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.
This distribution, being a fork of Mandriva, and using the customizations created for Mandriva by ROSA Labs for the last Mandriva release, is almost exactly like Mandriva 2011. It uses the same core features of that Mandriva release, including the login screen, the three-tab full screen launcher called SimpleWelcome, the customized KDE panel called RocketBar, and the file explorer panel widget called Stack Folder. These features contributed to make the strongest impression on me when first using ROSA, which was that this distribution would be easy to use for beginners at using computers in general and not just Linux. For those that want an experience close to Windows, the similarity of KDE to Windows (a panel at the bottom of the screen with a launcher button at the left end of the panel and a system tray at the right end of the panel) aids in providing such an experience, along with the window control buttons that look almost like those in Windows.
Clicking on the ROSA logo icon at the left end of the RocketBar brings up SimpleWelcome, with the first of its three components active. This first component, "Welcome", shown in the following screen-shot,
displays the recently used applications, places, and recent files. The applications shown on this tab can be 'pinned' by marking the star emblem which appears when hovering over the icons, so these apps always appear in the recent applications.
The next component, accessed by clicking the "Applications" tab at the bottom of the screen, shows all applications.
One of the modifications ROSA made since Mandriva 2011 is to SimpleWelcome on this screen, removing the original application grouping by category, which would require scrolling through a long list of categories if the desired application was in one of the last categories, and providing a way to group applications by dragging an icon on top of another to make an app folder in the same way as in Android. Clicking on an icon group opens a sub window showing the apps in the group as in the next screen-shot.
The third component of the SimpleWelcome launcher, "Time Frame" -- displayed in the next two screen-shots, is the most visually appealing of the three, especially when there are many recent items displayed. This was the feature that made me want to try ROSA, and is really the most unique characteristic of the launcher since there are similar full screen launchers available for KDE. Hovering on an item in TImeFrame will display an emblem on the item, which, when clicked, will open a very high quality preview.
Timeframe has two components itself, one showing a a scrollable time-line view of files, available in two sizes and filterable by document type selected from a drop down. Although I didn't try the second Time Frame component, a social network integration screen, which I assume, after logging in will show a time-line view of messages and posts received through the two available accounts, Facebook and VKontakt. Like the Applications tab, Time Frame has been modified by ROSA from its Mandriva form, but in this case to make it more aesthetically appealing, in addition to making it more functional or usable.
What Simple Welcome needs now is cloud storage service integration and social network integration in addition to the currently available Facebook and VKontakt. Options to customize its appearance would also be welcome. (The background it uses is the same one inherited from the Mandriva 2011 release.) It also needs the capability of displaying items in TimeFrame that are not in the user's home directory tree, but in other locations. For users who store their data outside of the user home directory on other partitions mounted automatically through/etc/fstab, TimeFrame is not as useful as it could be.
I imagine Simple Welcome, as intended, will make it very simple for a new user to interact with the computer -- one click and the user has the applications he/she would most likely use as well as recently opened documents, in a presentation that is appealing and not overwhelming.
The other legacy of Mandriva, with respect to the desktop environment, is the Rocket Bar, also designed to be easy for a new user, while being visually appealing with oversized -- compared to the panel size -- icons, making the panel appear something like a dock. The RocketBar adds a Stack Folder (allowing navigation of folders in a panel pop-up), and an Expo (showing all desktops grid) launcher to the system tray. Although the RocketBar can be modified by removing and adding panel widgets, it lacks appearance customization options besides location and height. It can be removed however, and replaced with a standard KDE panel.
The KDE file manager has also been modified by ROSA, by removing some of the toolbars that are displayed by default. What was noticeable to me with respect to the Dolphin modifications is that the "Split View" button has been removed from the toolbar. Because I use these buttons all the time, I didn't like this oversimplification of Dolphin, although others might.
System configuration has also been simplified in the default installation by removing the legacy control centerdrakconfor "Mandriva Control Center" -- used by Mageia and openMandriva in a modified form. Instead, components of the control center have been integrated into the KDE "Configure Your Desktop" program as KConfig Modules (KCM). Maybe ROSA should have kept the Mandriva Control Center and just added a launcher for KCM in KDE as openSUSE does with YaST, because first, it seems the Control Center has many modules that have not been integrated in Configure Your Desktop and second, it might make more sense to separate desktop environment related configuration options and system configuration options. However, although the control center is not enabled by default, it is available in the reository asdrakconf-legacyor "ROSA Linux Control Center", along with the individual components of the control center. The ROSA rationale in doing this may be to prioritize an easy to use system out-of-the-box while still making it available to those who want the complete tool.
Other features that add to making ROSA unique, in addition to the usability and appearance modifications that are carried over from Mandriva, which none of the other Mandriva descendants use, are the ROSA developed applications. These are the multimedia app, ROSA Media Player, and the live USB creator, ROSA Image Writer. A GUI software center or software store, similar to Muon in Kubuntu, is also available in the repository, but it seems to be experimental at this point and crashed immediately after I started it. This review of ROSA Software Centerfrom an earlier ROSA version shows it working. This would be a good addition to ROSA, serving to further distinguish itself from other distributions if the developers prioritize resolving the issues that are preventing it from being stable, which I think are simply a matter of the application not correctly finding enabled repositories.
The selection of non-custom software also provides most users a good out-of-the-box experience. LibreOffice 4.3.3 is installed by default, as well as Firefox 34.0, Clementine 1.2.3. Media codecs and plug-ins are also installed including Flash Player and those allowing mp3 and mp4 playback. Chromium is not installed by default, but version 39.0 is available from the update repository which pulls in the available Pepper plug-ins for Flash and PDF during installation. There are also some other small tools that are uncommon, like a Skype alternative, YouMagic Softphone, and a USB formatter.
I found that although the commonly used software is current, some uncommon software, such as TeXlive and LyX are at old versions. And some software that I find useful, such as the traGtor GUI front end to ffmpeg's transcoding tools is not in the repository. Fortunately it is fairly simple to build rpm packages locally for local installation because of the strengths of the rpm package format for users that want to use ROSA for its other strengths.
The installer is mostly the same one used by all of the distributions that evolved from the collapse of Mandriva. Some components might be modified. I say this because some of the installer screens, like the ones that are used after choosing the manual partitioning option are very simple and intuitive, yet effective. It was a better experience compared to the one I had when installing Mageia 4.1 in VMware. Installation on EFI/UEFI systems is supported, even on systems with secure boot, (although I couldn't verify this because my EFI system is too old to have secure boot). The installer gives the user the choice of whether to install GRUB, but if chosen an EFI version of GRUB2 is installed in the proper partition. The GRUB setup found all other installations on the system that use GRUB and Windows, and even named them properly (The GRUB menus of other distributions sometimes list Sabayon as "Gentoo Base System".) It did not find NixOS which uses gummiboot.
Despite all of these good characteristics, I experienced some frustration initially with this distribution, one of which was caused by such a simple choice by the developers, I am surprised they that they made the choice that caused it; maybe there is some reason that I am unaware of. This was that the first non-root user added during installation is configured with user id 500 instead of user id 1000, as in every other Linux distribution. This resulted in not having read write access to the partitions I added to/etc/fstab. Whatever mechanism handles interaction with/etc/fstabset up read write permissions for these partitions for a user with id 1000. Because the installer starts with user id 500 by default the fstab mechanism was incompatible with the way fstab works by default. (There was a dialog that does allow the user to change the user id when first creating a user in the installer, but it didn't occur to me that the chosen user id would matter.) The fixes I made to solve this are presented with the other fixes below. The installation related issues are described in the Installation section, and other issues I had are described in the After Installation section of this article.
Overall, I like the distribution and would recommending at least trying it. For the time being it will be one of the permanent choices in the multi-boot system.
ROSA Desktop Fresh is a product of Russia based ROSA Labs, and is a fork of Mandriva Linux. Because Mandriva itself was a successor to Mandrake Linux -- the Ubuntu of the late 90s and early 00s, in terms of popularity and ease of use, it uses many of the system tools originally developed by Mandrarke, which have "darke" as part of their name, such as rpmdrake, the GUI front end to the urpm package management tool. It shares these Mandrake system tools and the urpm RPM package management tools with the other descendants of Mandriva. According to this blog post, the KDE interface customizations in Mandriva 2011 were developed by the commercial ROSA Labs and retained in this distribution.
The ROSA products page shows the company's three offerings -- ROSA Desktop Fresh, the product featured in this review, ROSA server, and ROSA Enterprise Desktop X1 (Marathon). Following the Desktop Fresh link leads to a download page with a link to R5 download location. This wiki page lists all of the current and past released versions of ROSA Linux along with download links. The page lists versions of FRESH Desktop, available LTS versions, and community maintained ISOs which use alternative desktop environments.
The default and officially supported desktop environment is the customized KDE, at version 4.14.3 in this release. Mate, LXDE, XFCE, and Enlightenment (E19) can be installed from the repositories after the default desktop is installed. A GNOME3 version is currently in development.
All of the necessary software for tasks that most users will perform are included by default. The highlights are LibreOffice, Firefox, Clementine, ROSA Media Player, the ROSA front-end to MPlayer, and ROSA Image Writer. Flash Player plug-in and codecs are installed automatically.
As discussed elsewhere in this article, there are a few minor hurdles to overcome during installation, a few things to fix, and a simple hardware configuration that was solved by, apparently luck and a re-installation. If the user can get past these issues, ROSA Linux is very easy to use. Even beginners with Linux and even beginners with any OS will have an easy time with ROSA, especially due to SimpleWelcome.
As usual backlight control did not work. This was fixed using the method described here. One of the frustrations I had with this distribution was the fact that the up and down arrows were not properly mapped by the installation, so even after the backlight fix method the key combinations Fn + Up and Fn + Down, did not work as a result. The next installation of ROSA, necessitated by some sort of problem with the hardware configuration tool that caused the system to freeze, resolved the keyboard problem so that the backlight control worked as it should, after the backlight control fix.
The MTP (Media Transport Protocol) KDE bug affecting Windows Phone but not Android, that among other things, allows browsing the file system of a phone attached by USB, has not been resolved by ROSA for this distribution as it has been by openSUSE for openSUSE 13.2. Everything else works as expected. The EFI/UEFI installation, GRUB-EFI bootloader, suspend to RAM, suspend to disk (hibernation), and even the Targus Bluetooth 4.0 dongle, which I tested by pairing to my Nokia Lumia 928 worked well. Even Bluetooth audio works, tested with an LG Tone Pro 750, in addition to file transfer.
I chose to install by using the installer within the live environment instead of starting it directly from the menu that appears after booting the ISO and answering some settings related questions. Installation was on an actual computer, a Lenovo V570 with EFI version 2.00 by Phoenix Technologies, an Intel core-i5 processor, and an Intel integrated graphics on a mechanical hard drive. The installation was not flawless; I found that using the installer in the live ISO environment was somewhat unreliable and crashed the system several times, once with a kernel panic. One of the messages I got in two instances was this:
/etc/vconsole.conf: line 1: 1=: command not found
Another was related to the ntp synchronization with VirtualBox add-ons, as indicated in the following screen-shot.
Some of the methods that might help to avoid these issues are listed in the tips in the Installation Tips section, below. It took four installations before I could get to a point everything worked.
There were also problems related to hardware, although not related to video. The first was the "Hardware Configuration Tool" component integrated into the KDE "Configure Your System" program. Before I launched this program, the first installation went fine without any errors, and after the backlight fix, backlight control worked through the power settings module in KDE System Settings, but without the OSD and without the ability to control the backlight through the keyboard. When I launched this program, first a dialog appeared that I needed to install laptop-mode-tools and that I needed to install the KCM touchpad configuration module even though this was already installed. Then the system froze.
I decided to reinstall at this point. This was when the installer crashed with the error
/etc/console.conf: line 1: 1=: command not found,
mentioned before. This required me to start the installation again. This time, I got the errors in the above screen-shot.
After the next installation, I learned that backlight control with the keyboard was not working, even with the fix applied, although it was working with other methods, because of improper configuration of the keyboard by the installer. The up and down arrows were not properly mapped, preventing control of the backlight brightness with the keyboard, although, due to the necessary backlight control fix, I could control the backlight with the power settings. I discovered the cause by issuing the command:
xev | sed -n 's/^.*state \([0-9].*\), keycode *\([0-9]\+\) *\(.*\), .*$/keycode \2 = \3, state = \1/p'
as described in this Ubuntu wiki on troubleshooting hotkeys which links from this Ubuntu wiki on troubleshooting backlight issues.
Playing around with the keyboard type selection in the Hardware Configuration Module froze the system again. Out of frustration I decided to reinstall yet again. This time I decided not to connect to a network in the live environment or run anything else but the installer. After applying the usual backlight control fix, everything worked as it should.
The installer icon is not on the desktop as in most distributions' live environment; it can be found in the "Applications" tab of SimpleWelcome. The rest of these tips are based on my observations of what I was doing while installing and some of the error messages I received while using the live environment.
Bootloader installation is the last step of the installation. The installer had appropriately chosen the EFI version of GRUB and the EFI System Partition for installation location. There is an option to not install a bootloader, in case you already have GRUB from another installation and don't want to add another. I installed the bootloader, and on boot the ROSA GRUB became the default listing all of the other installed OSes on the computer, except NixOS -- which uses gummiboot instead of GRUB and works differently.
The steps for installation within the live environment where partitions for/,/homeare created in advance, outside of the live environment are presented here. The EFI system partition and swap partitions, mounted as/boot/efiand as swap space are shared with all of the other installations on this multi-boot system and existed before the installation of ROSA -- the EFI partition existed since the first OS, Windows 8.1 was installed and the partition for swap was created for the first Linux installation.
Installation actually begins when booting the ISO, even before starting the live KDE environment, with several prompts for configuration information, some of which is usually solicited near the final stages of installation in some other distributions. The series of dialog windows ask whether to set the hardware clock to local time or UTC, whether to synchronize with NTP servers, whether to agree to the license terms, and the language to be used. Then the installation continues with a menu that offers to boot from the hard disk, start the live environment, or proceed directly to the installation in either standard or safe mode.
The installation disk is selected from the drop-down menu at the top of the next screen (shown in the following screen-shot). On the same screen the desired installation partition(s) on the disk selected in the drop-down is specified. The DrakX Partitioning Wizard even offers an impromptu shrinking of an existing Windows partition.
I had already created partitions for the ROSA installation from another OS installed on the system, so I chose the custom partitioning option. Clicking "Next" will bring up a confirmation, the only time the ROSA installer reminds users to be sure of their choices.
The next screen will allow for custom partitioning options. Since I had prepared the partitions for ROSA before, all I needed to do on this screen was to assign partitions to the mount points for/,/home, and/boot/efi.
Clicking on a partition will provide actions for the selected partition in the pane to the right. Choosing "Mount point" will bring up a dialog to assign a mount point to the selected partition.
Then I selected the EFI system partition,/dev/sda2on my system, and assigned it to/boot/efi.
Assign the swap partition by selecting the partition to be used for swap at the top and then clicking "Enable swap" in the pane on the right side of the screen. The swap space should be at least the same size as the RAM of the system to enable hibernation.
Use the same method as used to assign the root and EFI partition to assign a partition to/home. Then click done. The next screen will be where you will indicate whether the partitions assigned to the root and home directories should be formatted. The option to format the root partition should be selected to prevent the possibility of existing files from interfering with the new system to be installed on the partition. The installer, sensibly, doesn't have the option to format the EFI System partition as in some other distributions, as formating this partition would prevent other installed systems from booting.
Clicking next on the screen shown in the above screen-shot directly leads to the actual installation without any warning. Most distributions' installers would prompt for confirmation or display a warning here. A slide show introducing ROSA and its features plays during the installation.
The penultimate step installation is specifying whether the bootloader should be installed and the location for installation. If installation of the bootloader is desired, the location for installation is selected in the drop-down as shown in the following screen-shot. Options for the bootloader can be specified here also.
The last step is to specify whether some common services should be started at startup. Printing services and network file and printer sharing are preselected.
The installer setting the first user added to the system during installation as user id 500 instead of 1000 as is the custom, caused problems with ownership and permission of the data partitions I added to /etc/fstab. Issuing the command
usermod -u 1000 username
as root solved the problem. (The developers also decided to add the user added during installation to the wheel group but with the user's password instead of root's password. This turned out to be very convenient, but I don't know how secure this may be.) The above fix allowed me read and write access to the partitions I added to the fstab, by matching the non-root user id allowed full access to these partitions. Changing the user id did not allow me to access the partitions of other distributions in the system, however, even if these were mounted when accessing them in Dolphin. This is not uncommon and not specific to ROSA, however, most other distributions ask for a root password when accessing such partitions or allow full read write access without a root password by default.
For some desktop effects to work, such as cover flow for window switching with Alt + Tab the graphics rendering should be changed from the default RandR to OpenGL.
As mentioned in the quick facts section of this article, everything after the final installation worked as expected. The EFI/UEFI installation, GRUB-EFI bootloader, suspend to RAM, suspend to disk (hibernation), and even the Targus Bluetooth 4.0 dongle, which I tested by pairing to my Nokia Lumia 928 works.
The backlight control was enabled by performing the steps indicated here. Although this fix was necessary and resolved the backlight control, one of my installations did not allow control using the keyboard because the Up and down keys were improperly mapped.
These functions work as expected without any fixes.
The set of packages installed by default will be satisfactory for most users, as it includes an office suite (LibreOffice), a web browser (Firefox), a music manager/player (Clementine), and a video payer (ROSA Media Player)ter. Flash Player plug-in and codecs are installed automatically as well. Whatever is not installed by default, if it is popular, is generally found in the ROSA repositories. Also the most common software is generally current.
The quality of the repositories for less popular software could be better. For example, the very useful GUI multimedia transcoding tool traGtor is not in the ROSA repositories, but it is in the Sabayon and openSUSE repositories. There are exceptions with the general currentness of available packages also, for example, the versions of the LyX document processor -- a tool specifically mentioned in ROSA marketing to demonstrate its strength in publishing -- and the TeXlive typesetting package are at versions that are over a year old -- and both of these have had more than one major release since then. But overall, for most users the selction of software in the repositories and the currentness is good.
An unusual feature of ROSA is their emphasis of the availability of optimized kernels. Other distributions offer multiple kernel options, even providing tools for managing kernels; for example Manjaro allows multiple kernels to be installed and managed, Sabayon maintains multiple kernel versions in its repositories, including LTS kernels, and openSUSE has kernels in repositories for installation target type, capability, and use. However ROSA offers the same kernel in several versions with increasingly aggressive optimizations for performance or power savings. (openSUSE can do the same with a YaST module) More information on ROSA kernels are at this ROSA wiki page.
The package format used by the ROSA distribution is the RPM format, created in the mid-nineties by Red Hat (the R stands for Red Hat) and adopted by Fedora, SUSE, and ROSA's predecessors, Mandrake and Mandriva, and its relatives Mageia and openMandriva. The Mandrake/Mandriva forks use a newer version than the others but packages should be compatible in most cases.
One of the essential component of of RPM package management is the programrpmwhich is analogous to the Debiandpkg. Likedpkgit is rarely used; instead theurpmcommand line tools are used in the same way thataptitudeandapt-getcommand line tools are used in Debian based distributions.rpmis common to all of the distributions mentioned above, but urpm and its related tools (urpmifor installation,urpmefor unintstallation,urpmqfor querying the package database, and others) are only found on the Mandrake descendants. Its analogue on Fedora is yum and on openSUSE it is zypper.
Therpmsystem provides the user power and flexibility. For example, packages can be built locally and installed from a local repository, as described here. The other essential component of this packaging system is the.specfile, which is a script with available predefined macros containing the instructions for installing a package and may include logic for performing any of the following: getting source files or archives from remote or local URLs, extracting source archives, compiling sources and creating an executable binary, writing files to the file hierarchy of the target system. It also includes the package metadata. A user will never deal with this file unless building packages.
A graphical package management tool inherited from Mandrake then Mandriva is also available.
Unlike in Mandriva and the other Mandriva forks, this tool, like the other graphical system tools is integrated into KDE's "Configure Your Desktop" instead of being a component of the Mageia Control Center or the openMandriva Control Center.rpmdrake, as it is formally called -- reflecting its origin as a Mandrake tool, is similar to Fedora's graphical package manager, but without the rollback option. The following two screen-shots, show it in the process of installing Rosa Software Center.
It is nowhere near as powerful as the openSUSE graphical manager -- a component of YaST system control center -- which is the best of the non Software Center type of package managers. It offers two filters through toolbars, one for state, i.e. whether to filter installed packages, not-installed packages or all packages, and another that filters by type of package, such as meta packages, update packages, packages with a GUI, and some others. Other options and package/repository management tools are in the menus. One unique feature, I liked about this program is that it gives useful information during package installation, as shown in the next three screen-shots, the first of which was essential to using the installed package correctly.
Both of these package management tools are adequate but fall short compared to their openSUSE counterparts, which is my preference. In the case of theurpm, in my opinion there are too many separate versions of the tool for particular tasks, -- urpmi, urpme, urpmq, urpmf, urpmi.update, urpmi.addmedia, etc, all of these with many options.
Neither the commands or the options are completely intuitive, unlike in openSUSE there is one command used together with an action, that is named obviously, for example,
zypper update. For some users, the urpmi tools may actually be preferable and the command naming more obvious, for example, the i in urpmi is install without the action as in openSUSE. But this naming scheme is inconsistent with other commands that have urpmi as part of there names but are not used for installation related actions, for example, urpmi.addmedia. The following table shows some equivalent commands. For the equivalent commands with distributions that don't use RPM package format, this page on DistroWatch.
|TASK||openSUSE||ROSA and Mandriva Forks||Fedora and Red Hat Forks|
|update package database from all repositories|
|search for a package by pattern|
|update all installed packages|
|apply available patches|
|upgrade to a new distribution release||not as simple in Fedora, see this page.|
|in both distributions, existing repositories must be replaced with the repositories of the new release before executing the update command|
|verify dependencies and repair if necessary|
The portal to ROSA documentation is at the ROSA wiki, unfortunately it defaults to Russian. The English portal must be entered manually as http://wiki.rosalab.ru/en/index.php. There is very little documentation, but some major topics are discussed such as installation, installation in VirtualBox, upgrading, kernel related topics, and building packages, among others. Unfortunately some of the pages are outdated; for example, the installation screen-shots seem to be from a previous version and the upgrade page is for upgrading from R3 to R4. The quality could be better also, for example, images on the installation page use virtual box screen-shots, which isn't really helpful for someone installing on a physical machine. The Mageia installation documentation screenshots show installation on an actual hard disk.
Fortunately, since Mageia is based on the same distribution as is ROSA and uses the same tools, its documentation is another, more extensive, information resource. Mageia has formal documentation in a format similar to Fedora, for the installer for the control center and a wiki here. In fact, some of the ROSA wiki pages have been taken from the Mageia documentation.
Despite some of the issues I experienced during installation, I like ROSA and would recommend the ROSA distribution, although it hasn't displaced my personal few favorite distributions, it will stay, if only for variety, on my multi-boot system with partitions for data shared among various OSes installed on the system.
The more serious issues that I had with ROSA are the following:
Fortunately, reinstallation under conditions suggested in the Installation Tips, above avoided all of these issues, and I grew to like this distribution immediately after I started to use it. Some of the characteristics I like and the reasons for my recommendation are: