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I'm going to start by getting right to the point with two very simple, and very clear, statements.
One: this is not a distribution for beginners; such users would be very likely to be traumatised by exposure to Makulu. Two: I love this distribution.
Makulu is so much fun I'm going to have a hard time conveying the feeling. I'm pretty sure there are places where it's illegal to have this much fun.
Next, I want to explain the format of this post because it's going to be different than anything I've done before. While it is a gallery post, with a series of screenshots and text, the meat of the post will be in first few pages. So if you don't like galleries, you will get all of the important information up front. All of the following screenshots and descriptions just fill in some details as described below.
Okay, now on to the good stuff...
I noticed the release announcement for Makulu Linux 5 on distrowatch a while back, and something about it piqued my curiosity. Now I have had a chance to load it (on the same Lifebook S6510 that I just loaded Zorin OS on) and try it out for a few days, and I have to say that I just love it. It's good. It's fast. It's stable. It's loaded with lots of goodies. It's fun!
Makulu Linux is derived primarily from Debian Testing (Jessie), but with a fair number of packages from Debian Unstable (Sid) included, and a very substantial amount of hard work to put it all together.
The release notes for MakuluLinux 5 Xfce give a good overview of the release. The ISO image is on their download page, and can be burned to a DVD or copied to a USB stick using unetbootin. There is only a 32-bit (PAE) version, and at the moment for the Makulu 5 release there is only an Xfce desktop version.
But with previous releases there were also KDE and Enlightenment versions, so I assume they will come along for this new release as well, and I just read a note on the web page that said they are also working on a MATE version.
The first hint at what Makulu Linux is going to be like comes when you boot the Live image. It doesn't boot directly to the desktop — you have to login — and there is a very colourful and cute wallpaper on the login screen (it is the thumbnail for this post).
Once you get logged in, the wallpaper is gorgeous too. Colourful, comfortable, relaxing — but still very functional, with a desktop icon for the Live Installer, and a bottom panel with a good selection of menus, controls, icons, launcher, and once again, lovely graphics (this is the desktop shown on this page).
A bit of poking around reveals that it is indeed Xfce, with the Whisker menu on the left end of the panel and the Slingscold Launcher at the right end. Browsing through either the Whisker menus or the Launcher gives a further hint of what Makulu Linux is about. There is an insane amount of stuff here, probably more than I have ever seen in the Live image of a Linux distribution.
Then I ran the Makulu Live Installer. Oh My God. I have been using Linux for a very long time, and I used Unix for a much longer time before that.
I don't think I have ever seen a more intimidating program that this — and I mean intimidating to me! I have this mental image of some "less experienced" Linux user, perhaps someone who has previously installed Ubuntu, or Mint, or maybe openSuSE, so they think they are Linux "experts" now... and they are slowly reduced to a quivering, blubbering pile of flesh by this installer.
It's sort of like taking the Debian installer (which I was mildly complaining about recently, and I now take all of that back), and updating it to a real graphical interface, but at the same time adding every possible question you can think of, with every possible variation.
I mean, this thing was asking questions that even I had to stop and think about to be sure what it was asking, why it was asking that and what it was going to do with the answer. Oh, and each question gets its own (new) window, which disappears after you answer that question and another new window pops up for the next question. That in itself gives a feeling of a lack of continuity.
The last 18 screenshots in this gallery document my walk though the Makulu installer and my thoughts and comments on them, so if you are interested, or you think that I might be exaggerating just flip through those before you make up your mind.
But then the installation was complete, and I started using it. And I smiled. And the more I used it, the more I smiled. It got to the point where my partner even noticed, and she said: "Whatever that is, it must be really good because I haven't seen you having this much fun in a long time."
So here's the summary. Makulu Linux is the distribution a lot of us think we would like to create, if we had the time, energy and especially the talent to do it. I don't know anyone in the development team, so this is all speculation on my part, but I would say that it is a group of people who just don't know when to stop — and I mean that as a compliment, and a very good thing.
They're not satisfied with "enough", they want more! They aren't dissuaded by "accepted limits" or bounded by other's expectations. They do things because they can, because it's cool and it's fun and the response to "Why do that" is "Why not?".
Here's some examples:
- I mentioned above, at the left end of the Xfce bottom panel is the Whisker menu. At the right end is a very nice Launcher. Why have both, when either one of them is considered sufficient by pretty much any other distribution? Well, why not?
- Compiz is included, with all sorts of visual effects enabled. Wobbly windows. Window open/close effects, transparent/translucent windows, whatever. Why not?
- Outrageously colourful and graphically beautiful wallpapers, icons and such
- Xfce 4.10 (comes with Debian Jessie)
- Slingscold Launcher
- Compiz and Emerald Theme Manager
- Variety wallpaper changer
- jockey device/driver manager
- mintUpdate, mintBackup, mintInstall
- Chromium AND Iceweasel web browsers
- Thunderbird mail/news client
- Kingsoft Office AND LibreOffice (after updating)
- MyPaint, Pinta and ImageMagick graphic utilities
- Audacious music player
- VLC, Minitube and Flash video players
- Pitivi and HandBrake video editor and converter
- WINE (Windows)
- STEAM (gaming)
- Way more than I can think of to write here...
The overall effect of this abundance is that I find myself saying "wow, look at this" again and again.
The Xfce distribution image includes Linux kernel 3.12.9, but installing the latest upgrades brings that up to 3.13.5. That's a very good, very current kernel. Speaking of updates, I got them via the Synaptic Package Manager, my preferred tool, but Makulu also includes mintUpdate (and various other of the excellent mint utilities), so I suppose that I could have gotten the updates that way.
After the updates were installed, there were four new icons on the desktop. I mention them here because I think they are indicative of what I consider to be the single biggest strength of Makulu — the passion and dedication of the developer and the team behind him:
- Introduction.mp4 — video overview and features
- Important Please Read.wps —description of known bugs and fixes in this release
- Makulu News.pdf — News and info about the next release development
- Makulu Linux Survey — To give user input for the development of the next release
Oh, and while I'm on the subject of updates, here's a weird one. The base installation had only the Kingsoft Office Suite in the Office category. But after I installed all of the outstanding updates, it had also picked up LibreOffice (4.1.5). I didn't ask for it, and I certainly didn't go through Synaptic or the Software Centre to get it, so I guess it was picked up as a dependency of something else that was updated. Maybe the developers just got so much pressure about not including LibreOffice that they decided to add it, I don't know.
I was so impressed with Makulu Linux on my old Lifebook S6510 (Intel Core2 Duo) that I went up and installed it on the Lenovo T400 on my desk.
I can't say that the installer was any less intimidating, irritating or tedious the second time around, but I got through it, and it works perfectly on that system as well. It didn't configure the dual displays automatically, but I was able to do that either using the Display GUI utility or the xrandr CLI utility.
I worked with Makulu on the T400 for a while, first checking the hardware support (I didn't find anything that wasn't working) and then trying a bit more of the software that is included in the Makulu base distribution. Everything looked good.
Finally, I decided to give it a shot on my Samsung N150 Plus netbook. Surely a little, old, underpowered (Intel Atom N450) netbook like this couldn't run a massive, complex distribution like this, could it? Yes, it could. Installation was the same (painful) but of course a lot slower, and when it was finished, everything worked. Didn't just work, but was nice, pleasant to use, reasonably fast response times, overall quite normal and quite acceptable.
I'm going to present a couple more screen shots in the next few pages, but I will include the summary here. Makulu Linux is an amazing distribution. Its weakest point is the installer, because it is such a complicated, tedious pain in the rear. But you only have to deal with that once, and then it's out of the way.
Beyond that it is probably the most complete (and most complicated) distribution I have ever seen. I think that is its biggest advantage, and its biggest problem. If you are interested in Linux, and you want a distribution with everything included so you don't have to add a bunch of packages yourself, then Makulu Linux is an excellent choice.
I am certainly going to keep it on the three systems I have already loaded, and if it had UEFI support I would almost certainly put it on the others as well.
But having that much stuff in it makes it big (it uses 6.8G of disk space after the latest updates have been installed, and I swear I haven't added a single package to it myself), and complicated. There are interactions and dependencies that I don't understand, and bits and pieces all around which I don't know where they came from. I fear that a Linux novice might disappear into this thing and never be heard from again.
One of the things I frequently do is set up Linux systems (or multi-boot systems) for family, friends and neighbours to use. I don't think I would use Makulu Linux for such a system, because there are just far too many places where things could go wrong, and I wouldn't want the support burden.
But as I said at the beginning, for my own purposes, for exploring and learning and seeing things that I haven't had the time to install myself, or often that I didn't even know existed, I absolutely LOVE this distribution. I think it is wonderful, and the people who produce it are heroes in my eyes.