Tag Archives: Reviews

KaOS Linux Brings Order to the Desktop | Reviews

By Jack M. Germain

Nov 8, 2019 10:29 AM PT

KaOS distro is an up-and-coming Linux operating system that provides one of the best integrations yet of a refreshed KDE-based computing platform.

Two types of users gravitate to this solidly maintained distribution: those who are frustrated by poor user experiences with Linux distros that are bloated and cumbersome to use; and those who want a better and more controlled KDE desktop environment.

If you already are sold on the efficiency that the KDE desktop offers, you will be pleased with the unique design of this distro. If you are a newcomer to Linux, you will find the revamped Welcome tool is great for tweaking the 15 commonly used user interface settings.

The KaOS team on Oct. 31 released a new “version” of the distribution’s rolling desktop operating system. Rolling release distros are updated continuously as new core packages are updated.

The idea behind KaOS is to create a tightly integrated rolling and transparent distribution to maintain a modern desktop with the latest features and software. You never have to do a complete reinstallation to upgrade major new releases.

Independent Nature

KaOS Linux is a bit of a rarity among the majority of big and small Linux distros. KaOS is an independent distribution. It is not based on other Linux families. It is not a direct relative of any other Linux lineage.

KaOS desktop

KaOS is built from scratch with the idea of creating a tightly integrated rolling and transparent distribution for the modern desktop.

– click image to enlarge –

Independence means the KaOS distro does not rely on software repositories developed and maintained by bigger Linux communities like Ubuntu, Red Hat or Arch, for instance. However, KaOS was influenced by Arch Linux.

Arch Linux and its derivatives tend to be challenging to install and configure. That can make Arch-based Linux OSes a bother even for experienced Linux users to tackle.

However, KaOS is not based on Arch Linux. Its developers merely kept some of Arch’s better principles in mind when developing KaOS. The developers build their own software packages from scratch and maintain them in community-based software repositories.

The design of KaOS focuses on two things: the use of Qt5 toolkit structure and the KDE desktop. This distro features the latest version of the KDE desktop environment and other popular software applications that use the Qt5t toolkit.

Guiding Principles

Developers of KaOS Linux want to do one thing well: make sure users who prefer the KDE Plasma desktop get the best experience in KaOS.

Building from scratch helps accomplish that goal. It keeps the focus on perfecting one desktop environment (KDE Plasma), building with one toolkit (Qt5), and offering one architecture (x86_64). If you have an older 32-bit computer, you cannot run KaOS on it.

The developers maintain a laser focus on perfecting performance under Qt5 by closely evaluating and selecting the most suitable system tools and applications. So the inventory of best-case software available in KaOS Linux is smaller than most other Linux distributions.

That software issue is one of the traits carried over from the developers’ Arch influence.

The developers describe the KaOS distro as a “lean KDE distribution.” It is built from scratch with the idea of creating a tightly integrated rolling and transparent distribution for the modern desktop.

Other distros purport to offer the same type of unified integration to provide a best-in-class distro. Usually, this verbiage is mostly marketing hype that falls short.

Not so with the KaOS distro. In KaOS Linux’s case, the developer community delivers on what it promises. It has one of the best integrations of KDE and Qt5 that you are likely to find in any Linux distribution.

Look and Feel

I first checked out KaOS when it was a Linux newcomer some four years ago. In general, I had lost interest in the ongoing redesign of the K desktop, but I was impressed with what the developers were doing with KaOS.

The current release has solidified my early impressions. KaOS has a lot of attractive functionality.

For instance, you can put numerous desklets and widgets on any of the virtual desktops. You do not have to deal with guessing and navigating through mazes to access virtual desktops and use them productively.

Also, you can fill one or more panel bars with a variety of applets. You can customize menus and add special effects — more than is possible with most other Linux desktop environments.

KaOS system menus

KaOS provides multiple ways of accessing system menus.

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However, one jarring adjustment I had to make in adapting my workflow when using KaOS was to the placement of the panel bar. In this release, the design places the panel bar along the right screen edge.

Placement Counts

Until I got used to directing my eyes to flash to the right, the placement felt oddball. It made more sense to me to place the panel at the far left of the screen, much like Ubuntu does.

In Western culture, our eyes are trained to look left first and sweep to the right when reading. Placing components such as the workspace switcher, menus and notifications at the right edge blends with the concept of the slide-out right panel now used in GNOME.

KaOS multipurpose panel bar

KaOS places a multipurpose panel bar on the right edge of the screen.

– click image to enlarge –

KaOS does not limit you to a rigid menu placement though. You can access the standard full-featured menu by clicking the menu icon at the far left edge of the panel bar at the bottom of the screen. It gives you other options, too.

For example, right-click anywhere on the desktop. A single, short, simple menu opens at the mouse point to give you access to widgets, panels and activities controls.

Virtual desktops are plain and simple to set up and use. You configure them in the Workspace section of the System Settings panel from the main menu. You can create keyboard shortcuts for navigating among virtual workspaces to fit your work routine.

