2011-12-27

Review: Chakra 2011.12 "Edn"

There's a new build of Chakra out, and I have some free time to check it out, so I'm doing so now. The other reason why I want to try it now is because a member of my family was raving about KDE in Fedora, so I figured it would be worth my time to dig deeper and see if I can massage KDE into becoming something that I could really like and use regularly. I'll spare any introductions because I've reviewed Chakra enough times already, so I'll skip to the main part of it.

Kickoff + KDE System Monitor
There doesn't seem to have been too much changed from the last version, aside from updates of applications across the board. But now that the day is getting closer for me to look into upgrading from Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora", I'm not just going to do my usual testing, but I'm also going to dig a bit deeper and really see if I can recreate something at least as good as what I have right now. With any Ubuntu-based distribution, it's almost guaranteed to be a trivial process, but with Chakra, I can't say that with as much confidence off-hand. I did all the testing using a live USB made with MultiSystem; I did not test the installation. Also, do note that I tested the DVD edition this time, so it does have more stuff out-of-the-box than the CD edition, which is what I have tested in the past. Follow the jump to see what it's like.

The boot process was basically the same as always: it was a scrolling wall of text on a black background, and the boot time was fairly reasonable. After that came the desktop, which is essentially unchanged from last time, so I won't dwell on that at all.

Rekonq is the default web browser, but I've noticed some rendering issues with it. For example, on the Chakra website itself, Rekonq sees some links as files to be downloaded for some weird reason. That's why I usually download Mozilla Firefox; in the Bundle Manager, which hasn't changed in operation at all since last time, it is available as the latest version (9.0.1-1). Codecs like MP3 are included, but Adobe Flash is not; that is available either in the regular package manager AppSet-Qt, or bundled (no pun intended) with the Qupzilla browser in the Bundle Manager. (Side note: Qupzilla is a new Mozilla Firefox-based browser that uses Qt; it's essentially the KDE counterpart to what Epiphany used to be before its version 2.28, when it switched to WebKit rendering. I'm not sure why Qupzilla is in the Bundle Manager considering that it is a Qt application, though I guess it makes sense considering that it is bundled with Adobe Flash, and that does require GTK+ dependencies.) Installing that worked well, and after that YouTube and Hulu worked fine, as did my laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts.
As this is the DVD edition, LibreOffice is included out-of-the-box, as are a few other more useful applications. LibreOffice is very well-integrated with KDE, which is great.

I was able to install Skype using the AppSet-Qt package manager, and that worked well. Skype also recognized my laptop's webcam and mic fine, which was great.
Mozilla Firefox + LibreOffice Writer + Desktop Cube
I installed Google Talk using the Chakra Community Repository (CCR), which required me to first use the command-line package manager Pacman to install the "base-devel" and "ccr" packages. After that, I was able to use the CCR command-line tool to install the Google Talk package. Once installed, that also recognized my laptop's webcam and mic fine.

Desktop effects worked great. I think it's safe to say that KWin is at least as good as Compiz now.
Stability was good too. It's good that there have been no Plasma crashes or anything of that sort; that's a good sign for me to use Chakra on a daily basis. Also, Chakra used about 350 MB of RAM at idle with desktop effects turned on; I think that's pretty fine performance, though it's certainly not the lightest or the heaviest I've seen KDE perform.

But this isn't just my usual testing. I want to see if my current desktop setup can at least be replicated, so the article doesn't end here.

The first thing to try is probably most important to me, because I've incorporated it as a part of my usual workflow. In my Linux Mint setup with Compiz, I've assigned different applications to open in different workspaces. For example, Mozilla Firefox opens only in workspace #1, while LibreOffice and its constituents only open in workspace #2. For a long time, I was under the impression that only Compiz was capable of this, and that's the reason why I emphasize Compiz so much in my other reviews (and make such a fuss when it is absent). Anyway, after a quick search online, I found out that the way to do it in KDE is much the same: I right-click any window, configure advanced window behavior, and configure the window rules to my liking. Awesome! Now I have no reason to complain about the lack of Compiz when KWin is present.

