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!