The workspace switcher applet is integrated to the panel bar on the right edge of the screen. This is much handier than the procedure in GNOME or other KDE iterations.

Bewildered by Activities

The most confusing features for me in other KDE distributions have been the Activities panels. They impose another layer of complexity to the desktop view.

With KaOS, you will not find the cumbersome hot spot in the upper right corner of the screen to activate the Activities display. Instead, just click on a small icon in the left screen corner. That pops open the Activities panel in the lower portion of the screen.

I never fully grasped the need or the use of the Activities panel on the K desktop. I know that the Activities feature functions as a sort of super workspace extender.

However, Activity screens seem to be competing for the same functionality as the virtual desktop. KaOS does nothing to make the Activity feature any more resourceful.

My suggestion: Provide a quick fix in settings to turn off or remove Activities from KaOS. Keep the button there and let users click a setting to have that button in the upper left corner of the screen launch Activities or serve as a second virtual desktop launcher.

Funky Repository Builds

The default packages are what you might expect for a select KDE environment. They favor software applications that use the Qt5 toolkit and fit the scope of the KDE application design.

In keeping with the best-fit-only policy, the KaOS community deliberately keeps this distro’s software stores limited. You also get a feel for the Arch Linux scheme of things. KaOS uses Pacman as the package manager, with Octopi as a graphical front end.

The developers chose Pacman for the package manager because it offers the easiest solution available to build your own packages. They created KaOS Community Packages (KCP) to facilitate sharing of the PKGBUILDs they created or adjusted for KaOS.

here to get a sense of how the KCP package building files work.

This approach to software management can be a bit bothersome for inexperienced Linux users. It also can be more work for Linux users coming to KaOS with no familiarity with Arch-inspired software tools.

Out of the Box

KaOS has the latest KDE Plasma as the default desktop in this snapshot release. It uses the Calamares installer for fairly easy installation.

Pay attention to the installation instructions to avoid trouble. Do not ignore the cautions on the Download page. KaOS ISOs do not support Unetbootin or Rufus. Also, DVDs need a burn speed no higher than 4x.

KaOS uses the provided Systemd-boot for UEFI installs. This distro is preloaded with proprietary multimedia codecs.

Plasma now comes with fractional scaling. You can adjust the size of all your desktop elements, windows, fonts and panels to match HiDPI monitors.

The Settings interface is overhauled, and the user interfaces have been improved and updated for the Displays, Energy, Activities, Boot Splash, Desktop Effects, Screen Locking, Screen Edges, Touch Screen and Window Behavior configuration dialogs.

Frameworks is at 5.63.0, Plasma at 5.17.2, and KDE Applications at 19.08.2. All are built on Qt 5.13.1.

Default Applications Limited

I found previous KaOS releases disappointing due to the absence of real productivity office tools. Calligra was provided instead — but that’s not the case anymore.

LibreOffice 6.2 is preinstalled as a pure Qt5/KDE5 application.

The Web browser is a disappointment, however, as KaOS comes with the feature-lacking Falkon Web browser.

My familiarity with Linux software falls largely within the Debian universe. KaOS has a much more limited range of application titles. Many of the KaOS-specific software are packages whose titles I did not recognize.

I’m not saying the applications are unreliable. They mostly worked fine — but I did have to come up to speed on what they were. Using the KCP conversion tools was not always an easy fix.

Bottom Line

KaOS’ integration of the K Desktop extracts power and productivity while reducing distractions. Two things make KaOS an outstanding Linux distro choice: Beginners find it relatively easy to use; and advanced users can customize the environment to their hearts’ content.

KaOS targets users who want a Linux distro that puts all of its resources toward working in one environment. You would think that all Linux distros should have that goal, right?

Distros with multiple desktops often suffer from fragmented goals with numerous side concerns. Most of the distros with single or even two desktop options fail to reach the same degree of application selection and performance-tweaking that you find in KaOS Linux.

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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Latest ExTix: Lots of Flexibility and a Few Flaws | Reviews

By Jack M. Germain

Nov 1, 2019 9:38 AM PT

ExTiX 19.10, released with the LXQt desktop on Oct. 23, is a customized Linux distro that leaves you wanting more but settling for less.

ExTix is a lightweight modular Linux operating system that is part of the Exton Linux/Live Systems family of distributions hosted by The Swedish Linux Society. The Society hosts 16 Exton distributions.

The ExTix distro line, developed by Arne Exton, is perhaps the best known of Exton’s Linux platforms. However, the Exton Linux inventory of distributions is a fertile repository of custom distros you will not find elsewhere.

Exton Linux releases contain an assortment of customized Linux distros based on a wide family of options including Arch, Debian, Ubuntu, Puppy and Slackware. Multiple versions of these distros have an even wider range of desktops.

I have focused only on the LXQt edition of ExTix so far. At differing intervals in the developmental cycle, the developer releases three other ExTix customized desktop choices for ExTix: Budgie, Deepin and KDE.

Within the four ExTix options, you have an unusual lineup. The ExTix line is not a retread of other distros you may have tried running any of these desktops. The Exton Linux family offers many approaches to providing Linux workstations.

Each of these customized platforms is unique. No server platforms are in the mix. You will not find clones of other Linux distributions.

Approach your introduction to ExTix Linux with an open mind. ExTiX has several shortcomings that can make it a bit troublesome to use, but the releases are stable beyond a doubt.

This distro, built around the LXQt desktop, is definitely quirky in spots. The quirkiness is more due to the developer’s design than the result of instability. Still, the shortcomings in this distro can give new users a less-than-satisfying experience.

ExTix Family History

Developer Arne Exton created ExTiX and dubbed it “the ultimate Linux system.” It is an offshoot of his other Exton Linux/Live Systems.

Both the Exton and ExTiX OSes are linked to download ports on SourceForge.net. You can also
” target=”_blank”>download a variety of ExTix releases from The Swedish Linux Society’s server. This might be your best option as the ISO files are listed all in one place.

I reviewed ExTiX in 2015 after the developer yanked out GNOME and replaced it with the then-brand-new LXQt desktop. I again reviewed the ExTix LXQt desktop release last summer.

Different Under the Hood

ExTiX 19.10 LXQt DVD 64-bit is based on Debian and Ubuntu 19.10. This relatively new desktop environment is the product of merging the LXDE-Qt and the Razor-qt projects.

LXQt is actually the technical replacement of LXDE, the Lightweight X Desktop Environment. The difference between LXDE and LXQt is rooted in their separate toolkits. These are developer tools to draw app interfaces in a consistent way.

Toolkits provide a standardized way for developers to design and program toolbar buttons, dropdown menus and such, without starting from scratch for each app. Two Linux toolkits dominate that landscape: GTK+ and Qt.

LXDE uses GTK3 code that was revised in 2011. The LXDE maintainer released a port based on Qt code in 2013. Then other developers merged the Qt version of LXDE and the Razor-qt desktop interface to create LXQt.

More recent ExTix editions used the Calamares installer. That followed Exton’s decision to replace Ubuntu Linux’s Ubiquity installer with Calamares.

Key Usefulness

Developer Exton designed the ExTix distro to expand the temporary nature of Live Session environments. His approach brings more flexibility to the bootable CD/DVD/USB concept. ExTiX 19.10 improves on previous installation options.

The live session all-the-time feature is an inviting approach. Usually, Linux distros are distributed via downloaded ISO files that are used to sample a distro by running directly from a bootable DVD or USB storage medium. Most distros’ live session environments allow you to install a Linux system to a host computer’s hard drive.

ExTix Linux retains a live session environment after installation.

ExTix Linux is a customized Linux OS that retains a live session environment after installation.

Other live session installation features let you create a portable Linux system that boots a computer from a USB drive. This approach stores all configuration and file updates to the same storage medium using a feature called “persistent memory.”

ExTix builds on those methods. It provides an option to install the live session with configuration changes intact onto the hard drive. Plus, you can run ExTix from a USB thumb drive with persistent memory active.

ExTix is a lightweight distro in terms of how little it drains system resources. Running the live session from a hard drive is faster than running it from a DVD session. A USB-launched live session is somewhat speedier than a DVD launch.

Yet ExTix offers an even better running option. You can launch it via an option to transfer the system to the computer’s memory. Your system needs at least 2 GB of RAM for this to work.

Wait, There’s More

This run-in-memory option, whether launched from hard drive or USB drive installation, gives you lightning-fast performance. If you use the USB installation, you also get the advantage of having a portable Linux OS that you can carry around in your pocket and run on any computer.

Sort of, that is. ExTix has some built-in design limitations to that portability. You can run the bootable DVD with any computer that is capable of booting from an optical drive — but not all new laptops come with built-in DVD drives these days. See more on this booting limitation below.

Obviously, if you use the persistent memory feature, all of your settings and data files will be included. Or you could carry your essential data files on a second USB drive or access them from your cloud storage service. If you bypassed the persistent memory installation, you would run the default version of ExTix.

The ExTix Approach

ExTix makes it somewhat easier to combine options without fussing with the awkward setup process to create persistent memory or having to settle for the plain vanilla default ISO contents.

Use the Refracta Snapshot tool found in the System Tools category of the main menu. First, launch the live session.

Then make all the configuration adjustments via the various system tools in the Preferences panel of the main menu. Next, add and configure applications not included in the default ISO.

Finally, run the Refracta Snapshot tool to create a bootable live session system. This gives you the best of both worlds.

Multiple Deployment Aid

You also can use the USB installation to deploy your personalized ExTix Linux to whatever computers you want. This same approach is available with the other three ExTix editions.

The only difference is the look and feel options of the separate desktops and the default applications. Remember, each of these editions is built around some customization.

Another plus that comes with running ExTix 19.10 is access by default to Nvidia’s proprietary graphics driver 430.50, which is preinstalled. It will be used automatically if your computer has support for it.

ExTix 19.10 provides automatic access by default to Nvidia's graphics driver.

A bonus with ExTix 19.10 is automatic access by default to Nvidia’s proprietary graphics driver.

