2011-07-28

Review: Chakra 2011.04-r2 "Aida"


For a while, I've been reviewing Chakra GNU/Linux using only a VM because I've been unable to create a Chakra live USB system with UnetBootin and have been unwilling to use the destructive live USB tool "dd". Recently, though, I tried doing it with MultiSystem, and it worked fine, so I'm reviewing it today.

Main Screen + Kickoff Menu
Regular readers of this blog don't need much of an introduction to Chakra. It's a formerly Arch-based rolling-release distribution (though it is drifting farther and farther away) that aims to provide a user-friendly distribution with a good, clean implementation of KDE. That said, while it does target newbies, it also targets power users, KDE lovers, and Arch fans at the same time, and it hopes that its users are active in giving back to Chakra; that could be through simple things like filing bug reports or more involved things like actually participating in the development process.

As I mentioned earlier, I tested this release of Chakra using a live USB made with MultiSystem. I also tested the installation in a VirtualBox VM with 1024 MB of RAM allocated to the guest OS; this was done in a Pinguy OS 11.04 Mini live USB session. Follow the jump to see what it's like, now that I'm finally testing it on real hardware.

After getting past the boot menu, I saw a scrolling wall of text, and then...nothing. This was the same issue I has with PCLinuxOS 2011.6 KDE along with a few other distributions. I restarted (into my installed Linux Mint system) and searched for answers in the Chakra wiki. I found then that replacing the GRUB parameter "nonfree=yes xdriver=no" to "nonfree=no xdriver=yes" would solve the issue, and it in fact did. With all that said, I'm willing to give Chakra a pass on this issue (versus PCLinuxOS) because I know from experience when booting the ISO files in a VM that Chakra's live CD, unlike that of PCLinuxOS, does have far more explicit options for modifying the graphics card driver-related boot parameters. Anyway, after relatively quick boot time, I saw a pretty-looking customized KDE splash with the Chakra logo filling up circularly and with a progress bar in the foreground on top of the default Chakra background. After that I was taken to the desktop.
The desktop hasn't changed at all from the previous version, so I won't dwell on it, except that the icons have changed in line with the upstream KDE changes, and I'm still not a fan of that change.

Bundle Manager + AppSet-Qt
Rekonq is the default web browser, and while it works well on the whole, it seems to have regressed in one area: if I try to use the main search bar to search for queries that are not explicit web or directory addresses, instead of using a search engine to search those terms, it automatically puts me in the home folder, which isn't helpful. Other than that, codecs didn't seem to be included, so I needed to install those myself.
Aside from that, the application list is quite sparse, so I headed to the package manager anyway.

Chakra has one major and one slightly smaller GUI package manager, in addition to two CLI package managers. The major GUI package manager is AppSet-Qt, which includes everything from the main Chakra repositories: this mostly consists of KDE/Qt applications as opposed to GTK+ applications. Here, I could install LibreOffice, Skype, and the beta version of Adobe Flash. Though it took a while to download those packages, installation of those packages was the fastest I've ever seen. Regarding the package manager itself, it's well laid-out, though I feel like the tabs for application categories at the bottom could be moved to the top, because I missed them quite a few times and kept blindly looking for something near the top of the window. Installing something is as easy as clicking the checkbox and clicking "Check and Apply". Furthermore, each package has a good description, probably coming from the website of that application itself, which is great. Overall, it worked really well.
YouTube on Rekonq + Mozilla Firefox
The second GUI package manager is the Bundle Manager. For most major non-KDE/Qt applications, Chakra provides "bundles" instead of traditional packages; these are basically self-contained executable ISO-esque images which otherwise leave no trace of their presence in the root file system. This is how I got Mozilla Firefox, listed at version 5.0; furthermore, after it was downloaded and installed, Bundle Manager even gave me the option of running it right there, without me needing to search through the confusing Kickoff menu to find it. That's really nice, and for major programs like this, LibreOffice, Pidgin, the GIMP, et cetera, I think it's something other distributions and their package managers should adopt.
The CLI package managers are Pacman and CCR. Pacman is taken from Arch and is compatible with Arch repositories, while CCR stands for the Chakra Community Repositories and contains user-developed packages made for Chakra. This is how I installed the Google Talk browser plugin: after "su", I typed "pacman -S base-devel", then "ccr -S google-talkplugin". That was much easier than it was in Kongoni.

Hulu on Mozilla Firefox + LibreOffice Writer + Desktop Cube
All those packages worked well after installation, save for a few trivial things. After I increased the mic and headphone volume in KMix, Skype and Google Talk recognized my webcam and mic fine. Mozilla Firefox also worked fine, though it appeared unthemed and looked like it came from Microsoft Windows 98; after I installed the latest Oxygen-KDE extension from the Mozilla Firefox add-on website and added a few other extensions to my liking, it went from drab to beautifully integrated with KDE 4. To be sure, there were a few buttons and dialog boxes that looked out-of-place, but those were minor issues. Furthermore, YouTube and Hulu worked totally fine, which was great.

Desktop effects, though not enabled out-of-the-box, worked smoothly once enabled. Neither KDE nor the associated applications ever crashed. Finally, Chakra felt fast, and the numbers bore that feeling out: at idle, Chakra used just 280 MB of RAM, which is probably the lowest I've seen of any KDE distribution and is comparable to some of the heavier GNOME distributions like Ubuntu. The only other issue I had was in making the OS suspend, but it seems like Linux distributions all across the board dislike my laptop when it comes to suspending.

Partitioning in Tribe Installer
At this point, I restarted into Pinguy OS to try out the installation in VirtualBox. The Tribe installer hasn't really changed from before. The user creation, locale selection (with the beautiful virtual globe), and partitioner are the same as before. This time, because the virtual hard drive only had 3.1 GB of the available 9 GB used by the Kongoni installation from last time, I opted to shrink that partition and create a new one for Chakra in a dual-boot setup. After doing that in the KDE Partition Manager and proceeding, I sat back and let the installer do its thing. The installation only took 5 minutes, which was great; I didn't install any other bundles afterwards, so I decided to just restart. After that, I was greeted with a heavily-themed GRUB. Actually, I was greeted by BURG, which is GRUB that has been modified to allow for greater theming. That's amazing! I also saw that Kongoni's partition got recognized correctly. Both OSs worked properly; the only little quirk was that KDM in Chakra was set to automatically log me in, which I feel is bad in terms of security. Otherwise, things worked well on the whole, and that's where my time with Chakra ended.

So what's the verdict? Because I know that Chakra has options for proper graphics card detection in GRUB when the live medium is made in an official manner (i.e. not MultiSystem), where other distributions didn't have such options, I'm willing to give Chakra a pass on that issue. Installing packages, even Skype and Google Talk, is just as easy as in any other user-friendly Linux distribution, and installing bundles is even easier; in fact, that's as easy, if not more so, than installing a self-contained executable program in Microsoft Windows. The installer works well and is easy to use as well. It's fast, and it's light on resources for a KDE distribution. It has an active, vibrant community of users and developers, and its documentation is quite thorough; if that's not enough, as it still has roots in Arch, the Arch wiki is the best I've seen of any Linux distribution in terms of breadth, depth, and being able to explain things clearly and plainly. Finally, especially for a community-based distribution without commercial support (as far as I know), it is really polished and well done. I give this my highest recommendation, but more importantly, Chakra, along with #! and Pinguy OS, is now among the few distributions I would actually seriously consider installing on my computer if I ever stop using Linux Mint. Call me irrational, but I've been smitten by its virtues. That means a lot to me, and I will keep coming back to Chakra. Bravo to the developers!
You can get Chakra here. Do it!

16 comments:

  1. After impressed by so many positive reviews,I decided to try Chakra.It miserably failed with mulyisystem.The installer failed repeatedly at 90% of the installation process (while copying the INIRAMFS).Then I tried with copying ISO image with dd.I was able to install Chakra wihout any hiccups.But the system ceased at rebooting citing some problems in identifying partitions (depite some tweakig in grub menu).
    In a deperate attemt to taste the flavour of Arch linux,I installed Arch base system in my Dell inspiron as my fifth OS(along with Windows,Linux Mint, Bodhi Linux and Fedora).I could not establish the dial up connection in Arch linux.I was not able to download packages to switch to graphical environment.I sucessfully chrooted the arch base into my Linux Mint.I downloaded my favourite XFCE packages.I am having Arch linux in XFCE environment.It is fast and I love working with it.
    I should be grateful to Chakra, as it was instrumental in promting me to install ARCH.

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  2. Chakra is the best KDE distro I've tried. It seems really fast and light on resources.

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  3. I've tried at least 30 disto's (including recently Chakra) and keep returning to Arch (xfce). Easiest and fastest of all and no hick-ups during many years usage.

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  4. Regarding to that rekonq issue, there's no search engine enabled by default. You can choose one from rekonq settings --> search engines.

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  5. yes fast and stable but kubuntu has sabnzbplus, picasa, wine, handbrake und so weiter und so weiter and all that other stuf, so what do you want, i want every thing working

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  6. @seenivasan: Did Chakra fail to be made into a live USB with MultiSystem, or did it fail to install on your hard drive (Tribe)? In any case, it's unfortunate that you weren't able to get it to work, but it's good that you can enjoy Arch.
    @Anonymous 1: That's basically the same conclusion I've reached as well.
    @Anonymous 2: It's great that you've had such success with Arch, but for me, I don't have the time or patience to get all the minutiae of Arch up and running correctly; that's why I'd prefer to use a derivative of Arch that gets most of the core stuff (Internet, sound, et cetera) running out-of-the-box.
    @Anonymous 3: That's strange, because last time I tried Chakra, it seemed to have a search engine enabled by default. It's good to know that the fix is easy, but that still seems annoying and that still seems like a regression in behavior.
    @codec59: I'm not sure what that had to do with Chakra, and while I'm glad you enjoy Kubuntu, do note that Chakra also has many of the same programs available, and if not, there are equivalents that are at least as good, if not better. Furthermore, the only way you'll know if everything will work for you with Chakra is to try it yourself. Finally, could someone else tell me what "und so weiter und so weiter" is?
    Thanks for the comments!

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  7. Hi PV,

    "und so weiter und so weiter" means "and so on" or "et cetera". I suppose he was a bit ironical here.

    I liked the review.

    By the way, I saw that there are a few interesting programs to install from the community repo (CCR). Is the syntax simply ccr -S appX where appX is stands for the desired filename?

    Patrick

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  8. @Anonymous: Don't worry about that comment, because I saw an almost-duplicate of it elsewhere on this blog, so it looks like that guy is trying to be spammy or something. Also, I figured as much about that phrase, but I just wanted to be sure; but then, how is he being ironic? Anyway, to answer your question, that is the general syntax, but you may need to install some extra packages as well (dependencies and the like), or else it might not work out. And as you saw with this review, the Google Talk plugin only works with Mozilla Firefox and Chromium, despite the fact that neither of those browsers are included with Chakra. Thanks for the support!

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  9. Thanks PV, but this does not strike me very newbie friendly, if he has to take care separately of the dependencies. But for people who have installed other Linuxes before should feel alright with this, even though depending on the complexity of the application this means it can take time to resolve a host of dependencies. Right?

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  10. ccr -S package_name will install/compile all the needed dependencies, meaning some deps are in the regular repositories, some are in CCR (thus needing to be compiled also), no dependency hunting.

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  11. Ah, that clarifies it. Thanks,

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  12. @Anonymous 1: Well, to be honest, I don't know if the base-devel and Adobe Flash packages strictly count as dependencies. They may be more like prerequisites for installation, and those need to be taken care of in any Linux distribution, I think.
    @Anonymous 2: That's definitely true.
    Thanks for the comments!

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  13. Chakra is for those who really like KDE, as it is absent of GTK to the point of not installing Flash. One may install GTK stuff, but all up to the user, and the default way is through bundles. That's why it has the best implementation of KDE that I've ever seen. Some options are not available on install, since it isn't a mature distro yet. Never seen any other distro make the latest realease of KDE available on the stable branch as fast as they do, and working flawlessly.

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  14. @Anonymous: And the best part about it is that even though they don't have stuff like Adobe Flash and Mozilla Firefox available out-of-the-box (and I actually had no idea that Adobe Flash was considered a GTK+ application), it's dead-easy to install the required bundles. Plus, the Tribe installer has options for installing popular bundles and other packages after the core installation is done. Thanks for the comment!

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  15. Just a little note: we still have GTK+ and the Flash plugin in our repositories, as there are no replacements for those and are needed by tons of people. Moreover, one can always install GTK+ applications (even bundled ones) from the CCR, if he wants to: simply put, we don't officially support that, as we're focused on KDE/Qt applications only.

    Thanks for the review, it's always nice to read a good one. :)

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  16. @jmc: Thanks for the tip and the support!

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