Auxtral 3Auxtral is a relative newcomer to the DistroWatch waiting list. The distribution is a desktop-oriented project based on Debian for x86_64 computers. The project currently provides two editions: Cinnamon (1.6GB) and Xfce (1.5GB) with a new MATE edition being tested at the time of writing.
The Auxtral website does not share a lot of details about what we can expect from the distribution, but it does mention that there are two command line tools included to handle software updates called upgr and fupgr. The rest of the description, the available desktop editions, and the screenshots make the project sound like Linux Mint's Debian Edition.
I decided to try the Cinnamon edition of Auxtral. Booting from the live media brought up a menu offering to start the live desktop or switch localizations. A long list of alternative languages are supported and it appears the default is Spanish.
Auxtral 3 -- The Cinnamon application menu (full image size: 227kB, resolution: 1360x768 pixels)
Starting the live system brings up the Cinnamon desktop and places a panel at the bottom of the screen. This panel is crowded and holds the application menu, some quick-launch buttons, a task switcher, and system tray. The application menu is divided into three panes - places, categories, and launchers. A single icon on the desktop offers to launch the project's system installer.
Auxtral uses the Calamares graphical system installer. The installer walks us through selecting a time zone, keyboard layout, and making up login credentials. It also handles disk partitioning. We can choose to engage in manual partitioning which offers a fairly friendly, point and click experience. Alternatively we can opt for guided partitioning which automatically sets up the distribution on its own ext4 partition with a separate swap partition. Calamares worked smoothly and quickly, collecting information and copying packages to my hard drive. When it was finished the installer offered to reboot the computer.
The first thing that stood out about Auxtral was that the boot menu waits for a full minute before starting the operating system. This gives us plenty of time to consider options. Once the countdown finishes the system boots quickly to a graphical login screen. Signing in brings up the Cinnamon desktop.
Shortly after I signed into my account a pop-up appeared to let me know software updates were available. A corresponding icon in the system tray also changes to indicate updates can be acquired. Clicking this update icon offers to show us notification preferences, but clicking the Preferences button doesn't do anything. There isn't any option to launch an update manager or software centre, so we need to find a less direct method of installing updates. I will talk more about working with software packages later.
The desktop environment has dark wallpaper, but a bright theme. I found the layout and colours easy to navigate and read.
The distribution ships with the sudo utility installed, but does not enable it by default. We will need to add permissions for our user if we wish to use sudo for administrative tasks. We can use the su program to sign into the root account and perform administrative tasks that way.
I started out running Auxtral in a VirtualBox machine. The desktop experienced a little lag when running in the virtual environment, but it was still practical to use. The system ran smoothly and the Cinnamon desktop resized automatically to match the dimensions of the VirtualBox window.
When I tried out Auxtral on my laptop, I found the distribution would not boot in UEFI mode, it would only start in Legacy BIOS mode. Once it was up and running, Auxtral ran smoothly on the laptop and all my hardware was properly utilized. Desktop performance was good, pretty average overall.
One thing that did surprise me about Auxtral was how much RAM it required. The distribution used 1,350MB of RAM when signed into the Cinnamon desktop with no applications open. This is about twice the size of most distributions running the KDE Plasma or Xfce desktops. It's roughly on par with Ubuntu running GNOME and using ZFS as the root filesystem. I'm not sure I've ever seen a Linux distribution use up more than 1,300MB of memory before when sitting idle at the desktop and this seems excessive compared to mainstream distributions. At the same time, disk consumption was about average with a fresh install using up 5GB of space, plus a swap partition.
Auxtral ships with a fairly small number of desktop applications. Browsing through the wide, three-pane application menu we find the Brave web browser, a calendar application, and Mirage image viewer. There are a few media players, including the mpv multimedia player, the SMPayer, and Audacious for playing music. The distribution includes codecs for playing most audio and video files.
The Cheese webcam utility is included along with the Clam anti-virus software, and the SolydXK settings panel, The settings panel is unusual in that it is arranged in a series of tabs, each one for a low-level system task, and usually a small number of options. The SolydXK settings panel offers options for enabling disk encryption, cleaning up unnecessary packages, and adjusting the boot screen (among a few other items).
The Auxtral project also ships with the GNU Compiler Collection, GNU command line utilities, manual pages, and the systemd software. Version 5.10 of the Linux kernel is included.
Something I found odd is the icon for launching the Calamares system installer remains on the desktop of the installed system. At this point it doesn't really serve any purpose and could be removed. A more practical concern is that despite my account being set up to use an English locale and the interface appearing in English, the directories in my home directory were displayed in Spanish. It's a small matter to remove these or rename them, but this is one of the few times I've encountered a language mismatch with home sub-directories.
It is not often I encounter the Brave web browser as the default on a Linux distribution. In fact, this may be the first time it has happened. A week before I began this trial I gave Brave a solid try for a while and found it suited me really well. It's fast, open source, and fairly flexible. I'm hoping it gains more attention and I liked seeing it included as the default on Auxtral.
Auxtral ships with two graphical package managers and a few command line package tools. On the command line we can use the classic APT package manager used by Debian and related projects. Earlier I mentioned two tools, upgr and fupgr, which are just shell scripts for refreshing repository information and then running "apt-get upgrade" or "apt-get full-upgrade", respectively. Packages are all pulled from Debian's repositories with the exception of one add-on repository set up for the Brave browser.
The distribution's first graphical package manager is Synaptic. The Synaptic application is a classic package manager which can handle upgrades, installs, package removals, and adjusting repository links. Synaptic prompts for our administrative password right from the start and remembers it for performing actions later.
The second graphical front-end for package management is called Software Manager. It sets up two tabs: Explore and Installed. The former starts off by showing us available software with curated or suggested items at the top. Categories are displayed below and we can click interesting items to see a full page description. New applications can be installed by clicking a button and entering our password. The password must be typed in each time we want to add or remove an application which becomes tedious after a while.
The Installed tab shows items we have already installed or are in the process of installing along with progress information. We can then remove an item by clicking a button and putting in our password. The Software Manager application can be a little slow to respond compared to Synaptic, but it worked well.
Auxtral 3 -- The software centre (full image size: 135kB, resolution: 1360x768 pixels)
Software Manager includes a button which will launch an installed application right from its description page. This is convenient for opening new programs right after installing them. However, this Launch button doesn't always work. It usually did, but some programs failed to open when pressing the Launch button. These same programs did open when launching them from the application menu, demonstrating they were functioning properly.
The distribution does not ship with Flatpak or Snap package support included. Both of these can be installed through the software manager should we need access to portable packages.
At the beginning of this review I mentioned Auxtral reminded me of Linux Mint Debian Edition. The theme, the Cinnamon desktop, and general look of the project certainly held that first impression. However, the default applications and tools (apart from the Cinnamon desktop and command line utilities) felt quite a bit different. Linux Mint has been around for several years and has earned a reputation for being beginner friendly, polished, and shipping with a lot of top-notch open source applications.
Auxtral appears to have a similar approach - similar base distribution, the same desktop environments, and a similar look. However, Auxtral does have its own personality under the surface. It ships with a quite different collection of applications, sometimes using less popular items (Brave in place of Firefox, SMPlayer instead of VLC, etc.) It has also gone its own way with software updates, preferring classic tools like APT and Synaptic over Mint's update manager.
Auxtral is off to a good start. This was my first time trying the distribution and the experience was mostly positive. The operating system is easy to install, offers multiple desktop environments, and walks a pretty good line between hand holding and staying out of the way. The application menu is uncluttered while including enough programs to be useful. Some of those programs are a bit more obscure or less beginner friendly than what you might find in Linux Mint, but otherwise it's a good collection. Virtually everything worked and worked smoothly. I was unpleasantly surprised by this distribution's memory usage, most projects consume about half as much RAM, but otherwise I liked what Auxtral had to offer. I might not recommended it to complete beginners, especially since the project does not appear to have any documentation or support options of its own, but for someone who doesn't mind a little command line work or who likes the idea of an easy to setup distribution that combines Debian with the Cinnamon (or Xfce desktop) this seems like a good option.
* * * * *
Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a de-branded HP laptop with the followingspecifications:
Processor: Intel i3 2.5GHz CPU
Display: Intel integrated video
Storage: Western Digital 700GB hard drive
Memory: 6GB of RAM
Wired network device: Realtek RTL8101E/RTL8102E PCI Express Fast