Nitrux 1.0.2Nitrux is a fairly new addition to the DistroWatch database. The distribution features a custom desktop environment, called Nomad, which is based on KDE's Plasma 5 desktop. The Nomad desktop reportedly features a simplified system tray and a friendly, graphical front-end for the UFW firewall utility. Nitrux also ships with a custom software manager called NX Software Center and a music player called Babe. The Nitrux project previously featured the Anbox utility for running Android apps on GNU/Linux desktop distributions, but Anbox has been removed in recent versions of the Nitrux distribution.
Nitrux is available in just one edition and is built for 64-bit x86 computers exclusively. Originally I tried to download Nitrux from the project's website and found my download kept getting disconnected partway through. I switched to downloading the project's ISO file (1.0GB in size) from a SourceForge mirror and this download completed successfully.
Booting from the Nitrux installation media brings up a menu asking if we would like to launch the distribution's live mode or start the system installer. Taking the live mode option, we are brought to a graphical login screen. We can sign into the Nomad desktop by using "nitrux" as both the username and password.
The Nomad desktop appears to use KDE's Plasma desktop software, but with a high degree of customization. The main desktop panel containing the application menu and system tray is placed at the top of the screen. A quick-launch bar is displayed at the bottom of the screen. The launch bar at the bottom of the desktop displays icons, but no tool tips or text to indicate what clicking on each icon will open. The application menu is displayed as a large grid of icons. The first page of the menu displays commonly used (or "favourite") applications. The second page lists all installed applications. The desktop's default background is mostly white with red and purple at the corners in shades that remind me of cotton candy.
Nitrux 1.0.2 -- The Nomad desktop and application menu (full image size: 56kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
Looking around the live desktop environment I did not find any launcher for a system installer. I checked the project's website and could not find any documentation on installing the operating system. I rebooted the computer and selected the installation option from the ISO's boot menu. The system installer is one I had not used before. It is a graphical application which begins by asking us to create a new username and password for ourselves. The partitioning screen comes next. Here I was shown a list of partitions, but there wasn't any clear indication of how I should proceed to change disk partitions or assign them to mount points. With some trial and error I found I could click a partition to highlight it and then click a box to assign the partition to a mount point. I could not find any way to create new partitions, so it seems we need to use a separate partition manger (such as GParted) before we begin the installation process.
Once we set up mount points we can choose whether to install a boot loader. Then the installer copies its files to the disk. When the installer finished, I was presented with a mostly blank screen with a quick-launch bar at the bottom and no clear way to shut down the computer or reboot. I used the quick-launch bar to open a terminal and forced a reboot from there.
When I booted into my freshly installed copy of Nitrux I was presented with a login screen. Signing in, I was once again shown the project's system installer with no desktop environment. It seems that when we install Nitrux from the minimal environment that just runs the installer, we end up with an operating system that just provides enough of an environment to launch its installer.
I booted from the installation media once more and went looking through the live desktop environment. I eventually discovered that the system installer is launched from a graphical utility called Systemback which is typically used to backup and restore the operating system. I went through the installation process again and, when I was finished, was presented with a full copy of Nitrux, complete with functioning desktop environment.
At least I ended up with a working desktop system when I ran Nitrux inside a VirtualBox virtual machine. When I tried to launch Nitrux on my physical desktop machine the distribution failed to boot. This surprised me as Nitrux is based on Ubuntu, a distribution which tends to work well with my hardware. This left me to experiment with Nitrux in the virtual environment. I found the operating system, when logged into the Nomad desktop, used 480MB of RAM. The desktop environment was sluggish at first, however performance picked up quite a bit after I disabled file indexing and some visual effects from the System Settings panel. Nitrux automatically integrated with VirtualBox and was able to make use of my computer's full screen resolution without any configuration on my part.
Left to explore Nitrux in a VirtualBox environment, I started looking around the Nomad desktop. Nomad's information screens identify it as being based on KDE Plasma 5.10, but the environment looks and acts quite a bit differently than Plasma. For example, applications use a unified menu bar, which is displayed in the panel at the top of the screen. The application menu is a large grid of icons and, unlike the Plasma desktop, Nomad will not allow the menu to be swapped out for alternative menus. An effort appears to have been made to streamline Plasma, removing customization options and alternative widgets.
There are some other odd design choices too. For example the virtual terminal application has a bright blue background. The default fonts tend to have a tall, thin look which I found hard on my eyes after a while.
Nitrux 1.0.2 -- A virtual terminal and the notification area (full image size: 61kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
Another problem I ran into is the distribution sometimes displays icons without accompanying text or tool tips. This can leave us somewhat in the dark as to what controls do. For example, when signing out of the Nomad desktop we are presented with a confirmation screen containing four symbols: a line, a circle, a lighting bolt and an arrow. Given the context I was able to work out which button corresponded to a given action (reboot, shut down, logout and sleep) but the lack of accompanying text meant I spent more time interpreting Nomad's screens than would normally be required if text had simply been included. This is an issue that popped up a number of times during my trial and it made using Nitrux feel like using an operating system with a foreign language locale selected.
Another visual problem I ran into was the desktop's top panel would sometimes be invisible when I logged in. I could still click on the panel to open the application menu, but the panel was not drawn on the screen. With a little experimenting I found this was caused by VirtualBox's 3-D support. Disabling VirtualBox's 3-D display feature caused the Nomad panel to always be displayed properly.
Software management on Nitrux is handled primarily by the NX Software Center. When NX Software Center first opens we are presented with a window containing two buttons near the top. Both buttons look to me to be "Home" buttons, judging by their shape, but there is no text to give them context. The first tab shows a single icon labelled "Core". It is not clear right away whether this is an installed package, an available package or an upgrade as no further information is provided. The second tab shows us a list of categories. Some of these categories are software related, but others do not appear to be. For example, some listed categories are Business, Communication, Developer Tools, Food & Drinks, Games, and Health & Fitness. Clicking a category shows us available packages in the given category. Some of these items are fairly clearly labelled, carrying names like "Investment Viewer" while others are more cryptic, such as the "irpf2017" package. A text field near the top of the window lets us search for specific packages by name.
Nitrux 1.0.2 -- The NX Software Center (full image size: 257kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
Clicking on some packages opens up a new page containing a description of the selected package and a screen shot. Other times, clicking on a package does not bring up anything other than a blank page and the words "Other open source". At the bottom of the information screen is an Install button. Sometimes clicking this button causes the selected package to be installed and its icon added to the application menu. Other times, clicking the Install button results in an error simply reporting "not found" and the package is not installed.
Once I had installed a few items I found they were added to the first tab in the NX Software Center so I gather the first tab lists installed items. So far as I could tell, NX Software Center only lets us work with Snap packages, not Debian packages and to work with Debian archives we need to turn to the command line.
Since Nitrux uses Ubuntu repositories (specifically Ubuntu 17.10's repositories), I has expected the distribution to offer APT and apt-get package management tools. However, Nitrux ships with pacapt which is basically a command line program which uses the Pacman package manager's syntax and works with Debian packages. This means that instead of using "apt-get upgrade" to install software updates, we run "pacman -Syu".
While using Nitrux I never saw any indication software updates were available and I had to check for security updates manually. There is no graphical update manager, leaving the user to download security updates from the command line.
Nitrux uses the KDE System Settings panel to configure the desktop experience. For the most part the settings panel is pretty standard and contains the same configuration modules used by other platforms running KDE software. There are several modules available for changing the look of the desktop, adjusting short-cuts and tweaking visual effects. There is a module for setting up KDE Connect, a service which facilitates communication with Android devices. There is also a tool for enabling and disabling systemd services.
There were a few odd design choices here too. For example, the tool to create and adjust user accounts is not called "Users", but rather "Account Details". There is no module for setting up printers and scanners. There are three tools listed under the panel's Network category. These three modules are called Connections, Settings, and Connectivity. At first these may seem like three ways of describing the same thing, but upon closer inspection these modules handle setting up network connections, managing proxies and working with Samba shares, respectively.
The Nitrux website makes special mention of the distribution's firewall. The firewall utility is a graphical front-end for the UFW firewall. The custom firewall tool has a fairly simple layout which allows us to create new rules that either deny or allow network traffic. We can fine-tune the rules a bit, selecting source and destination addresses and ranges of ports. The firewall tool works, though I'm not sure if I see a large difference between using it or the more commonly used GUFW front-end for the UFW firewall.
