SolydXK 10SolydXK is a Debian-based desktop distribution. Originally, SolydXK grew out of Linux Mint Debian Edition, providing desktop editions that Mint did not support. However, SolydXK soon grew into its own identity and became independent from Mint, though it does still use the same system installer.
SolydXK is available in two editions: Xfce and KDE Plasma. Since we reviewed the Xfce edition of SolydXK 9 earlier this year, I decided to try out the KDE branch of version 10.
SolydXK 10 is based on Debian 10 "Buster" and provides builds for 64-bit (x86_64) machines. In the past there were builds provided for Raspberry Pi computers, but these have been dropped with version 10. The Xfce edition of SolydXK is a 1.6GB download and the KDE edition I decided to try is a 2.2GB download.
Booting from the distribution's live media brings up the KDE Plasma desktop with a soft, blue theme. There is a panel at the bottom of the screen which holds the application menu, task switcher, and system tray. A single icon for launching the system installer sits in the upper-left corner of the desktop.
The Plasma desktop defaults to using a classic, tree-style application menu with a few modern features. The menu has a search bar and some favourite/quick-launch icons on the left side. The desktop panel also has two quick-launch buttons. Something I noticed early in my trial is hovering the mouse pointer over a launcher does not bring up a tool tip telling us the name of the launcher or a description of its program. I found this frustrating because, to me, several of the icons look similar. The distribution uses a fairly minimal icon design so a handful of the launchers look to me to just be different coloured variations of "a rectangle inside a coloured square". To avoid exploring launchers by trial and error, we can right-click on a launcher to discover its name and any context actions the icon can perform.
SolydXK 10 -- The Plasma application menu (full image size: 72kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
SolydXK uses the graphical installer from Linux Mint Debian Edition. The installer somewhat resembles other streamlined graphical installers such as Ubiquity and Calamares. We are quickly walked through picking our language, time zone and keyboard layout. We are asked to make up a username and password for ourselves. The partitioning section lists available partitions and asks us to assign mount points to existing partitions. If we need to adjust or create partitions there is a button we can click to launch the GParted partition manager. Then, once we get back to the installer, we can click another button to refresh the list of available partitions. This approach works, though it requires a little more manual work on the user's part, compared to other modern installers. The SolydXK installer supports encryption and most native Linux filesystems such as Btrfs, ext2/3/4, JFS and XFS. Once the installer copies its packages to our hard drive it offers to reboot the computer.
Booting my new copy of SolydXK brought up a graphical login screen where I could sign into the KDE Plasma 5.14 desktop. A welcome window appeared on the desktop, giving an introduction to the distribution, and providing links to the forums and a project news feed. Clicking these links does not open them in a web browser, instead the selected page is loaded in the welcome window itself. This has three drawbacks. The first is that the welcome window lacks the navigation, bookmarks and other features of a web browser. The second is that the news feed is displayed as raw RSS data, without any formatting, making it less than practical. The third is that in order to get back to the welcome screen to explore its other features the user needs to unintuitively click the windows Next button.
SolydXK 10 -- The welcome window displaying the RSS news feed (full image size: 266kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
The Next button on the welcome window guides us through optional features we can add to SolydXK. The first optional add-on is NordVPN, which we can install with the click of a button. The following pages offer to install Flash, DVD reading software, and some popular applications including the Clementine music player, the Transmission bittorrent software, and Steam. On each page of the welcome screen we are shown a small group of these popular applications and we can check boxes to mark them for installation and then click a button at the bottom of the screen to add them to the system. This process is straight forward, but it has two limitations. The first is that we can only install software from one page at a time. I was not able to select multiple packages across different pages and install them all in one batch. The second (and related) issue is that we are prompted for our admin password each time we install software from a page. This means if we want to install, for instance, four packages spread across four pages, we end up clicking the install button, entering the admin password, and then waiting a few minutes for each package to install four times. Having an option to install packages in a big batch would have been a helpful convenience.
The default Plasma desktop uses a light theme, focusing on soft blues and light greys. Personally, I found the theme a little bright for my taste, and this was easy enough to change in the desktop's settings panel. In fact, just about every aspect of Plasma can easily be tweaked in the System Settings panel. A few versions back Plasma changed the organization of its settings and I felt the transition was rough in places. However, it appears to have smoothed out and I had no trouble navigating the desktop's many settings, themes, and window behaviours. The search feature in the settings panel is welcome and makes hunting down specific options easier than browsing through modules one at a time.
SolydXK 10 -- Adjusting the theme and wallpaper (full image size: 686kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
I think SolydXK deserves some credit for being one of the few distributions I have used this year which does not lock the desktop after just five minutes of inactivity. SolydXK will blank the screen to save power, but does not lock the screen right away, which makes its defaults more suited to my style of desktop use.
A problem I ran into early on came about when I tried to change the Konsole virtual terminal's font and colours. Konsole ships with two preset settings profiles and trying to alter them fails with an error which says: "Konsole does not have permission to save this profile to: /usr/share/konsole/SolydK.profile". To get around this, we can create a new settings profile and alter it. Though we need to make the new profile the default, otherwise Konsole reverts back to its original look the next time we open the terminal.
SolydXK ships with a relatively small collection of popular open source software. We are given the Firefox web browser (equipped with some useful extensions such as Adblock Origin, Privacy Badger, and HTTPS Everywhere). The Thunderbird e-mail client is included along with LibreOffice and the Okular document viewer. The X11VC Server software is included for remote desktop sessions. I found the VLC media player and the K3b disc burning software are in the application menu. Media codecs for playing audio and video files are installed for us.
There are also configuration tools for managing printers and the firewall. There are two file managers - Dolphin and Midnight Commander, and the KDE Help documentation. In the background we find the systemd init software, the GNU Compiler Collection, Java, and version 4.19 of the Linux kernel.
While this is a relatively small collection of software, we are able to add other popular items such as a dedicated audio player, gaming software, and torrent clients through the welcome window and the Discover software centre.
SolydXK provides users with two graphical package managers: Discover and Synaptic. Discover provides a modern interface for browsing categories and sub-categories of software. (For instance, Internet may be the category and E-mail and Web Browsers may be sub-categories.) Each entry in a category is displayed with a large icon, name and rating for the application. Clicking on an entry brings up a full page of information on the program with a screenshot. We can queue the selected application for installation or removal with single click. A search box allows us to locate items by typing an application's name or description. Discover can also check for package updates in a separate page, accessed by a button in the lower-left corner of the window.
I found Discover to be easy to navigate and stable. However, its interface is sometimes slow to respond. I also found that we are prompted for our password each time we queue a program for installation or removal, making installing multiple items a slow process.
For people who want to manage software in batches or deal with lower level packages, SolydXK also ships with Synaptic. The Synaptic package manager is fast, processes batches of actions on packages, and can also check for software updates.
Most of the distribution's software comes from Debian's repositories. There is also a separate SolydXK repository for some special items and customizations. Some of the applications in Debian's repositories are over a year old, but most of the desktop applications are modern enough to not have their age make a practical difference.
I started by exploring SolydXK in a VirtualBox environment. The distribution integrated with the virtual machine and was able to make use of my host computer's full desktop resolution. I did experience some performance lag in VirtualBox. Windows would respond slowly and menus did not snap open as quickly as I would have liked. In the Plasma settings panel I found the compositor was set to try to balance performance against animation smoothness. Adjusting this to favour performance fixed the issue and, after that, the Plasma desktop was pleasantly responsive.
When I tried SolydXK on my physical workstation, everything worked smoothly. Plasma, with the default settings, worked quickly and was highly responsive. The system was stable and all my hardware was properly detected.
SolydXK is relatively light in memory, using around 400MB to 430MB of memory. This amount seemed to vary a bit after I first logged in and I suspect some checks or searches for software updates were happening in the background after my desktop session finished loading. While light in memory, SolydXK took up more than an average amount of disk space. A fresh install used about 7GB of my disk.
I experienced one crash with SolydXK. Once, when shutting down the operating system, everything locked up as I was being logged out. The desktop froze and the system would no longer respond to keyboard input. Eventually I had to force a reboot. This happened only the once and I'm not sure what triggered the problem.
For the most part, I enjoyed my time with SolydXK. The distribution's solid Debian base combined with a polished KDE Plasma experience and a friendly system installer is a great combination. I felt the distribution presented enough default software out of the box to handle most common tasks, while Discover and the welcome window provide easy methods for acquiring more programs.
Apart from one crash during a shutdown, the distribution ran smoothly and worked well with my hardware. I like that SolydXK takes care of a lot of little things like wireless firmware, codecs, and notifying us when updates become available. The distribution did lag a little at first when run in a virtual machine, but this can be quickly fixed in the settings panel, and the desktop ran quickly on physical hardware.
Most of the complaints I had when dealing with SolydXK were matters of taste, not technical problems. For instance, I like a darker theme while the distribution uses a lighter one, which an easy adjustment to make. The welcome screen handles one page of software at a time, prompting us for a password whenever we want to install a new package. This isn't convenient, but it's not a bug at all; it is a speed bump rather than a pothole.
I think SolydXK does a good job of taking plain Debian and adding a layer of friendliness to it. This distribution has similar software, similar strengths and weaknesses, as plain Debian, but with the rough parts polished, the initial setup made a little more friendly, the pieces fitting together with a little more cohesion. SolydXK seems like a good choice for Linux newcomers and people who want a friendly desktop distribution with long-term support.
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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: