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Chakra Linux 2012.04 review – one to watch

by Gareth Halfacree

The second Archimedes release of Arch spin-off Chakra Linux brings some major changes and a new office suite, but not everything has been improved…

Formerly an Arch remix designed for users looking for a distribution offering the power and flexibility of Arch but with a desktop environment installed by default, Chakra has come on in leaps and bounds since the project’s founders made the decision to fork away from its upstream.

The second release of the Archimedes family, Chakra Linux 2012.04 boasts some significant improvements over its predecessors – but, unfortunately, not everything about the new release is quite so positive.

Available in Live CD and Live DVD formats, with the former offering only a minimal KDE desktop with little in the way of bundled software, Chakra is an attractive distribution with cutting-edge packages. Out of the box, the Live CD includes KDE 4.8.2 with Chakra’s attractive theme applied, the 3.2.8 Linux kernel, Qt 4.8.1 and QtWebkit 2.2.1.

Installation of Chakra can be a problem for newcomers: unlike rival distributions, the installer doesn’t handle automatic partitioning of drives. Instead, it expects the user to manually create partitions and assign mount points – not a problem for anyone used to Linux, but a serious omission for a distribution which prides itself on its ‘keep it simple, stupid’ philosophy.

Chakra Linux 2012.04 review - one to watch
Installation is reasonably fast, although you’ll need to understand mount points and partitions

The biggest surprise of this release, however, is the switch from OpenOffice.org fork LibreOffice to the Calligra Office Suite. Designed as a modern replacement for KOffice, Calligra is a truly impressive package which includes a word processor, spreadsheet, project manager, illustration tools, flow charting package and even a mind-mapping utility.

While not exclusive to Chakra, it is the first distribution to include the software by default – no real surprise, given that the stable release came out just days before Chakra 2012.04 went live itself.

Although the cutting-edge software and attractive GUI fit in nicely with Chakra’s stated philosophy of keeping it simple for newcomers to Linux, the second major change with this latest release doesn’t: the abandoning of graphical package management.

Chakra Linux 2012.04 review - one to watch
The Chakra Live CD environment is friendly to newcomers, with a quick-start guide and release information

Previous releases had used the appset-qt package to provide a more intuitive interface over the pacman package manager, which can be somewhat hostile to newcomers. Sadly, Chakra 2012.04 sees this removed – although, hopefully temporarily.

The team explains in the release notes that none of the available pacman frontends, including appset-qt, were able to handle more complex updates from the Chakra repositories – resulting in users being bombarded with warnings. While the situation is hopefully temporary, the Chakra team have yet to offer a timescale for adding graphical package management back in to the distribution.

That rather troublesome regression aside, Chakra remains a great choice for anyone thinking about making the move from a more mainstream distribution. The KDE Plasma interface is impressively smooth, while the bundled software makes sure you can probably live without using the package manager – for a while, at least.

Chakra Linux 2012.04 review - one to watch
Chakra’s Live DVD includes an array of localisations, although the CD version isn’t as lucky

Speaking of bundled software, web developers will be interested to hear that Chakra comes with two browsers: while rekonq is, unsurprisingly given the distribution’s KDE focus, the default, there’s also QupZilla for those who prefer a more Mozilla-themed experience. Naturally, it’s also possible to install Chromium, Firefox and other alternatives from the Chakra repositories.

These packages, and a selection of others, can be installed quickly and easily using a concept Chakra calls ‘bundles.’ Taking the place of a traditional package, the software is compressed into a customised ‘Chakra Bundle’ and made available via the distro’s Bundle Manager. One click installs the software, and with packages including Firefox, Thunderbird, Pidgin and Inkscape available as bundles, suddenly the loss of graphical package management doesn’t sting as much.

Verdict: 4/5

The loss of graphical package management and a troublesome installation process aside, this latest release of Chakra is impressive. The user interface is clean and crisp, while the Bundle Manager makes installation of commonly required software quicker than on any other distribution we’ve seen. Coupled with the excellent Calligra suite, this is a distribution to keep an eye on.

