EndeavourOS 2020.04.11EndeavourOS is based on Arch Linux and is considered a spiritual follow-up to the Antergos distribution. Like Antergos, Endeavour provides a live desktop along with a friendly, graphical installer to assist users in getting started with the distribution. Beyond the initial set up, Endeavour mostly tries to provide a vanilla Arch experience with just a few custom tools. I reviewed Endeavour last year and, at the time, it performed fairly well. Back then one of the main features which set Endeavour apart from Antergos was the former used an off-line installer and automatically set up the Xfce desktop environment. Antergos, on the other hand, used an on-line installer and could configure one of about a dozen desktop environments.
Endeavour's latest snapshot, 2020.04.11 at the time of writing, now provides two main installation methods. We can choose an on-line or off-line installer. The latter still sets up Xfce as the default desktop while the on-line installer can download and configure nine different desktops (Budgie, Cinnamon, Deepin, GNOME, i3, KDE Plasma, LXQt, MATE, and Xfce). We can choose any number of these to install in case we want to try more than one. I wanted to try the new, live version of the distribution, along with some of its new custom utilities. With this in mind I downloaded the 1.7GB ISO file. Endeavour runs on 64-bit (x86_64) machines exclusively and provides one live edition.
Booting from the live disc provides us with the option of booting into the Xfce desktop normally or doing the same with non-free NVIDIA drivers enabled. Once Xfce loads a small welcome window appears. The window is packed with buttons that open links or programs. For example, some links open a web browser and point us to the distribution's install tips or other on-line support resources. One link updates and relaunches the welcome window. One button is labelled "Initialize pacman keys" and appears to re-fetch verification keys for packages. There is a button for launching the GParted partition manager and another for launching the system installer. There is a Help button, but it only shows command line usage for launching the welcome window, no information about the distribution or the welcome window's features are mentioned.
Launching the system installer from the welcome window brings up a new window asking if we would like to run the on-line or off-line installer. A brief description of the options is provided. We are told the off-line installer will set up the operating system with Xfce using local packages while the on-line installer allows us to pick our preferred desktop and related software. I had tried the off-line option in my previous review and decided to focus on the on-line option.
Both options launch the Calamares graphical installer. Calamares is a popular, distribution-neutral installer which is especially popular with Arch-based projects. It quickly walks us through picking our preferred language, confirming our keyboard layout, and selecting our time zone from a map of the world. We are asked if we would like to use guided or manual partitioning. The guided option takes over available disk space with one large partition for root and /home. The manual option offers a good deal of flexibility and can work with most Linux filesystems.
Package selection comes next. We can optionally install the base system (which is recommended) along with any of nine desktop environments. Clicking a desktop option brings up a list of some optional components, allowing us to further customize the initial software selection. The software selection screen further gives us the chance to install printing support, accessibility software, and non-free NVIDIA drivers. I decided to install the MATE desktop and printing support.
EndeavourOS 2020.04.11 -- Selecting software at install time (full image size: 244kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
The installer then asks us to make up a username and password for ourselves. With these steps completed it begins downloading and unpacking software packages. A virtual terminal window opens on the desktop and shows a steady stream of updates, letting us know which package is currently being downloaded or installed to the disk. When the installer completes it offers to restart the computer.
My fresh copy of Endeavour booted to a graphical login screen where I could sign into the MATE desktop. The desktop offers a fairly generic theme with two panels, one across the top of the desktop and the other aligned along the bottom edge of the screen. Upon logging in the first time a welcome window appeared and a second window opened, asking if I would like to change the desktop's wallpaper.
The welcome window that appears has three tabs. The first, General Info, offers links to the project's website, wiki, and contribution options. The second tab, After Install, offers suggestions of tasks we may wish to perform and buttons to launch the appropriate tools. The third tab is called Add More Apps. The third tab displays five buttons. Two which install Bluetooth support, one to install LibreOffice, another which installs Chromium, and one which installs the gufw firewall tool. I find this to be an odd combination and further think it's curious the welcome window makes us install these tools one at a time rather than letting us check boxes to indicate which items we want and then processing them all at once.
The second tab of the welcome window is a little odd in that the buttons seem to carry category names or vague actions rather than specific tasks. For instance, one button is called "Detect system issues". Which sounds useful, but when I clicked it I was told there were no issues. This is probably good news, but I have no idea what checks were performed. Is it looking for weak passwords, missing codecs, security updates? This tool should probably list the checks it is performing with a Good or Bad status indicator.
Two other buttons that caught my attention were "Update System" and "EndeavourOS to latest?". Clicking the latter brought up a window telling me I was up to date. Clicking the "Update System" button indicated there were kernel updates available and asked if I wanted to install them. Once again I'm not sure what "EndeavourOS to latest?" does since it does not appear to check for package upgrades. Another button that surprised me was called "Package management", which I thought would open a package manager. Instead Firefox was opened and showed me documentation on what package management tools Endeavour supplies.
In short, I think it is good Endeavour supplies a welcome window, but this good idea was somewhat undone by the options and button actions often not being helpful or not doing what I thought they would do, or not being clear on what they were doing.
Endeavour provides the MATE 1.24 desktop along with a handful of applications from the MATE ecosystem. The distribution ships with the Atril document viewer, the Eye of MATE image viewer, the Pluma editor, and Celluloid media player. Celluloid is able to play popular video and audio formats out of the box. The distribution includes the Caja file manager. We are also given the Firefox browser, Htop, a graphical system monitor, and the mpv media player.
