Maui Linux 17.03Maui Linux is a distribution which originally grew out of Netrunner, but is now developed as a separate project. Maui is currently based on KDE neon which is, in turn, based on Ubuntu long term support (LTS) releases. The project's website describes Maui as follows:
Fast and easy to use, yet powerful for computer users of all levels, Maui is a part-rolling distribution based on KDE Neon/Ubuntu. Maui features its own managed repositories and backport channels.
The Maui distribution is available in one edition which ships with the KDE Plasma 5 desktop environment. Maui is available for 64-bit x86 computers exclusively and the installation media is 1.9GB in size. The distribution does not shy away from shipping proprietary software and includes popular applications such as Steam and Skype in the default installation.
Booting from the Maui media causes the distribution to launch a live desktop environment. We are presented with the KDE Plasma 5.9.3 environment. The background is colourful and there are large icons on the desktop. These icons launch a software & hardware information panel, open the Dolphin file manager, open the project's release notes in the Firefox web browser and launch the distribution's system installer. At the bottom of the screen we find a panel that contains the application menu, task switcher and system tray. The icons in the panel are larger than I would usually expect. I also found the default fonts were unusually large on Maui compared to most other distributions. I liked seeing the bigger text as I tend to prefer larger (or at least thicker) fonts.
Maui uses the Calamares graphical system installer. Calamares works quickly and presents fairly clear prompts for information that make it easy to get the operating system installed quickly. Calamares walks us through selecting our preferred language from a list and we can choose our time zone from a map. We are then asked to confirm our keyboard's layout. Next comes disk partitioning and Calamares offers to either take over the disk or let us manually partition our hard drive. I took the manual option and found the partition manager to be easy to navigate and fairly flexible. Maui supports working with ext2/3/4, Btrfs, XFS, JFS and Reiser file systems. The installer can also set up encrypted partitions, help us place where to install the GRUB boot loader and work with either MBR or GPT disk layouts. The final screen of the installer asks us to create a user account. The installer then copies its files to our hard drive and offers to reboot the computer.
Maui Linux 17.03 -- The System Settings panel (full image size: 631kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
The new copy of Maui boots to a graphical login screen that is set against a plain, blue background. Signing into our account brings us back to the Plasma desktop. The application menu Maui uses is a bit unusual in that it takes up the whole screen, but doesn't present a grid of applications like GNOME or mobile devices usually do. Instead the full screen menu is divided into three columns. To the left we see a list of "favourite" programs, to the right we see a list of software categories and the middle column shows applications in the highlighted category. At the top of the menu is a search bar where we can look for programs using key words. Personally, I was not a fan of this full screen menu. It required more mouse movement than usual as I had to move the mouse to the bottom-left corner of the screen to bring up the menu, then move to the far-right to select a category and back to the middle to pick my application. Luckily, Maui provides three alternative menu styles we can access by right-clicking on the application menu button. These alternative menus include KDE's typical two-panel launcher and a classic tree-style menu.
Another feature which stood out was an icon in the system tray which, when clicked, causes a drop-down virtual terminal to appear at the top of the desktop. This drop-down terminal makes it easy to quickly launch programs from a command line environment. Next to the drop-down terminal icon is an indicator which lets us know when software updates are available.
Clicking the update icon in the system tray opens a window which displays the available software updates in Maui's repositories. The distribution uses the mintUpdate update manager which lists available updates with a safety rating. Ratings are given in the range of 1 through 5 with packages ranked as 1 being safe while packages marked with a 5 are considered unsafe. The update manager automatically selects packages in the range of 1 through 3 to be installed while riskier packages are displayed, but not downloaded automatically. During my trial with Maui all the available updates installed without any problems.
Maui Linux 17.03 -- Adjusting which updates are automatically selected (full image size: 875kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
Maui pulls in software packages from several sources. The distribution uses packages from Ubuntu and Ubuntu's Backports repositories as well as the Canonical Partners repository, a personal package archive (PPA) for WINE and Maui's own repositories. These package sources provide us with a wide range of software. To manage all of these packages we can use the APT command line tools or the Synaptic graphical package manager. Synaptic has a fairly simple layout, presenting a list of available packages in alphabetical order. We can use search terms or filters to narrow down the list to make it easier to find what we want. We can click a box next to packages to queue them to be installed, removed or upgraded. Synaptic may not be as newcomer friendly as many modern software managers, but it works quickly and offers many package- and repository-management options.
Maui Linux 17.03 -- Managing software packages with Synaptic (full image size: 685kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
I tried running Maui in two test environments, one was a desktop computer and the other was a VirtualBox virtual machine. Maui booted and ran in both environments, detecting my network connection and playing sound without any problems. I was pleased to find Maui integrated with VirtualBox automatically and was able to make full use of my host computer's screen resolution. In both environments Maui used approximately 360MB of RAM when logged into the Plasma desktop. The only difference I noticed when running Maui in the two environments was the Plasma desktop lagged when running in VirtualBox. This made navigating menus or moving windows frustrating. I found that disabling desktop effects and compositing improved Plasma's responsiveness a good deal. Maui still was not snappy in the virtual environment, but it worked well enough for day to day use. When running on physical hardware, Maui's desktop was responsive. I found the distribution was able to detect and set up my printer using a module in the System Settings panel, which I will touch on later.
Maui Linux 17.03 -- Setting up a printer (full image size: 173kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
Applications and features
The distribution ships with a lot of popular software, including the Firefox web browser with the Adobe Flash player. We are also given a copy of LibreOffice, the Pidgin messaging software, the Transmission bittorrent client and Thunderbird for e-mails. Maui provides us with a remote desktop client, the Okular document viewer and the Skype VoIP client. The distribution ships with several multimedia applications including the Audacious music player, the Handbrake transcoding software, the VLC media player, the vokoscreen desktop recorder and the Kamoso webcam utility. We are offered such artistic programs as the GNU Image Manipulation Program, the Krita drawing program and Inkscape. There are several games in the application menu along with the Steam gaming portal from Valve. Maui ships with the KDE Partition Manager, a copy of VirtualBox for running virtual machines and a process monitor. Common utilities such as an archive manager, text editor, calculator and the K3b disc burning application round out the selection. In the background we find Java is available along with the GNU Compiler Collection. Maui uses systemd 229 for its init software and runs on version 4.4.0 of the Linux kernel.
One of the tools Maui provides which stood out was Grub Customizer. This is a graphical utility which helps the user edit their boot menu entries, add or edit kernel parameters and change the appearance of the boot menu. Digging around GRUB's configuration files by hand can get confusing and editing the boot loader's configuration manually can lead to a system not booting properly. Having this graphical tool, which turns managing GRUB into a point and click experience, was a welcome feature.
Maui Linux 17.03 -- The default application menu (full image size: 701kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
Another feature of Maui I appreciated was the System Settings panel, which is used to tweak and customize the Plasma desktop, also includes configuration modules for managing the underlying operating system. Looking through the settings panel we can find modules for managing printers, creating user accounts and managing background services. I find that I like this unified settings panel approach where I can configure both the desktop and manage the operating system. This seems more convenient to me than having separate settings panels for the operating system and the desktop environment.
While I was using Maui I took note of a few features which I felt set the distribution apart from others I have tried recently. Earlier I mentioned Maui tends to use large fonts and icons, which I appreciate. I also found the default theme placed clear, thick borders around windows. I like this as it removes the guess work as to which window currently has focus and where the border is for resizing a window. Often times distributions will use themes which cause windows to blur together or hide window edges and I preferred Maui's high-contrast approach.
Earlier, I mentioned there is a README icon on the desktop which brings up a window with the project's release notes. This is convenient for finding out about new features. Though I think newcomers to Maui might be confused as the distribution is referred to alternatively as Maui and Netrunner in the notes.
One of the few aspects of Maui I did not like was the distribution is very quick to log us out. Clicking any of the shutdown, reboot or logout buttons in the application menu (whether intentionally or accidentally) immediately logs out the user without further warning or pause. If the user is not careful, this can cause work in progress to be lost. Most other distributions wait a few seconds or get confirmation before logging out the user to avoid accidentally interrupting tasks and I would have preferred if Maui had followed the trend.
On the whole I enjoyed using Maui, more than I had expected. There was not any one feature or program which really stood out as amazing, but I liked the overall style of the distribution. Maui provides a lot of software and features out of the box, offers a stable core based on an Ubuntu LTS release and includes cutting edge KDE Plasma software. I like that the application menu is full of useful software while avoiding overlap in functionality. I also appreciate how easy it is to use the Calamares installer and how quickly Calamares sets up the operating system. Mostly, I like that the distribution provides distinct windows, large fonts and a high-contrast theme which I found easy to look at over longer periods.
I ran into just two issues or concerns while using Maui. One was the performance of the desktop with its default settings in the virtual test environment. Maui performed well on my desktop computer, but Plasma was slow to respond when running in VirtualBox. It is possible to improve performance by adjusting some items in the System Settings panel, but it would have been nice if the desktop had defaulted to more efficient settings.
My second issue was not a bug, but rather a matter of style. Maui has a friendly look, lots of simple configuration modules and, over all, a very modern and easy to use approach. Everything looks new and tasks are typically performed through slick, graphical wrappers. The one exception I found was Synaptic. The venerable package manager works well, but is a bit cryptic compared to most modern software managers. I like Synaptic for its speed and flexibility, but I think something like GNOME Software or mintInstall might be more in line with Maui's newcomer-friendly approach.
On the whole, I like Maui. The distribution is easy to set up, friendly and generally stayed out of my way while I was working. This seems like a fairly beginner friendly desktop distribution which does a good job of making things easy without distracting the user or doing too much hand holding.
* * * * *
Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a desktop HP Pavilon p6 Series with the following specifications: