GeckoLinux 152 "KDE Plasma"This week instead of spending several days with one distribution I decided to try two alternative spins or approaches to projects I have explored in the recent past. In particular I wanted to compare the latest release of GeckoLinux against its parent, openSUSE, and try out the new KDE Plasma edition of MX Linux. Let's start with Gecko.
The GeckoLinux project presents itself as a more desktop-oriented version of openSUSE, which I reviewed in July. The project ships in multiple live desktop editions for 64-bit (x86_64) computers. Available editions include Cinnamon, GNOME, KDE Plasma, LXQt, MATE and Xfce. I decided to try the KDE Plasma edition to keep my trial as close to my experience with openSUSE 15.2 as possible.
Booting from the Gecko media brings up the KDE Plasma desktop. Icons for opening a language installer and the Calamares system installer are located on the desktop. There is a panel placed at the bottom of the display.
GeckoLinux 152 -- The live Plasma desktop (full image size: 1.2MB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
Unlike openSUSE, which uses its own custom installer, GeckoLinux uses the distro-neutral Calamares system installer. Calamares streamlines the process, doing away with many of the niche options and configuration tweaks openSUSE offers. This makes the graphical installer faster to get through, but the trade off is a lack of control and flexibility we can enjoy with openSUSE. I also noticed that Calamares defaults to using the ext4 filesystem rather than the more feature-rich Btrfs that openSUSE suggests. We can, should we choose, still use Btrfs with GeckoLinux, though it means we need to use manual rather than guided partitioning.
Once Gecko is installed it offers us two session options: Openbox and Plasma. The Openbox session works, but only presents us with an empty screen and a right-click menu. There aren't any bells and whistles available in the Openbox session and I spent almost all of my time in the Plasma session as a result. I feel it worth noting Gecko streamlines things here once again. openSUSE offers five sessions when KDE Plasma is set as the default desktop while Gecko provides just two, though it ends up effectively providing just as much functionality in a practical sense as we're unlikely to use the extra session options.
GeckoLinux 152 -- The settings panel, Dolphin and application menu (full image size: 306kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
Once I got signed into Plasma, most aspects of Gecko and openSUSE seemed to be the same. Gecko has done away with the Discover software manager and instead places the YaST Software package manager in the Favourites section of the application menu. This seemed out of character for the distribution. Up to this point everything Gecko had done differently from its parent had been to streamline or simplify the system. However, YaST Software is a complex, low-level package manager that is far from ideal for less experienced users. It seemed to me to be an odd choice for the default software manager.
On the other hand, Gecko does us a favour by installing media codecs by default, something I struggled with a lot on openSUSE. On the parent distribution we need to track down codecs and then I found the media player would crash once the codecs were installed. On Gecko, media playing just worked out of the box.
Also on the subject of included software I found it odd that Gecko does not ship with manual pages installed. This is a standard feature on most distributions, including openSUSE, and I was surprised they were stripped from Gecko.
When I reviewed openSUSE I mentioned I had trouble getting the Plasma desktop to resize in VirtualBox. This problem did not exist on Gecko and the desktop naturally resized to match the VirtualBox window.
Resource usage on Gecko was better than on openSUSE, which I found intriguing. Running the same desktop session, Gecko used 360MB of RAM, compared to openSUSE's 400MB. A fresh install of Gecko took up 4.5GB of disk space next to openSUSE's 6.2GB. On modern systems these are not significant numbers, but they are a small bonus for potential Gecko users.
Earlier I mentioned that, left to its defaults, Gecko will be installed on the ext4 filesystem which does not offer some of the attractive snapshotting and volume management options Btrfs provides. I set up Gecko on Btrfs using manual partitioning and discovered that the distribution does not take automated snapshots when we install updated packages or make configuration changes. This was disappointing as it is one of openSUSE's best features, in my opinion, and something that makes openSUSE stand out in the sea of Linux distributions. I'm not sure why Gecko chose to not enable the Snapper snapshot tool by default. However, I found it was possible to enable Snapper and automated snapshots by running "sudo snapper create-config /" from the command line. After that, YaST would create a filesystem snapshot whenever I made a change to the system through the control panel.
On the whole Gecko looks and acts almost exactly like its parent, though with a few changes. Most of these differences show themselves clearly in the first few minutes of exploring the distribution. Gecko offers a faster and simplified installer, includes media codecs by default and uses fewer resources. However, it also forsakes manual pages, does not enable Btrfs or automatic snapshots and throws away the friendly software manager in favour of the low-level YaST Software. In most ways it looks like Gecko is targeting people who like openSUSE, but want an easier setup and have no plans to use the command line or advanced features. There is some value added, certainly, though also some useful features have been removed from the parent project.
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MX Linux 19.2 "KDE"After playing with Gecko for a while and determining that it feels, apart from some initial setup choices, to be very close to its parent, I decided to look at MX Linux's KDE edition. I reviewed MX Linux late last year and found it to be a solid, capable operating system. MX Linux uses Xfce as its default desktop and I was curious to see how the new KDE Plasma edition would compare to the original.
The KDE edition of MX Linux is available for 64-bit (x86_64) computers exclusively at the moment and the download is about 2.1GB. The distribution is based on Debian 10 "Buster" and though we should expect most packages to come from Debian 10's repositories, some items such as the kernel and Firefox, are kept more up to date with upstream projects.
Booting from the live media brings up the KDE Plasma desktop. It is arranged a lot like MX's Xfce edition with a Conky status panel in the upper-right corner and a welcome window in the middle of the desktop. However, the Plasma desktop panel is placed horizontally across the bottom of the screen rather than vertically down the left side the way it is in the Xfce edition. On the desktop we find icons for opening the manual, the FAQ document and launching the system installer. So far, apart from the placement of the panel, the two MX editions seemed very similar.
MX 19.2 "KDE" -- The KDE Plasma menu (full image size: 315kB, resolution: 1360x768 pixels)
When I launched the system installer I found it uses the exact same installer used in the Xfce edition. This made navigating through the setup process and configuring the operating system quite straight forward. The first significant difference I noticed was that the KDE edition uses the KDE Partition Manager to set up partitions while the main edition uses the GParted utility.
The KDE edition installed successfully and my fresh copy booted to a graphical login screen. When I signed into the Plasma session the desktop loaded slowly, however once it finished loading the desktop worked quickly and was responsive.
Memory and disk usage were a little higher on the KDE edition than on MX's original edition. The KDE Plasma session uses 450MB of RAM, up from 400MB for the Xfce edition. Disk usage increased from 5.2GB for Xfce to 6.6GB for KDE. As with my comparison between Gecko and openSUSE, these are not big gaps and to be expected given KDE's extra configuration options and features.
The application menu contains an interesting mix of software. Much of it appears to match MX's Xfce edition. The Firefox browser, LibreOffice and MX Tools are the same. I also found both editions include the Clementine and VLC media players. However, lower level tools like the text editor, virtual terminal and file manager are different across editions. Predictably the KDE edition ships with KDE/Qt applications in place of the Xfce/GTK equivalents. I noticed a few other swaps too, such as Xfburn being replaced by K3b and Transmission being removed in favour of KTorrent.
MX 19.2 "KDE" -- The MX Tools panel and KDE System Settings (full image size: 218kB, resolution: 1360x768 pixels)
Apart from these little differences in default the applications the two editions seem to ship with the same tools, the same configuration, the same add-on repositories and with the same codecs. As I mentioned before, the KDE session loads more slowly than the Xfce desktop. However, once it is up and running KDE Plasma kept pace with Xfce in the same test environment and I really liked the wealth of configuration options Plasma offers.
While Gecko makes setting up the distribution more streamlined and with fewer options compared to openSUSE, but then offers approximately the same experience as its parent, MX takes the opposite approach. Setting up MX's KDE edition is almost identical to setting up MX's Xfce edition, however we end up with different desktop software in the end which provides a different end-user experience. Most of the administration tools are the same and the initial configuration is the same, MX just provides different desktop environments with different desktop accessories once the system is installed.