Makulu Cinnamon Debian Edition: A distribution you could use for serious work

More bells and whistles than a traveling circus, this is a completely over-the-top Linux distribution.

First out of the blocks of the pre-release distributions I looked at last week is Makulu Linux Cinnamon Debian Edition.

This release is based on Debian Testing (jessie), with Cinnamon 2.2 for the desktop. There seems to have been a change in philosophy with this release, though: rather than the "toss it all in there" approach, where it is overflowing with just about every package and application possible, this release has taken the "include the most commonly added/needed packages" angle.

That makes it a lot smaller, a lot easier to understand, and perhaps a bit less fun - but a lot more useful.

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The release announcement doesn't actually have much to say other than "Here it is", but the overview on the MCDE page gives quite a bit more useful information, both about the distribution itself and what it contains, and also about why and how it came to be.

The ISO image can be downloaded from Sourceforge, Google Drive, or Mega. It's about 1.3GB. That's certainly not a lightweight but honestly it's not as much as I would expect considering the contents. The ISO can be copied directly to a USB stick using dd under Linux or Unix, or using one of the Windows raw copy tools. Of course, it could also be burned to a DVD. This release still does not include UEFI support, so if you have a UEFI system, you will either have to enable Legacy Boot, or install another bootloader (such as rEFInd) to handle booting for Makulu. So far I have only installed it on my Samsung N150 Plus netbook. I haven't tried shoehorning it onto a UEFI system yet.

The USB stick (or DVD) can then be booted - but unlike most live distributions, Makulu boots to a login screen, with the default account (makulu) selected, and you have to enter the password (makulu). 

This sounds pretty trivial, but there is a catch... it boots with NumLock on, so if you happen to be booting it on a netbook (such as my Samsung N150 Plus), which has a number pad that overlays part of the keyboard, you can end up being very confused about what you are typing until you figure out how to turn NumBlock off.

The Live desktop after login is shown above, and in the thumbnail for this post. It is a typical Makulu desktop, with colorful and fanciful wallpaper, bright and imaginative icons, and menus stuffed full of applications and accessories.  The Makulu installer is on the desktop, so you just have to double-click it and you are on your way. Almost.

In previous posts about Makulu I have criticized the installation process, so to be fair I should say up front that the installation can be a lot easier with this release. When you start the installer, the first question is about which version you want to use.

Makulu Installer
Makulu Installer Selection

 If you choose the "GUI Installer", you get a pretty standard version of the Linux Mint Debian Edition installer. It's fairly simple, asks a minimum of questions, and does the job reliably. If you choose the "GUI Installer with Terminal", you get that same installer but you also get a terminal window where you can see what is happening "behind the scenes". If you are at all curious about what a typical Linux installation involves, this can be an interesting option. If you choose the "Advanced Installer", you get lots and lots more options, lots of flexibility and configurability, with a corresponding increase in complexity and the number of questions you have to answer.

If you have a network connection during installation (either wired or wireless), the installer will try to determine your location, and it will then offer an educated guess for your language, location and keyboard. This is pretty nice in most cases, but for me being in Switzerland, but wanting to install in English, it's complicated. When I change the installation language in the first screen from Swiss German to English (United States), that overrides the next two screens, so I have to change those back to location Europe/Zürich and keyboard Swiss German. Hmmm.

The disk partitioning step includes a nice new feature. When you click to select a partition, it pops up a list that lets you select if you want to use that partition for "/" (root) or "/home".  That's a nice simplification/speedup for most people.

So to summarize this process, using the simple "GUI Installer", you have to go through the following screens:

  • Language
  • Location
  • Keyboard
  • User Account
  • Disk Partitioning
  • GRUB installation
  • Summary/Start Installation

That is a very nice improvement from previous Makulu releases. Well done.

The installation process takes somewhat longer than most, so you might want to plan to have a cup of coffee (or lunch/dinner/nap) while it runs. On the N150+ installation took a bit less than an hour.

When you boot the installed system and login, it will automatically run the Driver Manager to confirm that you have the latest/correct drivers for graphic/display, wired and wireless network interfaces. After that is done, you should run through updates with Synaptic - or Update Manager if you prefer, because in the best Makulu tradition, both are installed and working.

Once you get through the updates, you will have the following running:

MCDE
Makulu Cinnamon Debian Edition
  • Linux Kernel 3.16.5
  • X.Org Server 1.16.1
  • Cinnamon 2.2.16
  • Google Chrome 38.0
  • KingSoft Office 9.1
  • Steam
  • WINE

Of course, it has the standard Cinnamon menu, available at the left end of the Panel:

MCDE Cinnamon Menu
The Cinnamon Menu

But in addition to that, it has the Cinnamon Slingshot applet configured at the right end of the panel:

MCDE Cinnamon Slingshot
The Cinnamon Slingshot Menu

Of course, having the Cinnamon Slingshot menu removes the need for the "slingshot" or "slingscold" packages which had been included in previous Makulu releases.

That's enough for now. There are lots more details that I could spend time on, but I think this gives a decent first impression. I find this release interesting - it is significantly different from previous Makulu Linux releases, because of the change of focus away from the "what the heck, toss everything in" approach.That moves it out of the "gee whizz fun" category, and much more into the "Linux Mint Debian / SolydXK / Tangulu" category. This is a distribution you could install and use for some serious work. The critical question now is going to be, how is the stability, support, and upgrade going to be?

Time will tell.

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