5 Mar 2012

Chakra 2012.02: improved, but still confusing

I have already written about two Linux distribution releases which happened in February: PCLinuxOS and Sabayon. Although it is already March, I still would like to write a third one about just another February release. Let it be three.

Chakra Linux is a distribution with quite a long history. I have already written about it a couple of times. First, I complained about the inability to use Unetbootin to create a Live USB. The next one was more productive, but still I was not very happy about the Chakra Linux 2011.04. Now let’s see what Charka Linux 2012.02 Archimedes looks like.

The ISO image of Chakra is available from many mirrors, thanks to SourceForge infrastructure, and also from torrent. I used the torrent way to get my own copy.

The size of the Full Edition ISO is about 1.5 Gb, which means you can't use a single CD for it. If you want a smaller size, there is the Minimal Edition. Although, my choice was the Full version.

Of course, I wanted to use USB for my tests. To do so, I tried to use both the command dd, recommended on the official site, and Unetbootin utility. Neither of them created a workable Live USB for me. Unetbootin, though, showed a menu with lots of options. But it could not progress further. On the other hand, the dd command most likely did not work because of my hardware: the BIOS on Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Pi 1505 does not want to work with dd’ed Live USBs.

Finally, I burnt the ISO image on to DVD-RW.

So, the preparations are over and DVD is in the optical drive. Reboot. Choose to boot from DVD. Let’s go!

Booting

The booting process of Chakra 2012.02 is not any different from 2011.04, as far as I can see.

The first question during the boot is about the system language. There are several dozens of languages available, including Russian, American, New Zealand and British English and so on.

Next question was about the boot mode. The default one is Live run without non-free drivers. There are also options with non-free drivers and with basic graphic support for old hardware, and some more. I chose the option with non-free drivers, even though I know that my hardware does not require them.

Boot time of Chakra 2012.02 was average, or maybe a little bit more than average, even taking into consideration that I used a DVD disk.

The splash screen appeared after few seconds of black screen. The splash screen itself has some colourful spots and the Chakra logo in the middle of the screen. The petals in the flower which forms the logo appear one-by-one to indicate progress.


Once booted, Chakra used just over 250 Mb of memory. You can see it from the screen. It shows more than the initial value, because about 8 Mb was taken by KSnapshot.

Technically, Chakra 2012.02 uses Linux kernel 3.2 with KDE 4.8. Both the kernel and KDE were adjusted by the Chakra Project.

The desktop

Once the booting is over, you get to the usual KDE desktop.

The final desktop wallpaper has the same elements as the splash screen: colourful spots and Chakra Project logo, but this time round the logo is in the bottom-right corner. I can't say I liked the default wallpaper. But the choice is not large. The other two wallpapers in the default distribution are even less attractive, from my point of view. Honestly, there could be a better choice for the distribution with this size of ISO image. Once the ISO image overgrows 700 Mb or even 1Gb, there is no reason not to use an additional 10-15 megabytes for a set of nice artwork.

The default desktop has Plasmoid on it, which lists different Chakra Project-oriented items: links to pages with descriptions of relationships between Chakra and Arch, Chakra and KDE, Chakra and community, and so on. You can visit the web site from there, learn the system passwords or start the installation. Passwords information is rather useful, because you may need it for different configuration activities in the Live system. However, the passwords are rather simple: root/root and live/live.

Other than this information-rich plasmoid, there are no items on the desktop.

The panel is at its usual place at the bottom of the screen.

The left side of the panel only has two items: the menu with the Chakra logo on it, and the switcher between “Activities”.

The right side of the panel, the notification area, includes a standard KDE set of items: clocks, USB devices’ manager, volume control, network manager and so on. Also, you can find the AppSet icon here. AppSet-qt is the application management tool in Chakra Linux, but let’s talk about it later.

The clocks showed my local time (GMT) adjusted to -8 hours, which immediately moved me from London to Western coast of USA and Canada. It was not a problem for me to change the time zone, though I had to enter the root password for this. Remember the icon on plasmoid!

The main part of the panel is the task manager. Chakra 2012.02 uses an Icon-Only Task Manager applet instead of the usual one. As you can see from the name, this task manager only shows icons on the panel, but not the names of applications. You also have an option to pin an application to the panel. All these features make the interface of Chakra Linux 2012.02 close to that of Microsoft Windows 7. Having in mind that KDE is always considered as the easiest DE for transition from Windows, my initial thought was that Chakra Linux could be a good choice for people who want to try Linux for the first time. Although, maybe not the best, because, in my opinion, Zorin OS is still a better choice here. But is it worthwhile to advise Chakra to a newbie? Let’s talk about this later, too.

You may have noticed from my description above, two usual items are missing from the default panel: a switch between the virtual desktops and a Show Desktop button. I was able to find the latter in the list of available panel widgets, but did not find the Show Desktop option there. Honestly, I missed it while testing the Chakra Linux.

Keyboard and touchpad

Keyboard layouts can be configured in Chakra Linux 2012.02 in the usual place for KDE, in the System Settings panel. It was easy for me to add Russian layout to the pre-existing UK one, and to activate Ctrl-Shift as a switch hotkey. As a result, I got an indicator in the notification area of the panel. But... there were quite a few issues with it:

  • Layout indicator was shown as text "uk", even though I requested it to be a flag
  • Actual layout was the US English anyway
  • Hotkey Ctrl-Shift did not work
  • Even the manual selection with mouse did not work

In other words, I was not able to configure the keyboard layout for my purposes during my first login.

When I later tried to boot the system again (I will explain the reasons later), I chose the US keyboard layout as default. It was a good decision, because I was able to do all the configuration successfully, even replace the US layout with UK + RU ones. Even though I was able to achieve what I wanted at the end of the game, I am still disappointed that it was not a straightforward process.

What about the touchpad? By default, it is activated with two-fingers scrolling. It did not work for me. I switched it to single-finger scrolling. Result was the same: no scrolling at all! On the positive side, I still could tap on the touchpad to imitate mouse clicks.

Both of these, the keyboard layout and the touchpad settings, are major issues, from my perspective, which developers of the system should pay attention to.

What is in the box?

Chakra Linux 2011.04 was not rich application-wise. Chakra 2012.02 grew in size, and it means that more applications are available out of the box.

There are 2 internet browsers available in the Chakra 2012.02: Rekonq and QupZilla. If the first one is familiar to most KDE users, the QupZilla is quite unique. It was the first time I've heard about this browser. QupZilla is actually a combination of Mozilla environment, familiar to Firefox users, with the WebKit rendering engine, which you can find in Safari, Chrome(-ium) and the same Rekonq browsers. I tried to use this browser and it was working fine for me. The default browser in Chakra 2012.02, anyway, is Rekonq.

Other Internet tools include KPPP, Telepathy internet messenget, Quassel IRC, BlueDevil bluetooth manager and SpiderOak Backup. This set of applications is bigger than in version 2011.04, but still there is no mail client in Chakra 2012.02 distribution.

The office applications in Chakra 2012.02 are represented by Okular file viewer, Kalibre e-book library manager, and the full set of LibreOffice applications, including Base, Math and Draw. LibreOffice is version 3.4.5. Wow! That is definitely a huge improvement since 2011.04, which did not have any productivity suite at all!

There is a separate menu section about Chakra itself. It includes links to a bug logger, forum, change log and so on.

The Development section of the menu includes Qt-specific tools, like Linguist and Interface Designer, and also OpenJDK configuration utilities. I am not sure, as usual, that these tools are useful to regular users.

The Education section of the Chakra menu includes a single application: Marble Globe, like in many other KDE-based distributions.

KPatience is the only representative in the Games section of the menu in Chakra Linux 2012.02.

The Graphics section has a rather strange set of applications, from my point of view. I can understand that LibreOffice Draw is not listed here, it is normal practice to leave it in the Office section only. But there is no GIMP in Chakra 2012.02. Instead, there are KSnapshot, Okular, Gwenview, E-book viewer, LRF viewer (what is LRF, anyone?) and... two GPS-based applications: GPS information and GPS speedometer.

To start with, have you seen many laptops and desktops with GPS modules? I have not seen any! What’s the purpose of having the GPS module in the desktop computer? To measure the speed of moving it across the room? Or to locate your position on the map? Even if you have one, why would you need GPS-based applications in your OS by default? And last but not least, what is the GPS speedometer doing in the Graphics section? Out of curiosity, I started the GPS Speedometer on my Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Pi 1505 laptop. The application did not start for me at all! My position here is that both these GPS applications are just rubbish that should have been removed, unless somebody can give me substantial reasons for not doing so.

