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Netrunner Linux Still Goes Its Own Way at ‘Twenty’ | Reviews

By Jack M. Germain

Feb 28, 2020 11:11 AM PT

Netrunner “Twenty” is a birthday release offering that makes what was good even better.

Developers released Netrunner 20.01 on Feb. 23 with the latest stable Debian 10.3 “Buster” base and the KDE Plasma desktop. This release marks the distro’s 20th birthday in a way.

Code-named “Twenty,” the 20.01 release is the 20th upgrade of the Netrunner project over its 10-year history. It is packed with the latest KDE desktop packages, new theme tweaks, and a collection of GTK and Qt/KDE programs.

Netrunner’s customized KDE desktop has extra applications, multimedia codecs and Flash and Java plugins. This makes Netrunner KDE a more inviting option than the Plasma desktop other distros offer.

It has a unique default look and feel that is very user-flexible in terms of personal customizations. You will not find significant changes from earlier Netrunner versions, but the Netrunner 20’s approach to KDE Plasma will not disappoint.

Even if the KDE desktop is not your preferred computing environment, you will find it simple to use and very flexible to set up your way. The modifications enhance the user-friendliness of the desktop environment and preserve the freedom to tweak, which is a staple of this distro.

Netrunner 'Twenty'

Netrunner ‘Twenty’ has an uncluttered look out of the box with unique features neatly tucked away that provide lots of functionality.

Long Road to Get Here

The Netrunner distro comes with a bit of a troubled history. Its developer team, heavily sponsored by the Germany-based
Blue Systems IT company, released a separate “Rolling” edition based on Manjaro/Arch Linux in 2014. It was discontinued, relaunched in 2017 and discontinued again in 2019.

Last year’s decision to drop the Netrunner Rolling edition was an attempt to eliminate a redundant development cycle. Netrunner’s popular Manjaro Linux-based offering was on a rolling update schedule. That is typical for Arch-based distros like Manjaro. However, Netrunner’s Debian-based distro instead relies on two major releases per year in addition to necessary security updates.

After Netrunner’s developers announced a collaboration with the Manjaro community in October, it made sense not to continue with Netrunner Rolling. However, the team will offer continued support for existing Rolling users through its forums, based directly on Manjaro.

Netrunner Debian, Core and ARM versions are unaffected by the loss of the Netrunner Manjaro edition. The Debian version ships with a full set of preinstalled software for everyday use. The Core edition is a slimmed down version that lets you build your own system or run it on low-spec hardware.

The Maui Diversion

For a while, Netrunner nearly morphed into a Hawaiian delight. In 2016 the Netrunner website announced that Netrunner Kubuntu was discontinued and directed visitors to its replacement distro, Maui Linux.

Maui was based on KDE Neon and featured KDE’s Plasma desktop. The previous versions, up to Netrunner 17, were based on Kubuntu/Ubuntu.

In October 2016, I wrote a
review of Maui Linux for LinuxInsider. Maui was an attempt to continue the Kubuntu-based heritage while adopting some of the latest technologies impacting other Linux distros in varying stages.

That effort was short-lived. The Maui Linux website is still accessible, but the last release was the Maui 17.06 edition on July 9, 2017. That timeline coincides with the resurrection of Netrunner that year.

The Maui website has no information about the current status of Maui Linux. The download link is still active. However, distro tracking website DistroWatch.com lists the Maui Linux distro as “dormant.”

What’s Inside

The new Netrunner release comes with Firefox-ESR and Thunderbird updated to the latest stable LTS (long term support) versions. They get regular security updates provided by Debian security.

This release switches to the Breeze Window decoration with its darker color, which increases the display contrast and makes it easier to distinguish between active and inactive windows.

I like the red colored cursor (RED-Theme). It is a handy way to quickly locate the cursor on the screen. Very retro looking.

Netrunner Twenty has a uniquely drafted wallpaper. It sets a visual marker for the milestone of 10 years of Netrunner and the 20th version release. That, of course, is based on the standard two updates per year and overlooks some of the discontinued activity.

It comes with a nice application mix and a wide variety of tools for doing day-to-day computing tasks. For instance, applications include the LibreOffice suite, and Gimp (GNU Image Manipulation Program) for tweaking, editing and manipulating images. The mix is a nice exception, as other KDE distros typically are too limited to the KDE family of applications.

Krita lets you draw with your mouse or pen. Also bundled is the Inkscape vector-based scalable graphics editor and the Kdenlive video editor.

