Hands-on with Makulu Linux 6.1 Xfce: Big, beautiful and fun

Hands-on with Makulu Linux 6.1 Xfce: Big, beautiful and fun

Summary: A new release from this "over-the-top" Linux distribution always means there is a lot of fun in store. It just keeps getting better.


This has been a rocky couple of weeks for the Makulu Linux distribution, but with the release this week of Makulu 6.1 Xfce, things are looking good again. 

With the initial 6.0 Xfce release they switched to the LMDE installer, and that seemed to lead to a plethora of problems. The lead developer, Jacque Raymer, spent what must surely have been a week in Hell fixing the problems, improving the integration of the Mint Installer with the Makulu distributions, and rewriting the post-installation setup scripts. The result of that massive effort is the Makulu Linux Xfce 6.1 release.

The release announcement mentions some of the problems and explains some of the work that went into solving them. The release notes, which are actually the original 6.0 notes with some additional 6.1 information on the end, give a much more complete overview of the 6.x Xfce releases.

The first time that I wrote about Makulu Linux 5 Xfce I said that it was probably "the most fun you can have with Linux".  I still think that is true. This distribution really includes an insane amount of stuff — in fact, the new release notes contain a statement that I think really summarises it:

"I am sure Many are wondering why? Why add both Compiz and Kwin when one works perfectly on its own? Why add Kwin when it uses more resources? The answer is quite simple, Why not?"

Why not indeed! Just Do It! If you want a conservative Linux distribution with a carefully selected set of applications and utilities included, there are plenty of others to choose from — openSuSE and Linux Mint for example. If you want to be on the absolute leading edge of Linux development, Fedora and Debian (testing or unstable) are good choices.

But if you just want to see Linux in all its glory, with pretty much anything and everything of interest included even if it means having multiple different versions of many utilities, applications, animations, menus, launchers and even icons, then Makulu Linux is right up your alley.

As I have said in my previous posts about Makulu, novice Linux users should be careful in choosing it, because the sheer size and diversity of it can make your head spin. But the positive side of it is that it is graphically beautiful, and I can't think of another Linux distribution where I keep saying so many times "Wow, look at that!". The developers and testers are good, dedicated people and they are anxious to help anyone with a problem in the Makulu Forums.

The ISO images for this release are listed at the bottom of the Makulu Xfce page (not on a separate downloads page as is often the case). The image is large (about 1.6GB), and the download speed is not terribly fast, so be prepared for it to take some time. It is a hybrid ISO image, so it can be copied directly to a USB stick with the Linux dd utility, or it can be burned to a DVD.

This release still does not include UEFI support, so I have limited my testing to my Legacy Boot systems only. So far I have installed it on my Samsung N150 Plus netbook and my Lenovo Thinkpad T400 notebook.  I will certainly be installing it on the two old Fujitsu laptops (S6510 and S2110) next.

Makulu Live
Makulu Linux 6.1 Xfce Live

As I mentioned above, Makulu has switched to the Linux Mint (Debian Edition) installer with this release, and it is a very nice change. The installer asks a very few questions and then gets down to work. I found it a bit strange that it specifically notified me that I did not have an internet connection when I started the installer, and said that I really should have one so that it could automatically configure localisation and timezone information — and then when I tried it with both wired and wireless connection, it didn't figure out the country, keyboard or locale. Not a big deal, I generally don't expect to have that done for me during installation, but it seemed odd.

Apparently because of the way the Mint Installer works, or at least the way Makulu has it set up, it takes a very long time to run. I mean, really very long, on the order of an hour or so compared to the typical 10-15 minutes in previous Makulu releases. So be prepared to wait a bit — combined with the rather longer download time for the large ISO image, this can mean that the entire download, copy/burn and installation process can take a couple of hours.

Makulu Setup
The Makulu Setup selection window

When you login to the installed system the first time, it will start the post-installation setup scripts. This is the area where Jacque Raymer seems to have done the most work on this release, and the results are very good. Instead of having to go through the entire (seemingly never-ending) list of questions about setup and configuration of all the bits and pieces, there is a check-list of configuration steps presented first, and only the most important steps are selected by default. If you don't know or don't care about animation, docks, localization and such, you don't have to bother with them and the defaults set by the Mint Installer are likely to be correct, or at least good enough.

It is also worth noting that pretty much every one of the configuration options listed in this initial setup procedure is also available in the Makulu System menus of the Xfce desktop menu. So if you skip one and need to set it later, or change your mind, or just want to experiment with alternatives, you can always go there and change them. In fact, the complete post-installation setup script is included in that menu, so you can always go back and run the whole thing again if you want.

Oh, one other small tip about the setup script. When it runs automatically on first boot, you have not yet changed the default root password (it does not automatically get set to whatever you gave for the user password, as is done in many other distributions). So at that point it will still be Makulu — but during that setup process, one of the things you will do (well, should do) is change the root password. So if you then run it again later, you'll have to give the correct password, not the original default one. Sort of a "duh" kind of thing, but it's not always as obvious as it seems.

Whew. Finally, installed and initial configuration complete. It took a long time to get here, but it was worth it — and it is nowhere near as tedious and sometimes irritating as it was with previous Makulu releases. So what have we finally ended up with?

Whisker Menu
Makulu Xfce Whisker Menu

Well, it's an Xfce desktop with the Whisker menu, and that's already a very good start.  But if you prefer a Mac-style menu/launcher, it also has the Slingscold menu at the bottom right corner of the screen.

Slingscold Menu
Makulu Xfce Slingscold Menu

If you're still not satisfied with the menus, you can also activate the 3D Docky bar across the top of the screen! Zowie!

Makulu Linux Xfce Docky


The desktop itself also includes Conky, to integrate a date/time display, system monitors and a quote or proverb in the desktop wallpaper. The wallpaper itself can be periodically changed, and alternate desktop themes are available, all through the Makulu System menus.

By the way, all of these screenshots were taken on the N150 Plus netbook, which has an Intel Atom CPU and integrated graphic controller, and it is having no trouble at all with the menus, window effects, animations or icons in the Makulu desktop.

Okay, enough about the desktop already. How about a quick overview of what's inside the distribution as well?  For the basics, it includes Linux Kernel 3.14.4, X.org X Server 1.15.1, Xfce 4.10, Compiz 0.8.4 and Kwin 4.11.9. Yes, you read that right, it includes both Compiz and Kwin, and there is a utility to let you select between them — or to simply use the Xfce window manager, and run a simple desktop with no animation or effects. For desktop menus, in addition to the Xfce Whisker menu it has the Slingscold Launcher 1.0.1 and Docky 2.2.0

For web browsing it includes Chromium 35.0 in the base distribution, and of course Iceweasel (Firefox), Opera and Midori can be installed with only a few mouse clicks. It also has Thunderbird 24.4 for mail/news, Popcorn Time for online movies (via Torrent), and of course Steam for online gaming.

For Office applications it includes the Kingsoft Office Suite, Orage desktop calendar, Adobe Reader 9 and the FBReader for e-Books. If you need/want/prefer LibreOffice, it is easy available in the package manager.

The Graphics menu includes ImageMagick to display, edit and convert various graphic files, Pinta for a paint-style graphic creation and editing, and the ristretto image viewer. It has always struck me as a bit funny that a distribution as large as Makulu, with pretty much everything else thrown in, doesn't include GIMP, but again it is in the package manager lists and can be easily installed.

For multimedia programs Makulu includes the VLC media player and Audacious music player, and the Minitube program for watching YouTube videos.

For games, well I already mentioned Steam, and there are a few others in the menus.

Finally, if you need Windows compatibility, look in the Other menu and you will find Wine if you don't need or want Windows-related things on your system (perhaps some kind of religious objection), there is also a Wine Uninstaller in that menu.

Wow, that's a lot. Really a lot — and I didn't even list everything. There are a lot more tools, utilities, themes.

How do I summarise something this big? It's beautiful, it's wonderful, it works amazingly well considering the amount of stuff that has been integrated into it. It's fun, and it's educational. If you want to learn about Linux, and see a lot of what it has to offer in one place, this distribution is for you. 

But I honestly think the best summary of this distribution is the statement I made earlier - it's amazing how often I have said "Wow — look at that!".

Read more on Linux

Topics: Enterprise Software, 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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  • XP is still King

    Yawn. And they said XP was ancient. Compared to this XP is modern. And can it run Photoshop. Thought not. I'm sticking with XP because it gets the job done right.
    • XP Is King Of What?

      King of BSOD. Come back when you have a stable kernel.
      • Ran XP for years

        On up to eight different boxes at once. Over all that time, I might have seen three BSODs, all related to bad drivers. I also made it a regular practice to cold-boot at least every two or three months. Not sure why it was problematic for you. Trying to run it on a Sega Genesis? LOL
        Iman Oldgeek
        • Seriously?

          Eight boxes and only three BSODs over all that time? Exactly how much time are we talking about anyway and how did you manage to but XP though the paces on eight boxes at once?

          Besides BSODs are not the only, nor the main nor the most severe problems XP users face. An occasional BSOD and forced reboot is nothing compared to the chronically sluggish performance an XP box suffers from just a few months of heavy and regular usage and updates... not to mention malware that inevitably crops up for most users who don't know enough about safe computing practices and occasionally even for those who do.
    • What?

      XP has horrible compatibility with new software. Its a bloated piece of garbage, that even on modern hardware starts to run slow with its bloated registry issues. It slows down over time, and its no longer supported. It has no desktop effects, no modern graphics API's, no nothing. It wasn't a good OS when it came out, and today its even worse.
      • Windows 7

        has way cooler screen savers than XP. But seriously, your comment is irrelevant and clearly shows your lack of intelligence.
      • So XP is junk because...

        It hasn't got enough bling? I ran it for years on P3-600s with 512MB RAM and 64MB video cards. Seemed to run fine. If there was a slowdown, I never noticed it between my three-year reinstall pattern.
        Iman Oldgeek
    • Newsflash!!! MS Troll makes first comment on linux article!

      Please don't feed the trolls...
    • You can run Photoshop...

      ... in Wne on Linux.

      I ran it for ages on a Macbuntu (Ubuntu+OSX makeover) 10.04 system.
      Lord Minty
  • At least a couple hours to install an OS? In 2014?

    • Fresh install of Win dows 7 without downloading it

      Takes at least that. 20-30 minutes for intial install. Reboot. 5 minutes setting up for first boot. First round of updates, 15-45 minutes depending on server traffic at the time. Reboot. Updating while shutting down, updating while booting up. Second round of updates, 15-45 minutes (see above). Rinse and repeat.

      I've found that Linux does 99% of its updates all at once with no rebooting needed. Subtract the download time and unnecessary (imo) multiple updates, and Linux is probably considerably quicker to FINISH installing (fully updated) than is Windows 7.
      Iman Oldgeek
    • No not really.

      That's a couple of hours to download, write to installation media and then install. He also sort of mentioned that it comes with everything but the kitchen sink in terms of software when its thru whereas windows requires driver and software installation and updates which can easily take more than a couple of hours to complete and a lot more hands on on the part of the user to complete the job.

      It is curious tho why it takes considerably longer for the install than previous versions and similar distros...

      A couple of tips tho, J.A.:

      Use axel or aria2 for the download under linux and you can cut the ISO download time to under 15 minutes on a good high speed cable connection. I decided to check the distro out and just finished the download in 14:56.

      Also I've found that Linux Mint install times are greatly affected by several factors: The USB interface and Flash Drive can greatly impact read speeds, processor type and speed affects decompression times, and I always try to turn off the Internet interface in spite of the recommendation to be connected for the installation because I have found it significantly affects install time.

      Too late for me to play with an install tonight but I'll post an update later when I see what my install time comes too.

      BTW... under some conditions, I've done Linux Mint installs in as little as 7 minutes. That includes power on, boot to live CD, answer all installer questions, click to reboot and boot to the installed desktop in about 9 minutes.
      • Installation update...

        After running Makulu from the USB for a couple of days I was impressed enough to commit to an install.

        For anyone who wants to offer criticism for the time to install, its time to back off the offensive and go on the defensive. I started the installer, turned off networking and completed the install in only 11 minutes. This was from a fairly slow (11MB/s maximum read) USB thumb drive on a five year old Dell Optiplex.

        It took me at least that long to setup a client's preinstalled Windows OS on an OEM PC last week. A barebones windows installation would take much longer and then require drivers and all sorts of software to be installed after the OS had been installed and updated. I was already online, typing this update on a fully configured system while it updated in the background before windows could have finished its install. So I say to croberts: "At least a couple hours to install an OS and then you still have to find and download drivers and install basic productivity software? In 2014? Really?"

        That said. I have a few quibbles. I was disappointed that the installer required you to reformat your partitions before continuing with the installation process and didn't support installing to BTRFS subvolumes. I know not too many users will even know what I'm talking about and would never have this quibble but then they also won't have the ability to create system snapshots in less than a second. No matter, I can move the installation to another partition and manually reconfigure grub and fstab later.

        The first time desktop setup program was a nice touch for people new to Linux but when it finished with the updates the only option to exit was to reboot now. I'm sure that the setup program did not track what the actual updates were so it only gave the one option even though there may not have been a need to reboot at all. I'm sure it isn't an issue for those coming from a Windows background but that makes me not want to use the tool at all. The fact that updates seldom require a reboot is one of the advantages of Linux over Windows tho it does require the user to understand which updates reasonably require a reboot or at least logging out and back in before they can use the updated features and programs. A simple message stating that some of the changes may require a reboot to go into affect and a reboot now or later option would allow both new and experienced users to get the most out of Linux.

        I looked at Kingsoft Office, the default office suite for this distro, and can't say I see an immediate advantage to using it. I'm curious as to why this was chosen over the more common LibreOffice/OpenOffice so I'll check it out a little further but I'll probably stick with Libre in the long run... Libre has been pretty good at fulfilling my needs thus far.

        I'm going to go play with my new OS some more and start customizing Compiz the way I had been accustomed.

        Thanks J.A. Watson for bringing this fine distribution to our attention!
  • Makulu is on my short list

    I tried to install Makulu, and then SolentOS, on my older laptop the other day. For some reason neither one booted properly - which I'm certain is my own fault in how I put them on the USB stick. I definitely will try again this weekend - my interest in Makulu was piqued by you back in March. I used Unetbootin (Linux version), so this time I will use the "dd" terminal command and see if it is successful.

    I don't think it's fair to throw in the time needed to create a bootable USB stick as part of the installation time - you can easily do the two separately. I'd note the extra long time to prepare the stick, but then strictly consider installation to start when I click on whatever icon starts that process.
    Thomas Gellhaus
  • What's the root password?

    Downloaded the Xfce ISO and burned to DVD. Booted from DVD and tried to install to hard drive. Logged in as makulu, password makulu as detailed on website. Used same as root password as shown on website and get error message this is not the correct password.
    • What's the root password?

      Disregard previous. Found problem was keyboard number pad was defaulting to active causing incorrect typing. Could not see this as the password is obviously shown as *****. :(
      • Sorry, I meant to mention this

        Good to see that you figured this one out. I'm really sorry, I had meant to mention it in the original post. On a netbook/notebook which has the number pad integrated in the keyboard, this can be extremely confusing, and your case illustrates it perfectly. If you don't have a "NumLock" led, or if you aren't paying attention and don't notice it, and if you follow the normal download/boot/install sequence, the first place you will run into the keyboard producing numbers rather than letters is when you try to type the root password, and that's just the place where you don't get to see it happening.

        Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • You know, if it were trivial to install software in Linux

    like all the Linux advocates insist, you wouldn't need to make the prime selling point of your distro all the free software it comes bundled with.
    • its quite easy

      With most things. Mint has a software center, and so does ubuntu. you basically type what you want and hit install and its done. Idk how much easier it could get.
    • comes down to user preferences/choice

      baggins+z: Different distros have different "prime selling points", obviously. Some focus on giving you everything during installation, some just give you one selected app per task, some strike a balance.
      I don't know what country you live in, but not everyone has (practically) unlimited internet connection - it makes more sense for them to get a "fully loaded" style distribution (say, from a friend with better ISP service) and worry less about adding more programs later.

      In other words, most distros DO have "trivial to install" software. The issue is more one of how expensive it is for you to add more later vs. having a bunch in the beginning that you think you may possibly need.
      Thomas Gellhaus