Hands-on with Makulu Linux 5 Xfce: The most fun you can have with Linux?

Hands-on with Makulu Linux 5 Xfce: The most fun you can have with Linux?

Summary: My first look at this wonderful Debian Testing/Unstable (Jessie/Sid) derivative reminds me of how much fun there can be in Linux.


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  • Makulu Xfce

    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.

  • Whisker Menu

    This screen shot shows the Xfce Whisker Menu. Note the very coloful and expressive icons on the menu, desktop and panel. The clock/calendar and Quotes on the desktop are managed by the Variety wallpaper changer.

Topics: Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems

J.A. Watson

About J.A. Watson

I started working with what we called "analog computers" in aircraft maintenance with the United States Air Force in 1970. After finishing military service and returning to university, I was introduced to microprocessors and machine language programming on Intel 4040 processors. After that I also worked on, operated and programmed Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8, PDP-11 (/45 and /70) and VAX minicomputers. I was involved with the first wave of Unix-based microcomputers, in the early '80s. I have been working in software development, operation, installation and support since then.

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  • This one I'm going to have to try

    I'm a Slackware user, so I'm not intimidated by black screens, and this installer looks like it's about as friendly as the old Red Hat one, which I never had any trouble with. And I'm quite comfortable with XFCE at this point (I did recognize your first shot as XFCE, though it looks like this variant includes a tribute to the Windows 7 start button, which I'm OK with). And the advantage of a Debian derivative is access to just about every currently maintained free software package, which is convenient.

    Any idea how well Makulu runs on old hardware?
    John L. Ries
    • What do you consider to be old hardware?

      P.S. I would also be interested to know what J.A. Watson thinks is old hardware too. :)
      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • Good Question

        Hmmm. Other than "me", I assume you mean? Well, my HP 2133 MiniNote, and the Fujitsu Lifebook S2110 both qualify as old... But this is an interesting question. I will mull it over for a bit and get back to you with an answer.

        Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • Old hardware

        How about a desktop system purchased in 2005 with a 32 bit Athlon processor and 2 GB of RAM?
        John L. Ries
        • Specs for myy 2005-vintage desktop system which shipped with Windows XP SP2

          o 64-bit Intel Pentium 4 CPU (specially-made, budget edition)
          o 1 GB RAM originally (added 1 GB after purchase to increase it to 2 GB)
          o 128 MB integrated Intel graphics (purchased an NVidia 256 MB graphics card, but it 'hates' Linux)
          o 40 GB hard drive

          Used to have a 2nd-hand IBM ThinkPad T23 laptop which ran like a champ (passed it on to a family member with Ubuntu pre-loaded):
          o Intel Mobile Pentium III CPU 1.2GHz
          o 512 MB RAM
          o 8 MB S3savage 4 graphics card
          o 15 or 20 GB hard drive (can't remember which)

          As far as I know, the laptop is still 'kicking'. My 2004-vintage Compaq laptop died a year or two ago).
          Rabid Howler Monkey
          • Curiously enough...

            ...my wife's old Athlon has *never* had Windows installed on it. It was preloaded with Linspire, which lasted about a month before it became irreparably broken and I replaced it with Fedora. It's currently running Slackware.
            John L. Ries
          • So i just spent the weekend testing this distro...

            And older hardware seems pretty well supported. There are a lot of visual effects enabled by default and i had no problems whatsoever with my gma950 netbook or gma3000 hp client machine (as basic as i could get by pulling the cards out.

            It also ran fine on 512mb ddr2 ram, though after multiple chromium, ide and office were open i did notice increased swapping.

            This was all on metal. In a vm i was able to lower the ram available to 320mb before vm performance became questionable.

            All in all i now see what mr watson was going on about - i first read this article and thought i remembered trying this distro 18/24 months ago and not really thinkibg much of it.

            This release, and 4 for that matter are excellent. I really enjoyed tinkering, exploring the plethera of pre installed packages.

