Makulu Linux 15 | Review from an openSUSE User

MakuluLinux review title

The latest in the BigDaddyLinux Community challenge is Makulu Linux. This distribution is very different from anything else I have used. It does use XFCE as the desktop but it is very customized. It some ways, it reminds me of Pantheon but without the top bar and less Mac OS-like.

Makulu Linux seems to have a lot going for it. Without having to fiddle around with the system, you can install from a large array of software from the Debian repositories, Flatpak and Snaps. As I used it, it is rather apparent that their target audience is not me and that is perfectly fine as this is my rather biased review as an openSUSE user.

Installation

As is common with a lot of distributions, Makulu boots to a live media session of the operating system. It’s a good way to “dip your toes” and see if your hardware is going to work well enough with the distribution.

MakuluLinux-01-ISO boot

While the system is booting up, I did notice, as the torrent of text is flying by the screen, a change in font. I think I’ve seen such a thing before, it just happened to catch my attention this time.

You are initially prompted to select your theme which is a first and quite appreciated. It only changes the window decoration style and color but still, very welcome. More on that later.

After I selected to install the operating system, I was prompted to select the kind of installation as well as a a few other options. I didn’t explore much here but one item on the list seemed just a bit out of place: Set Your Download Server Location (recommended). Everything else selected the type of install and it may have made more sense to put that option on another page of the setup. Also note, I didn’t actually do that. It only said “recommended” so…

I selected the Home Environment. I don’t have a slow internet connection so there was no concern in that area. Unfortunately, I was stuck for quite some time on the Home Environment Notice window. There weren’t any buttons to press so I waited… a long time. I had other things to do while setting up the install and since I like to multiplex my time I did so and let the system just sit. I was told to be patient so I decided to be patient.

After a while, I just gave up and closed the screen where the installer started. I felt a little stupid but I think for users that do actually read these dialogs, it would nice to either have a Next button or some sort of instruction to close that window.

Makulu Linux defaults to British English as opposed to American English. I would agree that British English is quite possibly more proper than American English but I still went with my native English version.

In a very familiar presentation, you are asked to set your Location and Keyboard. Just as a note, this is the first Distro where I had to set it to my timezone. Not a big deal as it was easy to do–point and click.

I selected to use the entire disk and have a Swap space with Hibernate. Not that I was going to use the feature, I just wanted to select it as it is also the first time I’ve seen that as an option. Usually, I calculate that in my head so bravo development team on that.

The User input is what you would expect. Nothing difficult here. It’s very nicely straight forward for pretty much anyone.

After you are given a very nice summary of changes. The installation will commence. There wasn’t a details option that I could nerd-out watching so I watched the obligatory distribution commercial slideshow instead.

After the installation was completed, I selected to reboot but it got hung up on the process of doing so. That could be as a result of how I set up Qemu. Let’s blame that one on me. Ultimately, I had to force the Virtual Machine off and start it again.

First Run

I really enjoyed the bootsplash screen of Makulu. It has a neat spinning effect and I would have included a screenshot of it but I just didn’t like how it turned out. You’ll just have to install it yourself to earn that smile.

Upon the first login, you are given a quick introduction to MakuluLinux and you will once again select your window boarder style and color. The first time was just a practice run, it seems.

In my time of clicking around and exploring, I was presented with these Web applets. Similar to what I experience on PeppermintOS except instead of being in the menu like a typical application, this is like a quick access toolbar on the top of the screen. It was nice and all until I opened up the browser, which happened to be Opera.

I of course had to visit one of my favorite web sites, certainly not my favorite but just a bit self-serving. After messing with the Web Applet bar for a while, seeing how you can easily set up other quick links, as it were, I ultimately turned it off because of how it covered up much of the screen.

The application menu on MakuluLinux is activated with a Right-Click on the mouse and a middle-click activates the Workspace selection. A nice feature of Makulu is the ability to dynamically add another virtual desktop.

I wanted to see if Makulu was using SystemD or not and it is so that is another plus. I started installing software to see how that experience went and that was also quite a seemless experience. You are given a few options on how you want to install software, which is fine, I guess, but I think I would stick with just the Synaptic Software Manager or Gnome Software. Personal preference would be Synaptic because I think that is just a better system over all but obviously less user friendly than Gnome Software.

The only real “issue” I ran into with Makulu was the this error I would get when the screen blanked out.

MakuluLinux-22-Screensaver error

I don’t have anything Nvidia on this computer so I am not sure where this came from. Not a big deal, really, I am sure I could have tracked down the problem and at least made it not show up if I took the time.

Overall, MakuluLinux is a fine piece of engineering and I enjoyed the short time I worked with it.

