SolydXK hands on: Two good Linux distributions with a solid base

SolydXK hands on: Two good Linux distributions with a solid base

Summary: Two Linux distributions (Xfce and KDE), based on Debian Testing, with LMDE extras.


I remember very well when Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE) first appeared, and I thought this might be 'the one', a distribution with the excellence of Linux Mint and without the baggage of Ubuntu. 

My hopes were high, and if you go back and read some of my posts during that time it shows in the way I wrote about it. Then there were rumours that there might be a KDE version of LMDE, and I thought that would be Nirvana for sure. 

Btrfs hands on: My first experiments with a new Linux file system

Btrfs hands on: My first experiments with a new Linux file system

Btrfs hands on: My first experiments with a new Linux file system

Alas, it seemed like the real world caught up with us: the KDE version never materialised, and the Gnome version changed from 'rolling release' to 'Update Packs', and the interval between Update Packs sometimes seemed to stretch out forever. 

I'm sure there were a lot of people who were as disappointed as I was, and SolydXK is the result of someone who actually got up and did something about it.

The SolydX (Xfce) and SolydK (KDE) distributions are based on Debian Testing, with lots of Linux Mint goodies added in. They actually started as one users personal project in the Linux Mint forums to develop a KDE desktop for LMDE. 

It didn't take long before others in the forums were helping with the project, and when it became clear that there was not going to be an "official" LMDE KDE distribution, this became a real distribution project. It was expanded to include an Xfce version as well, and it has gotten continuously better since then. 

These days I don't really think of SolydXK as being a Linux Mint derivative, I think of it more as being a parallel distribution, coming from the same roots and sharing a lot of technology, but independent in a lot of ways. One of the most important of those is updates — see below for more detailed comments on that.

As should be obvious from the above explanation, SolydXK is actually two distributions, one using the Xfce desktop and one using the KDE desktop.

I will be looking at both of them here; for purposes of loading and evaluation I made what I think are the most obvious choices — I loaded SolydK on my Lenovo T400 notebook, which I keep on my desk with a docking station, external monitor, keyboard and mouse, and I loaded SolydX on an oldest netbook, a Samsung N150 Plus, which has a much weaker CPU, less memory, and a 10-inch display.

Neither of these choices is dictated by the distribution itself, of course, and I'm sure the reverse would work just fine in both cases (KDE on the netbook and Xfce on the notebook), but I think this more or less matches the most common use cases.

One other note about loading SolydXK and choice of systems, the current distribution does not include UEFI support, meaning that the Live Images don't have UEFI boot capability, and the installer doesn't try to install grub-efi when it is necessary.  There are ways around this, but I am not going to get distracted by that here, I will simply choose to ignore UEFI and limit this distribution to my legacy-boot systems.

Working within those considerations and limitations, the installation proceeds smoothly and works perfectly for both versions.  I am going to write a bit about the KDE version first, since that is what I am writing on now, and then I will move on to the XFCE version.

The SolydK Live image is rather large (about 1.5GB).  As with many (most?) distributions today, it can be written to a USB stick with the dd utility if you are already running Linux, or with the Win32 DSisk Imager under Windows.  Of course, you can also burn the ISO image to a writeable DVD disk if you want.

In fact, there is a very nice Tutorials page that contains videos showing how to create, install, update and use SolydXK.  The installer is a version of Mint Install (ala LMDE), and is easy to use.  Once the KDE version is installed it boots to the standard KDE desktop:

The SolydK KDE Desktop


But of course you could then go into System Settings and switch to the netbook desktop if you prefer:

The SolydK KDE Netbook Desktop

SolydXK uses the Linux Mint Update Manager, and thus has the same innocuous update notifier included in the bottom panel that you may be already familiar with from Linux Mint or Mint Debian.

It uses the same sort of Update Pack system that Mint Debian uses, so that updates can be checked before being passed along (remember, this is the Debian Testing distribution). Unlike LMDE, which seems to release Update Packs about once every blue moon, SolydXK is on a monthly update pack schedule. 

As it happens, when I sat down to write this post today, I checked for updates and the December pack had just been released. I'm not sure yet if this is always true, but I had to click Refresh in the Update Manager to get it to see that the new Update Pack was available. Once I did that, it showed the list of available updates, and when I clicked on the "Info" icon, I got this:

SolydXK Update Packs

There you can see that the previous update pack was dated 6 November, and the new one is 6 December.  As is always the case, it is important to read the release notes/announcement before installing. Click Install Updates to start the installation (duh). This pack updated the linux kernel from 3.10.11 to 3.11.2, so of course it had to be rebooted once the update pack installation was complete.

Details of the Current SolydXK Update Pack

Ok, so that's SolydK installation and updating. Before looking at the details of what packages are included, I'm going to jump to the other member of the family, then at the end I will list some of the details of both, so they can be directly compared.

The SolydX Live image is somewhat smaller (about 1.1GB), as you might expect from an Xfce based distribution.  The same comments apply here as made above about copying to USB stick or DVD. Installation is just as smooth and easy as it was for the KDE version, and when you reboot you get this:

The SolydX Desktop

That's a standard-looking Xfce desktop, with a bottom panel, only Home and File System icons on the desktop, and various icons including a Menu, Network Manager, Update Manager, Power Manager and Clock. I am quite pleased to report that SolydX includes the Whisker Menu system, which I consider to be really excellent. When you click on the Menu button at the bottom left of the screen, you get this:

The Whisker Menu

SolydX uses the same Mint Update utility as SolydK, and as expected shortly after I booted this time it informed me that there was an Update Pack available. The update process was exactly the same as it had been for SolydK.

 OK, so now that we have seen both of the desktops (well, all three if you count KDE netbook), how about a list and comparison of packages and versions included? This is where the really significant difference between the KDE and Xfce versions should show:

  SolydK SolydX
Linux Kernel 3.11.2 3.11.2
Desktop KDE 4.11.4 Xfce 4.10
X Server 1.14.3 1.14.3
Web Browser Firefox 25.0.1 Firefox 25.0.1
eMail Client Thunderbird 24.1.1 Thunderbird 24.1.1
Office LibreOffice AbiWord 2.9.2 / Gnumeric 1.12.6
PDF Viewer Okular 0.17.4 Document Viewer 3.8.3
Image Viewer Gwenview 4.11.4 Ristretto 0.6.3
Photo Management digiKam 3.5.0 Shotwell 0.14.1
Image Editor GIMP 2.8.6 GIMP 2.8.6
Audio Player Amarok 4.11.4 Exaile 3.3.2
Media Player VLC 2.1.1 VLC 2.1.1
File Manager Dolphin 4.11.4 Thunar 1.6.3

So they both use the same base and building blocks (Linux kernel and X Server, for example), and of course they each have the latest version of their respective desktops. Those desktops included different utilities, such as Dolphin and Thunar for File Management. 

Some of the most common additional packages are the same (Firefox/Thunderbird and GIMP, for example), but in some cases SolydX includes smaller/simpler/lighter alternatives. The most obvious example of this is that SolydK includes LibreOffice, which SolydX has abiword and gnumeric. 

Of course, if you need/want/prefer LibreOffice on SolydX, it takes one click of the mouse to get it installed. Then there are a number of things which are included in the KDE Software Collection but which do not have equivalents included in Xfce, so comparable packages have been installed — such as digiKam/Shotwell, Gwenview/Ristretto, and Amarok/Exaile. In almost every case, what was included in SolydX is smaller/lighter/simpler, and the cumulative result of that is the significant difference in the ISO image size noted above. 

That difference carries through, and expands, after installing the ISO image; with no additional packages installed, on my systems SolydK used just over 6GB of disk space, while SolydX used just under 4.5GB.

In summary, these are two really good distributions, sharing a common and very solid base. They deserve consideration on their own merits, but they have the additional benefit of their connections with Linux Mint.

Further reading

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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  • I like SolydK, but I don't love it...

