Review: Netrunner 4.2 LTS "Dryland" SE

Main Screen + KMenu
The first and most recent time that I tried out Netrunner, it was in comparison with Linux Mint 12 "Lisa" KDE. At that time, I felt like although Netrunner had a few quirky design choices that I didn't agree with as much, I felt like Linux Mint with KDE just felt too generic, while Netrunner made a conscious effort to improve the user experience of KDE. Now, Netrunner has come out with a new release based on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS "Precise Pangolin", and I am in search of something to eventually replace my installation of Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora" GNOME, so I am trying out this latest version now.

Netrunner hasn't had a particularly long history, but it has grown quickly. It aims to offer a spruced-up KDE experience, and true to its name, it aims to offer a lot of cloud-based applications as well. The organization behind Netrunner has also sponsored Linux Mint with KDE, and has more recently taken over Kubuntu from Canonical. Given that these three distributions now fall within the same organizational umbrella, and given that I was pretty excited about the prospect of Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" KDE, I'm trying Netrunner to predict what may happen when I try Linux Mint with KDE in (hopefully) the near future.

Given that this could be the distribution for which I have been searching, I tried the 64-bit edition of Netrunner 4.2 LTS "Dryland" SE as a live USB made using UnetBootin (because it seems like MultiSystem on my installed OS is no longer able to reliably create live USB systems, which is a little disappointing). Follow the jump to see what it's like.

After getting past the boot menu, I was greeted by a blank screen for the boot splash. That said, when I first tried this with MultiSystem, I did see a nice Netrunner-branded Plymouth splash screen with the usual 5 dots underneath before the system gave a kernel panic (and remember, this was the system as done by MultiSystem, not UnetBootin). This is not the first time I have seen such an inconsistency in the boot process, and I have to say that I'm a bit disappointed that this inconsistency seems to pervade the boot processes of the live sessions of almost all Ubuntu-based distributions (except for Linux Mint, which now consistently displays a blank screen during the boot process). After that I was taken to the desktop.

Mozilla Firefox + LibreOffice Writer + Desktop Cube
The desktop is essentially the same as before, so I won't dwell on describing that too much. There are some new cloud-based applications for Netrunner; I'm not much of a cloud-type person (yet), so I'll refer you, the reader, to the Netrunner website for more information on that. There are some issues that I had, though. One is with the KMenu on the left side of the panel. Every time I click it, it disappears after about 5 seconds even if I have not clicked anywhere else, and even if the cursor is still hovering over the menu. It's almost as if it's rolling out a nice carpet for my arrival and then pulling it out from under me 5 seconds later for no apparent reason whatsoever. The other is with the Lancelot menu; that is not included by default, so I had to install it from the Synaptic Package Manager. One of the things that I liked about it was that its "Classic Menu" behavior meant that I could hover over a Lancelot category or an application category to switch to said category without clicking, whereas I would still be required to click on an application to launch it as usual. Unfortunately, that behavior has been lost, because while I can still change Lancelot categories by hovering the cursor, I need to click now to change application categories. This means that in my eyes, the Lancelot menu is no longer a good substitute for the Linux Mint Menu and is now just another slab menu, which is unfortunate. I like being able to browse through applications by simply moving the mouse through categories without having to click a bunch of things along the way. Plus, given that I have found that searching in Lancelot and in the Kickoff menu is very inconsistent, such a feature would actually be most helpful in KDE.

Mozilla Firefox is the default browser. To be honest, I'm not a fan of the Microsoft Internet Explorer-ification of the interface; I'm also not a fan of Google loading for each new tab (instead of a blank page) or of Mozilla Firefox automatically switching to any new tab opened. Those are just my personal preferences though, and they can be pretty easily fixed. Most proprietary codecs seem to be included, as YouTube and Hulu worked, as did my laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts.
LibreOffice is the default productivity suite. Interestingly, though, Calligra Flow is included for flowchart creation; I wonder if LibreOffice Draw couldn't have done the same thing, but I don't know enough about those two programs to make a call about that.
Other installed applications include Mozilla Thunderbird, Pidgin and KDE Telepathy (the successor to Kopete), KDE games, various multimedia applications, and others. There are also whole categories for web applications, befitting the distribution's name.

Skype is already installed at version 4, so I did not have to do that myself. Unfortunately, when I tried calling another contact, Netrunner refused to recognize my laptop's mic, so the other contact could not hear me at all (though that person was able to see the picture from my laptop's webcam).
I had to install Google Talk myself, and that went smoothly. Unfortunately though predictably, it too had issues with the mic, because it seems like the whole system has issues with that mic.

I was able to install Mupen64Plus 1.5 from the binary package. I was able to launch and configure the GUI from KRunner, but it wouldn't appear in the KMenu, which was odd. I though that in general, GTK+ applications that trigger GNOME menu positions can also trigger KDE menu positions, but apparently that is not true.
I was also able to install Redshift from the repositories. Running it worked fine too.

Desktop effects worked, but a rather weird minimal set of them seem to be enabled out-of-the-box. For instance, the desktop cube effect was enabled, but not the effect to show the cube rotating when switching workspaces. For that, the sliding effect was enabled. Unfortunately, here I ran into another inconsistency: I tried enabling the effect to rotate the cube when switching workspaces, and sometimes that would work, but some other times KWin would revert to the simpler sliding effect. That was really weird.
Netrunner used about 750 MB of RAM at idle. That is really, just, inexcusably high, and I'm not sure why it should be that way.

That's where my time with Netrunner ended. I won't be using it for sure because of the mic issues. I can sort of recommend it because it seems like a decent distribution, but be aware and mindful of the quirks and inconsistencies that pop up all over the place, as those seem to make up the defining characteristics of this distribution. More importantly for me, though, this does not bode well for Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" KDE. Of course, I'll have to try it to make sure, but I am much more hesitant to dive into using that now than I was even a few days ago. Well, I guess if that doesn't end up working, I may have to look more into SolusOS or something else entirely.
You can get it here.