What I Like

The desktop does look polished, not exactly the polish I like but does look very nice. It appears that it was well thought out and once I got used to the work flow, I could navigate my way around just fine.

The desktop appears to be snappy and the slight translucency of the boarder looks good. The desktop Conky is also a great edition to the background and the date format was also correct putting the date in the order day, month, year and using the 24 hour clock by default.

Snap and Flatpak applications install and work out of the box without having to fiddle with anything which is much appreciated. I do prefer pulling software right from the repositories but the option to use one of the universal packages is fantastic.

I liked this subdued right-side bar that is much like a system tray stacked on its head. It looked good and was very “modern” looking.

A booted and settled system with 4 GiB of RAM it used less than 600 MiB of RAM, which was great.

What I Don’t Like

There isn’t a virtual desktop pager on the bottom bar or on the side. Call me old fashioned but I prefer that over the middle-click interaction. I like seeing, just by a glance what desktop I am on and where my windows are cluttered.

There isn’t really a task manager, exactly. I could see all the applications by a middle click and on what virtual desktop they lived but this is not my preferred method.

The web Applets crowd the top of the desktop. I like the idea of web applets but this wasn’t my favorite way to execute it. Because it was distractingly at the top, I just shut them off which is unfortunate because I could see me using such a feature if it was perhaps in a pop up menu from a panel of some kind, much like I use on Plasma.

When trying to resize windows, it was challenging to grab the corners to resize the window. Maybe there is a better MakuluLinux way of dynamically changing the window sizes but it was evident to me.

When I thought I started the installation process, I didn’t get any active feedback or any kind of instruction to close the a window to get it started. I ended up sitting there for about 2 hours before “giving up” I closed the window to get the installer going. Some sort of instruction to close that window or a Next button would be good for numpties like myself.

Final Thoughts

MakuluLinux is a fine distribution of Linux that looks good, has a lot of unique features but also clearly not targeted towards me. I much prefer the work flow that is provided by KDE Plasma but I can see where the workflow here works for many. The desktop looks great, I don’t fully understand the gestures but it is something I could get used to if I took the time.

If you are jumping around Linux distributions I highly recommend you give this one a spin. The work flow and the unique features may be right for you. It looks good and feels real crisp. It’s just not the Linux distribution for me.

Further Reading

https://www.makululinux.com/wp/core/

http://bigdaddylinux.com/

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NeptuneOS | Review from an openSUSE User

I am not a “distro hopper” but it is good to experience some of the other Linux distributions out there. It gives you a good understanding of what you like and what you like less and keeps things colorful. This time it is NeptuneOS, a Debian based distro. Most of my Debian experience as of late has been with the Ubuntu and its variants. As far as I am concerned. Linux really is Linux and they are all, for the most part, good.

Installation

I am doing all my evaluations in a Virtual Machine. I am using my current favorite, for such things, VirtualBox. When I downloaded the ISO, I took quick attention to the system requirements for how very specific they are. I wanted to try them at their minimum.

1 Ghz Intel/AMD 64Bit CPU, 1.6 GB RAM, 8 GB HDD

I didn’t scale the CPU but I did set the RAM to down to 1.8 GB because I do have a machine like that and the HDD just a bit bigger to be realistic to what I would get form an older netbook or current, cheap, laptop in a dual boot scenario.

For starters, I must say, I am a bit confused as to why there isn’t a direct install option, that you have to use it as a “Live CD” to start. I am not sure why Live CDs are really a thing anymore. If I am going to try a Linux Distribution, you can’t get the full benefit out of it in a kind of Read Only environment, would rather just install directly.

When the Live CD version boots up, you are greeted with a fine looking desktop. Very pleasant and simple. A great way to start.

I am not going to be too critical of the choice for a Live CD being the only option but it does seem like a bit of a waste of time to have to go that route, just to install.

Installation

The installation process was straight forward. With only six steps required to get the install going, seven if you count the confirmation to perform the install and eight if you count rebooting as part of the install.

The first two steps are pretty easy… what language do you speak and about where do you live. If only most questions life were this simple…

The keyboard selector is the best I have ever seen. Although I do not have a Dvorak keyboard, nor have I ever seen one in the wild, it was great to not only see this as an option but to see that the keyboard layout is what you are expecting. Very nice!

This really inspires me to want to get a Dvorak keyboard. The practicality is still in question as I don’t need one and it would likely just be a novelty.

I left the default partitioning scheme in place. This is not going to be a regular machine else I would have set a separate /home partition. I like for those home things to be separate should I have a desire to “nuke and pave” my system (clean install). The user set up was also nice and clean although, I like to be able to specify my own user ID.

My only criticism to the installation process is that it is just a series of commercials, I suppose that is fine but I like to watch and see what is actually happening, such as packages being installed and the like.

