I originally got interested in checking out the Chakra project because it was based on Arch Linux. As I mentioned before, the super customizability doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t have time for that – perhaps if Arch had existed when I was in high school or college I might have enjoyed it. What I do like is that they tend to have the latest packages and they tend to keep the distro as simple as possible – with very few customizations. When I went to do my pre-review research, I found out that while Chakra WAS based on Arch, they’ve now split off into their own proper distro. (Kinda like Fuduntu and Fedora) While they still use Pacman and other Arch-y things, they’re slowly changing to their own products.
On the one hand I’ve never been one to deride the multitude of Linux distros. After all 90% of them are based off of Red Hat (Fedora) or Debian so they aren’t doing too much work – just rebranding and tweaking. But when a distro shoots off on their own like Chakra has done – well now you’re more likely to be stuck up a creak with a paddle if they go under. It’s much more trivial to move from one .deb distro to another than it is to move from, say, Debian to Slackware. But that’s OK. Computers are transitory and most people in the Linux world are distro hopping all the time. My wife and I are anomolies in that we tend to pick one distro and stick to it.
Interestingly, while Arch is a rolling release, Chakra calls itself a half-rolling release. In their own words: “User applications are very up-to-date, while the base system is thoroughly tested for stability. “ I read that to mean that they probably don’t mess with the Kernel, grub, and networking stack too much between releases, but otherwise do like Arch and keep KDE up to date. And since, at the time of writing this post (not necessarily the time it appears on my blog) KDE 4.8 is not yet available on Fedora (through official repos), I’d like to check it out via Chakra!
One final thing – Chakra is GTK free. It’s funny because they complain about how installing the GIMP gives you a bunch of Gnome dependencies. I’m not saying it’s a lie or anything, but you only ever see people on the net complaining about that when it’s KDE programs. You never see Kubuntu people saying, “Well, I don’t want to install a GTK app because of all the dependencies” but you often see the reverse. So I wonder if they’ve gone with KOffice or Calligra Office. I guess I’ll find out soon enough!
As usual for my Linux reviews, I’m going to look at how the distro’s installation process works, their UI design philosophy, updating/installing packages, and how it compares to other distros I’ve tried. So, let’s get started!
It has you select your language before booting up:
Then I accidentally selected the one with the free drivers, hopefully that doesn’t lock me out of easily getting access to the non-free drivers later. Here’s what the desktop looks like upon startup:
This. Is. Awesome! I think every KDE-based distro should have something like this! Sure, I’ve seen many different ways of communicating information to new users about the distro they’ve just installed. Some distros have links to their website and others load up a quick little screen. But this one, a KDE plasmoid, makes perfect use of KDE technology, which is perfect for a distro that loves KDE so much they eschew all GTK applications. I decide to check out some of these buttons.
It’s nice they mention that the installer is not where they want it to be because they’re still working on it. At least they’re giving the future user a heads up. After playing around with it for a bit, I load the installer. The installer is very nice-looking:
First up are the release notes – good for getting an idea of what’s going on with the new ISO. Then comes a neat time-zone and language page that appears to be powered by Marble.
After that comes one of the best user creation sections ever because you can create more than one before installation!
Then comes disk formatting. This is the first page where it’s not 100% certain what to do to go to the next step.
I click on advanced and use the KDE parition manager. After that it installed. Then there are post-install configs:
I told it not to auto-login to here’s KDM. Simple, but matches the theme well:
Here’s the default desktop upon install:
It’s good they use the folder view for the desktop. It’s a good way to introduce people to the concept. Interestingly they don’t have more than one virtual desktop. Perhaps they assume people will use activities instead. There are four updates available as the little box on the bottom says. Let’s see how updates work on Chakra.
This is BUSY! Not ideal, but not the end of teh world. I click on “Mark All upgrades”. Then I click check and apply on the next screen.
Let’s take a look at what comes installed by default on Chakra. Under development they have the awesome QT Designer as well as the OpenJDK Policy Tool. For Education they have Marble. For games they have KPatience. For graphics they have Okular, xgps, Gwenview, KSnapshot, E-book viewer and LRF Viewer. For internet they’ve gone with telepathy – a bold choice since it’s not really out of beta or fully-featured yet. For IRC they have Quassel. It’s supposed to be really good, so I figure it up to test it out. I couldn’t get it to connect, but I didn’t both too much with it. I did realize that they do have a different way of representing which programs you have open vs the usual.
Rounding out internet category, they have QupZilla and ReKonq. For multimedia they have the awesome Amarok, K3b, XBMC media center, Bangarang, KMix, KdenLive (video editor), and Minitube. Surprisingly, they have LibreOffice instead of KOffice or Calligra.
So, that’s a pretty awesome distro there. I must say that I am VERY impressed as how nice everything looks considering it’s an offshoot of Arch, which isn’t even one of the major distros. I would go so far as to say that this is THIS Linux distro that I would recommend for KDE fans – even over OpenSuSe. They have shown a great commitment to KDE, to the point of their intro widget being a KDE plasmoid. And, there’s one final thing, their Beginner’s Guide Wiki – especially the part about the desktop is not just one of the best intros to Linux that I’ve read, it’s one of the best intros to KDE. KDE REALLY should make sure they link to this page from within their own documentation and look to it as a model of what they should have for first time users of KDE. I was initially worried that this distro wouldn’t have what it takes to match up the big guns, but they are doing JUST FINE on their own. Great job Chakra devs!