Laxer OS 1.2My search for new and interesting features in the Linux community took me to the DistroWatch waiting list this week where the Laxer OS project caught my attention. The project's website describes itself as follows: "A beautifully crafted GNU/Linux operating system based on Arch Linux."
Judging from the project's download archive, the distribution is updated every month or two. There is just one edition available which runs the GNOME desktop environment. Laxer OS runs on 64-bit (x86_64) machines exclusively and its ISO is 2GB in size. The project's website suggests the operating system will not only look good, but offer performance improvements: "You will notice the significant performance boost on the first boot of your system."
The website's description was a little vague on how performance and visual improvements were delivered so I decided to find out for myself. I downloaded the media for the project's 1.2 release and booted from it. This brings up a menu where we are given the chance to boot to a live desktop normally or with "speech". I believe the "speech" option runs a screen reader for people who are visually impaired. The live media boots to a graphical login screen where we are invited to sign in using an account called "liveuser" with no password.
Signing into the live session loads the GNOME desktop and automatically launches the Calamares installer. At the top of the screen we find a panel with an application menu and the GNOME Activities menu in the upper-left corner. To the right of the panel is the system tray. I noticed early on there was a lot of network activity happening when I first logged in. This appears to be an automated check for software updates as a minute later a notification appeared letting me know 132 packages were available to be upgraded.
Laxer OS 1.2 -- The GNOME desktop and Calamares installer (full image size: 326kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
What happened next surprised me as I think it is an unique experience in my 20-odd years of running Linux distributions. I opened the Applications menu and selected the web browser launcher. Nothing happened for about a minute, then the desktop crashed, returning me to the login screen. Curious, I signed back in and, after the Calamares installer appeared again, I tried opening a virtual terminal. GNOME immediately crashed again, returning me to the login screen.
This continued to happen each time I signed into the desktop and tried to open any application which was not the Calamares system installer. Attempting to run the settings panel, the terminal, web browser, and file manager all failed with GNOME crashing and returning me to the login page. LibreOffice made the most progress, briefly showing me its splash screen for a few seconds before also bringing down the desktop session.
This was a curious development as GNOME has been run a few times on my test systems in the past few months without any significant issues. The install media passed its checksum, confirming it had not been corrupted during the download. I also confirmed the system had lots of free memory, much more than the gigabyte of space even a large process like a web browser would want. Having no clear cause for the instability and no immediate solution, this brought my trial with Laxer OS to a close.
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Linux Mint 20.1 -- new featuresSince my trial with Laxer OS was a lot shorter than expected, I turned my attention to three features of the latest Linux Mintrelease. Linux Mint 20.1 included a few changes to the desktop which I found intriguing. Specifically, I was curious about the Favourites, Web Apps, and Hypnotix additions to the distribution.
Let's start with Favourites. When running the Cinnamon edition of Mint, we can right-click on a file in the Nemo file manager and mark it as a Favourite file. After that, the marked file will show up in a special Favourites folder of the file manager. It will also appear in the application menu, alongside applications marked as Favourites. Further, there is a panel menu we can click to see files marked as favourites. Right-clicking the file again in Nemo allows us to remove it from the Favourites list.
Linux Mint 20.1 -- Toggling a file in the Favourites list (full image size: 680kB, resolution: 1920x1200 pixels)
While this feature is not present in the MATE and Xfce editions of Mint, we can gain the file manager aspects of the Favourites feature by installing the Nemo file manager on either of these editions. This allows us to have the Favourites folder in the file manager and we can mark items as being a favourite, but the application menu and panel integration are not available.
This is a minor feature, similar to setting bookmarks in a web browser. It may only be a small convenience, but it works well and I could see it being beneficial for people who spend a lot of time using graphical file managers, especially if some project files are buried multiple directories deep.
The Web Apps feature will be familiar to anyone who has used the ICE utility on Peppermint OS. The Web Apps utility allows us to add launchers to the application menu that will open up a minimal web browser to access a website or web app. This gives select web pages their own dedicated launcher and the minimal web browser window gives the website or web app the appearance of being a native application.
Linux Mint 20.1 -- Creating a new web app launcher (full image size: 60kB, resolution: 872x681 pixels)
The Web Apps tool gets us to provide a name and URL for each new launcher, it optionally downloads the website's icon, and we can select which web browser will open the specified link. We can also choose which category of the application menu will hold our new launcher.
Linux Mint 20.1 -- The Web Apps launcher and a DistroWatch instance (full image size: 740kB, resolution: 1920x1200 pixels)
This is basically a tool for creating website bookmarks in the application menu. For people who like to have dedicated browser windows open for specific websites, this will probably appeal. To me it feels like we are simply moving bookmarks outside of the web browser into the application menu, but I can see the advantage for people who like to have a separate browser window for, perhaps, their e-mail or a web app for work.
While the first two features essentially provided new ways to create shortcuts to commonly used files and web pages, the Hypnotix application is entirely different. Hypnotix is a IPTV application. It provides us with streaming channels we can access to watch TV shows and movies.
Hypnotix begins by asking us to select whether we want to access TV Channels, Movies, or Series. By default TV Channels are available, but there is nothing in the other two categories. From the TV Channels screen we can pick a region or set of channels. These channels are mostly grouped by country. Once we have picked a country we can see a list of channels available in that area. For example, Canada has a CBC channel, the United Kingdom has access to BBC channels, the United States has a channel called American Classics and another called Comedy.
Linux Mint 20.1 -- Browsing channels in Hypnotix (full image size: 701kB, resolution: 1920x1200 pixels)
Clicking on a channel opens a video player window, which appears to be powered by the mpv player. The channel then streams until we pause the stream or click the player's close button. I found that clicking the application's close button did not actually close the window, just made the stream stop. However, if I then selected another channel the new stream would play in the channel browser window instead of in the separate mpv player window. This appears to be a bug, but the alternative was to close the browser window and re-launch Hypnotix to get a fresh start and a new mpv window.
We can add new IPTV streaming providers to Hypnotix from the application's first screen. It looks like we should be able to edit or remove existing providers, however clicking the Edit button did not do anything. For now it looks like we can only add new providers.
The Hypnotix application, while it has some rough edges, worked pretty well and was easy to navigate. I don't watch a lot of TV shows these days so I'm not the target audience, but I could see it being useful if I wanted to catch up with local news or take my chances watching whatever movie or sporting event a channel was streaming at the time.
All in all the three new features seem to be well implemented. I ran into a few minor issues with Hypnotix, but on the whole the Mint team appears to have done a good job smoothly setting up all three components.