Step Eight, reboot. Interesting that it would be a check mark option.

First Run

Upon reboot, I happen to like this Grub screen; Big Chunky Red Bar to boot Neptune OS. It boot rather quickly, especially since this is happening in a VM. Time to boot is not something I would score real heavy on unless it is painfully slow like pre-systemD era Linux.

There is something about a fresh smelling, clean, un-customized desktop in KDE Plasma. It is like a sand box waiting for your own personal creation to take form.

I am going to give NeptuneOS points on their default menu selection. It is not my personal preference but for a new user, this is a great, comfortable menu that is clear and gives you some great starting points. Well done!

Personally, I prefer the “Application Menu” Alternative but that is the simply awesome thing about KDE Plasma, if you don’t like the default or have a different preference, there is an option for you.

For a light theme, I think the default desktop theme is pretty great. It looks clean and simple and I do like the shadowing effect. The NeptuneOS dark theme is also very nicely done. So theming wise, this is a great distro out of the box. No reason to hunt for a new theme.

Discover is basically what you would expect on a KDE Plasma Desktop. I must say, I am not used to the light theme for this application and I maybe like it better than the dark theme.

I am not really sure why you have to enter your password for updates but again, not a big deal. Maybe you don’t want an unprivileged user to be able to perform updates.

Plasma Vault

I may have been living under a rock but I haven’t seen this application before. I haven’t taken the time to research it at all but wanted to see how intuitive it would be to use knowing nothing about it.

The one thing I don’t really understand is why they would include Encfs as an encryption system by default if it is knowingly less secure and easily compromised. I can see having it available for legacy reason but installed by default seems just a bit silly.

After choosing your encryption system, you are prompted for your password to which it tells you how “secure” it is, a location for the vault, the mount point, and finally the type of cipher you wish to use. I chose the “default”.

Another nice feature was the option to limit the vault to specific activities. Plasma will close that vault if you goo to an activity to which it is not permitted.

To try it out, I created a text file in the vault to experience the process of interacting with mounting and un-mounting vaults.

When mounted, the vault acts like any other directory on the file tree. When you un-mount the vault, the contents of that vault disappears in much the same way you would expect from un-mounting a drive.

When mounting the drive, you are prompted for your password and the vault auto-magically becomes available once again.

On a side note I liked this so much, and to shoe-horn in my preferred distribution in this review, I installed it in openSUSE to play with it some more.

sudo zypper install plasma-vault plasma-vault-backend-cryfs plasma-vault-lang

What I Like

The general feel of NeptuneOS is great, from the Installation process to the menu selection and default theme selections, it was all quite fantastic. If I had to use NeptuneOS as a daily driver, I would be quite comfortable here. NeptuneOS is based on Debian 9.0 (Stretch), I could probably add a PPA or download the tarball or some other deb package of Telegram to get going with it. The same goes for Discord or any other application I regularly use. I am already familiar with the Debian way of doing things so living in the terminal here is not much different elsewhere.

NeptuneOS-31-Smart Card InstallationI used my directions for installing the Smart Card system for Ubuntu and derivatives and it all worked just as expected. I was a bit surprised that they worked. I did have to set it up for Chromium, which worked just fine. This tells me I need to make some adjustments to my page to spell out what I have tested. Something to think about…

The system requirements specified on the Download page are accurate. They are not just theoretical. For everything I tested, it all just worked.

What I Don’t Like

Telegram, Discord and Firefox was not available in the repository. Iceweasel was available, which I know is a re-branded Firefox but to a new-ish user that doesn’t know what Iceweasel is, that could be confusing. I am sure I could find Telegram and Discord but I wasn’t particularly inspired to do so.

I haven’t tested memory usage between Chromium and Firefox but based on my Chrome experiences, it seems like Firefox might be a better solution to meet that low system memory requirement or better yet, have Falkon available even though that is not a full featured browser.

It doesn’t have Zypper, the openSUSE package manager… but I wasn’t expecting that. I just happen to prefer it over Apt*.

Final Thoughts

NeptuneOS is a very clean KDE Plasma distribution. It looks good out of the box and since it is based on Debian 9.0, it has potential to have quite the extensive software library available to it. The experience is clean and well thought out with sensible defaults. Not all the defaults are my preference but that can be fairly easily adjusted to suit my needs. There are some applications that are not available by default which can be a bit frustrating but there are not many distributions that have everything you want upon install.

Over all, NeptuneOS is a winner, from an openSUSE user’s perspective.

Further Reading

NeptuneOS Home Page

VirtualBox.org

DoD CAC Reader | Ubuntu, Derivatives and Linux Mint

3 Ways to Install Telegram Messenger on Debian 9 Stretch

Other Distributions