Here is a secret about ExTix: Unlike many Linux ISOs, this one runs flawlessly in a VirtualBox environment. You do not have to burn the ISO to test it. You do not have to fiddle with virtual machine settings to tweak its performance.

The Bearable Downside

I said early on in this review that ExTix leaves you wanting more but settling for less. Take my assessment as a description, not a harsh criticism.

Out-of-the-box, you might find Extix Linux to be a bit lacking in default applications. The bundled application do not include any office packages such as LibreOffice. Games and multimedia players are sorely absent.

So are most of the typical applications you would expect to find in Linux distros running any of the offered desktops. The LXQt release from last summer had noticeably more bundled applications, including an office suite.

You have to make up for these omissions by downloading and installing what you need. ExTix does not maintain its own software store. Synaptic Package Manager is available, however, as the go-to tool for adding and removing applications.

More Downsides

You will find some strangeness in the installation procedures and the added steps to creating persistence for the only real running option — live session environments. Just follow the installation tweaking instructions posted on the ExTix website.

I much prefer the Calamares installer that was previously available in ExTix. The Refracta Installation tool is not as forgiving or as flexible with installation options.

You can pop in the bootable DVD to run the plain vanilla live session that is ExTix 19.10, but the limitations in this current release dampen your ability to use ExTix as a personalized pocket Linux.

Keep in mind that for the Refracta installation tools to work, you either must install Grub or edit the existing Grub configuration file on the host computer into which you will insert the live USB stick. This eliminates the ability to have an updated pocket distro that you can plug into any computer.

Loose Security

Another oddity is the live session login. It is automatic. That can pose a security risk.

You do not have to supply a password. It is easy to run the live session in system RAM without having to type special commands in an edit window when the DVD initially loads. Just select boot alternative four (Load to RAM).

You can remove the DVD or USB stick once the system loads. This makes it convenient to access your documents while running in Live session without creating persistence.

Connectivity Barriers

One of my major disappointments with ExTix is its inability to have an always-on Internet connection. I was unpleasantly surprised to discover that the ISO live session does not automatically connect to the host computer’s LAN connection.

I would expect that result on laptops without a compatible WiFi driver, and I almost never fail to have a connection when I run a VM session, which almost always piggybacks the host computer’s connectivity.

My experience with ExTix is the reverse of that scenario. My desktop computers universally had no automatic LAN connection, but even my finicky laptops registered available WiFi connections.

My efforts to manually add a LAN connection failed. Editing and creating LAN connections usually is fairly routine. Not so, it appears, when using ExTix 19.10.

Extix Linux 19.10 menu

Extix Linux 19.10 is missing some standard applications and an easy Internet connection.

Bottom Line

ExTix Linux is an unusual distro. One of its most compelling attractions is also one of its unusual design traits. It is a fully functional Linux platform that runs in a live session state.

ExTix has much flexibility to offer, but it takes some setup and tinkering to get it working to full potential.

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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Dragora Linux Is Anything But Simple | Reviews

By Jack M. Germain

Oct 25, 2019 11:33 AM PT

Dragora is a fledgling Linux distribution that neither works out of the box nor is user-friendly.

That said, if you have an adventurous interest in practically starting from scratch and somewhat building your own computing platform, Dragora could be an interesting side project to learn how a distribution works on the inside.

Brace yourself for a strong measure of frustration, especially if you are not already familiar with how the Linux operating system works. The Argentina-based developer, Matas Fonzo, offers very little documentation. An online wiki file provides little help, thanks to its heavy dose of technical terminology.

My initial experiences in trying Dragora remind me of my early days some two decades ago, when I first dabbled in this thing called “Linux.” That was not a pleasant experience. Neither was revisiting those days while testing Dragora.

Dragora’s intended audience is users who want to learn more about the technical aspects of a GNU/Linux distribution and people looking to use the purest ethical software for daily use.

Distro-Hopping Ritual

Ultimately, my salvation in getting Dragora’s live session to work was luck. I used trial-and-error tactics. Thanks to years of applying hands-on knowledge and reading website blurbs about the latest, greatest same-old desktop features, I was able to fill in the vast gaps of missing information on the Dragora landing page.

The process for many Linux adopters, I’m sure, resembles my weekly approach to selecting Linux distributions and testing them for reviews. It somewhat resembles catalog or online shopping.

The limited blurbs about the relatively young Dragora Linux piqued my interest. Some of its goals and technologies were interesting.

This release begins the development of the series 3.0 migration toward a new C library, Musl, along with the continuation of supervision capabilities and the restructuring of the hierarchy of directories. Another goal is the improvement of the tools provided by the distribution, a new automatic method to build the distribution, and the prebuilt cross-compiler set.

So I made the free download in anticipation of a satisfying new Linux OS discovery. Alas, the installation ISO was a big disappointment. The letdown was much like opening a delivered package from a catalog purchase only to find the contents fell short of the hype.

What It Is

Dragora GNU/Linux-Libre is a distribution created from scratch to provide a multi-platform and multipurpose operating system. It is independent, and is built upon 100 percent free software.

The developer published version 3.0 Beta , a new development release, on Oct. 19. This latest version release follows the 3.0 Alpha 1 released nearly two years ago.

It includes a new system installer and Xfce 4.14 as the default desktop environment. Also available are the IceWM — dragora-ice, a customized version of IceWM — and Scrotwm window manager environments as desktop choices.

Dragora 3 Beta Xfce desktop with a customized version of IceWM and Scrotwm window manager environments

The latest beta release of Dragora 3 offers a traditional Xfce desktop (pictured here ) along with a customized version of IceWM and Scrotwm window manager environments as desktop choices.

– click image to enlarge –

One of the enticements that led me to checki out Dragora Linux was curiosity about the modified IceWM desktop, as well as Scroptwm. I like distros offering the IceWM desktop and was not familiar with Scrotwm. Lightweight pseudo desktops based on these window managers generally run well and are good choices for newcomers looking for simple-to-use systems.

However, my disappointment with the default live session seriously dampened my plan to pursue the other two options. It no longer seemed worth the effort to find the packages on the disorganized Dragora website and try again to get another installation working.

Independent Distro Drawbacks

Dragora’s independent status should be a strong adoption point. That was another high-interest draw that led me to select this distro for testing.

Being independent means that instead of plugging in working components from a base distribution such as Debian or Ubuntu, the developer has to provide those tools in-house.

Despite being around for a number of years, Dragora has had only a few stable versions. The developer is working on perfecting the version 3.0 Beta family, so running Dragora means working with unfamiliar distro tools.

One of the major new components is Dragora’s in-house bred package manager system, called “Qi.” Its newest version 1.3 is included in the 3.0 beta distro.

The problem is not being able to find Qi. It appears to be a GUI-less tool that works only via command line.

New Stuff Must Work

Qi is described as a very simple packaging system that allows installing, removing, upgrading and creating packages. Given the lack of a well-stocked software repository, the process involves automating the compiling process.

Qi is founded on the concepts of simplicity and elegance. It can be run for almost any purpose — be it desktop, workstation, server or development.

In short, Qi does not come bundled in the initial installation. It is not part of the live ISO either. So you first have to go through the hassle of finding the download packages to install Qi before you can add other missing applications.

Dragora 3 Beta displays running applications on the Xfce desktop.

With considerable effort, Dragora 3 Beta displays a few running applications on the Xfce desktop.

– click image to enlarge –

This distro and its in-house tools are not user-friendly. It is also more difficult to set up, thanks to a lack of documentation.

Demanding Installation

The Dragora website gives you nothing in the way of a quick startup guide. What it does provide mostly does not work. You can sense already the source of the startup frustration.

For example, the single Web page says you can find more information about Dragora by running the commands “info dragora” or “man dragora” on your Dragora system, and that a brief summary is available by running “dragora-help.” (Note: Do not include the apostrophes.)

That’s all good if you succeed in loading the so called live session ISO, or spend a few hours loading basic system applications once you manage to install Dragora to your computer’s hard drive.

The “live” session does not have a Web browser, terminal application or package manager installed. So the website’s help suggestions are far from helpful.

Dragora 3.0 beta comes with a new installer invoked from the command line with “dragora-installer.” It also has a new tool to configure the keyboard mapping in the console called “dragora-keymap.” These are also additional steps in the installation routine.

It is nice having unique in-house tools that enhance an independent distro’s functionality — but having to install them to complete the system makes Dragora less user-friendly. The multiple installation steps and nearly empty menus make Dragora a far cry from being ready to use right out of the box.

Failure to Launch

Speaking of ISOs, that is where my unfriendly journey to installing Dragora began. The ability to download a Linux OS in hybrid form to run a fully functional testing version without altering the host computer is one of the great joys of Linux.

The operative words in that description of “live ISO” are “live” and “fully functional.” Dragora hedges on the first, and flat out fails on the second.

If the scarce information on the one-page website included just a tiny bit more detail, there would not be the expectation that users would boot to an actual desktop view when the “live” session loaded.

Sure, the page did conspicuously say that the user name is “root” and the password is “gregora.” It would have been oh so helpful if the developer added one final sentence: Then type “startx” (as in start the X Window System) and press the enter key.

That would have saved me at least one hour trying to diagnose why the “live session” was not loading. It would have saved me eliminating the cause: Is the download file corrupted? Was there a glitch in the process of burning the ISO files to a bootable DVD?

What other issues could cause the desktop not to load? Each time I tried rebooting, various lines scrolling down the screen displayed the words “failed” and “error.” So not getting a desktop justified my thoughts that Dragora was broken.

New users less experienced or unfamiliar with Linux no doubt would be unfamiliar with that command line script. Fortunately, I remembered the “startx” solution.

ISO Saga

Watching the Xfce screen appear gave me a new surge of confidence in Dragora Linux. That feeling left quickly when I tried to access the help and information files the website mentioned.

No terminal apps were installed. Instead, a window popped open with a selection field to pick one. Nothing was listed to pick.

Okay, let’s install one, I thought. Yup! No package manager was installed. The selection field again was empty.

Oh, so let’s download one. Oops! None was available.

The menu categories mostly listed only a few titles, but that did not matter as few of the titles actually were installed, except for the system tools and the system settings menu categories.

So much for a fully functional live Linux desktop session!

Unbearable Installation

Unlike many Linux distros, Dragora does not have an installation launcher included in the live session ISO. You cannot issue command line scripts to manually launch Qi because no terminal app is included by default. So the not-so-live DVD is little more than a demonstration vehicle and is otherwise useless.

The installation solution is not pretty. If you click on enough links on the Gregora Linux website, you stumble on the bottom of a page that gives limited installation instructions. The process does not involve downloading an installation ISO.

Dragora project has two primary git repositories hosted on Savannah [https://www.dragora.org/en/index.html] and Notabug.org. The Savannah repository for Dragora links back to the Gregora website. The Notabu.org repository actually has all the file packages for downloading, uncompressing and compiling for a laborious installation task.

You also can go to the
git repository and install the git application to retrieve the latest Dragora revisions with this command: git clone git://.

Either way, you must install this distro by compiling source code.

Bottom Line

The developer describes Dragora “as an independent GNU/Linux-Libre distribution based on concepts of simplicity.” Perhaps the problem rests on the definition of the word “simplicity.” Gregora 3 is anything but simple to install and manage packages.

Dragora version 2.2.0 had a text-based installer that automated much of the file fetching and compiling. It started the installation process by creating a bootable DVD from a downloaded ISO file.

You booted the computer using the DVD and typed “setup” to begin the scripted installation routine. The process included partitioning the hard drive manually and processing configuration tasks when prompted.

That was a more traditional installation routine. It was, in fact, SIMPLER than dealing with what I described above.

For the less adventurous, I can not recommend Dragora Linux. If you are a seasoned software engineer or otherwise are handy at performing complicated compiling routines, feel invited to try Dragora 3 beta.

My suggestion to the developer: Lose Qi. Replace it with an installation process that is actually SIMPLE.

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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Solus Brightens Computing Across the Linux User Spectrum | Reviews

By Jack M. Germain

Oct 18, 2019 10:00 AM PT

Solus Project is alive and well and continues to offer a fresh approach to uncomplicating the computer desktop. That says a lot, given the sometimes sordid developmental path of the almost 5-year-old Linux distribution.

Solus 4.0 Linux “Fortitude” was released earlier this month. The Solus team provided updates and improvements to each of the distribution’s supported desktop environments — Budgie, GNOME and MATE.

The Budgie desktop, a custom desktop environment developed and maintained in-house, has a new minor release to version 10.5.1 of the Budgie 10.5 series. Budgie received several enhancements, gaining improved menu handling, new font options, and the ability to work with multiple modern versions of the GNOME software stack.

The under-the-hood components and the distro’s software package all received refreshing and updating. Solus follows a rolling release model that makes good on the notion of “Install Today. Updates Forever.” So once you install the current ISO, all new upgrades will be pushed to your computer without having to reinstall and reconfigure a thing.

An independent Linux distribution built from scratch, Solus is available for 64-bit computers only. The Budgie desktop can be set to emulate the look and feel of the GNOME 2 desktop and is tightly integrated with the GNOME stack.

Solus' integration brings fine-tuning to the latest GNOME desktop design.

Solus’ integration fine-tunes the latest GNOME desktop design.

However, Budgie offers much more than a GNOME 2 retread. It provides a very modern desktop environment.

History Revisited

Ikey Doherty was the lead developer of what originally was named “Evolve OS” and later morphed into Solus OS in 2015. The morphing included a new desktop called “Budgie.” Early in the development of the original distro, the developers had to rebrand the distro’s name due to a conflict with another Linux distribution. Now the Linux project is called simply “Solus.”

Over the summer of 2018, due to unclear circumstances, Doherty relinquished his leadership and affiliation with the Solus OS community. Under Doherty, the distro was based in the UK. The current development team now is based in Ireland.

When I first
reviewed the fledgling Solus Project in its early years, the Budgie desktop was something simple and new. It was clearly suffering from its immaturity, but it was based on a concept that promised to get better with age.

I noted back then that Solus OS had impressive potential for being uncomplicated and different. The latest update shows that the developers have lived up to my initial assessment.

Sordid Background

Doherty’s Evolve OS was built from scratch. Solus OS was based on Debian. The current Solus Linux operating system is an independent distro built around the Linux kernel.

Doherty developed the Budgie desktop from the ground up. The current developers have continued with Budgie, turning it into a more capable desktop that remains simple to use.

I have made “desktop hopping” a sort of professional hobby. When reviewing Linux OSes each week, I look for new distros and old ones with a developing desktop option rather than replaying the mainstream default offerings.

Back in its early days, Solus OS lacked the glitz and glitter found in distributions with more seasoned desktop environments. Animation was nonexistent, but simplicity was consistent in every aspect of the Solus experience. It still is in version 4.0 with the current developer community.

Better Budgie Performance

Budgie has grown from its inception. Designed with the modern user in mind, Budgie still focuses on simplicity and elegance. It has a plain and clean style. It is easy to use. The Budgie Desktop is a feature-rich, modern desktop designed to keep out the way of the user.

Solus' Budgie desktop

The homegrown Budgie desktop offers a flexible look and feel with many modern treatments.

The heart of adjusting the desktop in Solus is Raven — an applet, notification and customization center.

Raven is key to controlling the user experience through easy customizations. Within the Raven applet, you can change widget, icon and cursor themes. You can show desktop icons with a single click and tweak a variety of system fonts.

Budgie uses GNOME technologies such as GTK+. Its popularity is spreading to an increasing number of Linux distributions, such as Arch Linux, Manjaro and Ubuntu. Other Linux OSes that offer the Budgie desktop are Debian, GeckyLinux, SparkyLinux and Void Linux.

A huge advantage for the Budgie desktop is that it is not a fork of another project. It is designed for easy integration into other distros and was an open source project in its own right until May 2018. That is when the Budgie Desktop project merged back into the Solus Project umbrella.

Budgie View Close

I am impressed with the clean and functional performance of all three Solus desktop choices. Either one can provide you with a reliable, out-of-the-box computing platform. Installation is hassle-free. Under the hood, the Solus inner workings give you a stable and satisfying operating system.

The Budgie desktop is my focus here since it is one of the newer desktops offered with MATE and GNOME — but unless you have an undeniable favorite, any one of them will be a great choice for your daily computing needs. Themes and features are integrated consistently. The look and feel is a comfort in all three choices.

The homegrown Budgie desktop got much more than spit and polish since I last visited this distro. That was just before the leadership change within the Solus community. Budgie is much more functional now. This latest Budgie upgrade to version 10.5.1 is very inviting.

I have not been thrilled with Budgie as a desktop choice in other distros, but I found that what annoyed me in Budgie integration elsewhere was not an issue in the Solus release.

The Budgie desktop is easy to customize. Everything you need to give it your own personal touch is laid out in a smart-looking control panel. You can manage Budgie settings right from Raven and download more options from the Solus Software Center.

For example, you can add a virtual workspace switcher applet to the bottom panel with a single click. You get “one place for everything” design to control for notifications and functionality. Raven also lets you control media playback and sound devices.

MATE and More

The Budgie desktop is an ideal choice for Linux newcomers who want simplicity. MATE offers its own style of simplicity in a more traditional desktop for advanced users and older hardware.

Solus' MATE desktop

The MATE desktop provides classic GNOME functionality.

It comes with the Brisk Menu to provide a balance between preserving the traditional feel of MATE and the efficient modern design of Solus Linux itself. This menu brings quick access to the Software Center and system settings.

The GNOME desktop has its own degree of Solus customization that may be more inviting for those who want a finely crafted, contemporary user experience.
Like the other two desktop choices, GNOME is ready to use right out of the box.

For example, it is preconfigured with a variety of extensions tweaked to enhance the Solus experience. It handles transforming the app launcher to a dock with Dash to Dock functionality to speed up animations with the Impatience feature.

Bottom Line

Regardless of how you spend your time at the keyboard, Solus can be an ideal solution for all your computing needs. It comes with a collection of specially designed tools to make using and maintaining the operating system a uniquely easy experience.

For technically minded users, Solus supports a wide variety of editors, programming languages, compilers and version-control systems. It has tools for containerization/virtualization technology, such as Docker and Vagrant. Whether you’re writing drivers in C or writing backend Web services in Go, there is software that will fit your needs.

Home or office users will be pleased with the latest LibreOffice suite version The Solus Software Center has options for accounting, Personal Information Management and more. Content Creators can animate in Synfig Studio, produce music with Musescore or Mixxx, do graphic designing with GIMP or Inkscape, and edit videos with Avidemux, Kdenlive or Shotcut.

Gamers can enjoy open source games natively configured for Solus with support for many gamepads and controllers. With little or no setup required, gamers can play Steam titles for Linux with a modern, optimized gaming runtime. There is also built-in support for the Itch.io and Lutris gaming platforms.

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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Austrumi Linux Has Great Potential if You Speak Its Language | Reviews

By Jack M. Germain

Oct 10, 2019 11:55 AM PT

Austrumi Linux is an unusual distribution. With a little more polish, it could be a good tool for running the Linux operating system on any computer you touch without changing anything on the hard drive.

Last updated on Oct. 3 to version 4.08, Austrumi Linux is a bootable live Linux distribution based on Slackware Linux. It was created and is maintained by a group of programmers from the Latgale region of Latvia.

One of the things that makes Austrumi so interesting is its desktop —
FVWM, or Feeble Virtual Window Manager. FVWM does not dictate how the user’s desktop should work or what it should look like. Instead, it provides the mechanisms to configure the desktop to work, look and behave the way the user wants it to.

Austrumi Linux desktop display

The FVWM environment provides a basic desktop display that does not get in the way.

– click image to enlarge –

Another thing that kept me tinkering with this distro all week is Austrumi’s ability to run fast and reliably with very limited system resources. Add to that its unique performance: The entire operating system and all of the applications run from RAM, making Austrumi a fast portable OS that lets you remove the boot medium — either DVD or USB — after the operating system starts.

Running an OS in RAM is a rarity for most Linux distributions. A few well-known Linux distros have that feature, but Austrumi has the added advantage of allowing users to choose options at each bootup with absolutely no special setup required for use.

Its out-of-the-box performance somewhat makes up for the lack of design polish. The biggest flaw is the incompleteness of its English language displays.

Otherwise, Austrumi Linux is a handy, all-purpose Linux OS. It can be an instant fix for data rescue and is credited as being among the fastest Linux distributions with 3D support for ATI, Nvidia and Intel video cards.

This distro contains all the necessary basic programs for work and entertainment. It boots from CD, flash drive or a hard drive installation and can be used on servers and workstations.

Pleasing Discovery

I am an endless distro-hopper thanks to nearly two decades spent reviewing the progress of literally hundreds of Linux operating systems and related software. I learned through thousands of hours evaluating new and old Linux products that the great variety in desktop environments and usability are two essential elements that make or break user responsiveness to any distribution.

Veteran users with a technical background love to get into the Linux weeds. They love to use the terminal window to dig deeply into the inner workings of the operating system. Typical Linux users tend to gravitate to Linux options that give you an efficient computing platform without a steep learning curve.

Austrumi Linux is not well known, but it checks most of the usability boxes. The only technical requirement is the ability to burn the ISO to a DVD or USB. That is a given for any Linux operating system installation. Beyond that process, just turn on the computer and use Austrumi. No installation is needed. Nor is there any need for system configurations.

The FVWM environment is a joy to use. I have not seen this window manager-based desktop environment prior to my hands-on introduction to Austumi Linux. It is one of the easiest and most intuitive I have used.

FVWM is clean and simple. It has four virtual workspaces built into the OS. It offers basic displays and menus.

Glaring Flaw

Despite the ease-of-use built into Austrumi Linux, the interface is marred by a mixed language display. The fault lies with how the developers treated the localization component.

Language, not technology, is the weak link in this distro. If your native language is Latvian (mine is not), this distro is no doubt a five-star prize. The interface also offers English, Russian and Greek languages at the click of a flag icon in the panel bar.

However, Austrumi does an incomplete job of fully displaying all text in English. Most of the applications show this flaw slightly. The desktop displays and menus, however, are major offenders.

I have to assume that this weakness pervades the Russian and Greek language integration as well. This localization issue is more prominent with English and non-European locales.

This extended weakness turned up when I tried to set the time on the clock display in the panel bar. The time zone entries are mostly in Europe. A few were in Brazil. Not a single North America time zone was available.

This limits the convenience factor, but it does not prevent using the distro.

Interface at a Glance

The FVWM environment provides a basic desktop display that does not get in the way. It is similar to using other really lightweight environments like Openbox and Xfce. However, FVWM is much less configurable.

A transparent vertical white panel bar sits along the left edge of the screen. It holds a few basic icons to indicate the status of the language connection and speaker volume and time display.

Open windows show a docking presence in the middle section of the panel bar. The top portion of the bar holds the launcher icons for the file manager, Firefox Web browser, terminal and main menu.

Hovering the mouse pointer on the main menu icon opens another panel bar across the top of the screen. Click on each of the nine category icons to drop down the contents list to launch the desired application.

Right-click anywhere on the screen to open a row of menus to access system tools and special applications. Some of these choices duplicate the contents of the main menu.

Click the transparent gray button in the right corner to launch the virtual workspace switcher app — but you can not move open windows from one workspace to other workspaces, either from the switcher app or from the open window itself.

Included Software

I was pleased with the ample collection of applications bundled in Austrumi Linux. Included is the LibreOffice suite version Also included is an inventory of packages typically found in Slackware-based distros.

I found a list of 14 games, ranging from Solitaire varieties to IceBreaker and Sudoku, very tempting. I am not usually a fan of computer games, but this collection drew me in and consumed a few hours.

The more I ventured through the various software categories, however, the more annoyed I became over the consistent absence of English titles. Depending on the application, that remained a problem within the menus as well.

Bottom Line

This distro needs only limited system resources. Requirements include an Intel-compatible Pentium 2 processor or later and at least 512 MB of RAM. You can stretch this minimal memory level by running the “boot:nocache” option if the computer has less than 512 MB RAM.

No hard drive is needed, but you can find in the system menu an installation tool to place Austrumi Linux on the hard drive or a bootable USB drive.
You also can run a live session directly from a bootable DVD if your system has an optical drive.

Other than the lack of adequate English language support within this distro, the only other significant design weakness is the lack of persistent memory if you run the OS without a hard drive installation. This means you can not save personal data and system configurations for your applications.

You can use a USB drive or cloud storage to save personal data. If you use Austrumi Linux as a portable OS, those two storage solutions will be in play anyway.

Austrumi is clearly not targeting non-European users. If developers fixed the language support for non-Latvian speakers, it could be much more convenient to use. Expanding support for other global regions is a critical need for this otherwise very handy performer.

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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