NetRunner | Review from an openSUSE User

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.

Installation

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

References

NetRunner Download
Calamares Project
BigDaddyLinux Live Discorse on NetRunner

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Manjaro | Review from an openSUSE User

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.

My dance with Manjaro is as part of a BigDaddyLinuxLive Community challenge, to give it a fair shake and share your experience.

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.

Installation

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.

FreeOffice

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:

pamac install [options]

Which makes a lot more sense than

pacman -S [option]

For more information about pamac: https://forum.manjaro.org/t/pamac-cli/

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

References

https://manjaro.org/
https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Official_repositories
https://forum.manjaro.org/t/pamac-cli/52787
https://discourse.bigdaddylinux.com/t/manjaro-18-1-oct-5-and-oct-12/389
Big Daddy Linux Live 12 Oct 2019
Big Daddy Linux Live European Edition 12 Oct 2019
Big Daddy Linux Live 05 Oct 2019
https://calamares.io/