            One thing - this installer is absolutely fine and not at all conplicated to anyone who has been using linux a while. The only real bug is once you make an option, any option you can't go back! I had to restart the installer twice because i wanted to go back.

            It is no where near as complicated as is made out - i was fearful of one of those base system installers like ubuntu has where you have to choose every single package you want - you didn't have to choose any. It's not unbiquity, but its not that indepth - language, keybooard, account, boot options, only real advanced thing is fstab preferences and bootloader location, although these options are greatly appreciated!

            I loved all the endless configuration packages preinstalled and documentation added to desktop after install. I didn't have this boot to guest issue.

            Really recommend trying it out - it's staying put on my metal for the foreseeable future!
  • Compared to SolydX?

    Thank you for the article. Can you please compare it to SolydX?
    Also what do the mintUpdate, mintBackup, mintInstall utilities do in a distro which is not based on Mint? mintBackup OK but are mintUpdate and mintInstall fully compatible?
    • Depending on What For

      This would be a tough call, because I haven't been watching either Makulu or SolydX for long enough to get a feeling for how their development and stability will stand up over time. My gut feeling is that I would rate them about equal, but for different purposes. If I am setting up a system for myself, or making a recommendation to someone with a fair amount of Linux experience, I would definitely recommend Makulu - with a statement along the lines of "you've GOT to see this...". If I were setting up a system for a less experienced user, or for someone who was switching from Windows, I would definitely go with SolydXK, because the narrower scope and the more conservative approach would be less potentially intimidating.

      As for why are the mint utilities included, I can't say for sure - you speculation is pretty much as good as mine would be. When I saw that mintInstall and mintUpdate were included, I wondered if it would be possible to change/add to the LMDE repositories, but I haven't had time to investigate that yet. I did make one blind run of the initial update using mintUpdate instead of Synaptic, and although it ran successfully and installed a lot of updates, it didn't get everything. When I ran synaptic after that, it still found a lot of updates that needed to be installed - again, probably the difference in repositories that they are looking at.

      Beyond that, the best answer I can think of to "why were they included" is pretty much what I said in the post - "why not?"

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • New Installer on the Way

    I have heard from someone in the Makulu team that there is a new, improved, simplified installer on the way. It should be included with the upcoming MATE release, and with Makulu 6. I am looking forward to trying whichever of those arrives first, and I will definitely write about them again as soon as possible.

    • Truly Appreciate

      Reviews like yours are timely. And personally very interesting to me. Keep 'em coming.
      Since support for XP is near done, lots of folks, individually and corporately are needing realistic appraisals of what their alternatives are. My question used to be just where do you start with Linux.
      Full well realizing, especially after this Review, my suggested list of worthy alternatives is more than ever debatable.
      This 'everything included' is what Ultimate Edition appears even more so to be all about. Then Mint, Mageia, PC-BSD 10(UEFI) . And I've been mentioning Zorin 8.1 which works well enough for now on my Lenovo Thinkpad X200.
      These 5 mentioned and ubiquitous Ubuntu are my starter suggestions for alternatives to XP.
      I'll manage to wait till the Installer is simplified, please and thank-you to try Makulu.
      • Not an alternative to XP, PreachJohn, but its big brother

        By accident, I learned what 'Linux' meant in May 2012, when my XP machine died. Rescued it with GParted, though I didn't know what that was. Just had a CD I bought on a whim from Amazon (marketed as an Ultimate Boot Disc), booted with it, and rescued my hard drive. That began my odyssey with Linux.

        Everything XP does poorly, Linux does well. Everything Linux doesn't do so well (i.e., the knockoffs of Office are all subpar for power users), XP does well. It's a perfect marriage. So now with support on XP ending and everyone becoming unnecessarily paranoid, Linux on a stick comes to the rescue:

        * Linux can read/write/clone/backup files XP won't let you handle the way you should. Witness? My May 2012 PC problem.

        * Linux can read/write DVDs, handle dual monitors, surf with more safety, read the Outlook Express emails and operate similarly (via Thunderbird), a wide variety of programs which XP cannot handle.

        *WordPerfect can convert most MS Office files, and is available (old but good version), for Linux. So you don't have to use the knockoffs.

        * If operated from a stick, then WINE isn't necessary, though available. A big problem for us XP users, is that WINE doesn't work too well. So if a distro (like hopefully Makulu) can create a WINE package which does work well, a user can go from novice to later on, expert, transitioning to Linux.

        * If operated from a stick, that's the best protection possible, as it keeps the underlying computer free of changes, and you can store all your sensitive data on the stick, thus travel in more safety. Admittedly, you can do something of the same for Windows, but the latter's licensing requirements inevitably requires your real name and contact info be somewhere on the hard drive. Alternatively, with this stick, you can set up an OEM machine WITHOUT providing your real name, keep ALL your data on the stick (or on another stick, if XP, since it can't read flash partitions), and then hey: if someone steals your laptop, you've only lost the laptop, not your identity.

        I could go on, but you get the idea. I haven't been this excited about our computing future in a long time. Were it not for the Windows fiasco of the past 10 years continuing, I don't know this opportunity for Linux would have become so great, so fast. The only thing holding Linux back, is the apparent addiction to jargon and fake noblesse oblige mantras (oh linux is FREE -- yeah, and you get what you pay for). Someone needs to COMMERCIALIZE it, and were I young again, I'd do that. Since I'm not young, I'm trying to urge anyone in the mood, to do that.

        How to commercialize? Commercialise the packaging of the SERVICES on the HARDWARE. Since the hardware can be a stick, that saves a lot of money on fixed costs, and the margin can be made high even with a low price of say, $100 per stick. I'd gladly pay more than that, but the market seems to like anything priced around $100.

        It has to be turnkey, and there has to be some better explanation of the jargon than the 'man pages' or that not-helpful 'Linux for Dummies' book (very badly organized, wish I didn't buy it).

        Okay, I'm talking too much. Shutting up now. Sorry for making another long post.
        • Have You Taken a Look at CrossOver Linux for MS Office

          CrossOver Linux is a commercial product that is like an improved WINE. The CrossOver folks donate code upstream to the WINE project after awhile if I understand properly.

          I have no connection to the company other than a home user customer.

          If anyone is interested, the web site is:

  • Hi There, Great Review ...

    Thank you for the fair review.

    I just want to address some questions that were posed if i may ?

    1. All the mint tools included are LMDE versions ( debian based tools, not ubuntu based ), We found the debian update manager to be buggy at times and chose to rather go with the mint update manager, the same with the software manager, all Mint related software in Makulu IS debian based :)

    2. Our greatest weakness as was pointed out is the installer, I have known for some time that the installer can be tricky, I simply just have not had the time to sit down and rewrite it until now, I have spent weeks on the new installer and I have now added both a "easy" and "expert" mode, expert mode is still the same as the current installer, however the easy install mode now cuts out more than 80% of the normal install options and simply asks the user to change "hostname, username, passwords and pick a partition". 5 easy questions, the rest is automatic and all done in background for the user. So our greatest weakness should be nulified in the 6 series of releases going live in a few weeks.

    3. Up until the 5 series I have had to develop Makulu off my gut feelings and instinct into what the users want, I have spent years and years in the linux forums and so my perspective is quite accurate on that. However after the release of the 5 series I actually setup a survey to find out in more detail what the user wants, where i need to improve and so forth and the surveys have greatly allowed me to focus on certain areas of the Makulu 6 series.

    4. The 6 Series is very influenced on what the users want, and from the survey results more "control" over their desktop environment is the main focus. Ability to turn stuff on/off, ability to easily do stuff without terminal, ability to turn a full blown system into a barebone system with a single click, manage repositories without having to edit files and get lost in commands...

