Review: Chakra 2011.02 "Cyrus"

Main Screen
Chakra GNU/Linux has become one of the distributions I now test regularly. Its appeal to me lies in the fact that it is based on Arch Linux (and is therefore comparatively quick and configurable), yet it comes with KDE already configured along with a more user-friendly system installer and package manager. I've already tested versions Alpha 5 "Panora", 0.2.0 "Jaz", and 0.3.0 "Ashoc". I figured I would test version 0.4.0 "Cyrus" whenever it got released, so I chose to wait until the news showed up on DistroWatch to test it. Unfortunately, that never happened; the latest news regarding this release was about 0.4.0 "Cyrus" Beta 2. Then, two days ago, I saw a news entry on DistroWatch about Chakra, specifically regarding version 2011.04 "Aida" Milestone 3. I wondered if the 0.4.0 "Cyrus" release had been scrapped entirely, so I headed to the Chakra website to check it out. It turns out that version 2011.02 "Cyrus" (renumbered from 0.4.0 for reasons I will also talk about shortly) was released in February itself and is now the current stable release; it was just never announced on DistroWatch. Darn it! Why doesn't anyone tell me these things?

As I just mentioned, the numbering changed from 0.4.0 to 2011.02. It looks like the Chakra developers moved away from the goal of a stable 1.0 release and chose to emphasize the rolling-release cutting-edge nature of Chakra by switching to a year-month numbering system. That said, the old numbering system clearly showed that Chakra is still alpha-release software; I don't know if I'm supposed to think the same thing with the current numbering system — more on that later.

I tested Chakra in VirtualBox with 1024 MB of RAM allocated to the guest OS and an available 10 GB virtual hard drive for installation. In response to a couple comments as well as articles on other blogs that I have seen, this is for a few reasons: I can't make a Chakra live USB without wiping it clean (dd) and I don't have too many blank CDs/DVDs lying around for these purposes, I can better control how Chakra responds in lower-resource environments (though admittedly 1 GB is still plenty), and I don't need to worry about messing up my installed systems on my computer. Follow the jump to see what it's like.

Boot Menu
As before, there was a nice Chakra-themed boot menu with neatly-presented language and display options. Following that came a short wall of text followed by a nice Chakra boot splash. After that came the desktop.

The desktop is almost identical to that of version 0.3.0 "Ashoc"; even the wallpaper is identical. There really isn't much new stuff to report here. There's a standard dark KDE panel on the bottom, a desktop containment widget on the top-left with useful shortcuts, a Kickoff menu button on the left side of the panel, and a system tray on the right side of the panel.

One new thing in the system tray is Yapan, Chakra's new update manager. Clicking on it yields a menu with a couple different options regarding updating the system. Depending on the status and availability of updates, the Yapan icon shifts between Pac-Man and the colored ghosts in that game, which is a cute play on the fact that the package manager in Arch (the source of Chakra) is Pacman. I thought about checking it out during the live session, but I figured it could wait until after installation.

Rekonq is the default browser, as it was in version 0.3.0 "Ashoc". No proprietary codecs seemed to be included, so I headed to CInstall to fill in those gaps. CInstall was fairly fast and worked well. I was able to watch YouTube videos and similar things again in Rekonq afterwards; it's really quick, slick, and stable. Interestingly, Konqueror isn't even included at all.

I then tried installing KOffice in the live session. The installation went fine, but it refused to start, claiming there was a conflict with some core KDE libraries' versions. I figured this had to do with packages that needed to be updated, so I decided to wait until after installation to try installing KOffice again. On a side note, I was surprised to see it called KOffice, considering that it is now supposed to be called the Calligra Suite.

Locale Selection in Tribe Installer
At this point I started the installation. The installer hasn't changed significantly since the previous version. However, once I got past the screen asking me to create a new user account, the installer crashed trying to load the partitioning screen. I tried a couple more times just to be sure, and each time it crashed the same way.
I then went to the KDE Partition Manager (which, incidentally, is just as user-friendly as and even nicer-looking than GParted), deleted all the old partitions, and created a new partition setup. When it gave me an error message, I realized that Chakra couldn't recognize the partition types because the last thing I had installed on that virtual hard disk was GhostBSD on a UFS partition. I rewrote an MS-DOS partition table that would be readable by Chakra and then recreated the desired partition layout: a 1 GB SWAP primary partition and a 9 GB EXT3 primary partition.
I retried the installer program, and this time it was able to reach the partitioning screen. However, because I had just created new partitions, I figured it would be OK to simply assign the EXT3 partition to hold the root partition and move on; that was the wrong move, because it crashed again. This was getting pretty frustrating. I redid the whole thing, and this time I formatted that partition as EXT3 in the installer itself and then told it to hold the root partition; that worked, and I was able to successfully move on. I was then able to watch a nice slideshow about Chakra while the system was being installed.
This was followed by a screen in the installer itself asking me if I wanted to install any new programs in the installed system. I chose to install Konqueror, and I was asked for the root password for authentication. Here, the live password didn't work, but the password I used for my installed system's primary user did, which is strange because I thought Chakra would separate user and root passwords. Otherwise, that process went well. On a side note, Skype was available for installation, which made me slightly regret not actually trying it on my laptop. Oh well.
After this, GRUB got installed, and the installer finished its job. Ironically, as I closed it, it crashed one last time. I really do hope that the Chakra developers replace these frequent and unhelpful crashes with the installer not crashing and instead giving more helpful error messages and chances to fix the errors. I then restarted the system.

When I restarted, the system skipped the boot menu and went straight into booting; I guess that's because there was only one boot option. I was then greeted by the boot splash followed by the desktop; interestingly, even in the installed system, I was automatically logged in, even though I don't think I ever selected any option like that.

KWord + KSpread
Upon reaching the desktop, I clicked on Yapan and chose to update the system. Although Yapan has a nice system tray icon with its own menu, the program itself is CLI, which isn't a huge deal, because it's just a matter of entering the password and then typing and entering 'Y' or 'n'. After the system updated, I tried again installing KOffice, and this time, it installed and ran fine. Evidently, KOffice is more geared towards desktop publishing and presentations as opposed to regular home use, because it has way too many huge toolbars dedicated to applying different styles at even the most minute and microscopic levels. It can be changed into something more usable though, and it's otherwise fairly pleasant to use, though it still doesn't fully support many of the major file types. Interestingly, while the latest version of Microsoft Office Excel has 1048576 rows and 16384 columns and the latest version of OpenOffice.org Calc has 1048576 rows and 1024 columns, KSpread has only 65536 rows but 32768 columns. I wonder why there's a greater emphasis on column number as opposed to row number.

I also briefly tried out Konqueror, which I installed in the Chakra system installer. Konqueror worked fine, though it wasn't quite as fast as Rekonq. Also, one thing that surprised me was that Konqueror didn't have the WebKit rendering engine option even though it is at version 4.6; all it had was KHTML. Maybe I was supposed to get it from the repositories and I missed it.

Well, that basically ended my time with Chakra 2011.02 "Cyrus". The live and installed sessions worked quite well, the latter certainly much better than in the last version, where X11 refused to start. The Yapan update manager is also a welcome addition. That said, the installer crashing as many times as it did concerns me. Neither the numbering of the current Chakra version nor the documentation on the site seems to indicate that Chakra should still be considered alpha software, so I should reasonably expect fewer bugs as a consequence of that. Once again, I wouldn't recommend Chakra for daily use as a reliable system, but it's certainly fun to experiment and play around with.
On another note, I hope the MultiSystem developers also add Chakra as a supported distribution soon, considering that Arch, ArchLiveISO, ArchBang, CTKArchLive, and KahelOS are all supported.

Because many commenters have asked me to do so, I'm going to start providing download links: here is where you can get it.