    I've been using SolidK for about a month now, and have mixed feelings about it. I like it better than the LM14 KDE that I replaced it with, but it just takes too long to boot, and applications seem to start slowly.
    I loaded LM16 with Cinnamon a week ago, and can't believe how much faster it is than either LM14 or SolydK - but I still think SolydK looks better than Cinnamon.
  • Linux Mint 16 KDE On the Way

    Well then, it sounds like Linux Mint 16 KDE might be just what you are looking for! The Release Candidate is available for download now, which almost certainly means that the final release will be out before Christmas.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Good Linux distro

    But no one outside of the Linux community cares.
    • I care

      I put Linux Mint 13 on a stick, and Fedora 17 also, but their later versions are horrible. So this might be their replacements. Trick is to get the full stick's capacity recognized, and I'm not sure how to run the dd utility to do that. I'm a flat nubie to Linux. Have man, have books, will have to learn how to get this stick thingy to work. Am a firm believer that no one should operate Windows without Linux, as the latter's ability to copy and find files Windows won't allow you to do, makes Linux the best friend of Windows. Linux saved my machines maybe seven times over the past year, from Windows glitches.
  • It looks like something out of

    the year 2002
  • I have used Windows since version 3.1

    I have also worked in IT (built servers, configured routers, developed applications, etc.) and want to get my feet wet with Linux just to experience it for myself if nothing else. But when I read articles like this one I struggle to understand how anyone in this community can expect Joe Six-pack to figure all this out. All this talk about distributions, desktops and Windows RT is supposed to confuse people? Guess I will do some research but if anyone can point me in the right direction I would appreciate it. All I want to do is create a Live Disk to boot from and see what all the fuss is about. Maybe then I will understand. Honestly.
    • The Article Contains What You Want

      First, there is no mention of "Windows RT" anywhere in the original article, so if anyone is confused here it appears to be you. Second, the article contains exactly the information you say that you want - "with the Win32 Disk Imager under Windows" - and even includes a link where you can download that utility. If you can't figure out what to do from that, well, then I guess you need to "do some research". Good luck.

      • Sorry but the reference to RT was because

        of all the conversation around how confusing it was going to be for typical Windows users, nothing more. I have also heard a lot about Ubuntu which the author states this is not but a lot of people here refer new users to it. I saw the link thank you which I am sure I could figure out, but for a new user is this what I want? I guess that's more or less what I was asking.
        • Start with Linux Mint 16 Cinnamon or SolydK

          Linux Mint Cinnamon and SolydK are nice and easy to install and are very user friendly. Anytime you change an operating system, even to Apple iOS, the user will have to learn the differences - this is not just a Linux problem.

          As far as confusion, Windows has just as much confusion on which version to use, especially when it has major changes. Windows 7 Starter? Home Basic or Premium? Pro? Enterprise? Ultimate?

          Windows 8 or 8.1? Regular, Pro or Enterprise version? Did you know the regular version doesn't support media functions and DVD playback?

          So typical Windows users are just as confused about Windows.
          • Well since a link was not provided to SolydK and heard so much about Ubuntu

            I downloaded ubuntu-12.04.3-desktop-amd64.iso and ubuntu-12.04.3-desktop-i386.iso along with Universal USB Installer. Figure I will create bootable USB and use the Try Option before a true installation. Thanks for the links. All this should keep me pretty busy until next year.
          • An observation

            Ubuntu and its derivatives usually ship without some proprietary software that can make your experience more plug-n-play. One of the advantages of Mint is that it includes many of these restricted packages, out-of-the-box, so to speak. If you install Ubuntu, or the more Windows-like Kubuntu, use your package manager to install the "restricted-extras" for your flavor of the distribution. You should be able to find the extras by just entering "restricted" in the search box of the package manager.
      • Sorry Mr. Watson

        Didn't mean to offend. I realize this article was not meant for newbies.
        • No Worries

          I'm glad that you found a way to get started. You are correct, I made a mistake in not including a link to the SolydXK downloads page. I wish you the best of luck in exploring the Ubuntu LiveUSB system, and remember, if you have any problems or questions there are lots of people who are willing, able and generally anxious to offer help and advice.

          Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • thekman58-ATTITUDE PROBLEM

      I'm really surprised that you come on here with this attitude of yours claiming to quote (I have also worked in IT (built servers, configured routers, developed applications, etc.), but yet don't know how to use Google. If that's really your profession I sure don't see how. Common sense told me to do a Google Search for SolydXK which this site was also one of the search results. I can build computers from scratch and configure routers and work on automobiles rebuilding engines, transmission, and fix just about anything wrong with them. I have no college or high school diploma. I taught myself from books and Google once the internet came about, the same way I'm learning about Linux since a grew to hate Windows over the years. I'm very surprised that the guys on here are so patient with your attitude problem. Getting free help/advice from people is a privelege that you need to quit thinking they owe you. A little bit of common sense and hospatality goes a long way.
  • SparkyLinux: Another Option

    Your review of solydk & dx was very well done. I too switched from LM to LMDE after having to reinstall a couple of times a year, and felt that the LM team wasn't giving LMDE the same attention that it's other versions received. Some things were working properly and after discovering that SolusOS (another Debian derivative initiated by an ex-LMDE developer) corrected those flows (perhaps because SolusOS was based on Debian Stable rather than Testing), I installed.

    But Solus began to lag behind as it's developer decided to create an independent distro (which he later discontinued), and I installed Snow, PointLinux, Seven/Neptune and Sparky Linux , which I am using at this moment to write this on my Lenovo ThinkPad W520, which triple boots with Win 7 Pro 64 bit and openSUSE 13.1. (both of which blow M$ Windows away).

    Sparky is the highest ranked Debian derivative on DistroWatch after Debian itself (Mint is in the top spot but is of course based on Ubuntu - tself Debian based but not a rolling distro) and has a greater number of desktop environments and window managers available than Solyd. I haven't tried Solyd but your article suggests they too a very good.

    I am using Sparky (also based on Debian Testing) with the Mate desktop (a Gnome 2 fork) with a high degree of success and thought you might want to take a look at it. More new distros are based on Debian than any other and there is a reason for it. Of course computers hardware varies considerably, as do the needs of distinct users. (It is hard to Fedora and openSUSE for configurability) and the quality of the forums is another important factor.

    And for an active forum it's hard to beat CrunchBang (yet another Debian derivative), which I installed on a less powerful machine. (Although my queries have fetched competent responses on the Sparky Forums, also) and Solyd looks like another good option.
    • Reinstallation Requirement

      Except Zorin OS, I have found that other Distributions do not have to be reinstalled. In the sense, we can upgrade the distribution through the terminal by typing the command sudo apt-get dist-upgrade. I do not know why you are saying Linux Mint requires reinstallation.
  • @Mr. Watson, Re: installation

    You talked about getting it on to a usb stick, to me that's not a serious installation, OK for test drives (kicking the tires), that's about it, the average Windows refugee will want to INSTALL it to an HDD or SSD, in my case a dual SSD Raid 0 but unlike the Debian net-installer, there is no option for 'dmraid=true' or the installation of the package dmraid on the 'fly', enabling the recognition and formatting of my "fake"/hardware Raid during the DEBIAN install process. Your article was an OK read but you sell this distro far too short, people are yearning for a slightly 'old school' alternative OS in the face of all the bizarre cartoonish smartphone wannabe GUIs rearing their ugly heads, Ubuntu is a good example of that, spyware + annoying smartphone GUI, utter garbage. I digress, SolydXK is the best of ALL worlds, no Ubuntu under the hood (which we all know Clem of Mint clings to that 'apron'), clean, professional looking, extremely stable (I've tried 'em all, Distrowatch is my second home, lol) and it even caters to the gaming crowd. I am dumping my Debian testing install for this distro, even if it means putting root on one SSD and home on the other, simply because I am sooooo tired or configuring each new distro I try to death, enabling drivers and multimedia non-free, etc, hours in Google (ad nauseam), I love KDE, Debian under the hood is a bonus and the nice folks at SolydXK doing all the pre-testing and configuring FOR ME, well that right there is the icing on the cake.'re right, thekman58 is either a phoney (wannabe?), a troll or got ripped off in the brain cell department at birth.