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    • Bob

      None of the cons you mentioned are really cons.

    • RussellBarnes

      Hence the very positive conclusion and high score.

    • http://linuxblog.darkduck.com darkduck

      I mentioned some issues in my review of Chakra 2012.02
      http://linuxblog.darkduck.com/2012/03/chakra-201202-improved-but-still.html

      Are they resolved now?

    • crabbos

      Nice write-up. It’s refreshing to see something labeled as a “review” that is actually a review. I’m getting tired of clicking links for a ___linux review and then seeing nothing but the release notes copied and pasted from the developers site.

      Chakra does not play nicely on my laptop (Dell Inspiron n5110 with Optimus) which is probably just as well because I find that KDE distros tend to crash more than Gnome lately and on top of that only Gnome has a fix to get my touchpad recognized and configurable.

    • Jack

      @crabbos:

      Agree. Most Linux reviews are about installation and the distro’s appearance. Rather few discusses how well users actually are able to live with the distro in production environments.

      What you are trying to say is probably that Optimus still don’t play well with Linux. Optimus machines that allows for choice of GPU in BiOS works well – but without the desired seemless change between GPUs.

      I have not experienced that KDE is particularly proned to crashes. In my experience trouble may occur in combo installations – typically KDE installed on top of Ubuntu and so on. But that’s not KDE it’s the combo.

      Less is more :o)

      Chakra is the only distro that actually are true to the concept of one distro one DE (other distros provides one of the DEs as standard but they tend to be somewhat entangled with the secondary (or the other standard) DE.

      Conceptually, Chakra is the leader of the pack, and I belive that any distro with serious consumer/oem ambitions will have to concentrate on one DE. Ubuntu is on its way – but they are still a coctail.

      Unfortunately Chakra remains a bit immature for my usage in production – but I have great expectations.

    • http://all-things-linux.blogspot.com/ Barnabyh

      Following Darkducks spamming of the comments section with his own links, a recent interview with my user experience of Chakra 2012.02 Archimedes attached can be found at
      http://all-things-linux.blogspot.com/2012/04/chakra-gnulinux-interview-with.html
      It was a rather positive conclusion, unfortunately shortly after the install broke from something as simple as changing the KDM login screen after update from 4.8.1 to 4.8.2 despite a reboot in between. It just went into a loop and didn’t log in. Could have only been remedied by dropping to inittab3 and troubleshooting from there, but I removed it now.
      Was nice while it lasted but definitely needs more work.

    • istok

      it’s a very fast and sensible KDE distro, even if the latest version failed to install on my testing computer. but i remember that in one of the previous versions, all those “bundles” installed showed up in dolphin as partitions. why is that? i don’t know much about KDE so maybe this is expected… anyway i agree, a distro to watch.

    • http://all-things-linux.blogspot.com/ Barnabyh

      @istok It’s got nothing to do with KDE. The bundles show up as partitions in the file manager because they are decompressed self-contained file systems. Hope that helps!

    • istok

      @Barnabyh
      it certainly does :)
      anyway it’s a minor annoyance.
      i really liked how snappy it was when i tested it so i kept an eye on it. i wish i managed to install the newest version.

    • ismaelvc

      @istok

      You can right click in any of those entries in dolphin or the device manager, and select:

      Do not show or something like that!

      I like to hidde those bundle entries.

      This will work of course on any KDE distribution (the editable entries, not the bundles!) as it is one of the wonders of KDE! :P

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    • Kabamaru

      Thanks for this, I always keep an eye on Chakra and KDE.

      There is though, a misconception here. The KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid) does not necessarily mean friendly to the newcomer. It is about an operating system having a simple design. Arch, Crux, Slackware, Chakra are KISS distros to a varying degree. These systems don’t have the extra layers of automated configuration other Distros have, but instead they provide a more transparent layout and expect from the user to manually configure/administer the system. Editing a simple text file, rather than using graphical a tool that edits 20 ones is an example of KISS. So, such a system may be scary for a newcomer, but for someone who already knows what he’s doing and likes the “simpler” layout, it can make it easier for him to manage/maintain it, because he doesn’t have to dig through layers upon layers.

    • Arup

      Been using this for six months and I rate it as the best KDE release around.

    • 1950Tree

      I have been using this distro for a year and find it easily the best KDE experience

      I think the guys at Chakra have done a great job at keeping it simple. You do need to get your hands dirty sometimes but that is rare..
      I look forward to the replacement for pacman which can be a bit temperamental And it would be nice to see a better wallpaper changer (minor points)
      Keep up the good work

    • bill1815

      I’ve been using Chakra for a couple of months and have mostly been extremely impressed. It’s easily the most responsive KDE distro I’ve tried, and I’ve found that some apps (thinking mainly of ktorrent and amarok) that have been lately become buggy and crash-prone on Kubuntu and Linux Mint KDE run rock solid and stable on Chakra. It’s also the first KDE distro in a long time where kwallet has remembered my wireless connection information right from the start. It’s really a pleasure to use.

      The drawback with Chakra is that the application base is quite small, and I find myself frequently switching back to Kubuntu to run one one gtk-based app or another that’s beyond my skillset level to get running. Here’s hoping that the app base will grow, as I’d love to switch to it full-time…

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    • http://www.icsa.tk asci

      i use chakra a year by now… once u get used pacman is much better then the grafical stuff… u can use ur arrow keys in the console to bring old commands up and then just have to enter the new name..simple..
      sudo ccr -Syu opera for example…
      its a great distro that replaced mint

    • ismaelvc

      @asci:

      just a word of notice!

      DON’T use “ccr” as root ever, it will automaticaly ask and escalate privileges as needed. ccr also warns you about this if you use sudo or run it as root (“su -”).

      so it should be for example: ccr -S oxygen-transparent-git

      or you could use: ccr oxygen

      this will launch the interactive ccr mode, and ask for the packages you want to install after providing a list of packages that mach with “oxygen”, in this example.

      Also I’d advice in first syncing and updating the system before you install any package you may need, so first:

      ccr -Syu (this will update the official packages as well as ccr packages if there are any installed.)

      Also I like to force mirror sync just in case, with a double -y flag like this:

      ccr -Syyu

      You can use for example ccr -Syyu oxygen-transparent-git

      But it is also a good practice to install aditional software after first updating the system and handling config files if needed, like this:

      First: ccr -Syyu

      and then: ccr -S package1 package 2, …, etc.

      hope this helps! :P

    • gregzeng

      “best KDE distro” comments … but so buggy with the above CLI demands. Not GUI, but code-demanding CLI.

      Nooby, beginner distros are all GUI, without any CLI ever. Modern distros should auto-fit into popular PC hardware, without trouble. Seems that Chakra, Arch, etc … are anything but modern or user-friendly. USER-HOSTILE to the extreme, but dishonestly not saying this.

      Back to the ‘buntus for me … probably Zorin, Mint or Pinguy.

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    • ismaelvc

      @gregzeng:

      yeah I know tour post is old :)

      lol I can’t believe you just said arch isn’t modern. I would say its state of the art.

      Also have you ever actualy tried to use ccr, packer, pacman or portage for example or are you just saying becaue it doesnt have any gui, I can’t really see why is it so compicated to use cli instead of gui, as I said, this tools are thre for making your life easier, it’s not like we are talking about awk syntax or something like that, jut a simple ‘ccr -S package’ oh and before the recomended ccr ‘-Syu’ or just a ‘ccr -Syu pkg1 pkg2 …’ .

      Its true that noob distros are cool too but I dont think you would ever ever see that arch or chakra advertise themselves as noob distros, so I can’t understand why you think its dishonest, but I gues you do see the fact that not all distros HAVE to be noob friendly, you do right?