Review: Chakra 2013.02 "Benz"

Main Screen + KDE Kickoff
It's been a while since I looked at Chakra, so I was thinking now might be a good time to do that. Plus, KDE 4.10 just came out with a whole bunch of new features and fixes, so I wanted to check that out too. So this is the subject of today's review.

I've tried Chakra a number of times before. It was originally derived from Arch, but since a couple years ago it has been developed in a fully independent manner. It uses a "semi-rolling" release model, in which applications like Mozilla Firefox and other front-end features like KDE are updated on a rolling basis, while core system components are held to be more stable.

I tried this (64-bit version, as there is no 32-bit edition anymore) on a live USB system made through the "dd" command; due to Chakra now using the GFXBoot tool for booting, neither MultiSystem nor UnetBootin worked, and I didn't have any other data on this USB drive, so I was OK with using that tool. This review almost didn't happen because right after the boot menu, the message "invalid or corrupt kernel image" would come up. I decided to give this one last shot by downloading the ISO file again and trying again, and it worked! Follow the jump to see what it's like.

Chakra Bundle Manager + Pacman
As mentioned before, Chakra uses the GFXBoot tool to make the boot menu more friendly; thanks to my use of "dd" rather than MultiSystem, I could see this native boot menu in action. It certainly looks a lot nicer than the standard boot menus, and it works well too. After that came a scrolling wall of text, followed by a nice Chakra-branded KDE splash screen; that has the Chakra name and logo above a spinning progress meter on a smooth gray background, which looks quite slick and professional. After that came the desktop; I should say before that though that at various points, I had to log out and log back in, and the KDM login screen looks stunning in Chakra.

The desktop is fairly typical of KDE and Chakra, which is to say that there is one standard panel on the bottom, and the KDE Plasma widget on the desktop is the one helping new users navigate Chakra. The KDE Plasma theme is called "Dharma", and it looks really slick; one thing I particularly like about it is that it makes distinguishing active, inactive, and minimized windows in the taskbar very easy, which is something that a lot of other popular KDE Plasma themes fail to do. Other than that, the desktop is fairly standard.

Mozilla Firefox + Calligra Words
Rekonq is the default browser, but Mozilla Firefox can be installed as a "bundle": this means that it essentially functions as a standalone program similar to what PC-BSD does with PBIs, so that no GTK+ and other dependencies clutter the base Chakra system. That installed and worked fine. It seems like most codecs seem to be included, as YouTube and Hulu worked fine. My laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts were recognized, but not out-of-the-box; they had to be enabled in the KDE System Settings program, as the default settings were to have no keyboard shortcuts controlling the volume, which is weird.

In keeping with the theme of pure KDE applications, the default productivity software is Calligra. It focuses very heavily on templates, which isn't quite like how I learned to use these programs, so using them was a little strange; anyway, I don't use these except for the spreadsheet program much, so it isn't a huge deal.
Aside from that, included in the live session are some standard KDE tools, along with Dragon Player, SpiderOak, and others.

Dolphin is as usual the default file browser. I was also able to install KLook, which is the KDE equivalent of Gloobus-Preview, through CCR. Unfortunately, although it generally worked, it would not start simply by pressing 'SPACE'; I had to manually pick it from the list of programs available to make it preview a file. It seems like an additional patch is required for Dolphin to make it recognize and work with the existence of KLook. Anyway, Dolphin's preview pane does a fine job of previewing files, although it is always present in the main window and thus takes up too much space when it is not previewing anything.
Also, I've found that Dolphin doesn't do as good of a job at recognizing external partitions as Nautilus, and I wanted to see if that has changed. Thankfully, Dolphin in Chakra now recognizes both my external and internal hard drives as well as my video camera, which is great.

Dolphin + KLook + Desktop Cube
I installed Skype as a bundle and Google Talk from CCR. Both installed and worked well. Additionally, I installed Mupen64Plus 1.5 after installing its dependencies from the repositories and CCR as well as Redshift and other KDE Plasma widgets from the repositories and CCR. All of those worked well, although Mupen64Plus was a little slow likely because of both the choice of the video renderer and its use on a live USB session. I especially liked the Redshift widget, as it allows for GUI control of the screen color temperature and other properties.

There were a few other things that I did to make the desktop feel more like mine. I replaced the KDE Kickoff menu with the KDE Lancelot menu in the panel; unfortunately its "no-click" menu item activation never seemed to work as advertised, so maybe a fix is needed. I replaced the button to activate KDE activities with a button to show the desktop as well as a virtual workspace switcher. I replaced the icon-only task manager with a normal task manager. I added the Redshift widget to the panel. I changed the time and date format of the clock, and added a weather widget next to it. I replaced the guide on the desktop with parts of the KDE Lancelot menu to show bookmarked locations as well as mountable partitions. Finally, I enabled tabbed windowing and made the menu into a button in the titlebar, which is a new feature to KDE 4.10. All of these things really made KDE feel more warm and welcoming for me.

General Customizations
Desktop effects worked well in Chakra. It used about 700 MB of RAM at idle; some of that could be attributable to other KDE Plasma widgets added to the desktop and panel, but that is still a bit high. Additionally, for some reason, everything in KDE, from opening and closing windows to opening and closing the panel menu to even displaying the session exit options were a little jumpy and took a little more time than usual; that said, certain animations like resizing windows look a lot smoother in this latest version of KDE. I am most inclined to attribute this to the use of "dd" rather than MultiSystem to make the live USB system, but it is still a little annoying to deal with. There were a couple of other annoyances as well. One was that when I first logged in, even though the system was eventually able to properly connect to a wireless network, it prematurely put out a notification that the connection failed; this was of no real consequence but was confusing nonetheless. On a similar note, when I added the weather applet to the panel and set its location, the location was set correctly, yet a notification popped up about its failure to do that; again, this was inconsequential but still confusing. Finally, when I logged in through KDM for the first time, a terminal popped up on the top of the screen as the session started; I closed it, and whenever I logged in through KDM after that, it would not show up.

That is where my review of Chakra 2013.02 "Benz" ends. Aside from the inability of KLook to play nicely with Dolphin (which is remedied somewhat by Dolphin's own preview pane) along with the general latency in performing desktop and window actions, Chakra fulfills basically all of my needs, and I could definitely see myself using it as my main OS. That said, such a statement always causes some apprehension in me, so I would first try a long-term review of this on my UROP desktop computer. Anyway, for the time being, I can give this my highest recommendation; it isn't meant for Linux newbies, but beginners to Linux who may be getting comfortable with CLI package management now would probably enjoy using this a lot.
You can get it here. Be warned that there is no 32-bit edition, so only those with 64-bit computers who are willing to use a 64-bit Linux distribution should try this.