FerenOS (2020) | Review from an openSUSE User

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.

Installation

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

References

Feren OS Home
BDLL Discourse Forum about Feren OS
BDLL Discussion on YouTube about Feren OS Part 1
BDLL Discussion on YouTube about Feren OS Part 2

Elementary OS | Review From an openSUSE User

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.

Installation

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.

Like

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.

Don’t Like

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

References

ElementaryOS Home Page
How to Edit Start Menu Items on ElementaryOS

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┬áinstaller 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

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/