Venom Linux 20210312Venom Linux is an independently-developed, minimal, rolling-release distribution inspired by CRUX. It targets experienced Linux users. Venom uses SysV init as the main init system and BSD-like ports as software packages which are managed by a custom package manager. The distribution's package manager is called scratch.
Venom is built for 64-bit (x86_64) machines exclusively. The project is available in one edition which can be downloaded as a 1.3GB ISO. Booting from the supplied media boots directly into the Openbox window manager. A panel sits at the bottom of the screen and offers us access to a few quick-launch icons, a virtual desktop widget, and a clock. We can right-click on empty space on the desktop to open the application menu.
Venom Linux 20210312 -- The Openbox application menu (full image size: 939kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
The live desktop provides a very minimal environment. There are no status widgets, welcome screen, or desktop icons. After exploring the live session for a while and confirming the system runs smoothly we can install Venom by running its installer, venom-installer, from the command line or from the application menu.
Venom's installer uses a series of text-based menus. We can perform the steps of the installer in the order of our choosing. The installer somewhat resembles the ones used by Void and Slackware Linux. We are first asked to select our keyboard's layout from a list of short, cryptic names. We are then given the chance to use either of the console-based cfdisk or fdisk partitioning tools to set up the disk. Once partitions have been created we are given the chance to pick a filesystem for the root partition. Options include Btrfs, ext2/3/4, Reiserfs, and XFS. I decided to use ext4 for this trial.
The following screens asks us if we would like to enable a swap partition, and to create a root password. We can also make up a username and password for our regular user account. The final step allows us to choose where the GRUB boot loader will be installed. The Venom installer then copies its packages to the hard drive and configures the local copy of the operating system. When it finishes we are advised to restart the computer.
My fresh copy of Venom Linux booted to a graphical login page. The sign in box looks to be truncated around the sides, despite there being a lot of empty space around it on the screen, and the greeting welcomes us with "Hellc LogiI".
Once signed into the Openbox session we are returned to the same empty, responsive session experienced on the live media. As there are no notifications or welcome messages we can dive straight into exploring the system and tackling tasks.
I started out by trying Venom in a VirtualBox environment. Venom boots quickly and ran smoothly in the virtual machine. Openbox was pleasantly responsive. The only issue I had while trying Venom in VirtualBox was the Openbox window manager would not dynamically resize to match the VirtualBox window's resolution. This, combined with an apparent lack of configuration tools for handling screen resolution, left me with a very low-resolution graphical environment while I was using the virtual machine.
Venom Linux 20210312 -- Browsing alternative window manager themes (full image size: 738kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
When I switched over to running Venom on my laptop my screen resolution was properly detected. Openbox was highly responsive on physical hardware. Audio worked out of the box as did wireless networking.
Venom is an unusually lightweight distribution. Signing into the Openbox environment takes just 87MB of memory and a fresh install consumes just 4GB of disk space. However, Venom was strangely aggressive with my CPU. The distribution rarely dropped below 8% to 10% CPU usage on my laptop with nothing but a idle terminal open. Most distributions I test idle at about 1% or less when logged into a desktop session. The extra CPU was being consumed by the X.Org server and picom, suggesting a bug with the compositor. This meant Venom consumed almost no memory while causing my laptop to run hotter than normal.
Venom Linux 20210312 -- Monitoring CPU usage (full image size: 777kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
The distribution ships with a small collection of applications. The Firefox web browser is included along with the Geany IDE. The Leafpad text editor and PCManFM file manager are installed for us. The GParted partition manager is included along with a few tools for adjusting the look of Openbox.
There are two compilers, Clang and the GNU Compiler Collection, installed for us. These and some related developer tools assist in building software and packages. I'll talk more about acquiring packages later. Manual pages are included by default.
Venom ships with xterm as the default virtual terminal. The xterm colours are set to display dark blue and white on a charcoal background. I found this difficult to read and the terminal doesn't enable scrollbars by default, making it an unusually limited terminal. I ended up installing LXTerminal which uses a higher contrast white-on-black font and includes all the standard terminal features.
When I started out using Venom on my laptop I wasn't sure if I would be able to get on-line as there are no network connection utilities in the application menu and no network connection widget on the panel. I found the distribution ships with the Network Manager text-based wizard (nmtui) for connecting to wireless networks. The Venom Linux download page says, at the time of writing, that the distribution runs the runit init software. This information turned out to be incorrect as Venom runs the SysV init software. In the background I found version 5.4 of the Linux kernel.
To perform administrator actions we can either login as the root user or use sudo which automatically enables admin tasks for the regular user we create at install time.
Venom Linux 20210312 -- The PCManFM file manager (full image size: 442kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
Venom does not ship with any office suit, image viewer, or image editor. There is no screenshot utility, no printer support, and no multimedia support. I could view YouTube videos in Firefox, but the web browser and terminal supplied virtually all of the distribution's out of the box functionality. On a related note, audio worked on Venom, though there is no volume control on the desktop. We are limited to in-application volume management or installing a mixer.
Something I found odd was right-clicking on the desktop panel would cause it to disappear. I'm not sure if this is by design or right-clicking on the panel caused it to crash. Either way it was frustrating to accidentally click the panel instead of in a window or an empty piece of desktop and have my task switcher disappear.
Package management on Venom is handled by a command line tool the project's website refers to as scratchpkg, though the command line program is invoked as scratch. We can run scratch to find packages in the repositories, download new applications, see information on installed items, build packages from source code, and remove old items. The command line syntax is fairly straight forward. To provide a few examples, running "scratch search" finds a package, "scratch install" downloads new software, "scratch remove" deletes an existing package, and "scratch installed" lists items already on our system. Perhaps most importantly, the "scratch help" command lists all available command line options.
Venom Linux 20210312 -- Getting a list of installed software from scratch (full image size: 733kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
It appears as though all packages (or at least all the ones I downloaded) are built from source code. Each time I downloaded a new package it would result in scratch configuring and compiling new software for my system. This was fine for smaller tools, but larger programs with multiple dependencies can take several minutes to an hour to build. This made setting up Venom with useful software a unpleasantly long process.
Unfortunately, a lot of software I would normally install was not available. The distribution's repositories are still quite small and are lacking a lot of common tools, across a variety of categories. For instance, I could find no office suite, no games (though Steam is available), no nmap scanner, no Falkon web browser, no SoX sound sample translator. I did find some media tools and applications, such as VLC and FFmpeg, though the latter failed to build.
I believe the Venom Linux project is still relatively young and, I suspect, the work of one developer. With this in mind it is perhaps unfair to judge the project harshly as it seems to still be finding its feet. Some aspects of the design appeal to me. I have a growing fondness for relatively lightweight distributions and ones which keep the under-the-hood components simple. However, I think Venom takes this to an uncomfortable extreme.
The project currently has very little documentation, relatively few packages available, few utilities most people would need to get set up, such as a graphical network connection manager, an office suite and a full featured terminal. The distribution is surprisingly light in memory which is great, but it was unusually hard on my CPU.
The package manager mostly worked well, apart from failing to compile one package, but the fact it needs to build packages from source code is deal breaker for me. It would be faster for me to go into town, buy another computer, and install another distribution featuring LibreOffice on it than wait for Venom to compile the suite from source.
All of this is to say that while most of what Venom provides works, it provides very little. Some people, myself included, can appreciate a minimal starting foundation, but I do like to have some more basics like volume control and printer support easily available.
Venom is, as the project's website says, targeting people who are advanced Linux users, folks who want to use the command line, people who want to build from the ground up. In this way it's not dissimilar to CRUX or Arch Linux. However, it offers fewer tools, documentation, and packages than the latter, making it a more niche distribution.
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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