The Multimedia section of the Chakra menu includes several players: Amarok, Bangarang and XBMC Media Center. In addition, there are the K3B disk burning tool, KMix, Kdenlive video editor and some more.

The Settings part of the menu includes two items. Apart from the usual System Settings panel, there is also a Qt4 GUI for Wine. It is a quite useful tool, isn't it?

System applications include some standard items: KUser, Konsole, Dolphin file manager and so on. Apart from that, there are some unusual elements like USB KeyWriter from OpenSuSE, Chakra’s unique Bundle Manager, and the AppSet-qt package manager.

The Utilities, again, include the more or less standard Klipper, Ark, and Kate. Plus, here I found some unusual items too: the same as OpenSuSE's USB KeyWriter, Sweeper system cleaner and HP device manager.

The default menu in Chakra 2012.02 already has a menu section "Lost and found", which lists one item. From my perspective, this shows that system was not properly checked for consistency before the release.

As you can see, Chakra 2012.02 mostly uses the KDE-specific applications. The biggest exception here is LibreOffice. The reason for this is that Chakra tends to be KDE-centric distribution. That's why it tries to avoid non-KDE tools for as long as possible. Of course, KOffice also exists, but it is much less functional compared to LibreOffice. Also, KOffice has quite unique approach to user interface. That's why LibreOffice was still a choice of Chakra Project developers.

Getting more tools for your system

Because of its KDE-centrism, Chakra uses two application management tools: AppSet-Qt and Bundle Manager.

The user interface of AppSet-Qt is not like anything else I've seen so far. Apart from package management itself, it also features some kind of blog of system developers, where they announce new updates, or simply congratulate each other and users for the New Year.

Chakra Linux uses its own repositories. There are several of them, like Core, Platform, Apps, Games and so on. The issue, though, is that even if you can switch off and on the repositories in AppSet-qt, you can't see which server you're going to use for updates. They are all hidden behind the include = /etc/pacman.d/mirrorlist curtain. By default, repositories' information is not loaded in Chakra Linux 2012.02. I updated it from the server. It took me less than a minute to process. When repositories were updated, I tried to search for some applications I know:

  • Not included: KOffice and Qutim
  • Included: KMail, Kopete, VLC, KTorrent.

Also, I was notified about 82 upgrades already available for my fresh version of the OS.

As opposed to AppSet-qt, the Bundle Manager tool allows you to install non-Qt applications in Chakra. The reason for a separate application management tool is that non-Qt applications are placed in some kind of isolated sandbox within the Chakra Linux operating system. The list of applications is not very impressive here, but still lists few dozen items, like Firefox, Chrome and Chromium browsers, Audacity, Filezilla and GIMP.

External partition

I tried to mount my external network drive using the command sudo mount -t cifs. It worked successfully. This means that Chakra Linux 2012.02 includes the Samba client (smbfs).

Multimedia

Right after the mounting of the external partition, I tried to play MP3 files from it. The default player for these files in Chakra Linux is Bangarang. It threw me an error somehow linked to Nepomuk. Instead of the Bangarang window, I saw a Bug Reporting tool. Oooops!

An attempt to open the same files from network partition with Amarok opened... a question about the country I am in. That's because Amarok wanted to link to the Amazon store. What? Why would I want this? I understand that Amazon can financially support the Chakra Project, but it should be done in a less intrusive way. Luckily, there was a Cancel button on that window. I clicked that button, but it did not help much. The system started to read my DVD and continued this for more than five minutes, without any reaction to mouse clicks or keys. When I was fed up with this, the Power button was my response. I booted into Chakra Linux 2012.02 again.

The lack of luck with both Bangarang and Amarok turned me back to the AppSet-qt application management tool. I tried to install VLC in my Live system. But I was not able just to install a single application: the system wanted to install all 82 available upgrades too. That was not in my plans, so I backed off. The result? I still don't know whether Chakra supports playback of multimedia files or not.

What I was able to test, though, is support of Flash. The result was negative. Flash is not included in the Chakra 2012.02 distribution. I checked this with my test page for the Flowplayer article.
Chakra 2012.02: Rekonq, AppSet-qt and
absence of Flash
YouTube videos could not be played either. It means that HTML5 is not properly supported in Rekonq and QupZilla, or that YouTube could not recognize the support.

General impression

I have mentioned above that my initial thought, when I had only seen Chakra 2012.02 for a few minutes, was about recommendation of this distribution to people who want to migrate from Windows. I should admit: that was too quick a decision. Having better information about Chakra Linix 2012.02, I would not recommend it to people without a good working knowledge of the Linux environment.

Yes, system responses to my actions were pretty quick, apart from moments when optical disk operations were involved. I had no issues performance wise.

Yes, the idea beyond the Chakra Project is quite good.

But…

Unfortunately, the current status of development still leaves lots of areas where the system can be improved.

To sum up what I mentioned above, the issues with keyboard layouts, touchpad, GPS applications and “lost” items in the menu do not add to the system image. And even the general approach to have a KDE-centric distribution has its own side-effect, from my point of view. Two application management tools can lead to confusions for newbies.

These are too many rough edges for the beginners.

Anyhow, Chakra Linux 2012.02 is a big improvement from version 2011.04. I hope that development will continue, and eventually the system will be polished and shiny.

Do you track the progress of Chakra Project? How do you find their improvements?


Useful links:
Review from Linuxbsdos
Review from Cristalinux
Official page

26 comments:

  1. There is one Chakra issue you don't mention but that IMHO is glaring. CUPS is not enabled by default so not only are printers not recognised even if connected during OS installation but you also have to add CUPS to the startup processes manually. It is still worth pointing out that Chakra isn't yet at v 1.0 so rough edges are to be expected and are, perhaps, more acceptable than they would be in a production status project.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe read the kiss principle of both Arch & Chakra? They do not make decisions for the users like that, those kind of services are up to the user to start by default, manually, or not started.

      Delete
  2. @Gladys: I don't use printer on my test laptop, so I usually don't check this.
    Thanks for pointing this out.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hello,
    One note: koffice is included in the official "desktop" repo. It goes by the name of Calligra.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reminding that KOffice has been renamed. I honestly forgot about this!

      Delete
    2. Chakra offers since this morning Calligra 2.4 RC1 (named Calligra 2.3.91-1). It works great!

      Delete
    3. Yes, availability of new versions is always great.

      Delete
  4. I use Chakra for 1 year. The system is incredibly stable, very polished. For me, it's the best distrib for KDE. The Chakram team is also very responsive.

    About Flash, it's very easy to install : pacman -S flashplugin. It's all... The Qupzilla bundle also contains it if you do not want to install GTK dependency.

    No problem here with html5: qupzilla and rekonq work fine.

    Moreover, I find it normal that cups is not enabled by default. Chakra is coming from the KISS principles of Archlinux. And that's fine!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I tried both QupZilla and Rekonq on YouTube and their special HTML5 page. Neither worked. 8-(

      Delete
    2. Not sure you've seen, but YouTube still has a lot of video's flash only, so no go for html5 if you try those. Tried a proven one? Example https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCQQtwIwAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DX3F3KmZDtyg&ei=HW1VT5jhNs7cgge6mtnpBA&usg=AFQjCNF1EVg3enosxRXHbjp44r6d0uxaWA&sig2=jJcNQ3dcZKpRPU-esDNteQ

      Delete
    3. No, I have only tried one or two featured videos. I was always sure that YouTube is clever enough to feed in the correct file format for the browser. :-?

      Delete
    4. @DarkDuck Well, only a few videos have html5 versions, the rest are flash only. You can't watch them without flash. NO html5 for them at all(even if you don't have flash, it's just doesn't have the html5 version so it can't feed it to your browser, it's like physically impossible .. :P )

      Delete
  5. @DarkDuck: This was a nice review to read. There's just one correction that I would like to point out; Qupzilla uses the Gecko rendering engine used by Mozilla Firefox rather than the WebKit rendering engine used by Google Chrome/Rekonq/et cetera. Therefore, the analogy would be that Qupzilla is to Mozilla Firefox as Rekonq is to Google Chrome; in a sense, in each case the first browser is a "port" of the second browser to Qt/KDE.
    --
    a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. @PV: Are you sure? On the Qupzilla official site, I read: "QupZilla is modern web browser based on WebKit core and Qt Framework".

      Delete
    2. PV, rare case when you're not right. WebKit is mentioned in the QupZilla's About page.

      Delete
  6. I'm using Chakra on my laptop for a couple months and I'm oh-so-happy with it.
    It is the only distro with kde that works on my netbook in an acceptable manner.
    Boot time is more than respectable, mostly due to the fact that a lot of services are not loaded by default. Just read some documentation, even if you can't like it, it indeed is a feature, you have the basis, integrate it as you like.
    Flash is a click away, if you want it, I installed as I'm using a lot of it.
    Rekonq crashes once in a while, a new version is out now, looking forward to have it available. Ah, and of course, if you install a rolling distro, don't complain for updates, why would they call it rolling?
    Task managers and a lot of plasmoids are a click away, for if you don't like what you find inside.
    I actually like the way they implement gtk software, might seem complex, but chakra is kde based and a damn fast one, it is not for gnome and gtk fans.Anyway, if you need gimp or inkscape, they are a click away, and no useless module and service is loaded, before you open them. uh, pf course if you need them.
    I agree, not for newcomers, but in the end, I'm a long time debian user, and this is my first adventure in the arch-like world and up to now I had no issue in doing my job or preparing the system how I liked it.

    Keep it up, chakra crowd!!

    ReplyDelete
  7. This was a nice review. Honestly.

    But I will not use Chakra and for one reason only.
    In the setup, when I tried, I was not given the option to install the bootloader in ( say ) sda8.
    There was 1)MBR and 2)no bootloader
    When I installed in MBR, 3 of my other systems became inaccessable.
    Sorry, this in my book is c*p
    If they change this....not only would I love to try it out completely but most likely give it a permanentplace on my HD.
    As it is, they can go to f...g hell.

    If I am wrong here about the bootloader, please don't hesitate to see me right.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I rarely do installations of OS I try, so I can't comment about MBR issues.
      From another point, this would not be an issue for newbie. They rarely have more than 2 OS (Windows + Linux) installed at once. Later, when they have more experience, a taste of adventure comes.

      Delete
    2. I know this is old but just if others read this the might know:

      if the bootloader makes inaccesible other os just tweak the needed files, to re add them, there you go:

      https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/GRUB2

      or if you already have a fancy configuration is it not easier that instead of installing grub again, you just edit your existing grub configuration file to add chakra, it doesnt mather wich distro you actually use to boot them all.

      Delete
  8. Two things: KDE-centric + pacman! I'm in heaven!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're lucky! Usually people need much more to feel in heaven...

      Delete
  9. Hi, thank for the review!

    Just a couple of things,

    First, about the GPS aplications (xgps, xgpsspeed)..., they are dependencies of Marble (as is in Archlinux). Marble is installed by default because it's used during the installation.

    Second, like you said, Chakra is a KDE/Qt centric distro. Very popular applications, like GIMP and Firefox, are excluded by default. You, of course, can still have them through the Bundle system...or install them using the community repo (CCR) where no-KDE/Qt applications sometimes do not apply :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I saw many distributions with Marble enabled. But I've never seen GPS applications in their menu. Maybe these tools are included, but hidden from the menu, I don't know. Anyway, even the presence of GPS tools is unnecessary IMHO. This dependency should be dropped.

      I mentioned both GIMP and Firefox in the section dedicated to Bundle installed, so I was fair, I think.

      Delete
  10. Mad_Hatter9325 June 2012 21:41

    I like this review of the Live CD, Chakra is certainly not intended to run live most of the time.

    That said, I would like to point out to readers that Chakra, closely related to Arch Linux and sharing the same principles, is built on KISS, and tries to stay out of the user's way when it comes to things like pre-loaded modules and programs. They specifically say that while some beginning users may try out Chakra, it was not set up for beginners to the GNU/Linux experience. They merely provide a pre-configured distribution for an Arch Linux-based system, which is a very popular system. I think the only thing missing from this review is a statement that it is not geared toward new users, and that Chakra was specifically built to avoid GTK dependencies, and solely use Qt where possible.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The About page on Chakra server states: "Although this might sound like a distro for Linux newbies, these are not our only target audience, Chakra is made also for techy people."

      Delete