I ran into a couple of issues when trying to print. The first was there is no printer configuration module available. I also found the CUPS printing software is not installed by default. I checked in the Nitrux software manager and could not find any front-end to working with printers or CUPS. I then switched to the command line and installed the system-config-printer package along with CUPS and CUPS drivers. The printer configuration utility was not added to my application menu so I launched it from the command line. CUPS was able to detect my network printer, but attempting to complete the setup resulted in CUPS throwing a vague "Internal error" message and failing to complete the connection to my printer.
Nitrux 1.0.2 -- Trying an alternative look (full image size: 340kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
Finally, on the subject of system configuration, there is an application included with Nitrux called Kvantum Manager. This utility offers a quick and easy way to tweak the Nomad desktop environment. These tweaks can help us alter the desktop's theme, improve performance and place text under icons. I was not able to use Kvantum to get rid of the unified menu panel or switch application menus, but I did get a faster desktop with more text to assist in navigating the interface.
Nitrux does not ship with many applications by default. We are given a few common desktop programs such as the Chromium web browser (without Flash support), the Kate text editor and the Dolphin file manager. The distribution ships with the Babe music player, which I will come back to later, and the VLC multimedia player. Codecs are included for playing common media formats. We are given a PDF viewer, the Ark archive manager and a hardware information browser. Nitrux ships with version 6.3 of the GNU Compiler Collection and the systemd init software. The distribution runs on version 4.11.0 of the Linux kernel.
Earlier I mentioned the Babe music player which appears to be a media player unique to Nitrux. The initial screen Babe greets us with is a bit confusing. Near the top of the window is an empty Sources list. Then there is a plus sign in the middle of the window and a drag-n-drop region on the right. Near the bottom of the window we find an area which I think should allow us to type in a YouTube address and another box where I think we can select the location of extensions. There seem to be several options open to us, but not a lot of familiar-looking controls. I tried the + button first and was given the chance to select a directory where my audio files were kept. I started by selecting a directory with just two audio files. Babe locked up for a few seconds and then displayed an error message which simply read "oops".
Nitrux 1.0.2 -- The Babe music player (full image size: 276kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
I next tried dragging audio files from the Dolphin file manager to the drag-n-drop region of Babe's window. The media player appeared to lock up for about a minute while a lot of data was passed over my network connection and then Babe crashed. After this, I switched to using VLC to play audio and video files and found the VLC multimedia player worked well.
Nitrux's motto is "Simple, quick and responsive." During my trial, I felt as though none of those descriptions suited the distribution. With its default settings, the Nomad desktop was not particularly responsive (though it might have been if I had managed to get the distribution running on physical hardware). Nitrux was relatively slow to boot and applications were not particularly quick (or slow) to load.
This is a young project and it has a lot of problems, ranging from hardware compatibility to lack of an update manager, to a software manager that was only able to install packages about two-thirds of the time, to a music player that crashed when asked to play audio files. There is a noticeable lack of documentation and on-screen queues for completing tasks. Perhaps the most obvious example of this lack of guidance comes at install time. I found selecting the Install option from the live media's boot menu would result in the operating system not installing properly. I had to load the live desktop, launch the backup manager and use that to launch the system installer - a process that is as roundabout as it is counter-intuitive.
What really puzzled me about Nitrux is the distribution is based on software that works well with my computer and that I find useful. Nitrux is largely based on Ubuntu and the KDE Plasma desktop, both examples of software that play well with my hardware. Yet Nitrux has its own system installer which is less friendly than Ubuntu's. The desktop is less flexible and slower than Plasma. The software manager does not function as well as Ubuntu's Software Center and cannot work with Debian packages.
I was unhappy with the distribution's approach of removing the APT tools and update manager and replacing them with command-line only tools which use Pacman syntax. Keeping APT and pacapt together might have made sense for appealing to Pacman fans, but stripping APT and its related tools out entirely just crippled package management on the distribution without adding any benefit.
This style of approach seems to be repeated throughout the distribution, replacing working utilities (music player, system installer, software manager, application menu) with alternatives that do not function as well as the ones provided by the parent distribution.
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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: