PakOS 2020-08-24PakOS is a Debian-based distribution that is intended to be a general purpose, desktop operating system. The distribution's niche or primary audience is people who are from, or living in, Pakistan. The project's website mentions that the operating system features the WPS office suite, comes with CrossOver installed, and includes an optional Windows-like theme. There are also security tools provided including the Clam anti-virus utility, a firewall tool, and Firejail for sandboxing applications. The project further mentions supplying kernels for both 64-bit (x86_64) and 32-bit (x86) processors.
The PakOS distribution appears to be available in just one edition running the LXQt desktop. This edition is 3.1GB in size. One of the first things I discovered about PakOS is that, despite the mention of 32-bit kernels being available, the live media does not run on 32-bit machines. It seems that while 32-bit kernels may be available in the repositories I did not see any way to install PakOS on a 32-bit machine.
The live environment
The boot menu of the live disc offers to let us run the live desktop environment, run an installer, or run a graphical installer. The Install and Graphical Install options do not do anything and merely return us to the boot menu. Only the live desktop boot options work. Choosing the live boot item loads the LXQt desktop running on the xfwm window manager. A panel sits at the bottom of the display and is home to the application menu, task switcher, and system tray.
The application menu is provided by the Whisker menu, running a two-pane layout. In the system tray I found a few items running. There is a weather app which reports it cannot find weather data. I tried selecting a few different locations (the default was a region of Pakistan), but the weather app failed to load data from any location. The system tray shows audio is muted by default, which I personally appreciate. Another icon in the system tray shows a desktop lighting tone program is running in the background. We can turn this lighting tone program on or off, but there does not appear to be any other configuration option. The desktop's wallpaper changes every five minutes, displaying images of people, farm equipment, camels, and landscapes.
PakOS 2020-08-24 -- The application menu on the live media (full image size: 709kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
PakOS features several desktop icons. Clicking these, at least the first time, brings up a prompt asking if we want to launch the associated program or open the shortcut in an editor to read the file. One icon opens the PCManFM-Qt file manager, another launches the Calamares system installer. One icon labelled First Boot brings up a settings panel where we can choose the style of our application menu, adjust start-up items, and fix boot loader issues.
There is an icon for enabling Internet and this brings up a pop-up window that explains Debian enables IPv6 by default which often is not suitable in Pakistan. We are then given step-by-step instructions for manually configuring networking through NetworkManager. There is an icon which launches the distribution's update manager and I will talk more about this utility later.
One additional icon is called Sally Prayer Times which brings up a window that, I believe, lists Islamic prayer times. The window contains a countdown clock which appears to indicate the time until the next selected prayer session.
PakOS uses the Calamares graphical installer. The system installer does a nice job walking us through the usual tasks of selecting our time zone, keyboard layout, language, and making up a username & password combination. Calamares supports both manual and guided partitioning. The guided option sets up a single ext4 filesystem partition and a large swap partition.
Calamares worked very well for me and my one serious complaint with the process came on the first screen where buttons are displayed offering us access to Support and Release Notes. Clicking either of these buttons brings up an endless stream of pop-up errors saying the wrong number of arguments was given. A minor complaint I also had was that PakOS would activate its screensaver after just five minutes and this obscures the progress information Calamares displays.
My freshly installed copy of PakOS booted to its graphical login screen where we can type our username and password to sign in. Typing the username is a little different than the approach of many other distributions these days which tend to show the usernames of accounts and allow us to click on which account we want.
Once I got signed in the LXQt 0.14.1 desktop loaded and I was presented with the same layout and icons as I saw during the live session, minus the system installer desktop icon. There is no welcome screen and the first-run wizard only opens if we manually select it from its desktop icon.
LXQt is relatively light and quick. I found the desktop tended to perform well while staying out of the way. One of the few adjustments I made was to change the digital clock in the system tray so as to not display time in seconds as the constant updating was distracting me.
I explored running PakOS in a VirtualBox environment and on my laptop. In both situations the distribution performed well. The desktop was responsive, boot times were good, programs tended to open quickly. All of my laptop's hardware was detected and, when running in VirtualBox, the PakOS guest desktop resized dynamically to fit its window.
The distribution uses a rather large amount of resources when we consider it is, at its heart, Debian running the lightweight LXQt desktop. PakOS consumed 11GB of disk space for a fresh install and quickly gobbled up a few more gigabytes for refreshed repository information, updated package archives, and configuration files. Logging into LXQt consumed 435MB of RAM. For comparison's sake, the last time I triedLubuntu (which has its roots in Debian), when running LXQt the system used 280MB of RAM.
PakOS ships with a lot of software installed for us. Many of these are common items such as the Firefox browser, Thunderbird e-mail client, a calendar application, and the Transmission bittorrent client. There are some less common applications though like the Franz messaging application, the WPS office suite, and the FBReader e-reader.
PakOS 2020-08-24 -- The WPS office suite (full image size: 122kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
Rounding out the selection are some popular tools like the GNU Image Manipulation Program, Audacity audio editor, and Kdenlive video editor. We are also given the Audacious music player and SMPlayer multimedia player, along with a full range of media codecs.
There is a graphical file synchronization program called Grsync, a printer manager, and the CrossOver suite for installing and running Windows applications. The Firejail sandbox software is present and works for limiting system access to selected programs.
In the background we find the GNU Compiler Collection and systemd provides the distribution's init software. Version 4.19 of the Linux kernel keeps things running smoothly.
Generally speaking, the software included with PakOS worked and ran well. The mainstream applications like the multimedia player, Firefox, and image editor all worked as expected. I was a little surprised by the choice to use WPS instead of the more popular LibreOffice suite. I am guessing WPS offers some advantage in format compatibility the developers hoped to include.
There is a small settings panel included to tweak the desktop configuration. The panel includes simple configuration modules for handling the desktop's theme, wallpaper, and display resolution. There are also launchers for accessing printer settings and launching the Synaptic package manager. The LXQt settings panel worked well.
I tried to use CrossOver to install three different Windows applications. The wizard which downloads and configures the environment for these programs failed each time. CrossOver may be useful in some areas, but the programs I selected from the list of known items, each carrying five-star ratings, failed to install properly.
Another issue I ran into was with networking. For the first day or two everything ran smoothly. Then, mid-week DNS stopped functioning on my PakOS system even though all other devices on the network continued to perform lookups properly. Switching to manually supplied DNS servers fixed the issue. I ran into this problem later in the week when I took my laptop to another location. Again, networking started out fine, but DNS stopped working after an hour. Manually supplying DNS servers fixed the issue on the second network too. The issue occurred both when running the distribution in a virtual machine and on my laptop.
For most software management actions PakOS provides the Synaptic package manager. Synaptic is a classic, low-level package manager and works quickly. It's not a modern, beginner-friendly software centre, but it usually does its job well. I did run into some problems this time around where Synaptic would sometimes report it was unable to verify the security of remote repositories. I discovered this was due to the intermittent DNS issue mentioned above and found Synaptic worked properly after I manually set my DNS servers.
There is a separate update manager which can be launched from its desktop icon. When we launch the update manager it opens two windows - a terminal which opens in the background and a smaller window which provides us with a list of available updates and progress information. The update utility worked, though its output and list of available package updates were a bit unpolished. I further found that the foreground window would occasionally appear to lock-up for periods. I found when this happened it was because the terminal window in the background had prompted me for a password. The update process would wait until I switched to the terminal window and typed my password. This is not ideal because if the terminal window is behind something else (or minimized) we have no way of knowing the update process is waiting for something rather than just being slow.
On one hand, PakOS does a lot of things well for such a young project. The LXQt desktop is nicely arranged and looks fairly polished and elegant. The distribution ships with a large collection of useful applications. Perhaps, if anything, there may be more applications than most people will need. However, the documentation does hint that this may be an effort to provide as much functionality as possible in remote regions where Internet connections are slower.
While the distribution is intended to be used by the people of Pakistan, the operating system seems well suited to any region. I did not notice any situations where locale settings or language translations were a problem. Only the weather application was specifically configured to look up data for Pakistan.
Speaking of the weather application, my main recurring issue with PakOS is that parts of it feel unfinished or unpolished. The live media still has entries for Debian's installer which do not work. The installer has buttons for support and documentation which bring up an infinite loop of error messages. The weather application cannot look up data for any region. The DNS settings, for some reason, keep failing though other devices using automated DNS settings on the same network continue to work. The update manager, along with a few other tools, feel like they could be made friendlier.
None of these issues were terminal, the distribution mostly continued to function and I could work around the problems I encountered with a little effort. However, these sorts of minor "paper cut" problems reveal areas where the distribution could (and hopefully will) be improved.
* * * * *
Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a de-branded HP laptop with the followingspecifications:
Processor: Intel i3 2.5GHz CPU
Display: Intel integrated video
Storage: Western Digital 700GB hard drive
Memory: 6GB of RAM
Wired network device: Realtek RTL8101E/RTL8102E PCI Express Fast