27 May 2014

How Handy HandyLinux Is?

I haven't written reviews for Linux distributions for a while. I think the last review I've done was about OpenSuSE 12.3 about a year ago, but it was a rather short article. The last full-blown review from DarkDuck was SLAX 7.0 in January 2013.

However, I have received a request to make a review, and I simply could not say "no".

We will discuss HandyLinux today. This is an operating system released by a French community, but targeted to worldwide use. You can download the English release from here - please be sure to select the file *-l10n-*, otherwise you get a French edition.

So, I downloaded the ISO image of HandyLinux 1.5 for "modern" computers, i.e. 686 architecture. The ISO size is about 1.2 GB. Then I "burnt" it onto a USB drive with a dd command. USB stick is plugged into the Dell Vostro 1500 laptop.

Fasten your seatbelts. Reboot. Choose to boot from USB. Let's go!

First impression

The only question while booting into HandyLinux was a selection between Live and Install modes. Obviously, I was not going to install it, so Live boot was for me. Boot time was rather quick, and soon I landed on the desktop.
HandyLinux welcomes you

As you can see, HandyLinux welcomes you with a short introduction into different parts of the system. Behind that window, you can see a default wallpaper, which tells about the roots of the system.
HandyLinux default desktop

Yes, HandyLinux is based on Debian. I can add here that HandyLinux uses the Xfce dektop environment, though slightly remixed from the standard. We'll see it pretty soon.

Apart from default wallpaper, you can choose from a variety of Debian-, Xfce- and HandyLinux inspired images, plus multiple nice photos of nature.

Network Connection

HandyLinux has a network manager indicator in the notification area - you can see a red spot on the 1st screenshot. I had no issues when connecting to WiFi using my laptop's Intel 3945ABG card. Select my home network, type in the code word, and go surfing!

What's the Menu?

I have already mentioned that HandyLinux uses Xfce desktop environment. You should expect the standard Xfce menu here. However, it isn't so. HandyLinux features its own menu here. It consists of several tabs for files and different categories of applications.
HandyLinux menu
Apart from this default menu, HandyLinux includes Slingscold menu, if you're fancy.

Because there are not so many categories in the default menu, I will show you screenshots of all of them, so you can see the applications included.
HandyLinux menu

HandyLinux menu

HandyLinux menu

HandyLinux menu

HandyLinux menu
You should now understand that there are not that many applications visible in the menu. Much more are available through the "Applications list" tile. For me, that is not so convenient. You need to make at least 4 clicks to get to some applications from default configuration.

Let's talk more about several applications.

VLC is hidden in the menu under the "Multimedia player" tile.

LibreOffice includes the full suite, with Formula, Database and Draw components, but all of them are hidden behind the "Office suite" tile.

Chrome is hidden behind the "Surf the internet" tile. It comes by default with AdBlock Plus, Text to speech and half a dozen other extensions. Quite a dubious decision to my taste: the browser should start in a clear form, allowing the user to select any additional extensions. At the same time, Chrome by default does not include the "Use system title bar and borders" checkbox. This takes some additional useful space from the user. And last but not least, passwords are visible while you type them in!
Chrome with visible passwords in HandyLinux
For me, this is a security breach!

Although the system comes with English menus and applications, it is still detected by Google as French, so your search results are shown in French... not nice!

At the same time, I have not found GIMP in the list of applications. I see no reason why it cannot be included.


As you can expect from a combination of VLC and Chrome, you have zero problems with viewing videos and listening to music files.

Keyboard layouts

You can find keyboard layout configuration in the menu through the path Raiders - Detailed Configuration - Keyboard.

It isn't difficult to configure several layouts in there. But...

There is no switch hotkey configuration anywhere! In addition, there is no Xfce standard panel indicator for the layout in the default HandyLinux distribution! That's a miss!

I tried to find xfce4-xkb-plugin in the Software Centre, but had no luck. Luckily, good-old sudo apt-get install xfce4-xkb-plugin was there to help. Once installed and added to the panel, it helped me to finalize the configuration of keyboard layouts.

External drive... if any

Thunar 1.2.3 is the default file manager in HandyLinux 1.5. Though there is a section "Network", it only works for Windows network. It was not good enough to browse my Samba share.

Of course, I reverted back to terminal to fix this! And that's the result I got:

$ sudo mount -t cifs //server/share /mountpoint -o guest,nolinux
mount: wrong fs type, bad option, bad superblock on //,
       missing codepage or helper program, or other error
       (for several filesystems (e.g. nfs, cifs) you might
       need a /sbin/mount.<type> helper program)

It means that Samba client is not installed in HandyLinux by default. Ooops!
Let's try to install it then!

$ sudo apt-get install samba
Reading package lists... Done
Building dependency tree       
Reading state information... Done
Some packages could not be installed. This may mean that you have
requested an impossible situation or if you are using the unstable
distribution that some required packages have not yet been created
or been moved out of Incoming.
The following information may help to resolve the situation:
The following packages have unmet dependencies:
 samba : Depends: samba-common (= 2:3.6.6-6+deb7u2) but 2:4.1.6+dfsg-1~bpo70+1 is to be installed
         Depends: libwbclient0 (= 2:3.6.6-6+deb7u2) but 2:4.1.6+dfsg-1~bpo70+1 is to be installed
E: Unable to correct problems, you have held broken packages.

Ooooops! No comments.


HandyLinux 1.5 is a nice looking system. It reacts quickly to your actions, snappy and fast. It is more or less easy on resources: only about 250 Mb of memory when idle, though you might expect even less from the Debian+Xfce combination.

However, there are still some things for developers to look at. French roots are visible, menu can be extended for easier use, packages are missing or broken. That's not something you would expect from a distribution that claims to be "Powered by Debian".

The name obliges! Noblesse oblige!

Video used on the screenshot: http://youtu.be/Ir2NJXSLb4c


  1. So is there anything in HandyLinux which would make you use that instead of Debian?

    1. Gary, I would say this is "yet another spin", like Dreamlinux or SimplyMEPIS.

  2. hi, thanks a lot for your review.

    the keyboard switch indicator will be add in the next release, thx for pointing out :)
    about samba, you just need to do 'apt-get update' before installing it ;)
    as handylinux is beginners-oriented, they usually go through sybnaptic or the software-center to install softwares, so they don't have this issue as they "reload" the repository cache before installing.

    thx again for this review, hope the next on will seduce you more
    have a nice day