    So thank you very much for the review, It is much appreciated and I will try my best to keep makulu on the high standard I have set in previous versions, There is Much room for improvement and Makulu can only get better with each release :)
    • Hi and Thanks

      Hi, and thanks for coming by. Thanks very much for the additional information and explanation, that all sounds very good. I am very much looking forward to the next release, in large part because of the new installer, but not only that. Based on what I have seen so far, I am sure it will be an interesting and exciting release.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Mr. Jacque, the potential market for your distro is huge

      I wrote to Linux Freak and SirTanon, both of whom sell Linux sticks in Amazon, about MARKETING THE SERVICES of putting Linux sticks together, which frankly is a distinct and noble commercial effort which ought to generate sales and profits, much needed by everyone on the planet. That doesn't invalidate the GNU/Linux license, as services such as yours in PUTTING TOGETHER the sticks, is separate from the code itself.

      I'm a Linux novice. But even so, I learned how to use unetbootin and put Mint 13 and Fedora 17 on sticks. The hassle factor in doing so, was the jargon, not so much the terminal. We novices don't know what 'hostname' means (and I have now forgotten, did all this a year ago), or a bunch of other terms that crop up during usage or especially, installation. So that's a part of the wish list in order to make the distro widespread: people buy what they understand.

      And what they need to understand, is that Linux protects Windows. Wraps around it. If this understanding could be communicated, and if the distro can come on a stick one just buys and plugs in; if there was included somewhere in the distro a jargon demystifier, then Linux will become mainstream, especially among current or former XP users (of whom I am one).

      So if your organization might offer 128 GB sticks of this distro (already installed, with full stick persistence), for sale either from your own site or from Amazon, I bet sales will be enormous. So to keep funding, the work you so clearly love to do.

      Thank you for reading this plea!
      • RMPrep and Easy2Boot - Multi-boot USB Drives

        You should take a look at Easy2Boot and RMPrepUSB. They are free and allow multi-boot
        USB sticks. The documentation makes it seem harder than it really is. The author has it down to running one script to create the USB stick and you add the iso files in predefined directories. The programs run on Windows, so that may leave some people out of using it.




  • Thank you, Mr. Watson. What is the persistence limit, if on a stick?

    I have a 128 GB stick from Kingston. May I install it only to the stick, and run it only from the stick? While this distro sounds daunting, its underlying package idea is the wave of the future. XP people in particular, once they learn how Linux 'wraps around' XP to make good on whatever XP lacks, will learn to love it. If run from a stick, then the underlying computer remains intact, so it's okay if something goes wrong.
    • MakuluLinux

      @ J.A.Watson, My pleasure, I will send out an early version few days before public release to all reviewers, so expect a little present in your inbox in a few weeks :)

      @brainout, Yes you can install to usb flash drive, it is tricky on debian but some users have done it, best you check the makululinux forums, there are guides posted there somewhere.
      • The Makulu Installer Did Not Seem Bad to Me


        I have seen several comments about how bad the installer was, but I did not find it so. It won't win any beauty contests in the graphical category, but it allows good control over installation and many options can be left unchecked if you do not have special "needs" such as separate HOME and BOOT partitions or wish to use your own hostname etc.

        I was writing down a few suggestions before I saw this article, so I will pass them along here.

        (1). Add a quick tutorial that is hard to miss on the web site about Variety wallpaper changer. It takes control of your wallpaper and that was unexpected. Once I read more,
        it made sense and the user was back in control if they wished to be so.

        (2). Have Update Manager mark the checkbox to include updates which require the
        installation or the removal of other packages. This option allowed
        Device Driver Manager to function correctly when a new kernel was available.
        This sounds like the reason the author running Synaptic found more updates than
        Update Manager. Once I checked the option, Device Driver Manager worked and
        installed Nvidia drivers easily.

        (3). Add Show Desktop plugin to bottom left panel. It would make Windows users feel
        more at home.

        The partitioning install steps should cause users to pause and think things out. It has
        the potential to screw a system up royally and less advanced users may be at a loss on
        how to fix it. Many times I use Virtualbox to get a look at the installer in a totally safe
        environment. Maybe you could include a tutorial on setting up Virtualbox and using it to
        practice installation of Makulu.

        Thank you for all your hard work on Makulu.