Another thing I did, which I haven't been able to do anywhere else, is to force similar applications to automatically tab together, taking advantage of KDE's tabbed windowing. Now, multiple instances of the same application open as tabs of the same window, which saves quite a bit of space. I find this especially useful with Skype, because the Linux version of Skype lacks the single-window interface of Skype for other platforms, so the main contact window, chat windows, and call windows are all separate and clutter the desktop. Now, however, they are all grouped together very nicely, which is great.

Lancelot + Dolphin + Tabbed Windows
I've always wanted to use KRunner more, considering it does as much as, if not more than, GNOME-Do, which I use regularly. The only impediment to my using it is the default assigned shortcut: ALT+F2. I find that to be a bit cumbersome. A quick online search showed me how to reassign the shortcut for KRunner, and I did reassign the shortcut to SUPER+SPACE, which is the same as that for GNOME-Do. Now I have no excuse not to use KRunner. At the same time, I also made the workspace arrangement 1 row of 4 columns, and I assigned shortcuts for switching to workspaces in different directions, which, oddly enough, had not already been assigned. Now workspace switching works almost identically as in Compiz.

I've never been fond of the Kickoff menu that comes standard with KDE, and the KDE 3-style Classic menu doesn't do it for me either. I've been spoiled by the Linux Mint Menu, but thankfully, the KDE Lancelot menu comes darn close. I installed it using AppSet-Qt, and then configured it a little to make sure that I had to click on applications to run them (rather than just hovering the cursor over the icons) and to make sure that it wouldn't reset the view to the "Favorites" tab when closed and reopened. That worked, and I can definitely get used to it.

There are just two other applications that I use on a semi-regular basis. One is Mupen64Plus, which is a Nintendo 64 video game console emulator for the computer; I was able to install that through AppSet-Qt. The other is F.lux, which is a tool that changes the color temperature of the screen through the day to minimize eyestrain; I was able to install the Xflux package through CCR.

This is not to say that there were no problems. There were a few, though they were quite minimal.
The first is that Dolphin seems to be unable to preview certain file types, even when the requisite packages seem to be installed. The most annoying such issue was its inability to preview MP4 video files when it could properly preview MP3 audio files.
The second is that Mupen64Plus didn't work quite right. When I tried playing a game at one point, at times it would work fine, but at other times it would lag a little or jump around a little. Thankfully, the game never became totally unplayable, but it became a little annoying and frustrating. In addition, installing the Qt front-end for Mupen64Plus failed, so I had to do everything via command-line. This also meant that doing things like changing the video settings (to possibly make the emulation work better) and the controller keybindings became really cumbersome. Then again, because I don't use this all that much nowadays, it really isn't a big issue.
The final one is that I don't think Xflux was doing its job. F.lux only has a GUI for Ubuntu, so the CCR package only installed the command-line Xflux package. I configured it to work with my ZIP code, and it said that configuration was successful, but I could not detect any difference before and after. I killed the application, and the screen didn't change color at all. That isn't good, because I can tell the difference between F.lux running and not running on Linux Mint. That said, I worked for so many years without F.lux, so I could definitely live without it on Chakra.

That's where my time with Chakra ended. Once again, the aforementioned issues are quite minor, and I could probably live without them. I'm glad that I dug deeper into KDE's true power, because now I know that I have the ability and patience to transform it into something that I could enjoy using as much as I do Linux Mint with GNOME and Compiz. Plus, I think Chakra's software repositories rival that of Linux Mint, what with AppSet-Qt, the Bundle Manager, and CCR, so I should never be found wanting of software. In short, I now think more than ever that Chakra could seriously compete with Linux Mint 13 LTS "M[...]a" for space on my hard drive in a few months. Bravo!
You can get it here.

