TTOS Linux 1.1.2The TTOS Linux distribution is based on Debian's Stable branch and the main edition of TTOS ships with the KDE Plasma desktop environment. There are other editions of TTOS mentioned on the project's Downloads page which ship with a variety of other desktops such as GNOME and Trinity in case people want an alternative to Plasma. Though I noticed these alternative editions are distributed under separate SourceForge projects, making them appear to be community editions. I downloaded the main Plasma edition for my trial. This edition is available as a 64-bit (x86_64) build exclusively.
The TTOS website does not provide much information on what sets this distribution apart from other projects, the exceptions being a tool called PerformaSync. Not a lot of information is presented, but it appears as though PerformaSync provides on-line storage and file synchronization, similar to Nextcloud.
Usually I don't talk much about project websites, but this one seems to be unusually terse and it gave me spare time to poke around while my copy of their ISO was downloading. One thing which stood out is the project's logo is saved under a filename which identifies it as "apple touch". I'm not sure why TTOS would save their logo filename as "apple touch", but it was one of what turned out to be several visual quirks of the project and this puzzle set the tone for my experience with this distribution.
The live media boots into the Calamares installer. At least it does when the distribution is running in VirtualBox; when run on my desktop machine I got a different result which I will talk about later. Calmares begins by offering to show us the project's release notes, known issues, and provides buttons to connect us with support. The release notes go to the Calamares release notes rather than documentation for TTOS. The buttons for support and known issues lead nowhere; a web browser opens but fails to display any pages.
Assuming we choose to proceed, the Calamares installer helpfully gets us to pick our time zone and keyboard layout. It also helps us make up a new username and password. We are given the chance to use guided partitioning or use a friendly, manual partitioning tool which works quite well and is easy to navigate. Should we decide to take the guided partitioning option Calamares will set up TTOS on an ext4 filesystem that takes over the entire disk. No other partitions or swap space are enabled. The installer copies its files to the hard drive and offers to restart the computer. If we decide not to restart the machine Calamares closes and we are dropped to a minimal version of the Plasma graphical environment. An icon in the upper-right corner of the screen allows us to logout, moving us to a login page. From there we can shutdown the computer.
TTOS Linux 1.1.2 -- The application menu (full image size: 211kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
TTOS boots to a graphical login screen. The screen is fairly busy with a big clock and options for switching sessions (only Plasma is offered) and keyboard layout. There are large buttons for shutting down the machine in the upper-right corner.
When we sign into Plasma there are icons on the desktop for opening the Dolphin file manager. At the bottom if the display is a panel which holds the application menu, task switcher, and system tray. Immediately after signing in a welcome screen appears.
The welcome screen features five columns of buttons. The first column offers "post install resources", such as access to the project's website and the firewall configuration tool. The second column of buttons list hardware types (NVIDIA, Intel, AMD, Wifi). The third column lists popular applications (LibreOffice, Calligra, Krita), the fourth lists non-free applications (Google Chrome, WPS Office, Steam). The last column is titled "Pimp My Box" and its buttons are labelled "live wallpaper", "ultimate gaming", "ultimate a/v studio", and "Extra's" [sic].
TTOS Linux 1.1.2 -- The welcome window (full image size: 301kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
The welcome screen does not indicate whether any particular buttons are intended to download the listed items or launch them. As it turns it, it's mostly the former, but with a bit of the latter. The Firewall button, for instance, launches a firewall configuration module. This module allows us to enable/disable the firewall and set default incoming and outgoing policy and some basic rules. For some reason the firewall tool would not allow me to disable IPv6 rules. Trying to disable IPv6 caused the firewall to be disabled entirely even though I was on an IPv4 connection.
The other buttons in the welcome screen, the ones listing popular and non-free applications, all try to download those software packages. This is probably why the welcome screen has a notice at the bottom saying we need to run the distribution's update manager from the system tray before pressing any of the download buttons. Unfortunately there is no update icon in the system tray. Well, technically, there is an icon which opens a notification area which includes a widget that can launch the update manager, but it requires a little digging to get there. The warning in the welcome window is accurate though, the download buttons don't work until after we refresh the package database.
Clicking the download buttons in the welcome window worked to download the desired application. Each time I'd be prompted for a password and then a terminal window would open to show the APT package utility working to grab the new software. One button did not work: the WiFi button which appears to be grabbing non-free firmware. I eventually found that prior to clicking the WiFi button I first had to click on another button in the welcome window labelled "able Non-Free Repositori" [sic]. This would set up Debian's non-free repository and then the WiFi firmware button would work. Since one relies on the other it seems like the WiFi button should automatically enable the non-free repositories.
The "Extra's" button was the one which intrigued me most. Clicking this button opens a separate page of the welcome window which offers to install AndroidStudio, AirDroid, and Android Messages.
TTOS Linux 1.1.2 -- The KDE Help application (full image size: 168kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
I started out using TTOS in a VirtualBox virtual machine. The distribution worked fairly well in the virtual environment. By default the guest desktop resolution was low (800x600 pixels) and would not dynamically resize. However, I could change the screen resolution of the guest distribution through the KDE Plasma settings panel.
The desktop was a little sluggish to respond at first. However, I found disabling compositing (via another trip to the settings panel) improved performance. After that, Plasma was responsive. The desktop would lock every five minutes without interaction and, as it proved annoying, this too was fixed with a visit to the settings panel.
TTOS Linux 1.1.2 -- The System Settings panel (full image size: 108kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
When I switched over to running TTOS on a workstation I ran into a few issues. One was that TTOS did not support booting in UEFI mode on my workstation, I had to use Legacy BIOS mode to load the live disc. I ran into another issue while using the live disc which was TTOS booted to a text console rather than the graphical interface. I could run "startx" from the text console to launch Plasma and the Calamares installer.
Another potential problem is that TTOS does not include non-free firmware by default. This prevents some wireless cards from working. If your computer requires non-free firmware to connect to the network then this distribution will not be a good fit.
Another issue I ran into is I could not shutdown or restart the computer from within the Plasma desktop. I had to sign out of my account and then use the poweroff button on the login screen in order to shutdown the computer. This issue existed in both the virtual machine and on physical hardware.
TTOS is a relatively heavy distribution. When signed into the Plasma desktop TTOS consumed 660MB of memory. A fresh install used about 8.5GB of disk space. Both of these space requirements are on the larger side compared to most Linux distributions I have run this year.
The TTOS application menu is divided into tabs, presenting us with favourite applications by default, but with the full range of applications and other options under separate tabs. When browsing applications we are shown categories of programs and clicking on a category allows us to drill down to specific programs, or sometimes further sub-menus. This method of navigation is slow and can require a lot of digging down and back up if we are not sure which category holds our desired program. To counteract this inefficiency the menu offers a search feature where we can type the name or description of a program we are planning to open.
One thing I like about the application menu is it shows both the description and name of each application next to its icon. This makes it easier to tell what we are about to launch. For example, there may be three programs all labelled "Web Browser" but then they also have names like "Firefox" and "Chromium" underneath.
TTOS Linux 1.1.2 -- Running the Firefox and Konqueror web browsers (full image size: 783kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
Apart from the Firefox and Chromium browsers, TTOS also ships with the Konqueror browser, KMail to check e-mail, the Okular document viewer, a feed reader, and the Kopete messaging software. There are desktop sharing tools, the Dolphin file manager, and the KSysGuard system monitor. There are at least two text editors (Kate and KWrite) along with an archive manager, and a hex editor. TTOS ships with the Dragon Player and Juk for playing video and audio files, respectively. The distribution also includes media codecs, allowing us to play most audio and video files.
Browsing further we find the GNU Compiler Collection is installed to help us build software. The systemd init software is included and the distribution runs on version 4.19 of the Linux kernel.
There are some interesting traits when we look at the included software as a whole. For instance, almost all of it is KDE/Qt software. The developers seems to be sticking to toolkit purity as much as possible in each of the distribution's editions rather than selecting the best tool for the job, independently of the toolkit. I found that trying to run GTK-based software was not practical as the GTK tools do not work with the default theme. Text and background colours on input boxes were often the same, making most tools impractical to use with the default settings.
TTOS Linux 1.1.2 -- Running GIMP with the default theme (full image size: 136kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
I also failed to find any productivity software. The developers seem to be targeting people who feel multiple web browsers, a compiler, and hex editor are essential, but working with written documents and spreadsheets is not.
I ran into a few crashes, or at least crash reports, while exploring the distribution's range of software. At one point I closed the Juk audio player and, as the player was closing, a crash report appeared in my system tray. I'm not sure if Juk crashed while shutting down or if Plasma mistakenly thought the closing program was terminated prematurely. At another point the entire Plasma desktop crashed, taking my session with it. Plasma restarted after about ten seconds and advised me to submit a bug report.
Software management on TTOS is primarily handled by Discover. The Discover software manager handled system updates, finding new software, and removing unwanted applications. Discover defaults to showing us popular applications we may wish to install, but can also find new software by name or show us categories of available applications.
Discover has a fairly nice interface and makes finding new applications pretty easy. It also shows progress information as it is working and allows us to work with multiple packages at once. My only complaint with Discover (at least the version which ships with TTOS) is that it is slow to respond. Sometimes when browsing available software the interface seems to have finished loading or to have locked up. Waiting a few extra seconds would cause Discover to "catch up" and finish presenting its information. Should we not wish to use Discover, we can use the APT command line tools to manage packages.
TTOS Linux 1.1.2 -- Browsing the Discover software manager (full image size: 122kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
The first day I was running TTOS Discover reported there were 138 updates available, totalling 238MB in size. The software manager properly handled these updates and, though the process took some time, Discover completed the task successfully.
Most of the available software comes from Debian's Stable repositories, though optionally some also comes from Google's Chrome repository, Debian's non-free repository, and there are a few custom items that are imported from a TTOS server.
By default TTOS does not provide support for portable package formats such as Snap and Flatpak. We can add these ourselves if portable packages are needed.
If I had to sum up my impressions of TTOS in a word it would be "unfinished". Despite being on the DistroWatch waiting list for over a year, the project feels as though it is still on the drawing board. The website offers very little information about the distribution or its add-on sync product. There is virtually no documentation, the wiki is empty, there are no support forums or mailing lists. The documentation links in the system installer don't provide release information, the welcome screen features typos and labels that don't fit on their buttons. We can't restart the computer from within Plasma, which is an unusual limitation.
The Debian core of the operating system is pretty solid, with a lot of software available, but TTOS doesn't appear to offer anything over plain Debian with the KDE Plasma desktop installed. It might actually be a less pleasant experience since GTK-based applications are practically unusable with the default TTOS theme settings. Not to mention TTOS is a surprisingly heavy distribution on disk and in memory without a clear benefit to excuse the extra weight.
This distribution feels like it was rushed out the door, possibly to promote the commercial PerformaSync service, without taking time to test it and polish up the various issues.
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Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a desktop HP Pavilon p6 Series with the following specifications: