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

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.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

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!".

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