GMusicbrowser and Yarock are included to manage music data and listen to songs, along with the SMplayer for watching videos. A nice collection of games and puzzles supplement the largest Linux gaming platform Steam — and there is much more.

Desktop Overview

Netrunner’s main menu display is unique. The bottom panel displays the applications menu at the left end along with launcher icons for the Dolphin file manager and the default Firefox Web browser.

The right side of the bottom panel displays the system notification tray and a launcher for a special screen display configuration bar. Pressing the “Windows” key avoids having to click on the menu button on the bottom panel.

The middle portion of the bottom panel serves as a dock for thumbnails of running applications. Right-clicking anywhere on the desktop pops open a menu to do system-related actions such as configuring the desktop, and adding widgets and panels. So far, that is fairly standard.

You’ll see what’s unique about it when you launch the menu. It fills the entire screen, dividing the view into sections not bordered by columns and divider lines. Two buttons centered at the top of the screen switch between Apps & Docs and Widgets. Depending on your view choice, the content of the display changes.

Netrunner 'Twenty Main Menu'

Part of Netrunner’s uniqueness lies in how it displays the main menu.

The layout itself is unique to Netrunner. A search area sits just under the top two buttons for quickly locating and launching an application. No need to click the search window to position the cursor in order to type an entry. Just start typing. Your entry appears as you type.

Categories hug the right edge of the screen. A vertical listing down the center of the screen lets you scroll through a category’s contents. A Favorites row and buttons for shutdown options are located in the left section of the menu display.

Right-click on a menu item to add it to the Favorites row or place its launcher on the desktop. You also can pin the icon to the bottom panel.

A Better Way

Other Linux distros try similar approaches with the KDE interface, but Netrunner’s developers execute their design better. It can be a bit daunting to work through all the myriad options and configuration settings of the KDE desktop, but this is not the case with the KDE integration built into Netrunner.

One of the first things you should do is go to the Plasma Tweaks tool in the main menu. All user interface-related K desktop modules are located there. Overall, the menu layouts for the system settings and other areas of personalizing the look and feel are well designed and uncluttered.

One of the really nice features of KDE in any distro integration is the Activities desktops. No other Linux desktop environment has an Activities-style feature. Netrunner’s inclusion of screen edge and corner hotspots provides quick access to this functionality, as well as scale and expo views of Activities and Virtual Desktops.

Activity screens are similar to virtual workspaces, only with more options. While virtual workspaces is a common feature in several desktop options, only KDE adds the additional functionality that Activities desktops provide.

Each Activity workspace can have any number of additional virtual workspaces. Each Activity screen can have its own background image and widgets. These are totally separate from using virtual workspaces. So KDE offers both options.

Easy Peasy

KDE offers the best of both functional worlds when it comes to widgets or applets. You can place specialized displays and tools on the bottom panel and the desktop.

You can be very flexible with this functionality. You can designate widgets to be available on some or all Activity screens. You can place them on a default screen that makes widgets visible on all of your virtual workspaces.

It is easy to place widgets where you want them. It is a two-step process after you right-click on the desktop or the panel. Scroll through the list of available widgets in the pop-up panel. Then drag the item to where you want it.

Bottom Line

The Netrunner distro used to be a bleeding-edge choice among KDE options. With little that’s new and must-have, this release takes the edge off the bleeding.

I wasn’t nudged away from my preferred competing KDE distro — the new Feren OS Plasma edition.

While Netrunner 20.01 provides a fairly solid integration of classic KDE desktop performance, this release is a departure, in that it is not a step or two ahead of most other KDE-integrated Linux OSes. I

Netrunner attracts two types of typical users. One fancies a more friendly desktop environment. The second wants the freedom to tweak more extensively than other desktop environments allow.

Hardware requirements include a minimum CPU of 1.6 GHz Intel Atom N270 or greater and at least 1 GB of RAM with at least 10 GB hard drive space. Also, the computer should have Intel GMA 945 graphics card support with 128+ MB of video memory.

Netrunner is a unique distro with its own spin on the K Plasma desktop environment. Seasoned Linux users who like to fiddle and tweak an OS into their own platform will love how this distro integrates the KDE Plasma desktop. Newcomers can be quite content using the out-of-the-box settings.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you’d like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

email your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Reader Comments feature below to provide your input!

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.

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Deepin Builds a Better Linux Desktop | Reviews

By Jack M. Germain

Dec 5, 2018 1:01 PM PT

Deepin Builds a Better Linux Desktop

Deepin 15.8, released last month, is loaded with more efficient layout tweaks that give the distribution greater functionality and maturity.

Deepin, based in China, shed its Ubuntu base when with the 2015 release of version 15, which favored Debian Linux. That brought numerous subtle changes in the code base and software roots. Ubuntu Linux itself is based on Debian.

The chief distinguishing factor that accounts for Deepin’s growing popularity is its homegrown Deepin Desktop Environment (DDE). One of the more modern desktop environments, it is one of the first Linux distros to take advantage of HTML 5 technology.

Coinciding with the base affiliation change, the developers, Deepin Technology, slightly changed the distro’s name. What was “Deepin Linux” is now “deepin.” That subtle rebranding is an attempt to differentiate previous releases named “Deepin,” “Linux Deepin” and “Hiweed GNU/Linux.”

Regardless of whether the name is rendered as “deepin” or “Deepin Linux,” this distro offers users an eloquent, modern-themed Linux OS. It is easy to use and comes with high-quality software developed in-house.

Desktop Differences

The Deepin Desktop is offered in a widening assortment of popular Linux desktops, but the best user experience is found in this distro.

Other distros running the Deepin Desktop miss much of the unique integration you get in Deepin Linux. DDE elsewhere usually lacks much of the optimization and special optimized software available through the Deepin software store.

Often, you get the software versions provided by the distro you are running. The Linux distros offering the Deepin Desktop are Archlinux, Manjaro, Ubuntu, Gentoo, Fedora, Puppy Linux, SparkyLinux, Antergos, Pardus and openSuse.

Growing Pains Over

I have reviewed earlier versions of Deepin Linux along with other distros running the Deepin Desktop Environment. This latest version is awesome.

Any new desktop environment is a work in progress. DDE started out with lofty goals but mediocre execution. The Deepin desktop is now well designed and very functional.

Desktop shells largely are valued for how simple they are to use and how functional they are for a user’s productivity. For me, the Cinnamon and the Xfce desktops get high marks for both.

DDE offers a third favorite option. I like its modern design. Using it is intuitive. A user guide presentation runs when you first load the desktop. It is very helpful in getting started.

DDE does not yet have every power user feature I would like to see included, but it is packed with enough personalization tweaks and design improvements to make it a very workable alternative.

Digging Into Deepin’s Design

The Deepin Desktop design is snazzy yet simple to use. Add its homegrown applications, and you get an operating system that is tailored to the average user.

The new desktop screen is prettier and less cluttered. Annoying desklets, like a weather module and volume sliders, are gone — either removed or relocated.

I really like the new docking tray and boot theme. In-house developed applications have been a key ingredient in Deepin’s growing popularity. This latest release has some 30 improved native applications that should bring a more beautiful and efficient experience.

Another strong point in Deepin’s design is the new collapsible dock tray. Deepin uses a dock bar instead of the traditional bottom bar. When the dock is set in the macOS-style mode, a button appears that toggles a new dock tray element — embed tray icons in the dock.

The Dock offers a choice of fashion or efficient modes. Fashion mode adds a hide/show button in the dock tray. Click it to hide the icons in tray area and save the dock space. The power button is separated from the tray area to reduce the clicks and avoid function confusion.

In the Efficient mode, the right corner is set to show desktop. The previous ‘Show Desktop’ icon disappears.

Beyond Gnome

At first glance, you might think that DDE is a remake of the refashioned GNOME 3 desktop design. Looks can be deceiving. Click the first icon at the left end of the dock bar to open the applications menu.

That is what starts to look like GNOME — or Android. You see a full-screen spread of rows of applications. Click the second icon to see the multitasking view, aka “virtual workspaces.” In DDE that panel drops down from the top center of the screen, unlike GNOME’s right screen panel.

Deepin multitasking feature thumbnails of virtual workspaces

Deepin’s multitasking feature shows thumbnails of virtual workspaces via a display panel that hides along the top edge of the screen. The main view displays mini images of open windows on the current workspace.

Deepin lets you set a different background image for each virtual workspace These display in the panel view as well. You can drag a running application’s mini image from the multitasking view to another workspace. You also can right-click on the top window border of a displayed app to move it to another virtual workspace.

Clicking the gear icon on the Dock bar slides out the settings panel from the right edge of the screen. The left vertical border of this panel holds a column of icons, one for each settings category.

Deepin Desktop slide-out control panel

The Deepin Desktop has a slide-out control panel that makes finding settings effortless. It uses a dock bar instead of a traditional panel at the bottom of the screen.

Click a vertical icon to open a settings display for the selected category. Or you can click in the panel and scroll down or up for a continuous scrolling through all settings.

Stuffed With Software

Deepin-specific applications separate this distro from most others. The developer has an impressive inventory of in-house generated applications. This release expands that inventory with more new titles and revamps of many others.

Here is a brief selection of what Deepin provides:

  • Deepin File Manager has a new Recent bookmark in its sidebar. The latest release also offers an optional dark theme.
  • Deepin Boot Maker has a simple interface to make a deepin boot disk easily.
  • Deepin Editor is a lightweight text editor with some customized functions for composing text and writing code.
  • Deepin File Manager is an optimized revision with added features.
  • Deepin Font Installer is a new tool for adding/removing font files with simplified operations. It shows font information, such as style, type, version, copyright and description.
  • Deepin Repair is another new tool to fix some issues in Deepin quickly, including hard disk detecting, disk cleaning, DPKG repairing, boot repairing, privilege repairing and password reset.
  • Deepin’s Graphics and Driver Manager app is introduced in this release. It includes graphics card hardware detection, graphics driver installation, graphics driver solution switching, graphics driver automatic recovery, and other functions.
  • Deepin Clone is yet another new tool that makes it safe and easy to backup and restore the system. It supports to clone, backup and restore disk or partition. It works with Deepin Recovery to fix the boot, partition and other problems.

The community-sponsored software store offers about a thousand applications. Also available is a new Deepin Store.

Deepin Store is a high-quality application store to display, download, install, review and rate applications. It includes the selections of popular apps, new updates and hot topics. It supports one-click installing, updating and uninstalling.

Getting It May Be Troublesome

One of the great advantages of many Linux distros is the ability to test the distro in a live session. This lets you try out the distro without making any changes to your hard drive.

Unless you have a spare computer to perform a full installation for testing, not being able to run a live session is very risky. Glitches happen when installing something untried.

That is an issue with Deepin Linux. The ISO does not boot into a live session. It is strictly for installations only.

However, you can download a special boot tool to allow you to install a live-session-capable version of this release to a USB drive. Look for the live session download option on the download page.

However, you also will have to download the installation ISO. That poses yet another inconvenience.

Time Factor Fail

The download time directly from the Deepin website is horrendously slow. Download times posted take as long as 18 hours. I checked back numerous times with no faster delivery times.

A better option is to use one of the streaming mirror sites. The download times are literally minutes instead of hours.

You will find these alternative download sites at the bottom center of the download screen. Hover your mouse pointer over the half-dozen symbols and look at the URL displayed.

Tip: You’ll only find the installation ISO on these secondary download sites. The boot tool is available only from the Deepin website.

Installing It

The installation routine is modern and classy. The process is GUI-based (graphical user interface) rather than text-based or command line-based.

The installer moves right into the desktop environment with a blurred version of its desktop wallpaper overlayed with centered, translucent menus. This creates a pleasant visual effect.

Deepin installer screen

The Deepin installer is a class act. It has a smooth progression of setup steps displayed against a blurred background image of the Deepin Desktop Environment. It provides an easy guide that new Linux users can follow with confidence.

The next screen presents a mandatory End-User Agreement. Its wordiness seems to exceed the usual open source licensing requirements.

It is lengthy to read and has numerous references to intellectual property. Ho-hum! Just scroll to the bottom of the display window to activate the ACCEPT tab to continue the installation process.

Unlike other Linux installation routines, Deepin Linux does not test for an Internet connection. You can install it without an online connection.

Bottom Line

Deepin Linux 15.8 is a solid performer. The developers have not yet provided language support for many languages. This limits who can use this distro.

In Deepin’s earlier years, the only available languages were Chinese and a few related dialects plus English. This latest release has expanded that list to a dozen or so.

In the English language version, it is annoying to see Chinese words and phrases in some of the system displays and software store catalogs. I assume that issue may exist in other language releases of Deepin as well.

Unless you are used to distro hopping, save yourself from the pain of trial-and-error usage discovery. Deepin is easy to operate. However, if you are not familiar with most things Linux, do yourself a big favor and first familiarize yourself with the Deepin Manual that comes with the preinstalled applications.

If security concerns you, especially when using an operating system from a foreign developer, use the full disk encryption feature now available with this release.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you’d like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

email your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Reader Comments feature below to provide your input!

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.

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