Kwort 4.3.5In the opening weeks of 2021 I decided to engage in a search for technological simplicity and dived into a series of distributions with a keep it simple (KIS) philosophy. This week I decided to try Kwort, which is described on the distribution's website as follows:
Kwort is a Linux distribution based on CRUX; we make use of their port system to build a set of minimal packages. While Kwort uses binary packages, we offer the users this port system as well. Looking for the best tools aligned to Kwort's philosophy is an on-going task during the whole year. Because of all this, Kwort is [an] extremely simple and straight forward Linux system.
The Kwort distribution is available in one edition for 64-bit (x86_64) computers. The ISO file is a 1GB download. According to the project's latest release announcement, the recent 4.3.5 release mostly focuses on package updates, bringing the compiler, Linux kernel, and web browsers up to date with their upstream versions.
Booting from the live media brings up a menu offering to boot in normal or "Without RMS" modes. Taking either of these options results in a kernel panic with an error message reporting the root filesystem could not be found. After verifying the media's checksum again, I tried choosing both boot options again and confirmed both resulted in kernel panics early in the boot process. There are some similar reports on the Kwort forum so it seems the problem isn't limited to my environment. This brought my trial with Kwort to an early conclusion.
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SulinOSThe second distribution on my KIS list this week was SulinOS. The distribution's website describes the project as follows:
SulinOS [is] faster than standard distributions. For example, every package was compiled without SELinux or AppArmor. Also the kernel is configured for better security, without compromise. SulinOS never uses sudo (You can use 'su -c command' [instead of] sudo). SulinOS is oriented towards advanced Linux users, who know what they're doing.
The website reports SulinOS ships with both regular and libre variants of the Linux kernel. OpenRC is used for service management and the distribution provides a custom package manager called inary. The distribution runs on 64-bit (x86_64) machines exclusively and is available in several editions. The are four main desktop editions: GNOME, Xfce, LXDE, and MATE. There are two editions, KDE and Pantheon, which are currently listed as being in a testing phase. In addition to these desktop flavours there is a smaller Minimal edition. It looks as though most of these editions were last updated back in November of 2020. The Minimal edition is 360MB in size while the desktop editions vary from about 1.3GB (for the LXDE download) up to about 1.7GB for the MATE and GNOME editions.
I decided to download the MATE edition and launching the live media brings up a boot menu offering to start the distribution with Turkish, English, or Spanish language support. The operating system then loads a graphical login screen where we can sign in with the credentials "user" and "live". (The credentials for the live disc are presented in the distribution's download page.) Signing into the default account starts a desktop session with MATE 1.24.0 arranged in a two-panel layout.
SulinOS 20201112 -- Exploring the MATE application menu (full image size: 360kB, resolution: 1360x768 pixels)
There are no desktop icons and very few graphical applications included. There is no web browser, no office suite, no graphical partition manager. There are a few small applications such as a terminal, system monitor, and image viewer. The Caja file manager is also included. Running from the live media, the MATE desktop was responsive and I went looking for a system installer.
I found the launcher for SulinOS's system installer under the MATE System menu in the Administration section. When launching the installer we are prompted for a root password which is "live". SulinOS appears to use the system installer from Linux Mint Debian Edition. We are guided through screens which ask us to select our language and location, time zone, and keyboard layout. We are asked to make up a username and password and then given the choice of proceeding with guided or manual partitioning. The manual approach is fairly straight forward and even makes a good suggestion as to how to set up the disk. The default disk layout uses a single ext4 partition for the operating system and a second partition for swap space. Once we assign mount points to the partitions the installer copies its files to the hard drive.
I ran into two issues during the install process. The first was that I could not find my country or language preference on the first screen of the installer. None of the language codes I would usually select appeared to be available. I went for the next best option I could find which was the language option paired with the flag icon of the United States, which I hoped would provide me with an English-focused desktop. This worked out in my favour.
The other problem I ran into was the screensaver kicked in after five minutes, locking the live desktop session. This meant I could not see the progress the system installer was making. When I tried to unlock the desktop I discovered the password I used to sign into the live session did not work to unlock MATE. I could switch to a terminal and sign in with the "user" and "live" credentials, but not unlock the desktop with them. This meant I had to force the screensaver process to terminate to return to the desktop.
The freshly installed operating system boots to a graphical login screen. Signing to my account brought back the MATE environment, this time with launchers for opening the Caja file manager on the desktop. There were no initial pop-ups and no welcome screen. As before there were very few applications available through the menu.
The distribution was relatively light on resources, consuming 250MB of RAM when signed into MATE and using up 5.3GB of disk space, not including the swap partition. The desktop was quick and responsive, making for a minimal, though mostly positive first impression.
The distribution ships with version 5.8 of the Linux kernel and uses SysV init. The OpenRC service manager runs on top of the classic init implementation. OpenRC brought the system on-line quickly.
I noticed early on SulinOS ships with manual pages, but the documentation pages for many common commands were missing. Looking into this I found Busybox provides most of the core userland command line tools and these commands do not have accompanying manual pages. However, low-level tools that are not part of Busybox, such as init or the parted command, do have accompanying manual pages.
True the to the SulinOS website's word, the sudo command is not included and we should run the su command (or login to the root account directly) when we wish to perform administrative tasks.
One problem I ran into while using the root account was I could not always shutdown the operating system. Sometimes running a command like poweroff or shutdown would simply leave the system running and, when that happened, I could not restart from the login screen either. Typically I would shutdown SulinOS from within the MATE desktop which always worked.
SulinOS ships with a custom package manager called inary. While this package manager includes a lot of options and appears to be set up for working with source code, repositories, and both local and remote packages, the main features most people will want are pretty easy to remember. Running inary with key words such as install, remove, or search followed by a package name is pretty straight forward and should work much the same as DNF or pkg on other platforms.
Unfortunately I could not get inary to work for me. Any command that I tried to run as the root user terminated with an error which said: "unsupported locale setting". It seems running with the chr_US.UTF-8 locale is not supported. I looked through the documentation for both the distribution and the package manager and could not find any mention of this issue or a workaround. I also could not find any tools for managing locales in the settings panel.
I mentioned before the screensaver would activate after five minutes and failed to recognize my password. This problem happened again once the distribution had been installed. I had to sign into a terminal and kill the screensaver process to get back to the desktop. I then disabled the screensaver. I mention this because I suspect the language settings which prevent the lock screen from recognizing my password may be related to the locale issues I had with the package manager. Unfortunately there doesn't appear to be any documentation on dealing with these issues.
Unfortunately this left me with a distribution that included virtually no software, no working package manager to install new applications, and no documentation that would help me address these issues. This again brought my trial to an early end.