25 comments:

  1. I installed chakra today, not bad but i had some issues:
    - font rendering, i can' t live without ubuntu style of rendering fonts. Chakra don't look cool. Any solution to font rendering?
    - your bar is semi-transparent, how do you configure it?

    By the way, chakra looks like one of the best distros around kde. I like Pardus, but seems to have less popularity. Mandriva was a hell for me, but i like the way it does things.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I installed Chakra recently on a troublesome laptop. This laptop does not like the new 3.0 kernels with any distro.
    Chakra supplies a LTS kernel which works very well.
    I'm liking KDE after trying out Unity and Gnome 3.
    Chakra has a polished feel to it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. @Antonio Jones: I'm not sure how to fix your font issues, because I very rarely have issues with font rendering in KDE and never in Chakra. With regard to the translucent panel, just turn on KWin desktop effects, and the bar will become translucent automatically.

    @Anonymous: Yeah, I think KDE and Xfce are going to benefit from the Unity and GNOME 3 Shell debacles in the long term.

    Thanks for the comments!

    ReplyDelete
  4. chakra although very polished is know where as good as Arch Linux with KDE and gnome shell is also excellent using arch everything you need is in aur repo it take longer to set up but that is the whole idea you install what you need not what you don't I used chakra for a long time when it was based on totally on arch but when it split to its present state it lost the flexibility of Arch and lost the cross-platform flexability that makes arch linux the most adaptable distro.

    ReplyDelete
  5. To preview videos, make sure you installed kffmpegthumbnail or mplayerthumbnail then enable it in Dolphin (Settings > General > Previews >Video Files). Also, you need to increase the limit to something like 2000 MB for local files (default is set to 5MB).

    KDE is a great platform and can be tweaked easily to your liking. It just doesn't have sane default options.

    Cheers

    ReplyDelete
  6. i've tried to install chakra several times on my laptop but it won't do it...i have partitions; win7 (ntfs primary), data storage (fat32 logical) then 90 gig of unallocated space...i just don't get it because when i try to install chakra it tells me that i've already reached my primary partitions limit so i can't continue...if anyone knows the 'cure' for this i'd be exceedingly grateful!

    ReplyDelete
  7. @kelvin: I'm not sure how Arch can be called "cross-platform" if it is just one platform among the many. Also, have you checked out CCR? It should have basically all the packages as AUR by now.

    @3rabuntu: Ah. I installed the packages, but then I didn't know that I needed to manually apply those changes in Dolphin. I appreciate the clarification.

    @montee: I don't know if the Chakra wiki will help, but I do know that the installer is still a work-in-progress, so your issue may not be solved for some time. In the meantime, have you checked out any of the other excellent Linux distributions out there?

    Thanks for the comments!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Antonio Jones..you may want to install freetype2-ubuntu package which is available in the repos. It will pull the associated fontconfig-ubuntu, cairo-ubuntu and pixman-ubuntu files as well.

    ReplyDelete
  9. @Anshul Jain: Thanks for the tip!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Font rendering at KDE is terrible. They should take a little of their coding time to match Gnome's font rendering technology.

    ReplyDelete
  11. The problem with Chakra is the lack of testing. They always deliver an alpha quality software. Many things are half broken or don't work at all.
    They will improve with time but they should look for more testers first before delivering.

    ReplyDelete
  12. @Anonymous: Interestingly, I don't usually experience font issues with Xerox.

    @TanKe: Can you say any of this from experience? I'd be curious to know, but the only thing I can say might be half-baked is the installer.

    Thanks for the comments!

    ReplyDelete
  13. I have been testing chakra since almost the beginning. I loved to see an
    Arch made easy but it was terrible then with the software manager (Shaman)
    and they had a lot of conflicts too. Then they changed to their own
    packaging based or arch making it more stable but the tools they wrote
    (installer, package manager and so on fail to work properly from time to time. I'm going to
    test this very last Chakra to see if everything works this time.

    ReplyDelete
  14. @TanKe: I hope you do get the chance to check it out, and I hope it works well for you. Thanks for the comment!

    ReplyDelete
  15. !st chakra is not compatible with arch they patch arch packages to try and make them work. I used chakra for a long while when it was true arch and then its only fault was tribe the installer you had to format the partitions prior to install then sadly their leader passed away and they then decided to ditch arch and repackage and patch every thing
    2nd I did not explain correctly Arch has a very consistant core and does not favour any flavour of desktop that is why you only get the core and base packages on the install disc you and only you decide what you want to install and its worth the effort.
    open box boots to 65mb gnome 3 shell 135mb KDE4 186mb
    all are fast all a customisable all are stable and you don't have to update for the sake of it if you don't want to.

    ReplyDelete
  16. @montee. If you can use gparted to look at your partitions. Windows might have an extra partition used for recovery. I believe you can only have 4 primary partitions, and your logical partition may count as one, too.

    ReplyDelete
  17. @kelvin: Well, Chakra has very different goals from Arch. Arch aims to provide users with a minimal system to build from the ground-up with vanilla packages. Chakra aims to provide the best KDE experience possible, because if it tried to do any more than that, its developers' resources would be stretched too thin, and the result would be a not-so-good Chakra. So I'm wondering, is there anything you have against Chakra other than the fact that it's not based on Arch anymore?

    @Anonymous: That could very well be the issue!

    Thanks for the comments!

    ReplyDelete
  18. I certainly don't have anything against chakra its goals were there when it 1st started its a showcase for KDE but it does not quite achieve what other distros can achieve with Kde much like Ubuntu/Mint is just that bit better. all I know is Chakra is work in progress but they keep moving the goal posts and end up back at the beginning its a shame but its a fact Try Salix and you will see what i mean not the latest but just works and stable and light on resources. Also i'm not a arch fan boy just can't find better for my needs.

    ReplyDelete
  19. @kelvin: I certainly can't begrudge you for finding success with Arch; in fact, I'm happy for you about that. However, given that I already have a much higher opinion of Chakra than you do and that I think that Chakra achieves its goals and serves my needs extremely well, I'm also not likely to share the same opinion of Salix relative to Chakra. (Also, the live edition of Salix seems a bit outdated.) Finally, given that in the end what I've really come to like is KDE, that Kubuntu 11.10 "Oneiric Ocelot" was really great, and that Kubuntu 12.04 LTS "Precise Pangolin" is likely to continue the upward trend of Kubuntu quality, Kubuntu could be another contender along with Linux Mint, Xubuntu, and Chakra, for space on my hard drive in a few months. Thanks for the comment!

    ReplyDelete
  20. hey, im also on mint9, half a year before i installed chakra... first i had some issues, and its still not as stable as mint...but i really like the fell of the thing.
    Mint gets seldom started nowadays...

    ReplyDelete
  21. @ascl: What do you mean by "Mint gets seldom started nowadays"? Anyway, thanks for the comment!

    ReplyDelete
  22. Chakra and Arch is nice :) Personally i like Suse, Yast and old KDE desktops (3.5.10)

    Opensuse have thumbleweed, it something like rolling release...

    ReplyDelete
  23. @Anonymous: I think it might interest you to know (if you did not already) that openSUSE 12.1 has a version that supports Trinity 3.5.12 (a continuation of KDE 3.5). Thanks for the comment!

    ReplyDelete
  24. @montee, I had similar issues with Chakra 2011.9. When I posted my problems (yes i tried gparted) they advised me to install another Distro (Debian family or red hat family so as to set the /,/boot,/home and swap) and then install Chakra on those partitions.
    @pv, keep up the good work bro ;)
    --Anirban

    ReplyDelete
  25. @Anonymous: Thanks for the support!

    ReplyDelete