31 Jan 2017

GeckoLinux Plasma: for Die Hard OpenSuSE fans

The old fans of Linux notes from DarkDuck blog know that it is mostly about reviews of Live versions of various Linux operating systems. That is why OpenSuSE has not been reviewed for a long time. The latest and the previous version of this distribution, 42.2 and 42.1, do not have a Live option. The only way to experience OpenSuSE is to install it.

Luckily, there are people who care more about distro-hoppers, or people who are interested in OpenSuSE, but not ready to commit to installation yet. That's why GeckoLinux was born.

GeckoLinux is a stripped-down version of OpenSuSE with only one desktop environment (at a time), and with a Live run enabled. You can download GeckoLinux versions with Plasma, GNOME, Xfce, Cinnamon, Mate, Budgie, LXQt or barebones. All of them are available as Static or Rolling editions. All these versions are based on OpenSuSE Stable release, 42.2 at the moment. There is also GeckoLinux Plasma NEXT, which includes some non-stable repositories. Only 64-bit versions available as it is the only architecture supported by OpenSuSE now.

You can download the ISOs for any of the version via the Sourceforge's content delivery network.
I downloaded the GeckoLinux Plasma Static release from the 28th of December 2016. It may not be the freshest release for the date when this review goes live, because the release team issues them monthly. The ISO size is about 1 GB in size. I "burnt" it to the USB stick using the dd command.

The USB drive is in the port of my Toshiba laptop. Reboot. Choose to boot from USB. Let's go!

Booting up

The boot process of GeckoLinux starts with a choice between a normal Live and a Safe mode, booting from Hard Drive and memory check. You can also choose a language for your system and specify some boot parameters.

I started the usual Live run of GeckoLinux Plasma and after about a minute a login screen appeared. GeckoLinux asks you to enter the password. There is no hint anywhere, except for the GeckoLinux download page. The password for the default user linux is also linux. Once I entered the password, the system froze for some time. There was no visible reaction on the screen. But half a minute later the default desktop appeared.

First impressions

GeckoLinux Plasma boots into a standard KDE5 / Plasma desktop. There are two items on it: Calamares (What is it? An installer, a game, a Spanish dictionary or a HDD destructor? Any hints?) and Language. Both icons have only one word in the name, but it is ugly spread across two lines. Why so?
GeckoLinux welcome screen

The default wallpaper is a picture of raindrops on the glass, and all that is in OpenSuSE's green tones. There is a choice of 3 alternative images, one of them being the same picture, but with a "made with suse studio" stamp in the corner.

The panel is at the bottom of the screen. The bottom-left corner is taken by a menu button that has a KDE (not SuSE) logo. Next to it you can find shortcuts to the Dolphin File manager and the Firefox browser. The right part of the panel is the notification area. It has clocks (set to 9 hours behind my actual time, am I somewhere in Hawaii?) and date with day of the week and month in full words. That is simply a waste of space on the panel, isn't it? Why wouldn't you remove or shorten day of the week and month? The panel also contains the usual suspects like clipboard monitor, network and volume indicators and USB tool. Battery, printer and notification indicators are hidden behind a drop-down menu triangle. The "Show desktop" icon is also in the right part of the panel.
GeckoLinux resource usage

The freshly booted system takes about 480 MB of memory, which is much more than Kubuntu 16.10 and ROSA Desktop Fresh R8, but less than Debian 8 KDE, though the latter runs on KDE4.

Network connection

GeckoLinux Plasma had no problems with recognition and configuration of my wireless network card Realtek 8191 SEvB.

Click on the network indicator on the panel, select my home network, type in the password, and I am connected to the Internet in few moments.

GeckoLinux did not ask for any passwords at this stage, like some other distributions do.

Network drive

Dolphin file manager in GeckoLinux Plasma Live allowed me to find the shared network drive using the Samba Shares search tool. I was able to browse the drive and play files from it.

At the same time, Dolphin asked me about the root password when I tried to mount the local HDD partition. The same password linux was sufficient.

Keyboard layout

I selected English UK as a language for my system at the boot screen. However, the system booted with the English US layout.

If you want to change the layout, or add another one, you need to go through the steps described in my separate article. Not a big deal.

Applications

GeckoLinux comes with a rather small set of applications available out of the box. You can probably tell from the ISO image size, which is smaller than most other distributions.

Firefox 50.1 is the default and the only browser. Other Internet tools include KTorrent, KNetAttach, Pidgin internet messenger and Thunderbird email client.

There are some Development tools in the menu, namely several Qt 5-centric applications.

Graphic tools in GeckoLinux include LibreOffice Draw, Gwenview and Skanlite scanning utility. There is no GIMP or any other image editor. LibreOffice Draw isn’t really an editor, is it?

The Office section of the menu includes LibreOffice applications, including Draw, Calc, Writer and Impress. Okular document viewer is also included.

Clementine and VLC players are the only elements in the Multimedia part of the menu. There are no disk burning utility and audio control tools.