EndeavourOS 2020.04.11 -- The settings panel for the MATE desktop (full image size: 233kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
There are two launchers in the Applications menu which are labelled "Software Token". When I clicked on the launcher a new window opened and displayed an error which said "Missing Token" and, underneath a suggestion was shared to run a command line program to import a new "seed". There was no information provided to indicate what tokens or seeds are being managed.
Endeavour uses the systemd init software and, at the time of writing, uses Linux 5.6 as the kernel. As Endeavour is a rolling release platform package versions will gradually get updated over time.
In the release announcement for Endeavour 2020.04.11, one of the new custom tools that was mentioned was eos-log-tool which is supposed to gather system information for users to make reporting bugs easier. This tool is not installed by default. The log tool can be installed from the Endeavour repositories. The log tool brings up a graphical window and asks us which logs we want to include and we can check boxes next to each one. The logs can optionally be saved with personal information, such as our username, scrubbed from the text. I tested this and it worked well. The log utility can also upload the combined logs to a public website and provide us with a link to the page in case we want to share our log information on a forum or in a bug report. The tool works quickly and I like the concept.
I started experimenting with Endeavour in a VirtualBox environment where I found the system ran smoothly. The desktop performance was about average, as were boot times and application load times. The distribution integrated smoothly into the virtual machine and I was happy with how it performed. I then switched to running Endeavour on my workstation and found it ran quickly. The desktop was highly responsive and the system was quick to boot. All of my hardware was properly detected and used.
Something I found interesting was both the live environment, running the Xfce desktop, and the installed system running MATE both used about 300MB of RAM. A fresh install of the distribution uses 7GB of disk space for the base system, MATE and printing support.
Endeavour offers a few options for software management. In the Applications menu there is a launcher for opening a tool called Packages. This opens a graphical package manager which allows us to look for software by name. There are also a few software category filters displayed to the left of the window. The categories are mostly focused around mainstream desktop environments (there are categories for GNOME, KDE Plasma, and Xfce). There are also category filters for multimedia packages, system tools and programming. There is a general category for "Other desktops" and this seems to group together the other six desktops Endeavour supports installing.
We can queue packages to be installed or removed in a batch. The package manager works quickly and I did not have any problems while using it.
There is another graphical tool for managing updates. The utility's launcher is labelled Packages Updater and will do a simple check for new software upgrades. I did not get a chance to properly test this utility, but it appears to work in a similar manner to other graphical update tools.
For people who do not mind using command line programs we can also manage software using the pacman package manager to access software in the Endeavour and Arch Linux repositories. There is also a tool called yay for accessing the Arch User Repository (AUR) which supplies software provided by third-party community members.
When I first downloaded EndeavourOS 2020.04.11 my intention was simply to try out the new on-line installer and then move on to another distribution, maybe something on the DistroWatch waiting list. I had thought I would run through the install process a few times to see how it worked (it was a smooth process) and how the experienced compared to the old Antergos installer (favourably, the trial with Endeavour's on-line installer was much better). However, once the distribution was up and running on my system I found a handful of new features, like the welcome window, that I wanted to try. Then some settings I hoped to try. Then I found some programs I didn't recognize and the unusually organized package manager and, the next thing I knew, I was halfway through the week and I hadn't moved on to the next distribution on my list.
All of that is to say Endeavour held my attention while I was using it. Not because it did things particularly well or poorly, but because it does some things that are unusual or odd. Endeavour is one of the few projects I have used that offers both on-line and off-line install options side-by-side on the same media. Other distributions sometimes provide both options, but one is usually a less polished, fallback option, and they are usually offered as separate ISO downloads. Endeavour does a nice job of presenting both approaches on equal footing and on the same disc.
One thing I noticed over and over that struck me as odd is Endeavour seems to be regularly trying to get users to operate from the command line instead of from graphical utilities, which seems to be the opposite approach of most mainstream distributions. For instance, when we close the welcome window, a message appears and tells us how we can open the welcome screen again from the command line. However, there is a short-cut to the welcome screen in the application menu, making a trip to the command line unnecessary.
In a similar fashion, the documentation regularly tells us to use the pacman command line tool to manage software. In fact, this happened several times and I assumed there was no graphical package manager until I stumbled across it while browsing the application menu mid-week. Another example is the Software Token graphical tool which gives no indication of what it does and suggests we use the command line to import a "seed" for it to use, then exits. I got the impression Endeavour developers would prefer their users use the command line instead of the graphical tools bundled with the distribution, which makes me wonder why these graphical tools are included.
I was also a bit surprised that one of the new tools, designed to help people share system information on-line, is not included by default. It is mentioned in the release announcement, but notably absent. It is a good tool and easy to use and I hope it gets included on the install media in the future.
One last oddity was the welcome window which offered more confusion than assistance. Some of the available tools work, some pop-up vague messages, and a few (like the system health check utility) I'm still not sure what they actually do. Granted some of the welcome window features work quite well, such as the quick access buttons for tools like LibreOffice and Bluetooth support, and I hope that screen gets further polish and options in the future.
While Endeavour was frequently strange to me, I will admit the distribution does some things well. It is fast, it is light on resources, and it has a great installer. The Arch base offers a lot of software and is constantly kept up to date. People who want to try Arch with minimal effort to get up and running will probably like Endeavour as it makes getting started with a variety of desktop environments blissfully straight forward. I also like the fairly minimal collection of software in the default install. This distribution does some things in a curious way and could benefit from more documentation, but the core features - providing both on-line and off-line easy install options to get an Arch-based desktop experience - are solid.
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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: