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Tanglu 1.0 Review

Tanglu Linux is a Debian based distribution -- 100% compatible with its parent -- that aims to provide a Debian system without the constraints of the Debian release schedule and distribution segmentation system, i.e. having a stable, testing, and unstable branch of the release, which results in outdated software in the stable branch some time after release and the freezing of packages in testing, for the beniefit of Debian developers who would like to be able to test their products in a current Debian system. This endeavor ostensibly also benefits Linux users who want the strengths of a Debian system without its limitations. Unfortunately, for this second class of potential Tanglu user, the distribution may not be mature enough, have enough developers, or have the right focus to be attractive without acceptance of its own limitations.

Review

I decided to add Tanglu 1.0 (Aequorea Victoria, named after a jellyfish) to my multi-boot system -- which had prior to adding Tanglu, Windows, Sabayon, NixOS, and Voyager HD, because for a while, I had wanted to try Debian to see what a pure Debian experience was like, unaduterated or unmodified by Ubuntu, and for the wide availability of .deb based packages from many outlets (the new Opera browser, beta and developer editions, is only available as a .deb package from the Opera website), but was discouraged by the outdated software that is the result of its release schedule system. So I looked around for a Debian based distribution and considered the rolling SolydXK, but that distribution was hurt by their reliance on closely copying the Debian archives without a method to bridge the disruption of new Debian releases. Then I discovered Tanglu, a system that takes packages primarily from the Debian testing branch, with some packages from the Debian stable and unstable branches to provide what its developers see as an optimum balance of stability and current software. The fact that the developers of Tanglu could take packages from any of the Debian repositories and make a consistent set of packages available in their own repository was appealing.

The default Tanglu 1.0 desktop.
A nice looking default desktop,, I think.

What I found when actually installing Tangu on October 15, 2014, was an installer that does not support installation to EFI/UEFI systems, although I was able to successfully install it in two stages, first by using the installer in the live iso to install the image but without mounting the EFI system partition or installing the GRUB (EFI) bootloader, and second by booting into the installed Tanglu with the bootloader of another installed system and then installing and then configuring the GRUB (EFI) bootloader.

I also found that the packages available with the distribution were severely outdated. For example, KDE 4.11.3, GIMP 2.8.6, Firefox 27.0, and Chromium 32.0. KDE and Firefox were updated to 4.11.5 and 30.0 respectively in the initial after-install update, but the other two examples were not. The problem with software being outdated can be alleviated, however, by adding the repositories of Tanglu 2.0 and upgrading. Note, there are some dangers to be mindful of if doing this which I will discuss later.

KDE 4.11.5.
This is the latest version available as of 11/03/2014.
Firefox 30.0.
This is the latest version available as of 11/03/2014

Compare this to my Sabayon installation, which at the same time had KDE 4.14.2. The state of software timeliness in Tanglu was further demonstrated by what I found when I tried some possibly unconventional methods to get more current software.

One of the methods I used to get more current software, specifically the LyX document processor, was to temporarily include the Debian testing archive in my apt sources list and to install LyX from the Debian testing repository, which gave me LyX 2.1.2 over Tanglu's latest 2.0.6. While the Debian testing branch was active in the apt sources list Apper gave me a notification that over 1200 updates were available. This is markedly more than the 294 updates that were available from Tanglu immediately after installing it. I am guessing that this means that even though Tanglu gets its packages from the Debian testing archive, the developers have not been syncing with it or maintaining the packages since the initial release of Tanglu 1.0 in early 2014. As attested by some of the discussion on Tanglu's forum, this must be because of efforts being concentrated on the next release, which just released a second alpha of Tanglu 2.0 (Bartholomea Annulata, named after an even stranger sea creature than the jellyfish of Aequorea) in early November 2014.

After installing LyX from Debian testing, I had a stable system, where after some modifications, everything worked, but I became increasingly dissatisfied with KDE 4.11.x instead of KDE 4.14.x, or even 4.13.x, so I added to my apt sources list, the archives for Tanglu 2.0 and did a sudo apt-get upgrade (not dist-upgrade). This upgraded about 800 - 900 packages, including almost all components of KDE, which were brought to version 4.14.1, and conservatively holding back almost 400 packages. (Unfortunately for me LyX was still at 2.0.6, even with the new repository.) If any non Debian experts decide to use Tanglu 1.0, I would recommend keeping this configuration, as it updates everything to as current a state as possible without sacrificing stability.

At this point I had a stable and current system, at least as far as KDE was concerned, except for Kmail and some related packages, which had not yet been updated in the Tanglu 2.0 repositories.

So enough about the only thing I didn't like about Tanglu -- the outdated packages -- and on to what I did like while the system was on this configuration. I liked that Tanglu is 100% compatible with Debian, meaning, among other things that it is possible to add any of the Debian repositories to the apt sources list and get packages directly from Debian. It is even possible to convert it to a Debian system by removing the Tanglu repositories from the apt sources list and doing a dist-upgrade.

I also like the fact that, as with any Debian based distribution, including those based on Ubuntu, packages are of the .deb format allowing one to find packages from third-parties, if one is not available from the official repositories. For example I was able to download the packages for the new Opera (beta and developer versiona) that uses Chromium as a base.

The last specific thing of the things I liked was the availability of the large sets of Debian documentation that are applicable to Tanglu, (useful if I want to commit to Tanglu and package new versions of the software I need). For example, {cms_selflink ext="https://www.debian.org/doc/manuals/maint-guide/first.en.html" text="this chapter of the Debian documentation"} provides a starting point for the documentation describing the process of creating a .deb package from upstream source tar.gz packages {cms_selflink ext="https://www.debian.org/doc/manuals/maint-guide/build.en.html" text="this chapter of the Debian documentation"} describes the process of making a Debian package for distribution. Besides these sections of the reference manual, there is also {cms_selflink ext="https://wiki.debian.org/IntroDebianPackaging" text="the wiki page on Debian packaging"}.

Besides these more substantive characteristics of the distribution, I appreciated the pleasant desktop theme and the version naming convention based on the scientific name of some unusual sea creatures.

Aequorea Victoria
This image is from Wikipedia. The copyright holder requests attribution to Sierra Blakely.
Bartholomea Annulata
This image is from Wikipedia. The copyright holder is not specified.

But in general after the safe upgrade to Bartholomea distributions I had a stable Debian system without the limitations of the Debian release schedule and with the flexibility of getting packages from Debian when necessary, or from Tanglu. Again this is the configuration to stick with for non-Debian experts who use this distribution.

But before I learned this the hard way, I started experimenting with aptitude's update options (with the Tanglu 2.0 repoitories still activated in the apt sources) instead of apt-get. My experiment resulted in everything being updated except a few packages, and until the next time I tried to boot Tanglu, I had a current system -- except for LyX have not been updated yet, even in the repository for the next release. Despite this outdated package, everything was great -- I even had a Tanglu 2.0 system --until the next boot where an updated GRUB menu entry was there, indicating Tanglu GNU/Linux 2.0, but no Plymouth splash screen and no automatic startup of the KDE graphical login (kdm) and the subsequent start of the graphical desktop. At this point I had to log in from the console and issue the command to start KDE from the console command prompt. It was downhill from there, with an unstable system.

So I think that this distribution will only be liked by users who do not care about the age of packages and put a preference on using a Debian based system without its schedule, users who will include the Debian sources to get more current software even using some of the advanced package management techniques such apt-pinning as described in the manual, or users who have extensive experience with Debian and are capable of getting a source package from Debian and building it for Tanglu. As for me, the current state of Tanglu is not appropriate because I prefer more current software without the extra effort, but I will check out the official release of Tanglu 2.0 (Barthomea Annuallata).

Quick Facts

Some aspects of the distribution warranting more information are covered in later sections, but I will give some quick facts here for those that don't want to read this entire post.

Download

A number of Tanglu installation images in the form of live ISOs for both 32 and 64 bit architectures are available on {cms_selflink ext="http://tanglu.org/download/" text="this page"} at the {cms_selflink ext="http://tanglu.org/" text="Tanglu site"}. A {cms_selflink ext="https://www.docker.com/whatisdocker/" text="Docker"} image of the base system is also available, as well as daily builds of the ISO images (of the next release, Tanglu 2.0 Bartholomea Annulata.)

Desktop Environments

The live ISOs are available in either a KDE or GNOME version. Xfce, Mate, and Cinnamon are also available, but as packages in the repository, so they have to be installed from within a working installation, or from an already installed system by using some advanced methods.

Package Management

Graphical package management, including update notifications, are performed by Apper (note that I installed the KDE version, so this is different from what you will find if you use the GNOME version.) Synaptic Package Manager was not installed by default. Of course, the command line tools apt and aptitude are there, along with aptitude's interactive mode.

Included Software

An adequate set of standard software that most users will want is included in the default installation, including the Firefox web browser and LibreOffice.

Ease of Use or Challenge Level

Tanglu is a very easy to use and stable distribution, even for those with limited experience. Linux users who are used to Ubuntu and its derivatives will have a very easy time with it, because of Ubuntu's Debian base. They will especially be able to easily use the command line package management tools apt and aptitude.

The only difficulty will be installing this distribution on an EFI/UEFI system using the provided installation images on the Tanglu page, as the installer does not support it. I have provided detailed instructions on one way to do this in the installation section of this article.

What Works and What Doesn't

As usual with most Linux distributions some features do not work without some intervention. The important missing functionality in the case of Tanglu is backlight control and hibernation, the latter because the resume device is not automatically added to the GRUB configuration. Another minor malfunction was the Targus Bluetooth 4.0 dongle that I use. This has not worked for me on any KDE system except the new openSUSE 13.2. Solutions to the backlight control and resume device issues are provided in the After Install-Making Everything Work section of this article.

Installation

The installer used by the Tanglu 1.0 live ISO is the same one used by Linux Mint Debian Edition, but unlike the LMDE installer, the version used by Tanglu does not support installation on a UEFI system. The installer is not capable of detecting the EFI System partition, so it uses the grub2 package -- not the grub-efi-amd64 package necessary for an EFI/UEFI system. It installs the GRUB bootloader to the MBR as in non-EFI systems that use MBR partitioning as opposed to the EFI-System partition as on EFI/UEFI systems with GPT partitioning. The installer can still be used as a first stage in a two stage installation, where another bootloader is available, that is less complicated than some other possible methods of installing Tanglu on an EFI/UEFI system. The Tanglu help also suggests as an alternative method of installing Tanglu on EFI/UEFI systems by first installing Debian (Stable branch) then replacing the Debian archives from the apt sources list with the Tanglu archives, then issuing the command sudo apt-get dist-upgrade.

I chose to do something different, the steps of which are described below, and involve, to summarize the steps, using the live ISO installer to install the system, but without mounting the EFI System partition and without choosing to install GRUB by leaving the checkbox for GRUB installation unchecked on the last page of the installer, and second by booting into the installed Tanglu system using the bootloader of another installed system and then installing and configuring the GRUB bootloader for EFI systems as indicated on {cms_selflink page="grub-for-efi-systems" text="this page"}.

Installation Tips for EFI/UEFI Installation

  • On the installer page where the hard drives available for installation can be selected, there are two radio buttons, one states "Install Tanglu on the selected drive" and the other states "Manually mount partitions (ADVANCED USERS ONLY)." Do not choose the second option, you will still have the opportunity to create, modify, and select partitions for mounting in the next step.

Bootloader

Because the live iso installer doesn't support EFI/UEFI installation do not install the bootloader. The bootloader installation is covered in the description of the installation steps below.

Installation Steps

The installer begins with language selection. Choose your language and select "Forward".

Choose your language.
The first page of the installer.

The second page is the time zone selection. There are no options involving the hardware clock as in some other distribution's installers.

Choose the time zone.
The second page of the installer.

The third page is the keyboard language and layout selection.

Choose the keyboard layout.
The third page of the installer.

The next step is entering the user information and the hostname. A unique feature of the installer at this point is that the laptops webcam is turned on, making it possible to take a picture and assign it to the user entered here.

Enter the user name, password, assign or take a picture, and enter a hostname.
The fourth page of the installer.

Then choose the disk on which to install Tanglu. This page has two selection buttons, on stating "Install Tanglu on the selected drive." and the other stating "Manually mount partitions (ADVANCED USERS ONLY)." Make sure only the first button is selected with the correct disk highlighted in the list of available disks. The second option should not be selected. This is a suggestion by {cms_selflink text="dedoimedo" ext="http://www.dedoimedo.com/computers/linux-mint-debian-201403.html"} in the review of LMDE.

Choose the disk on which to install Tanglu.
The fifth page of the installer.

Then you will have the opportunity to select which partitions to install to on the selected disk.

Select available partitions to mount and install to or create new partitions in unallocated space.
The sixth page of the installer.

If you haven't prepared partitions before starting the installer you can select unallocated space select "Edit Partitions" which will start gparted where you can create new partitions for the Tanglu installation. If the partition(s) you want to list to are already present select the partitions and mount them to / and /home if you want a separate home partition, as described later.

Gparted.
Create partitions for installing Tanglu or modify existing partitions to install to.
The dialog for creating a partition in Gparted.
Choose size, filesystem format, and label.

At this point once the desired partitions are available, by either creating them starting the Gparted tool from within the installer

After creating partitions for the / and /home
In the image above the Tanglu home and root partitions have been labeled as such.

or if you had made them before starting the installer , you can just select the desired partition, right click and then choose the mount point.

Assign mount points to the root and home partitions.
Right click on the partition and select mount point.

As is the recommended best practice, for non-specialized uses such as a mail server, it is best to have a partition for / and /home. It is also helpful to edit the partition labels in Gparted, so that the block devices can be referred to by label and their labels automatically appear in the file manager by name instead of by generic labels based on size.

The next screen will have a checkbox to indicate that GRUB shoulb be installed. Make sure this is unchecked if you are installing on an EFI/UEFI system as it will not work and install GRUB from within the installation. Click next and you will be presented with a slideshow, while files are copied.

After the installation is completed, boot into another installation and update the GRUB in that installation so the new Tanglu will be added to its menu. After the installation completed, I rebooted the system my Voyager HD installation and used the Grub Customizer tool, accessible from within the Xfce Settings to update its GRUB bootloader, alowing me to boot into Tanglu after another reboot.

GRUB Customizer in Voyager.
After installing Tanglu boot into another distribution and update its GRUB.

If you don't have Grub Customizer or an equivalent tool that is capable of configuring GRUB use the following command:

  • on Debian or Ubuntu based systems

    sudo update-grub

  • on Gentoo or Sabayon based systems, as root

    grub2-mkconfig -o /boot/grub/grub.cfg

  • on other systems, as root

    grub2-mkconfig -o /path/to/grub.cfg

You will need to make certain that this updated bootloader is the first in the list of firmware bootloaders in your list of bootloaders, so that when you reboot, this GRUB, which will now include Tanglu, is the one that appears. Then reboot and select Tanglu from the GRUB menu.

Once you have logged into the Tanglu installation:

    1. verify that it was booted in EFI mode

[ -d /sys/firmware/efi ] && echo "EFI boot on HDD" || echo "Legacy boot on HDD"

If the system was booted in EFI mode, this command will return:

EFI boot on HDD

or,

Legacy boot on HDD

if it was not booted in EFI mode. If it is not in EFI mode, then the bootloader of the other OS is installed and configured improperly, and you will need to fix that first.

    1. install the EFI/UEFI version of the grub package

sudo apt-get install grub-efi-amd64

    1. install the bootloader to the EFI partition

grub-install /dev/sda

Change /dev/sda to the appropriate device name of your disk. This command has options that can be specified, including the EFI partition to install to, but without options, will automatically install to an EFI partition if there is only one of these partitions.

    1. configure grub with

sudo update-grub

When these steps are completed, the newly installed bootloader will be at the top of the firmware bootloaders list and will appear when the system is booted/rebooted. It will have all installed operating systems that can be started with GRUB, including Windows in its menu. (An installed distribution that uses gummiboot, like NixOS in my case, will not be listed.)

After Installation

Making Everything Work

Backlight Control

To make the backlight control work, I used the method described {cms_selflink page="backlight-control" text="this page"}.

Sleep and Hibernate

Hibernate did not work immediately after installation because the resume device -- the swap partition where the system state is saved for hibernation -- was not automatically added to the grub configuration file. Use the method on {cms_selflink page="hibernation" text="this page"} to resolve this issue.

Besides software I use for my projects, I always install the following:

  • cairo-dockwhich provides a Mac OS X style dock that is very powerful, configurable, and extensible
  • the dropdown launcher

Software and Package Management System

Included Software

An adequate set of standard software that most users will want is included in the default installation, including the Firefox web browser and LibreOffice.

Documentation and Help

Tanglu Specific Documentation/Help

There is no Tanglu specific documentation in the style of openSUSE, Fedora, or Debian, but there is a wiki portal. Unfortunately, this is almost completely empty. If you dig around in the wiki portal, you will find a page, here and there, like the one that suggests the workaround of installing Debian first and then converting to Tanglu for installing onto EFI/UEFI systems.

Debian Documentation/Help

The lack of Tanglu specific documentation does not matter as it is 100% Debian compatible and all of the Debian manuals, wikis, and reference resources will be applicable. (Except maybe to the very few Tanglu specific base system packages that make Tanglu technically Tanglu.)

Recommendation

I think that this distribution achieves the Tanglu developers' goal of creating a Debian compatible system on which to test their software that is free of the Debian release segmentation, and in particular, the testing branch freezes. For other users, it is a good distribution, but it is limited by the fact that packages are not as current as they could be despite the developers' ability to choose any packages from any of Debian's archives to include in Tanglu's repositories -- for possible reasons mentioned above in the review. For users that are content with the age of packages, as with Debian some time after a release, and be satisfied with a Debian based system without its schedule -- if that is their priority, this is an excellent distribution. Other non-Debian-developers who want more current software and want to use Tanglu will need to include the Debian sources and possibly use some of the advanced package management techniques such apt-pinning as described in the Debian reference manual. Or, they will need to develop the skills to get source packages from Debian or the upstream developers and build it for Tanglu for distribution or for local installation. As for me, although I like Tanglu and could see using this distribution after developing the packaging skills, time is limited and would prefer exerting the extra effort when necessary on Manjaro or Sabayon. But I will check out the official release of Tanglu 2.0 (Barthomea Annuallata).