Solus 4.1 "Fortitude"Solus is desktop-focused distribution that is not based on any other distribution. Many of the packages used in this distribution will be familiar, but instead of using APT, DNF, or one of the other common alternatives, Solus uses their own eopkg package manager, which is a fork of the PiSi package manager, and one of the desktop environments available for Solus is Budgie, which is developed by/for Solus.
There are four different images available to download for Solus 4.1 "Fortitude": Budgie, GNOME, MATE, and Plasma. The Budgie and Plasma images are 1.8GB. The MATE image is slightly smaller at 1.7GB and the GNOME image slightly larger at 1.9GB. Each image provides a live desktop environment and installer that installs Solus with the desktop environment that the image is focused on.
Solus 4.1 -- The live Budgie desktop (full image size: 1.6MB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
For this review I selected the Solus 4.1 image that has the Budgie desktop environment. I began by downloading the ISO and copying to a flash drive. I rebooted the computer and found that I had to turn off Secure Boot before I could boot from the image, but once I did that, Solus started very quickly from my USB 3.0 flash drive. Once I verified that all my hardware was functioning normally, I moved on to the next step and launched the installer.
Solus uses an installer that they package under the name os-installer. This installer provides all the standard options, so there should be no surprises for anyone who has installed any modern Linux distribution. One nice thing about the installer is that the steps are clearly listed in a sidebar, so it is easy to see how many steps are left in the process.
Solus 4.1 -- The installer (full image size: 1.3MB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
I quickly worked my way through the various steps, which started with language, location, keyboard layout, and timezone options before dealing with disk partitioning, settings, and new user creation. Once all that was completed the actual installation started.
Installing Solus on my computer was fast, maybe not as fast as the Solus 4.1 release announcement brags about, but still very quick. Once that was done, I rebooted the computer and was very, very, very quickly at the login prompt; the Solus developers might have slightly oversold how quickly Solus installs (they claim that, thanks to their switch to zstd compression for the SquashFS images, copying files to the computer would be quicker than the time it takes to answer all the questions in the install wizard; the copying was fast, but not that fast), but the boot speed more than make up for that.
Budgie desktop environment
The Budgie desktop is based on GNOME 3 with several changes. The default Budgie layout features a single panel at the bottom of the screen. This panel has the same basic layout of the modern Windows desktop. On the left is an application menu and application shortcuts. On the right are controls for networking, notifications, battery, sound, Bluetooth, power off/reset/logout, time and date, and the shortcut to show the Raven panel.
Solus 4.1 -- Budgie desktop with application menu (full image size: 1.6MB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
The Raven panel pops out from the right side of the screen and by default contains two tabs: applets and notifications. The applets tab has a calendar, volume control, and more. The notification tab displays notifications from all applications. Basically, the Raven panel works very much like the same feature in recent version of Microsoft Windows.
Solus 4.1 -- Applets in Raven side panel (full image size: 1.5MB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
Overall, Budgie takes GNOME 3 and turns it into something much closer to what Windows users would be used to. It is not a Windows clone exactly, or a KDE Plasma clone, but it provides a desktop experience much more in line with how those desktops work.
One drawback, at least in my opinion, to Solus Budgie's customization is that the default dark theme is too dark. Maybe I am just getting old and my eyes do not work as well as they used to, but Solus's default dark reminds me of the all black ship in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that had black labels on black buttons and black indicator lights. Sometimes the contrast between a button and the window it is in is not very distinct. There is an option to turn off the dark theme in Budgie's settings, but it does not seem to work when using the default "Plata-Noir" widgets. Switching to plain "Plata" makes it so the switch toggles between a dark and light mode, and that widget's light mode is much easier on the eyes.
As nice as the Budgie desktop is, it is not without flaws. The Budgie Desktop Settings are not integrated with the GNOME 3 Settings application at all. This means that some settings are in one application, but other settings are located elsewhere. This is not too confusing, but it would be nice to have things tied together more. And while Solus's Budgie desktop uses a lot of GNOME applications, which would make this hard to do, it would be nice if there was more Budgie branding in place of the GNOME references, just for clarity. For example, the About link in the application menu, which opens the About panel in GNOME Settings identifies the distribution as "Solus 4.1 Fortitude" and mentions GNOME's version number (3.34.3), but there is no mention of Budgie at all. This makes it a little harder for people using a computer they did not set up themselves to figure out what they need to research in order to solve a problem. GNOME 3.34 instructions may, or may not, apply to Budgie.