The system and configuration utilities are distributed across three (yes, three!) sections of the menu: System, Settings and Utilities. The line between these sections is so fine that I always struggle to find the reason behind splitting tools into two categories like most distributions do. GeckoLinux has three. Of course, you can find many tools in these three sections. Just to name a few: Konsole terminal, Ark archive manager, Kate text editor, KCalc, GParted, YaST.

YaST is the GeckoLinux's, and OpenSuSE's in general, system control panel. You need to enter the root password to open it. YaST includes system hardware and software configuration, firewall, kernel and network settings and many others. Software management is also a part of YaST functionality. Just to see YaST software management in action, I tried to install K3B and Chromium applications. Both these packages were found in the YaST software tool. Unfortunately, after K3B installation, which went first, the panel froze. I could no longer click the items on the panel, and even menu button and desktop right-click stopped working. The installation of Chromium browser failed in general. The error message said there was not enough space on the drive. Could this be calculated prior to downloading the package and its dependencies to save time and bandwidth?

Multimedia

GeckoLinux was able to play video and audio files from local machine and from the attached network drive without any issue. That is not a big deal once you have VLC installed.

YouTube and Vimeo videos also played well in the Firefox browser. However, 1tv.ru did not work due to the absence of Adobe Flash installation.

I am not able to attach any screenshot of the multimedia playback in GeckoLinux, because the above-mentioned issue after the software installation also affected the screenshot utility. I hope you will trust me here.

Conclusion

GeckoLinux is a difficult thingie to understand. It was created to ease the life of people who want to explore OpenSuSE. Neither OpenSuSE nor GeckoLinux are actually easy distributions to deal with. Maybe I am just very subjective towards OpenSuSE, but that's my position.

GeckoLinux failed in many aspects in my eyes.

  • First, the lack of essential software like disk burning utility or image editor.
  • Second, the glitch in software installation that affected the general system usability.
  • Third, there were performance issues even on simple things like minimizing and restoring of the windows: I was able to see separate frames rather than the smooth animation.
  • Fourth, the reason behind splitting utilities into three menu categories is unclear or uncertain.
  • Fifth, simple logic should not allow downloading applications that would not be installable due to system disk space restrictions. This logic failed in YaST.

Summarizing all that, I would not recommend GeckoLinux to anyone who seriously looks towards OpenSuSE, unless you are a die-hard OpenSuSE fan. You will not get much fun here, but you risk getting a lot of frustration. The same is true about OpenSuSE though, but then you will not have anybody between yourself and the core operating system.

19 comments:

  1. Hi there, GeckoLinux creator here. Thanks a lot for the review. I'd like to address a few of the issues you mentioned:

    > Once I entered the password, the system froze for some time. There was no visible reaction on the screen.

    I don't think it froze. I just have the splash screen disabled by default to make it actually load faster.

    > Calamares (What is it? An installer, a game, a Spanish dictionary or a HDD destructor? Any hints?)

    It's the installer. Plasma gave me fits with the desktop icon, and I had to leave it as a single word. Not ideal, I know. In the main start menu it does have a description though.

    > Both icons have only one word in the name, but it is ugly spread across two lines. Why so?

    Plasma.... They've still got a long way to go on polish. I couldn't find a workaround for this, and I reported the issue to the Plasma devs.

    > date with day of the week and month in full words. That is simply a waste of space on the panel, isn't it?

    Nope, I need to see the day and date of the week at a glance.

    > Why wouldn't you remove or shorten day of the week and month?

    I don't want to remove it, and unfortunately Plasma doesn't offer a shortened form. I agree that would be preferable.

    > The freshly booted system takes about 480 MB of memory, which is much more than Kubuntu 16.10 and ROSA Desktop Fresh R8

    It will be much less after installation, I've tested it at around 350MB. Keep in mind that it's a live system.

    > There is no GIMP or any other image editor.

    Yes there is, Gwenview allows for basic photo editing and touch-ups.

    > system and configuration utilities are distributed across three (yes, three!) sections of the menu: System, Settings and Utilities. The line between these sections is so fine that I always struggle to find the reason behind splitting tools into two categories like most distributions do.

    I don't configure the menu at all, it's pure openSUSE. But with that said, there are differences between those three sections: "System" is basically shortcut to YaST modules that affect the entire system, "Settings" are for configuring Plasma and preferences at a per-user level. And utilities are, well, utilities. They're not billed as system configuration tools, nor should they be misconstrued as such.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! It still proves that OpenSuSE is far from ideal, and you cannot do much here to improve.

      Delete
    2. Hmm, no, it proves that GeckoLinux is meant to be used and customized after installation. :-) Also, the other issues you mentioned are either personal preference or Plasma-specific issues. If you don't like Plasma (which is understandable) I would recommend that you review one of the 7 other GeckoLinux editions, that's why they're offered.

      Delete
    3. Hmm, Kubuntu and ROSA don't have the issues with icon texts at least, and both use Plasma.

      Delete
    4. It appears to be specific to the text used in the icon. They apparently have some kind of word wrap logic for filenames on the desktop, but it can fail. That's what a developer said here:

      https://www.reddit.com/r/kde/comments/5jg02z/plasma_58_is_winning_me_over/dbgilcl/

      Delete
  2. [continued, max character limit reached]

    > The installation of Chromium browser failed in general. The error message said there was not enough space on the drive. Could this be calculated prior to downloading the package and its dependencies to save time and bandwidth?

    It could be that you ran out of space, but it could also be a warning about another partition that you had mounted with low space. I don't like this feature either, but such is YaST. It alerts you about low space on *any* connected device, and its idea of "low" is arbitrary.

    > the lack of essential software like disk burning utility or image editor.

    "Essential" is dependent on each user. This is the first request I've received for disk burning software, so I'm assuming it's not essential for most users. As for image editing, please see my above comment about Gwenview.

    > the glitch in software installation

    GeckoLinux can't do miracles. If it runs out of space, software can not be installed and the system won't work well.

    > performance issues even on simple things like minimizing and restoring of the windows: I was able to see separate frames rather than the smooth animation.

    What kind of graphics hardware? Your link to your "Toshiba" laptop just takes me to Amazon. It would be good to try uninstall all the xf86-video* drivers and using the Xorg modesetting driver, which solves a lot of problems. Also it would be good to change the compositor acceleration method. Plasma is by far the most sensitive desktop environment to graphics issues, but it's probably possible to work around those issues.

    I'm afraid that you won't have a good experience with GeckoLinux without installing it to the hard drive. It's mainly intended to be used and customized *after* installation.

    I hope this clears up a few of the issues you ran into. Thanks again for the coverage.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I found this review interesting in part because I learned geckolinux is including an installable live XFCE desktop (among others). OpenSUSE by default does not, and the OpenSUSE XFCE default packages/setup really leave a lot to be desired, making it very necessary to do a lot of work to get it to the point of being actually usable. I am hoping the geckolinux defaults/installs for that (and other desktops like lxqt too) at least suck less at the beginning. For that alone, it could have great utility. I wish some of the other variants had been reviewed.

      As for this review, I do similarly note live installs are not generally meant to be "customized" from the iso boot. This is especially true since such customizations/package installs may be lost when installing anyway. At minimum I think the reviewer could and should have used something like qemu or virtualbox.

      As for "essential" utilities, there are machines that do not even have DVD/CD drives any more. I also think a minimal necessary subset is always best practice for any generic live booting installable distro, and users can add what they want/need after installing to hd.

      Delete
    2. @David: Yes, the XFCE variant of GeckoLinux has been heavily customized to make it as refined as I know how. Here's a screenshot:

      https://cloud.githubusercontent.com/assets/2692138/11413918/e5faf1fa-93bc-11e5-87a6-91c8506f8f1e.png

      Delete
    3. @sb56637: I have Toshiba Satellite L500-19X if it matters. Rather old hardware, but works with other distros well.

      @sb56637 and @David: I don't discuss the way I do my reviews after publishing this article.

      Delete
    4. @DarkDuck: I respect your reasons, but you should understand that you can't expect everything to work in the live system when you try to perform tasks that are normally performed in an installed system. That is what caused the major package manager issues you ran into on this review.

      Delete
  3. Thanks both for the review and the answer.
    Keep the good work up !!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. "Neither OpenSuSE nor GeckoLinux are actually easy distributions to deal with. Maybe I am just very subjective towards OpenSuSE, but that's my position."

    Err what?

    Just bought myself an Intel NUC. Burnt the boot image onto a USB stick and booted the system. Twenty minutes later I have a working system with all updates installed.

    The only thing I need to do is pick up the community repositories to get a small selection of additional software.

    Really where is the difficulty in that?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have distributions that can do the same without the number of issues and glitches shown in this review. Why bother?

      Delete
  5. @Epeeist: Nice! Was this with GeckoLinux or openSUSE proper?

    ReplyDelete
  6. I am a linux newbie and tried few distros. I had no problem whats so ever with Geckolinux. love it, easy to use and all the support you need from sb56637

    ReplyDelete
  7. To the creator of GeckoLinux:

    WELL DONE! I'm an AVID openSuSE Linux user and while I know my way around XFCE....MATE....Cinnamon...and GNome, I have always found KDE desktops to be confusing masses of configuration hell! Maybe I'll give this one a spin and see how good it runs on my SSD in my Asus Aspire! Thanks for the great variety of desktops!, Now I have something for everyone! (I help people make the move from Windows and Apple to Linux constantly, now I can show them something that's constant over various desktops and not have to worry about explaining what's different between Ubuntu Unity and Fedora GNome! Thanks again for such a great product!

    @Dark Duck: Your reviews are always direct and to the point, a no-frills, don't-cover-it-in-chocolate opinion that gives the Linux community a fresh take on some of the most talked about distros,...never stop your work! You're helping millions of people with your reviews and articles!

    ReplyDelete