very powerful and also quite heavy. It is better than the 18 volt Porter-Cable model I had but also, having held the XR line of more compact Reciprocating Saws by DeWALT makes this one feel a lot more like last decades technology.
The Circular Saw, it’s really quite decent but it as such that I feel like I get hit in the face with wood chips / dust more often because the saw blade and motor are opposite to what I am most accustomed. Also, it is a 6 ½” blade as opposed to the 7 ¼” blade that is standard on typical corded circular saws. This saw feels a lot like the 18 Volt Porter-Cable but a mirrored version of it.
The drill, although not bad and better than the Porter-Cable Drill that I loved so dearly for a decade is probably the least thrilling of the bunch. I only say this because of the XR line of brushless cordless drills available. Those are something special, this is just, meh.
Of these bottom three, the drill needs to be upgraded for me to be happy with the tool set. I could get along fine with this drill but I would rather move this drill into the kitchen as a hand mixer and have a better compact XR drill for making and fixing things.
Amendment to Cordless System
This is just may be me, but the cornerstone tool of any kit is the drill and before I actually left the store, I had already made up my mind that I needed to get a second drill anyway. The drill I ended up purchasing, on eBay, was the DeWALT DCD791, a part of the XR Line with an extremely bright work light light on it, just above the battery. There are three settings to the work light. Dim, Bright and super bright. The “Super Bright” also has 20 minute delay on it so you can pull the trigger. set the drill down and brighten the dim corner you are working for quite a while. This is super, super handy. No regrets on that $80 purchase.
The second tool that I also needed to have the tool set complete enough for my next series of tasks was a hammer drill. I ended up getting this DCD996 Hammer Drill. My mistake that I made was purchasing it without the side handle. The performance of it is to my satisfaction and it too has that very handy three setting light system. In a pinch, you can set these drills up around you to brighten something up.
Also purchased two, 4 Amp Hour batteries because the two, 2 Amp Hour batteries were not sufficient. Lowe’s also had a buy one get one deal going so I purchased another charger with a 3 Amp Hour battery.
I found that I was ripping through batteries pretty quickly with only having two, 2 Amp Hour batteries. Having the additional batteries made it possible to always have at least one charged and ready to go and one sitting in the vacuum.
Where to from here
This was the first phase in my goal for simplification for my project tasks. Not just for fixing, building and making but also for general operation to include cleaning and maintaining my domicile. Little things like a vacuum at the ready with batteries in reserve has made my life a lot better. The next steps were to replace my aging 18v Line of Black and Decker outdoor tools as well as replace my mower with a DeWALT cordless variety.
There have been many times when I have made purchases that I have regretted shortly after. That is not the case at all with this 10 piece tool set. After selling off my old tools the difference would have been about the coast of new batteries. Surprisingly, 10 year old cordless tools hold their value pretty well.
I am very glad I purchased a few extra batteries as it allows me to rotate through and always have a battery on hand. I have subsequently put in several hours of use on each of the tools I have briefly described here. They have all performed to my satisfaction, even the lack-luster drill has been used pretty heavily. I have made several mean pots of mashed potatoes with it.
I am not sure where I am going to go from here. I have no intention of doing any work to failure videos or tests as there is no way I would get any value out of that. I may focus on more interesting tools at a later date on if it suites me. I can guarantee that some of these above will make cameo appearances on future things as they are very often in supporting roles.
Tools are very much a necessity in many, many aspects. They are force-multipliers in chores and tasks which consequently make life more efficient and help to make my time in this fallen world a bit more enjoyable. A quality tool is never (maybe rarely) a wasted purchase and from what I can tell, I have purchased quality tools that have, so far, held up quite nicely.
FerenOS undoubtedly focuses on visual aesthetics, user interface and user experience. The last time I looked at FerenOS, it was built on the Cinnamon Desktop Environment. At the time, the Plasma version was called “Feren Next” and and initially I was disappointed I didn’t use the Plasma version, but now I am very glad I did as I can compare this experience with my last FerenOS experience.
This is my review as an openSUSE User. To say this will be completely objective would essentially be a big giant lie. This will be quite biased as I enjoy openSUSE Tumbleweed with the Plasma desktop, day in and day out on multiple machines, including my daily driver, low end laptops and more powerful workstations and servers. I am happily entrenched but that doesn’t mean I don’t like to look over the fences from time to time to see what other parts of the community are doing. Plus, you can’t go anywhere without bumping in to “FerenOS Dev” on some YouTube chat, Telegram or Discord announcing his enhancements.
Bottom Line Up Front: FerenOS (2020) is simply fantastic. The way you are greeted and guided through your setup is brilliant. I am not keen on every design decision but that matters not as I am never keen on every design decision presented in any other distribution, to include my own. FerenOS is going for a look that is uniquely its own and is not afraid to experiment, cross toolkit boundaries and stray from the normal. I appreciate the design decisions, more than any other “boutique” distribution I have seen in a long while. Do I like all of them? No. Would I choose many of these? Also, No. But I think they do look great make for an enjoyable experience, just not one I would prefer.
The installation of FerenOS is very straight forward. It uses the Calamares Installer which is known for being straight forward. When you first kick on the installer, you are presented with your language selection.
I have noticed this is common with the Ubuntu flavors but not all of them. When FerenOS boots, it looks classy as they use the “flicker free” booting in just the right way.
When the system settles you are greeted with a fantastic welcome window that immediately detects you are using a VM. Although, neither of the two options fit my situation, it is still a welcome notification.
Another very cool feature is to set your theme and accent color to your desktop. Unless my memory fails me, I think this is the first I have been presented this on start up.
I of course went for a dark with a green accent color because that is my happy place. Interestingly, you are told to log out and in again for the changes to take affect on certain applications. I wonder which applications.
I appreciate how FerenOS tells the heart of its story, it’s reason for being, right on the desktop. “Passion led us here.” That, I believe is the corner value of this entire project. You can see the passion throughout the entire experience. It oozes through every design decision. Since I want to see how FerenOS does, when installed, that was my next step.
The installer is nice and respected, mostly, my dark theme selection. Step one, set your language. Step 2, set your Location. All very straight forward and you really shouldn’t get stumped on those particular questions.
Step 3, set your keyboard preference. In my case, I am going with English (US) and Default as I don’t have anything other than that… although… I am often interested in this Dvorak layout. It was the new big thing in the 80s, nice to see it’s taken off.
Step 4, set your disk partitions. In this case, I am utilizing the entire disk and the default, whatever it is, will be fine for this sort of experience.
Step 5, Set your username and password. This also includes the name of the computer. I really like that this is presented as such. I do not particularly care for having to dig for this option or setting it later. Sure, I will do it and probably won’t complain about it too much but I like for the option to be presented in the regular course of the installation process. No, that is not a dig on any other installer. Step 6, you are presented a summary to review your decisions. If you are okay with this, select Install. You will then be presented a kind of “sanity check” to be sure you are certain on this commitment.
Step 7, Install the system, or rather, let the installer copy all the files and configure your system according to the preferences you set. Step 8, select “Restart now” and click “Done”.
Then you are done. The system is installed and you are ready to stretch your legs in this new-car-smell of a desktop experience.
First Run and Impressions
Upon reboot, this is the only place it feels like Feren hasn’t taken any time to customize is the Grub screen that launches you into the operating system. Visually, this does not reflect the experience you are going to have and it, unfortunately doesn’t say “Feren OS” here. Not that seeing Ubuntu is unwelcome it is just a bit disjointed from the rest of the experience you are about to have.
After you log into the system, for the first time, you are greeted with the theme selection but with expanded options. You are asked if you want to add the 3rd-Party extensions to your system with a reasonable warning. Next you are given selection of desktop paradigms from which to choose. I went with the Feren OS default because I wanted to see the Feren preferred interface.
You will once again set your Theme mode and accent color. The first time was like a dress rehearsal, I suppose. I repeated my dark theme with the green accents.
Another nice touch to this first-run window is that it tells you about KDE Connect and gives you links to get the application for your mobile device. The option to set the feature to reduced eye strain is great. Many people may not even know it exist so well done on presenting this!
Once you get through that, you are done and ready to get going with Feren OS. Like any operating system, that is just a shell for getting your work (or play) done.
Getting back to the Welcome Screen is as easy as easy as a click on a desktop icon. This is real nice because here you can access many of those customization options once again.
Quite importantly is the quick access to install applications to the system. Both Flatpak and Snaps are readily available. No extra hoops to jump through which does seem like a stray from what is common with boutique distributions. It is a very user conscientious being made that is greatly appreciated.
Something else that I thought was kind of neat, was if you started to ignore the Welcome Screen, it will start to get restless and do fun things.
It is another nice touch that makes your desktop feel alive, not in overlord, dominate, closed sort of way but a fun and whimsically enjoyable fashion.
If at some point you decide you don’t like the theme you have selected, that is easy enough to change. You actually get a few other options if you visit the “Global Themes” so if a more traditional or “vanilla” Breeze Dark is your thing. That is an option here too. It is fun to play with the other themes and really, the Ubuntu Unity Layout isn’t a bad re-implementation of the Unity Desktop. It kind of makes you think, really…
The file manager choice of “Nemo” in Feren is one of two “weak spots” in choice, in my opinion. The Plasma default is Dolphin and really, any other file manager pales in comparison to it. It gets the job done fine but I don’t understand why.
Snap Support is just a click (or two) away from getting going with it. Flatpak is also readily available. The integration into the Feren Software center is also nicely done.
The first time you go into the software manager system. You will have to take a little time to configure bits and pieces of it. First the system snapshots then the mirrors.
The snapshots are very easily set up but the BTRFS option is not an actual option unless you have BTRFS as your file system. I didn’t test this but it would be nice if the option wasn’t there as it’s too late to select it at this point. This whole system reminds me of what is available on Linux Mint. I am guessing it is pulled from it with some modifications. I am not sure.
After you select your preferences for the Users Home Directories you are done with the snapshots setup. I chose not to have any snapshots taken for the home directory and I am not completely sure of the utility of it. I would prefer to make offline, incremental backups rather than use this method.
The next task you will have to tackle is the selection of your software sources, finding the closest mirror. I am curious as to why this isn’t automatic but not a big deal. It is easy enough to adjust.
Once all this is out of the way, you are ready to get to performing updates on your system. It is a nice update tool and it is a satisfying watch to see all the bits get installed on your system.
The Default Web Browser Choice is not my preference. Vivaldi is okay but Firefox is my preference with Falkon as my secondary. Whenever I use Vivaldi, it just feels… clunky but maybe that is due to my lack of experience with it.
Adding another web browser. is a trivial process. That can be accomplished with a fantastic little tool that allows you to install the browser of your choice.
Overall, FerenOS makes a great impression. It feels well thought out, well polished and very straight forward to use. Truly, a great, easily customized desktop experience with some great presets from which to build.
What I Like
Immediately, without any question, the welcome screen is the best I have ever seen. I am given the freedom to choose my experience right out of the gate. There is, quite literally, no digging required to tweak things out to the way I prefer but also the option to try out some great presets and tweak them to my liking. The over all look of each preset is crafted in that “Feren way”.
There are lot’s of little helper tools to allow you to make choices in the most painless possible way. Everything from accent colors to browser choices to where you select your mirrors is all easily accomplished. I realize that Feren is pulling from other projects to make this happen and is as such crossing toolkit boundaries but that is completely acceptable because he integrates the look and feel of Qt and GTK apps in such a way that they coexist quite nicely.
Throughout the entire desktop experience, there are these little touches that make Feren fun to use. Everything from the animated logo, the choice in defaults, the detection of using the desktop in a VM and so forth give the impression that it is focused specifically on a tailored desktop experience. I would say, without any hesitation, that Feren OS works towards making your computer a personal computer. I also want to note that no mater the “Global Theme” you use, the visual brand language is undoubtedly very Feren OS. Whether you use the Window, Mac or Unity feel, paradigm, it feels like Feren OS.
What I Don’t Like
The default file manager, Nemo, is not my favorite. One of the great features of Plasma is Dolphin. It is by far the best file manager available on any platform and I am a bit befuddled why the default would be anything but Dolphin. Nemo is not bad but it is much like the car rental experience. You are told you are getting a full sized, luxury sedan but you end up with a 4 year old mid-sized that smells like an ashtray but with low mileage as no one actually wants to drive this. Sure, it’s fine, it’ll get from point “A” to point “B” but you aren’t excited about it.
This is a total nitpick but the Grub boot screen doesn’t say Feren OS, it says Ubuntu. Sure, I know it is build on Ubuntu but shouldn’t it say Feren OS? This is not a big deal at all but it is just something that I think would be an improvement or at least reduce any confusion from someone that may not be as well informed.
Feren OS is a great visual experience that has a lot of care taken into making the user feel like they are using a commercial product. I would place Feren OS at the top of my list of Boutique distributions that has some serious legs to it. I don’t know what the long term strategy is for Feren but I hope that what he does trickles out into other distributions, not just Plasma based but all of them. He has an eye for design and user experience that is head and shoulders above anything else that I have seen on any operating system, ever. This is most certainly something to watch and keep an eye on.
Would I switch from openSUSE to FerenOS? No, I would not. As nice as it is, as well crafted as it is, it is not for me. I do happen to prefer the underpinnings that openSUSE provides and I prefer a few things to be just a bit different which lines up closer to my personal taste. So, whether that is on openSUSE Tumbleweed, Kubuntu, Neon or Feren, I am still going to tweak out a lot about the desktop to fit my needs.
I would recommend Feren OS to any new-to-Linux user and if you are even slightly curious about it, give it a try. You will have a smile of enjoyment on your face that is unique to this desktop and the more you dig in and see all the thoughtful care put into it, you won’t have a shred of disappointment.
There are some Linux distributions that have a wide audience and there are others that focus in on a specific customer or user. If I were asked to describe who I think ElementaryOS is targeting, I would certainly say, not me. The reason being, ElementaryOS goes for a particular look and they have a specific design for how they intend that you use the interface. Straying from the interface guideline is not recommended. I reviewed this distribution as a part of the BigDaddyLinux Live Challenge.
This is my biased review as an openSUSE Tumbleweed, Plasma Desktop user that values shaping his environment to suit his needs. Bottom Line Up Front, ElementaryOS has a clear design intent with a goal on user experience. It is a principled project that has a vision of what a human to machine interface should be and how applications should also interact and present information to the user. These guidelines, however clean they may be, are not to my liking. Although I do appreciate the work and the stubborn adherence to an ideal it does not agree with me. I prefer an interface that I can make my own and shape to my needs as they change. ElementaryOS is far too rigid and the lack of system tray makes it a non-starter and a lack of minimize button makes it annoying. There is not dark theme (but it is coming) and no option for double-click. It is almost as if Qt based applications were not even a secondary or tertiary consideration so applications that I must use are encumbered. All that said, this is me, I would never steer you away from trying ElementaryOS. I have my requirements and they may not be the same as yours.
I installed ElementaryOS in VM and on actual hardware. Most of my time was on actual hardware but I also wanted to test it in VM so for the demonstration of a simple installation. If you want anything more complex, I will not be the one to demonstrate it. What I will tell you is that setting up is… elementary.
When you start the media, you are given two options, right out of the gate. I appreciate that you can “try or buy” it and not have to start a mandatory live session. Your next task is to set the keyboard layout.
Next you are requested your preference on downloading updates and to install third party repositories. I select both because I prefer having my system up to date and third party repositories generally pull in all that multimedia goodness required for a “full-featured” desktop experience.
Quite nicely, you are given a “sanity check” before beginning the installation process. It tells you the consequences of your actions. For this VM installation, not a big deal but putting it on the test hardware, this is more important as I am not interested in blowing away the data on my home partition that moves from distro to distro.
Next will be your user preference and from what I can determine, no root preference. Though, it is typical in Ubuntu land to rely exclusively on the “sudo” for any root level actions. Both ways have their positives and negatives.
The installation process continues, surprisingly without any of the typical distribution specific propaganda. Once complete, you are asked to remove the media and and press any key to restart the system. This process is pretty quick, but of course, your results are dependent on your hardware performance.
That’s all there is to it. It’s really very easy and I will refrain from making another “Elementary” joke.
First Run and Impressions
There was much hype around the login screen, so I was expecting something pretty spectacular. I guess, I was, yet again a victim of they hype-train as I didn’t really see anything particularly exciting about the login screen.
I know that each user tile is representational of the user’s session and maybe that is really cool for some but I didn’t see the grand appeal. Don’t get me wrong, I applaud the unique touch but it doesn’t exactly do anything for me. I’ll chalk that up to me just not getting it… whatever “it” is.
In order to get going with Elementary, I decided to install my needed applications. Installing Telegram, I was greeted with a warning about this application being “non-curated” and may give you problems. Specifically, that it may not receive bug fix or feature updates and may access or change system or personal files without permission. When actually running it, the version was out of date as well which was a bit annoying.
I am going to try to stay open minded here but this warning just seems a bit over the top. The whole reason for open source software is that the code can be audited by the community and if there are issues, it would be taken care of and the idea of having software in official repositories of these distributions is in a way an honor and usually go through some kind of vetting process. At least, on openSUSE they do and I can look at the change log and see who has last touched it. I tend to trust members of the [openSUSE] community anyway. If I were more involved with the Ubuntu world, I would tend to trust that community in the same way so I sort of feel like this is a bit insulting.
It should also be noted that due to the lack of dark theme in Elementary, my dark theme preference in Telegram looks a bit odd juxtaposed to the light Elementary OS theme. It should also be noted that this version is far behind too at 1.2.17. Not sure if that is due to it being on an Ubuntu LTS or not. It works so I can’t complain much.
Multiple screens on Elementary works pretty well. No complaints there. I am grateful that the second screen doesn’t get the top bar as well as the the dock along the bottom.
Obviously, the screens are of different size and resolution.
I do appreciate that the firewall configuration tool is available by default. It is, however, disappointing that it is not activated by default. I do realize that makes it less friendly to configure network devices for normal users but I’d rather the complaint be concerning lack of ease in connecting to things as opposed to your machine getting compromised.
In my time of using Elementary to do some of the tasks I set out to do, I needed to download and use an AppImage of xlights. This was my first practical usage of the file manager. To make the file executable, it was as easy as a right-click and setting the permissions. Tho, the file name font excessively large for the size of the dialogue box so it looked a bit rough.
The lack of double-click made for some other usability issues. I inadvertently launched more than one instance of xlights. I also want to note that unlike Plasma, I didn’t get an automatic option to launch from the menu (or krunner) after launching xlights once in Elementary. Not really a big deal, but it is yet another reason why Plasma makes life very convenient. Elementary also didn’t give me an easy way to add a menu entry either, so that was unfortunate. Really, there wasn’t any way to, by default, add this AppImage in a convenient manner to my desktop, outside of navigating to it each time.
I found it rather disappointing that I was not able to change the single-click to double-click in Elementary. There is an option to change the double-click speed but not to actually employ double-click. No idea about this discrepancy but none the less, this is not what I would call a positive in the usability experience.
I was very happy about the ease of adding a network printer to ElementaryOS. It was an incredibly easy and straight forward process.
To prevent from dragging this on too long, I will only mention a few other things. Installation of another browser, outside of Epiphany is a must. I, of course, went with Firefox. The main reason, I was unable to stream media from my local Emby server or Netflix. I didn’t look into the reasoning for its difficulty with multimedia but it’s there.
The process of using Flatpaks on Elementary was also less than ideal, from my perspective. The “sideload” process was not my favorite. I wish it was more like other distros but instead it is a very age-old Windows style of downloading and installer and running it. I can see that it can be easier for some users but I would prefer just using the terminal or even Discover on Plasma.
This process does work but the application didn’t appear in the Applications menu until after I restarted the user session. That is also an unfortunate user experience hit but it isn’t the end of the world either. Just another little papercut.
It should also be noted that I did have some issues getting Syncthing to work but once I was able to get it to connect once, the first time, it was smooth sailing from there. Adding Syncthing to the Start up process was as easy as searching for “Start Up” in the Applications Menu and adding the entry.
The biggest usability hit that basically makes ElementaryOS… not usable… for me is the lack of a system tray. I have heard the reasons for not having one but I think they are all rubbish. Is it a potentially dated method? Perhaps but I happen to really like the system tray. It is such a fantastic place to keep track of the applications running in the background. The lack of system tray on Elementary makes using Discord less than stellar, combine that with the lack of minimize button makes using some applications unenjoyable.
Although I didn’t really address it, a nice feature of ElementaryOS is the “Do Not Disturb” feature. If you are doing something, like, say, live streaming, recording audio or perhaps in a meeting giving a presentation, it’s nice to have a “do not disturb” feature to just shut off the notifications. That is well done.
The App Center gives this great ability to pay for applications to support developers. I am glad that ElementaryOS has pioneered this sort of business model and I hope that this will propagate outside of just the ElementaryOS ecosystem. The ability to easy contribute to an open source project is a fantastic thing.
The simple, almost pre-school like interface. Now, I just ragged on the interface for a bit but I do want to say that this interface is incredibly simple and easy to get along with for those that just don’t need the controls.
It is often touted that ElementaryOS is the nicest looking or highest polished desktop. I can see why people say that but I don’t agree with that statement at all. There are far too many paper-cut issues that negatively affect usability of the system. It’s the little things like lack of double-click, lack of system tray, lack of menu editing function, menu entries not automatically populating from Snaps and Flapak unless you restart the session, AppImages you launch are not remembered as a recent application and with the lack of menu editing functionality, combined with the inability to add links to applications on your desktop just makes it frustrating.
I will say, there could be a way to fix all these things but that requires doing some digging and seeing how other people fixed ElementaryOS to make it more functional. You can install MenuLibre or AppEditor. Here is an article on how to fix this.
Firefox not installed by default, Epiphany does not have feature parity with Firefox. I know that Epiphany fits the look better but it is just a subpar web browser. Many distros will install Firefox by default and that would be preferred. The main issue I had was my inability stream video content on Epiphany from Emby server. This is quite surprising because every feature reduced browser I use can stream video content.
The dock doesn’t display additional windows when there is more than one of the same application. For instance, if you have more than one full screen window open, like Firefox, a click on the dock button opens all the instances up. In order to select which instance, you have to right-click and select it. Plasma has a far more sensible tool that allows you to select the appropriate. Another option would be some kind of hover pop up that would show you your options. Essentially, the dock is very lacking so I don’t care for it.
Lack of minimize button is somewhat aggravating. Sure, I can click on the dock button but that time to search for the appropriate icon is far slower than just clicking the minimize button on the corner of the window. Super+H is a good alternative but that keystroke does take my hands off of the mouse, which again slows me down. Alt+Tab is an incredibly linear way of getting to other applications. It wouldn’t clutter the window at all to add the feature.
Flatpak setup is not what I would consider ideal. The workflow to download a .flatpakref and “sideload” is fine but it would be nice if they just had the Flathub activated by a flick of a switch. I see that it WORKS but it is just more frustrating to use than not. It could be a me problem but I have seen better solutions implemented elsewhere. I will concede that if this is the better way to do it I still don’t like that the Flatpak for Syncthing GTK is fairly out of date and has one of the irritating multiple entries bug going for it. This version of Syncthing’s auto discover on the network was not working either. That is not a ding on ElementaryOS.ElementaryOS Home Page
Filemanger is a bit anemic. It is incredibly basic and doesn’t have some of the nice features you would see on other file managers like Dolphin, specifically split view so you can see two directories side by side. The work around is to use the tiling feature of ElementaryOS and put two file managers beside one another but that is also less than ideal. The Properties tool has the font size so large that the name is unreadable. So, that needs some work too.
Although I have a long list of things I do not like about ElementaryOS, it is really not a bad experience. There just happen to be a lot of paper cuts and the lack of built in ability to tweak the issues. Many, many desktop environments may have these small paper cut issues that gnaw at you but they also give you the ability to smooth them out by giving you access to tools to do it. I am sure, with enough time and effort, installing the right tools and tweak packages, I could have fixed all the irritations that I had with the interface. However, it is quite clear, that is not what the designers want you to do. They want you to not have certain features to fit their vision. The issue is, as I see it, ElementaryOS is targeted for those that like a specific way to work with their computer. Since I am unwilling to give up the efficiencies provided by Plasma, Elementary OS does not fit. It is too far of a step back in time for me to be comfortable here.
Keep in mind, this is my opinion. These are my irritations and they may all be nonsense to you. I would never discourage you from trying ElementaryOS. It is unique in its style and flair with an incredibly stubborn design intent and I don’t think that should change their course at all. Whatever it is that they are trying to accomplish, I hope that they achieve those goals. Computers are supposed to be personal and developers are making it personal, as they see fit.
I do think you should give ElementaryOS a spin, at least in a VM, maybe on a spare laptop you have laying around. See what you like about it or don’t like about it. If you think my observations and impressions are wrong, feel free to leave a comment or send an email. I only spent a couple weeks on ElementaryOS so there is a lot I don’t know. I will not continue to run it, for the time being. I will certainly give it a try again in the future.
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.
There are many flavors of Linux, we call them distributions but in a way, I think “flavor” is a good word for it as some some are a sweet and delightful experience while with others a lingering, foul taste remains. Manjaro has not left a foul taste in any way. In full disclosure, I am not a fan of Arch based Linux distributions. I appreciate the idea of this one-step-removed Gentoo and for those that really like to get into the nitty-gritty bits Arch is good for that. My problem with Arch is the lack of quality assurance. The official repository on Arch Wiki describes the process of how core packages need to be signed off by developers before they are allowed to move from staging into the official repositories. With the rate at which packages come in, it is almost an impossibility that through manual testing software will continue to work well with other software as some dependencies may change. Admittedly, I don’t use it daily, outside of VMs for testing nor do I have a lot of software installed so this is not going to be a problem I am likely to experience.
Manjaro, from my less than professional opinion, is a slightly slower rolling Arch that seems to do more testing and the process, from what I understand, is similar. Developers have to approve the packages before they are moved into the official repositories. I also understand that there isn’t any automated QA to perform any testing so this is all reliant on user or community testing, which, seemingly, Manjaro is doing a good job of it.
This is my review of Manjaro with the Plasma Desktop. Bottom Line Up Front, this is quite possibly the safest and most stable route if you like the Arch model. In the time I ran it, I didn’t have any issues with it. The default Plasma Desktop is quite nice, and the default themes are also top notch. The graphical package manager works fantastically well and you do have Snap support right out of the gate. It’s truly a great experience. Was it good enough to push me from my precious openSUSE? No, but it has made for a contender and something about which to think.
The installation process was as smooth as room temperature butter and felt incredibly refined. The installation media greets with a very nicely themed boot loader to which the default option is to boot Manjaro. Very quickly you are brought into a live session where you can begin to do some exploration.
Since I was doing this in a VM, I did have some VM-isms, that made this look less than stellar, initially. Since I wanted to get to installation, straight away, I went right for that icon on the desktop. Nice to see that the icon was on the desktop, not hidden away giving you a scavenger hunt as your first objective for the installation. This is using the Calamares installer so it is incredibly straight forward and new-user approachable. You are initially asked for your language preference, then to set your location.
Your next objective in this installation is to select your keyboard layout. Then to set your partitions. My preference, for this installation was to Erase the disk and I didn’t add any Swap. Although, I recently learned that doing so is not the best idea for system stability.
You next step in this journey is to tell Majaro, who you are in the Users step. Here you will enter your name, your username, the name of your computer, set your user password and administrator password. Here you can set the system to log in automatically and to use the same password for the administrator account. The next step is a somewhat new entry into this process, as I’m told, but you can now select your Office Suite. The three options are: No Office Suite, LibreOffice, and FreeOffice.
I selected FreeOffice for two reasons, one, there was quite the hullabaloo about Manjaro offering it. I am personally quite happy with LibreOffice and I like my options there so this was the perfect opportunity to get some impressions of it.
Finally, you are presented the Installation Summary with a final Sanity Check before proceeding. I always appreciate the sanity check
Then the installation will commence, you can sit back or leave, whatever you want to do at this point. Alternatively, you can read the Manjaro propaganda and become acquainted with the world into which you are stepping.
Here is where I put the image that tells you to reboot… but… I didn’t take that snapshot.
First run and Impressions
Just like the live media version, the installed version of Plasma looks fantastic. Although, to be fair, it is a chore to make Plasma not look fantastic.
This time, however, I wanted to do some exploration of the Welcome and also leave it set to launch at start so that I can return to it on my next boot. My first stop was at the center column, bottom row, Applications.
This curious application, called Manjaro Application Maintenance was highly structured and very easy to get around and understand what is going on. For those that like the “minimal” installation. They can very easily go here and remove all the bits they don’t want.
Next on my agenda was to perform updates. In this case, they have a graphical tool so the graphical tool, I decided to use. Warnings are never a point of concern, really, as they are just that, warnings, a spot to slow down and read the situation.
Here there were some warnings about packages being installed before the dependency. It’s odd that the package manager wouldn’t just fix that and reorder how the packages are installed but perhaps it is some sort of circular dependency and this is the warning of that. The updates proceeded but with one slight hitch.
I was not able to do as instructed on here as when I did go to the virtual terminal, I was greeted with nothing, no prompt or anything of that nature. Not a big deal, I just waited until there was no activity from the virtual machine and I sent the power off signal to safely power the thing down.
Upon rebooting the VM with Manjaro, I was once again greeted with the splendidly polished Display Manger and a login prompt. I logged in and everything was as I expected it. I do want to say that having Yakuake installed by default is a fine addition to Plasma. A quick F12 presents a terminal drop down that just screams all kinds of nerdy wonderfulness.
I then wanted to see how the process of installing applications would go with Manjaro. Since I didn’t want to install anything that would pull down a lot of packages, I went for something small that I didn’t really need, KPatience, a Soliaire card game. After all, Windows 3.11 had something similar installed by default.
When you select to install an application you are prompted for you password. This is not the administrator password but the user password. Whether or not that is more or less secure than the root password, I don’t know, but I thought that was worth noting. I also appreciate the “Transaction Summary” given. How that is different than an Installation Summary, I am not sure. Maybe this is a better word for it as you can install and remove applications and those actions combined are “transactions.” Something to think about.
I did have to change the Application Launcher to the Application Menu because… I just happen to find the Menu more appealing.
That is very easily done, as in any Plasma desktop, by right-clicking on the menu icon and selecting, Show Alternatives.
Another noteworthy feature of Manjaro is the Kernel Notifications. I don’t completely know what all this means, what is an “unsupported kernel” and to only notify if running an unsupported kernel but I do understand notifying of a new LTS Kernel. If I were going to take my flag in this distribution, I would recommend becoming well acquainted with this too. I imagine this could very much be the difference between a reboot and run and a reboot and flop.
I also want to congratulate the Manjaro team on a job well done with the Dark Breath theme. Although, when I say it, I feel like I’m saying “Breeze” with a lisp, the Dark Breath theme is so nicely done that I could reach out and give an e-high-five on how it looks. Different then the Breeze but equally as nice.
The desktop and Manjaro specific tools all feel well orchestrated. Aside from my upgrade hiccup, which I want to stress is a hiccup, I was able to keep flying along. I do want to note that the only other time I have seen that screen was when updating a system with proprietary Nvidia drivers on a previous main driver. It was almost a welcome back to see that little notice.
Since I had to try FreeOffice out… though, without any office tasks to perform, I wanted to see how it looked and felt. Just on the surface because this is not a review of FreeOffice, just an impression. I was immediately impressed by the ease of picking your theme. Not only did you have the choice in dark or light themes, you also had a choice in the annoying ribbon layout or traditional and much more useful classic menus and toolbars.
The first application to click-around in this office suite was the word-processor called TextMaker. I really liked the presentation of it as it immediately gave me happy feelings. The ribbon layout was what you would expect but the part I didn’t care for was the additional menu bar of new, open, save, undo, redo, etc. I prefer the LibreOffice execution of that as it moves that inline with the File, Home, Insert, Layout etc… tabs. Not a big deal. I didn’t dig into it but I am sure that it is customizable to some degree.
The next application in this sweet suite of office tools is the spreadsheet application called PlanMaker. It has a similar feel as TextMaker and had the basic functions for which I would be using. I did find the ribbon a bit excessive on the screen real-estate but again, this is just an impression. I could very easily go back to the more efficient layout.
The last application in this suite is called simply Presentations and it also is about what I would expect. I didn’t create any presentations with it but the impressions by clicking about did give me the impression that I would be able to bore anybody with an unnecessary slide show.
The only thing I hadn’t checked yet was the file dialog. I must say, I did not like this. It was the only thing I didn’t like about FreeOffice on my tour of impressions. It was very 2002 in appearance and although I’m sure it is quite functional, it is not what I would consider modern. Although, the GTK dialog isn’t any better, so if we are comparing it to that I guess it’s fine. I would have preferred some sort of Plasma integration here so that it used the Plasma File Dialog.
Really, all applications and desktop environments should really use the Plasma file dialog, anything but that is a sore disappointment in user interface.
Overall, FreeOffice is nice, certainly very usable and has a nice polish to it. I don’t think I would replace LibreOffice with it as I do use the Draw and Math functions of that and I haven’t run into a compatibility issue in a long time. I am glad that Manjaro gave me the opportunity to kick the tires on it.
What I Like
I like the fact that Manjaro give the option, right out of the gate, to pick your office suite. I would haven’t ever tried anything other than LibreOffice had I not had the option. Although I have decided to continue to use LibreOffice, I appreciate being presented an alternative.
Pamac-CLI is a kind of shim to make Pacman not ridiculous. It converts all the nonsense commands of pacman into something that is human readable and intuitive. For example, to install a software package:
Breath Dark theme is well done. It give Manjaro Plasma edition a unique feel but just every so subtly. Also, green is a great color to go with if you are going to set a highlight color.
Default software selection is very satisfactory, so much so that I had to find some oddball thing to install just to go through the process. I still prefer to have VLC over other media players and Firefox over other web browsers. I like that they chose to include Konversation for IRC and Steam for games.
A nice surprise was to see that SUSE Imagewriter was included on the Manjaro installation for writing images to Removable media. Interestingly, not even openSUSE includes that by default.
What I Don’t Like
It fundamentally still uses Arch as the base and although pamac-cli is a nice shim to offset the nonsense that is pacman. I do prefer having sensible and intuitive terminal commands. There are too many to remember, I don’t have the patience to faff with the game of scrabble in command options.
The Plasma screen locker crash did bother me a bit as and I’m not sure where the blame is to be had for that. I don’t have an nvidia driver so maybe the issue was with the package resolver (ahem, Pacman) that didn’t order things properly. I don’t know.
Manjaro used Ext4 for the file system. That means, I don’t know how I would roll back a bad update. I think running a rolling distribution without that safeguard is asking for trouble. For this alone, I am much relieved that I have BTRFS on my root file system for snapshots. Should anything go wrong, rolling back is trivial.
Manjaro is a fine distribution but it has the one glaring shortcoming that is, it is Arch based. Since I have had such a bad taste in my mouth for Arch, I just wouldn’t consider using this. Perhaps, if my first experience with Arch was Manjaro, things would be different. Had I not ever messed with Pacman maybe I wouldn’t be so obstinate about it. Although, fundamentally, I am not real confident in the QA process of Manjaro or any Arch based distribution. I would be more inclined to trust it if it was built on something like the Open Build Service with openQA automating the testing process to knock out most of the rough edges along with user testing.
For me, I will stick with my openSUSE Tumbleweed with my snapshot rollback system, should the automated and human testing allow something to slip through that takes my system down or I muck about, I can always undo it and keep sailing.
Just because I am over biased about Arch, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give Manjaro a try. It is certainly well done and the developers have a fantastic passion for the project. That passion alone is almost enough to nullify all my reservations about the project.