Default software selection
Solus 4.1 comes preloaded with a decent selection of software. The default selection of software is sufficient for users who use their computers for web browsing, e-mail, and word processing. In addition to various accessories and utilities, most of which come from GNOME, Solus comes with Firefox, Thunderbird, HexChat, LibreOffice (Calc, Draw, Impress, and Writer, but not Base or Math), Rhythmbox, and GNOME MPV. The Linux kernel version the distribution runs on is 5.4.12. Nothing too extraordinary here, but the overall Solus experience brings all the component pieces together well.
The only bad thing about the default software selection is the use of GNOME MPV. With just the default packages installed, I could not get GNOME MPV to successfully play 1080p videos without the video immediately lagging. Hardware acceleration was not enabled, but passing the "-hwdec" option to MPV was not enough to fix the problem. In order to everything working properly, I had to install the libva-intel-driver package before the "--hwdec" option worked properly. The frustrating thing was that when I installed GNOME Videos (Totem), which is the first thing I tried to see if a different media player worked, it played videos flawlessly even though it did not need to install the package that I needed to get GNOME MPV to work. Solus comes with codecs that many other distributions do not ship by default (or at all), but has a default video player with extremely sub-par performance on modest hardware, which does not make a lot of sense to me.
Installing additional software
The default selection of software pre-installed in Solus is great, but there is a lot more software available to install. Software Center is the graphic tool for doing this, and it is excellent way to find packages and install updates. The Home tab shows categories of software that are further sub-divided into more specific categories. I found this really helped me discover what applications were available when I needed software that could perform a specific function, but did not have any specific application in mind. For when I knew exactly what I wanted the search function worked very quickly. There is also a "Third Party" tab that lists various popular third-party packages like GitKraken, Google Chrome, Google Earth, Skype, Slack, Spotify, Android Studio and several JetBrains IDEs. Overall, I very impressed with the software selection. I was even able to install RStudio from Software Center. On most distributions I have to download the RStudio Deb or RPM from the RStudio website and install it manually.
Solus 4.1 -- Third-party software in Software Center (full image size: 129kB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
On the command line, Solus uses eopkg to manage packages. There are a few differences, but for the most part eopkg works much like APT and YUM/DNF. I found the functionality available to be very good. The search and info options worked quickly and provided useful information. The "install" and "remove" commands worked as expected for packages that had no dependencies, but "autoremove" works better for packages with dependencies. Just using "remove" leaves unused dependencies in place, and "autoremove" removes the dependencies. There is also a "history" function that can display a log of transactions and rollback to earlier states. Because it is not exactly like other command line package managers, it took a little while to adjust to using eopkg, but once I had adjusted it was wonderful to use.
Solus also comes with Snap and Flatpak support pre-installed. There are no Snaps installed by default, but installing something with the snap command will install a package from the Snapcraft.io site. On the other hand, Flatpak comes with no repositories pre-configured, so heading over to Flathub and following the instructions there to enable the Flathub repository (or doing the same thing for some other repository) is necessary to make Flatpak support usable.
With the exception of the issues I had with GNOME MPV not being able to play high definition videos on my computer without having to tweak a few things first, Solus 4.1 is a very polished distribution. Maybe users with more powerful hardware do not need to enable hardware decoding and install additional packages to make GNOME MPV work with high definition video without lagging, but the issues I had with video playback were my one major critique of the distribution. Everything else is well thought out and the default software selection is excellent. There are a few minor issues with some of the Budgie Desktop Settings application, but those are minor.
If you are looking for a desktop Linux that does its own thing instead of being yet another "Ubuntu plus a few extra packages" distribution, Solus is an excellent choice. The Budgie desktop environment and the eopkg tool are very good. I highly recommend this distribution as a general use desktop distribution for users of all levels of experience.
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Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was an ASUS VivoBook E406MA laptop with the following specifications: