deepin 20deepin is a Debian-based distribution which develops and ships its own desktop interface and several desktop applications. The Deepin Desktop Environment is often praised for its appearance and the way it offers easy access to configuration options. The custom applications tend to be geared toward being simple and easy to navigate.
(I would like to say up front that, in an effort to avoid confusion, I will be referring to the distribution as a whole as "deepin" while the desktop interface will be "Deepin" or "Deepin desktop" in this review.)
The deepin 20 release announcement mentioned several new features and improvements to the distribution. Some of the highlights include changes to notifications, along with the ability to adjust (on a per application basis) which programs can display notifications, whether notifications appear on the lock screen, and if a sound should accompany notices.
The distribution offers multiple kernels with the 5.4 kernel being the default and 5.7 being available as an alternative. The distribution now includes a Device Manager utility to browse hardware information. Support for fingerprint recognition has also been added.
deepin 20 -- Getting a list of recent notifications (full image size: 795kB, resolution: 1360x768 pixels)
deepin now ships with a new application called Draw for simple drawing and image editing. There is a joint screen video and image capture tool and the Cheese webcam utility is included now by default.
Adding to the list of new features, the App Store can now install software updates and there is a User Feedback tool for reporting issues. Rounding out the list we find there is a voice recording app for note taking and a font manager utility. I will touch on these later. Meanwhile, details on these features can be found in the release notes.
deepin is available for 64-bit (x86_64) machines exclusively. Its ISO file is a 2.6GB Download. By default, booting from this media launches us straight into the system installer.
deepin uses a graphical installer which walks us through just a few steps. We are asked to select our preferred language and to accept the project's license agreement. Then we are asked if the installer should take over the whole disk or set up a partition on the disk. It seems as though the partitioning options are limited and I could only find a way to add one partition for the operating system. There may be a way to add other filesystems for users' home directories and swap, but if so it was not immediately clear. The installer then quickly copies its packages to the hard drive and restarts the computer.
When the computer boots into our installed copy of deepin a graphical wizard walks us through some initial configuration steps. These include picking our keyboard layout, selecting our time zone from a map, and making up a username and password. We are also given the option of customizing the network settings. The wizard then reports it is "tuning" the system and, a few minutes later we are presented with a login page.
I feel it worth mentioning there is a button on the login screen which will display a virtual (on-screen) keyboard. I think this is a nice accessibility option.
It also seems worth mentioning that while the default behaviour of the live media is to immediately launch the system installer, deepin does include a live desktop mode. To get to the live desktop though we need to edit a boot menu option and remove the "live-installer" parameter from the boot flags. This is not a friendly approach to providing a live mode, but it does work, allowing people to test drive the distribution prior to installing it.
deepin 20 -- Running Firefox and the Album picture viewer (full image size: 617kB, resolution: 1360x768 pixels)
When we sign into the Deepin desktop we are asked which style of desktop we want (Effect mode or Normal mode). We are advised the Effect mode offers a "delicate" experience while Normal provides better performance.
When Deepin loads it displays a panel across the bottom of the screen. The application menu sits to the left, then we see some quick-launch buttons, the task switcher, and then the system tray to the right. The first time I signed into Deepin a welcome window opened and asked a few customization questions. We are asked if we want to run the desktop in Fashion Mode or Efficiency Mode. Then whether we want Normal or Effect mode (this question appears to be a repeat of the earlier prompt). We can then choose one of four icon themes to decorate the desktop.
We are shown previews of the various desktop modes deepin offers and, while there are small differences, the overall appearance and layout of the desktop does not appear to change much.
Something I noticed early on while using the desktop is the Settings icon launches a classic settings panel in its own window. From here we can browse modules of configuration options. Past versions of the distribution had a sidebar that opened to the right of the desktop where we could scroll through available settings. While I liked the sidebar approach, the GNOME-like settings panel will probably be more familiar to most users.
When I experimented with running deepin on my laptop the distribution ran very well. Desktop performance was good, wireless networking functioned out of the box. Audio worked and my media keys were recognized. All in all, I had no complaints when running deepin on the laptop.
When I switched over to running deepin in VirtualBox, the experience was mostly good. The guest desktop would not dynamically resize, but I could change Deepin's resolution through the settings panel. Desktop responsiveness was okay - neither good nor bad, about average. This is actually good news. In the past when I have run deepin in a virtual machine, desktop performance tended to be poor (sometimes quite poor). The Deepin desktop is noticeably faster in deepin 20.
The distribution is fairly light on memory, using 360MB when signed into the desktop. The operating system consumed 6.4GB of space which is an improvement over past versions. When I reviewed deepin two years ago the system required 350MB of RAM and 9GB of disk space, not including swap space. So memory usage has remained about level while disk consumption has dropped a few gigabytes.
The deepin project ships a mixture of popular open source applications alongside some custom programs. Firefox and Thunderbird are included, along with the LibreOffice suite of productivity applications. The Cheese webcam utility is installed for us too. Many other applications, including the Music, Movie, and Screen Capture tools all appear to be custom creations. I found deepin shipped with media codecs and was able to play all the audio and video files I threw at it without any problems. Likewise there is a picture viewer called Album and a simple drawing program appropriately called Draw. The file manager also appears to be a custom utility. There is also a voice notes taking program and a launcher for providing user feedback.
deepin 20 -- The application menu (full image size: 862kB, resolution: 1360x768 pixels)
I appreciate that the application menu includes short-cuts to common folders in our home directory. The menu uses a sort of hybrid approach, using a combination of tree-style navigation with layers. It took me a little while to get used to the approach, but I grew to like it. I also like that the application menu automatically places recently used (presumably favourite) programs near the top of the menu for easy access later.
deepin ships with manual pages and the GNU Compiler Collection. It uses systemd for its init software. There are a few versions of the Linux kernel we can use. My installation ran version 5.4, but 4.19 and 5.7 were available in the repositories.
deepin includes a settings panel which resembles the GNOME two-pane settings panel. Categories of settings are listed down the left side of the window and settings in the given category are shown on the right. The two-pane approach makes navigation quicker than jumping into and out of each module. I also like how clean and uncluttered the Deepin settings panel is. I found it was fairly easy to navigate without too many options on each screen. The panel does a nice job of giving us quick access to theme, mouse, synchronization, and audio controls.
deepin 20 -- Changing themes in the settings panel (full image size: 524kB, resolution: 1360x768 pixels)
I especially enjoyed the notification settings where we can enable Do Not Disturb mode as well as adjust the sound and notices from each application. Another tool that is included, but I did not have a chance to test, is Deepin ID. This tool reportedly gives us access to cloud sync features for files, browser settings, and App Store data. However, Deepin ID is only available to residents of mainland China.
Another module of the settings panel offers to check for software updates. When I used it the panel reported getting new updates had failed. It is not clear from the message if the check for new packages failed or downloading new updates failed. In any case there are other software updating tools we can use.
The primary approach to working with software packages on deepin is to use the App Store software manager. App Store begins by displaying a selection of featured items (or "Hot Apps"). Down the left side of the App Store window we find categories we can browse such as Office, Video, Music, Chat, System, and Updates. To the right side of the window we find a list of top-ranked applications. There is also a search bar allowing us to locate items by name.
When we click on a program's name or icon a full page description of the software is provided along with screenshots. We can then click a button to install the software or, if the application is already on our system, the Install button turns into a button that will launch the application.
deepin 20 -- Installing a program through App Store (full image size: 533kB, resolution: 1360x768 pixels)
I feel it worth noting that with most applications both the names and descriptions are displayed in English. The user interface, on my system, was also displayed in English. However, there are a handful of programs where either the name or the description is presented in Chinese. I suspect these are mostly young packages that have not benefited from translation efforts yet.
For the most part App Store worked well for me. It was quick to respond, fairly easy to navigate, and showed steady progress updates while it was working. However, I ran into a few problems or limitations while using it. The first issue was I could not find a way to remove installed software. Buttons were offered for installing and updating software, but not removing existing programs.
Most programs installed cleanly, but a few (such as VLC) did not, due to missing dependencies. I believe this is linked to my third issue which was App Store was unable to download software updates. When I looked into this further I found that when running the APT command line tools, I would get "404" errors when accessing one of the distribution's repositories. This appeared to be due to a missing "Release" file on the server, which was causing the package manager to have trouble updating its information. I suspect this issue will be fixed by the time this review appears.
New and interesting features
Earlier I mentioned deepin 20 includes a few new features and applications. The User Feedback tool, as it turns out, is a launcher which opens a web browser and presents us with the deepin user forums. Here we can sign up for an account and leave comments or suggestions.
When I opened the Device Manager I had expected to discover a way to install alternative hardware drivers. The utility did provide organized information on hardware and existing drivers, however it does not appear to offer access to alternative drivers.
There is a new Font Manager which can add, browse, and see samples of fonts on the system. We can also "favourite" specific fonts, though I'm not sure what effect marking a font as a favourite has. Should we wish to adjust which fonts are used on the interface and their size, we can visit another tool in the settings panel.
The Draw program offers a simple image editing experience somewhat similar to Tux Paint. It does not have many features at the moment, but is quite easy to get started using as its interface is straight forward.
I did not get around to testing the voice note-taking software. It is an interesting idea and one I could see handy for people on the go or who prefer not to type. However, I cannot comment at the moment as to how well it works.
deepin is a distribution which does a lot of things differently from other, more mainstream projects, but in my opinion it is doing a lot of things well. deepin runs on the popular Debian base, which is a common choice, but the interface, tools, and options layered on top of the Debian core are unusual.
The custom deepin installer, for example, is very streamlined and easy to use, especially if we want to take over the entire disk for the operating system. The Deepin desktop is, in a word, beautiful. A lot of care appears to have gone into making Deepin look attractive and consistent. I like that custom deepin applications can alternate seamlessly between using the system theme, a light theme, or a dark theme, independent of other applications. Despite putting effort into looking nice and offering some eye candy, Deepin runs faster and smoother now than it has in the past.
The distribution ships with some common, popular tools, though it augments these with its own programs. Most of the deepin applications, such as Draw, the audio player, and video player appear to be designed with simplicity in mind. The interfaces are streamlined, generally with large icons that are easy to find. Most of the time this approach of doing a few things well as opposed to offering many options in one program appeals to me.
There were some issues with package management during my trail. These all appear to be rooted in the missing "Release" file on one of the repository servers. It will probably be corrected soon. Apart from this issue, which mostly just blocked updates, I really liked App Store. Its interface and performance were otherwise solid.
deepin strikes me as being a good, general purpose desktop operating system. It is easy to install, looks nice, has a friendly settings panel, and the App Store is easy to navigate. I also appreciate that the Deepin desktop allows us to switch between a more attractive visual layout and a more efficient layout for better performance. The ease of switching between themes and managing notifications also feels pleasantly flexible.
All in all, despite a few minor issues, deepin provided a pleasant experience for me. The custom applications and Deepin desktop mean some things work a bit differently than on other popular distributions/desktop combinations. However, I found I liked deepin's approach to most things. The desktop was attractive, faster than it was in the past, and worked well with my hardware.
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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