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Distro Reviews

Voyager 14.04 LTS Review

Voyager is a Xubuntu based distribution from France developed to make the user's time working on a computer a pleasant one, by making it a showcase of photography and graphic design and providing convenience tools to improve general usability. The developers achieved their goal, making Voyager, in my opinion, the best looking Xfce desktop distribution, if not the best overall. Some of the customizations include a pre-configured drop-down terminal, multi-tab terminal based system monitor, a second panel -- pre-configured to access its custom tools, a customized Firefox with almost twenty custom start pages, some with many convenient links -- although they need to be edited by non French users -- among others. But the most impressive of its custom features is one that addresses a shortcoming of Xfce, the optional ability to switch from an Xfce shell to a Gnome shell -- allowing a peek at all open windows and a way to switch to another virtual desktop -- in the running system without requiring the user to log out. If you already like the Xfce desktop or you appreciate photography and graphic design, and don't mind some French here and there, you should try this distribution.

Tanglu 1.0 Review

Sabayon 15.10 Review

Sabayon 15.10 is the most significant monthly release since version 14.01, especially for those with a preference for the KDE desktop, as this release finally updates to the Plasma 5 series. In addition, installation is now performed using the new Calamares program instead of the unpopular Anaconda.

Sabayon 14.08 Review

Sabayon seems to be a distribution that had been highly esteemed and popular in the past -- as evidence by the distribution version selection dropdown on the Opera browser download page listing Sabayon and by Vritualbox and VMware offering a customized install of Sabayon -- but has lost some of this esteem in recent years. It is a Gentoo based system, but unlike Gentoo allows a choice of binary (default) or source package management. It is also a rolling release distribution that is stable, easy to use, essentially completely functional, has unique extras by default, and depending on the user's interest and desire has the potential to be more powerful than the average Linux distribution. This is a recommended distribution that is one of my favorites.

ROSA Desktop Fresh R5 Review

ROSA Desktop Fresh R5 is a Mandriva based distribution by ROSA Labs of Russia that offers users an easy to use Linux system that provides all of the software an average user may need as well as media codecs out-of-the-box. ROSA Labs has taken advantage of Mandriva's efforts to make this a distribution that eases users migrating from Windows -- and even new computer users -- to the Linux platform. In addition, for users with simple requirements, where for example, encrypted partitions are not necessary, everything, ideally, will work out of the box. Also helping ease users to Linux is that the interface for launching applications and accessing files is obvious and not overwhelming for new users; even the Window decorations are very similar to recent Windows versions. Some of the simplicity in use is due to the custom made applications and customizations to KDE that simplify its use, despite the distribution, according to the to the ROSA website, being targeted to advanced users who want newer software. Unfortunately, there are some relatively simple issues with hardware setup and management that frustrated me and might frustrate others also. But after these hurdles I ended up liking ROSA, although not enough to take the place of on of my few favorite distributions.

openSUSE Tumbleweed (Snapshot 20161204) Review

openSUSE Leap 42.1 Review

openSUSE 13.2 Review

openSUSE is posssibly my favorite distribution (with Arch and Manjaro as close seconds). Besides the fact that I have a fondness for it because it was the first distribution I used after discovering the boxed retail edition in 2002, I appreciate it because it is very powerful, robust, reliable, and flexible, offering tools that make it easy to use for new Linux users or for experienced users who would rather not do everything manually on the command line or by editing configuration files, but without limiting experienced Linux users who would.

NixOS 14.04 Review

NixOS is an independent Linux distribution with a completely unique and innovative approach to package management, system configuration, configuration rollback, and prevention of breakage due to dependency issues -- even combining all of these functions into a single configuration file activated with one command. This system offers the obvious benefits intended by the developers, but some users may also appreciate its power in customizing the system down to the dependencies and options built into installed packages, similar to a Gentoo system -- but all sepecified in the single configuration file. If you can live with a nonstandard directory structure, use of gummiboot instead of GRUB2, and a learning curve steeper than other Linux distributions, you may like and use it for its advanced features, but this is not for beginners and/or the unmotivated.

Netrunner Rolling 2015.11 Review

Netrunner offers two KDE-centric versions of their distribution, one based on Kubuntu, which is itself based on Ubuntu, but uses the KDE desktop environment instead of Ubuntu's own Unity, and the other based on Manjaro, itself based on Arch. Being specialists in KDE, the developers make efforts to enable all technologies offered by KDE into both editions of the distribution, as well as to customize the Plasma desktop settings to provide what they view as a more usable and attractive desktop environment. The Manjaro based Rolling edition, reviewed in this article, is a good rolling distribution offering all of Arch's benefits (except the knowledge gained from installing it) with the increased stability and convenience of Manjaro. Netrunner Rolling differentiates itself from Manjaro by customizing the Plasma environment for increased ease of use, for example by reorganizing KDE's System Settings program, providing a different out-of-the-box environment in terms of programs installed by default, and giving a lot of attention to the visual appeal of the distribution. Although, overall this distribution might be a worth a try for those seeking an simplified Arch experience, it had some annoyances.

Manjaro 17.0.2 KDE Edition Review

Manjaro is a GNU/Linux distribution that provides an easy to install and fully themed Arch distribution in three official editions -- KDE Plasma 5, Gnome, and Xfce versions. Very high quality community versions featuring other desktop environments are also occasionally released. It is differentiated from other Arch based distributions that also offer easy GUI installation of an Arch system with its focus on providing more stability and a decreased likelyhood of breakage by including a slight delay in incorporating Arch packages in its own repositories, then further testing the Arch packages in an intermediate repository before transferring them to default repositories. Manjaro also differentiates itself from many distributions by giving users the ability to install multiple versions of the basic kernel as well as many custom kernels and by providing graphical tools to manage systemwide and desktop environment independent system configuration including an easy setup of proprietary kernel modules for hardware drivers -- even simple and automatic setup of hybrid graphics.

Fedora 22 Workstation Review

Fedora 22 Workstation, which replaced an existing installation of the Fedora 21 based Korora 21, has pleasantly surprised me. This surprise is probably due to my terrible experience with version 20 of Korora, a distribution which aims to make Fedora a friendly out-of-the-box experience. Although, at the time, I liked Korora's changes to Fedora, the GRUB bootloader installation was not reliable. In fact during kernel updates it completely wiped out the directories in the EFI partition belonging to other OSes -- including Microsoft's. I gave Korora another try with version 21 and this problem was gone, but because it will take Korora's developers a while after the new Fedora release to issue their respin, I decided to try Fedora 22 (after a failed attempt to use fedup with Fedora 22 repositories enabled in Korora 21). It turns out installing Fedora 22 was a good decision, because I see that for my use case, Korora doesn't add much to Fedora to make the delay between a Fedora release and Korora's respin worth the wait. One of Korora's additions, the Pharlap Hardware configuration tool, which didn't work that well is not necessary for my hardware. The other Korora modification to Fedora in the form of additional repositories, including RPM Fusion, Google, and Adobe are not enough of added value, considering that I don't care for what's in the Google repositories and the other repositories are trivial to add. Having learned this, and seeing Fedors's other impressive features, it will be one of the long-term or maybe permanent OSes on this eight-boot system. For those willing to run a few commands after installation to make it fully usable in terms of proprietary software, which Fedora does not distribute from its repositories, Fedora offers a distribution with superior security, performance, and very up to date kernel and software, especially for a non-rolling release. It is worth a try, especially to those who intend to use the new distribution for work.

Deepin 15.4 Review

Deepin Linux is a Debian based GNU/Linux distribution from China featuring a custom desktop environment called Deepin Desktop Environment, acclaimed for its beauty and its innovative system configuration center. It includes a suite of applications developed in-house to complement the desktop environment -- Deepin File Manager, Deepin Terminal, Deepin Music, and Deepin Movies, among others. It also includes Deepin Store, a GUI Software Manager that makes it easy to browse, discover, and install software. -- a necessity for a distribution that targets users switching from other OSes. Except for a few flaws Deepin 15.4 is well executed, and is a good distribution for those switching from Windows or those that would like an experience similar to macOS -- in terms of subjective feel if not in appearance. However, some, like I do, may find its simplicity a hindrance to productivity, especially those used to the kind of productivity afforded by the power of a desktop environment on the other end of the simplicity/complexity spectrum like KDE Plasma.

ApricityOS Review (2015-07-28)

Apricity OS, currently in beta iterations, is an Arch based distribution developed by "a Chicago based team of developers, dedicated to creating useful, intuitive software that helps people better integrate digital computing into their daily lives." It uses the Antergos developed Cnchi graphical installer and Arch's official repositories along with its own repositories for Apricity specific packages and prebuilt packages from the AUR. The default desktop environment is a customized GNOME shell with many shell extensions pre-installed and some enabled by default. There are numerous Arch based distributions offering a simplified Arch install and fully configured desktops with default application sets (see this review of Antergos), but Apricity uniquely offers a few specialized extras to make online life easier, including a prepackaged Google Chrome -- as opposed to a source package from the AUR -- with extensions such as Pushbullet for synching between devices and Marxico, a Markdown editor for Evernote, and the BitTorrent Sync GUI application, among others. Although Apricity aims to "create the best possible user experience for Linux users both new and experienced" it is probably not suited to beginners, considering an installer issue in certain scenarios and the nature of the underlying Arch OS which will require manual user maintenance. For anyone who already has experience with Arch and wants the pure Arch experience that the stability concious and less DIY Manjaro doesn't provide because of the use of its own repositories and tools, wants to avoid the lengthy and complicated Arch install process, and doesn't want the less reliable Cnchi installer as used in Antergos, Apricity is worth a try. Note that Apricity is currently in beta, with monthly beta releases until sometime in the winter when a stable release will be issued. This review is based on the 2015-07-28 beta which does not incorporate the fixes included in the August and later beta releases. Look for a review of the official release here on ORDINATECHNIC. In the meantime, here is a brief description of the changes in the August beta: Cnchi installer replaced with the multi-distribution installer, Calameres, which unfortunately, in its current form requires reformatting the EFI system partition, removing already present boot managers the commercial BitTorrent Sync replaced with the open source SyncThing resolving the spurious hbci connection issue with custom wallpapers appearing twice and default GNOME wallpapers not appearing has been fixed

Antergos Review (2015-04)

Antergos is an Arch based distribution from Spain, offering users a simple installation of Arch. It was formerly known as Cinnarch, using the Cinnamon desktop by default, but because of the conflicting priorities of Arch and Linux Mint -- the developers of the Cinnamon desktop -- Antergos dropped Cinnamon as its default desktop and changed its name. The conflicting priorities that precipitated this change are that Arch values having the latest packages and associated libraries whereas Linux Mint values serving as many of their users as possible, even those on older versions. The very fast release schedule of GNOME, whose libraries Cinnamon uses, wasn't compatible with both of these priorities. But now, the issue seems to have resolved itself such that Antergos offers a well packaged Cinnamon desktop as well as five other desktop environments. The focus of Antergos is on providing users an easy to install Arch system. Making Arch "for everyone" as their brand tagline indicates. Whether Antergos's benefit to users unfamiliar with Arch but want a simple Arch installation has been questioned by other reviewers, contending that this type of user should just use other systems because they may encounter difficulties in the long run. I myself would recommend Manjaro as another Arch based distribution that would be worth a look for these users to avoid the necessity of familiarity with Arch and the required maintain-it-yourself nature of Arch, as well as for other reasons, mentioned later in the review. On the surface, the Antergos approach is an easy install of Arch by providing a live environment from which to run a graphical installer that is very well designed from a user interface standpoint and a nicely themed desktop environment in all aspects, including a very visually appealing display manager greeter. However the installer is extremely unstable and insists on non-standard use of the EFI system partition. If these installer issues are resolved along with a larger number of and faster mirrors, this will make a nice addition for users who are already familiar with Arch, and, who like me, want another Arch installation without taking the time for the traditional Arch installation or from another existing Linux installation.