Makulu Linux 6 MATE hands-on: A good path to Linux for XP users

A new release, a new installer, and a new desktop makes this a fun and beautiful option.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

I wrote about Makulu Linux 5 Xfce a couple of weeks ago, and at the time I said that I loved the distribution but I hated the installer. Now, thanks to a lot of hard work, Makulu Linux 6 has been released, with an updated (hopefully improved and simplified) installer and a new MATE desktop added to the Makulu Linux family.

The download is on the Makulu Linux MATE page, as a hybrid ISO image of roughly 1.8GB which can be burned to a DVD or copied directly to USB stick. It is a Live image, so you can boot and run it to test Makulu on your hardware, and to see if the MATE desktop interests you. 

The MATE Live desktop is shown below, it is exactly what I expect from Makulu — beautiful wallpaper, bright colourful icons, and lots of interesting-looking additions scattered around the screen. The Installer icon and an Installation Guide are on the upper left corner of the screen.

Makulu 6 MATE
Makulu Linux 6 MATE Live

The updated installer is one of the most important parts of this release. My comments about the installer in Makulu 5 were not very kind; I thought it was seriously over-complicated and intimidating for inexperienced users (or even moderately experienced users).

But a Linux installer is not something that you want to go casually monkeying around with because the consequences of making a mistake or getting it wrong are severe. It looks like Makulu has done a good job in this regard, because rather than try to make huge changes to the installer, they have taken the approach of splitting the existing installer into two installation modes.

Makulu Installer
Installer Mode Selection

When you start the installer, the first screen asks you to choose between "Easy" and "Expert" installation mode. "Easy" mode only asks has three steps:

  • Run Gparted to partition disks, if necessary
  • Select the Root partition
  • Set the hostname

It goes off and does most of the installation, and then it comes back and asks for real name, login name, user password, and root password.

This is a huge improvement for inexperienced (or impatient) users over the installer in Makulu 5. Actually, as far as I can tell, the "Expert" mode of this installer is still the same as the Makulu 5 installer. But I have a minor personal rant, and a couple of comments and warnings about this process.

First, for experienced users, you need to be aware that if you take the "Easy" installation path, it will format an ext2 filesystem and it will install the Grub2 bootloader to the MBR of your disk. If you want ext3 or ext4 filesystems (sorry, no other options), or if you want the bootloader installed to the root filesystem (or not installed at all), then you have to use the "Expert" installation.

Second (here comes the rant), why ask only part of the questions, then go off and process for a while, and then come back with more questions which could just as easily have been asked along with the first batch? This really irritates me, and I don't see any sense in it. You've got me on the line. I'm answering your questions.  Please, just ask me everything you need to know right then and there, and then go do your job.

When I'm done answering questions, I expect to go and pay attention to something else, and when I come back I want the job to be done, really done, not just partly done and sitting there waiting with more questions (end rant).

Post Install
Post Install Setup Guide

When you reboot the installed system and login, you learn that the interrogation is not over yet. The first window that comes up is this "Post Install Setup Guide".

Now, let me explain something about my writing here. I intended to make this another gallery post, with a screen shot of each step in the installatoin and configuration dialog.

That turned out to be impractical — no one would ever slog through that many pages of a gallery. So, I'm showing you this first shot of the post-installation setup, and I will just list each of the steps in the process:

  • Welcome to Post Installation Setup (shown here)
  • What we are going to do
  • About to setup Repositories
  • Select Repository Location (Country)
  • Want to apply current updates?
  • Updates done
  • Are you running in a VM?
  • Chrome for VirtualBox will be removed
  • Do you want to keep default Makulu software?
  • You selected to keep the Makulu software
  • Do you want Compiz and Emerald animation?
  • Animation will be on
  • Do you want Variety wallpaper enabled?
  • Variety enabled
  • Do you want Docky enabled?
  • Docky will be enabled
  • Do you want Update Manager on?
  • Update Manager will be on
  • Do you want to configure the TimeZone?
  • Choose TimeZone geographic area
  • Choose TimeZone city
  • Do you want to configure the keyboard settings?
  • Choose keyboard model
  • Choose keyboard language
  • Choose keyboard layout
  • Choose key functions (AltGr, Compose, X restart)
  • Configure locales?
  • Choose locales
  • Choose default locale
  • Run Setup Guide again on next boot?  (Oh, God, no, please, anything but that...)
  • Setup has been removed from startup (thank you SO much)
  • Run driver manager (you mean we're not done yet? Seriously?)
  • No driver check will be run
  • Setup done, now reboot

That's a lot of questions — 34 by my count, and I'm sure there were a few places there where there could have been a few more if I had answered differently — and a lot of what I consider unnecessary confirmation of what I just selected. 

I mean, you asked me the question, and I answered it, do I really need to be told what I just said? The advantage of this is that you really get to choose what you want and what you don't, and pretty much how everything will be set up. 

The disadvantage, though, is that you risk confusing, overwhelming, or even terrifying the user with all of this information. Or just plain boring them to death. At the beginning of this post, I said that I hoped this might be a way for Windows XP users to start using Linux.

I still hope that is true, because once you get through the installation, Makulu really is a wonderful distribution, and I think Windows users could find it very comfortable and easy to use. But I am afraid that a lot of them might get put off by what they perceive to be a difficult and complex installation process, even though it might seem quite simple and straightforward to an experienced Linux user.

(Getting up onto my soap box) I don't understand why Makulu doesn't use the Linux Mint Debian installer. The Mint developers have said that the designed it for portability and adaptability to other distributions, and that they would be happy for anyone else to use it. It is clear and simple, has lovely graphics, asks for only the information that is really necessary to perform the installation, and it works very well. I know that Makulu includes a lot of stuff that is not in Mint Debian, and the temptation is strong to make all of that configurable on installation, but if you want to attract new users, keep it simple

You've already done a good job of including the configuration for that stuff in the menus, so just choose some good defaults to start with, and put a Configuration Guide on the desktop of the installed system.  (Gets down from soap box)

I know this all sounds very negative about the installer, so let me summarize it this way. This installer, with "Easy Installation Mode", is a significant improvement over the previous release. Some people, such as me, may still not be entirely pleased with it. But it is certainly good enough, it will get the job done reliably, and you only have to deal with it once, then you can get on to really using Makulu Linux, and that's where the real fun starts.

The MATE desktop on the installed system looks like this:

Makulu MATE
The Makulu Linux MATE Desktop

That is the MATE Application menu, showing commonly used Places and System commands, and then with a cascading menu of applications by category. You can click "Favorites" at the top right to change to a simple list of commonly used items. To add anything from the menus to the Favorite list, you can either right-click on it and choose "Add to my Favorites", or you can drag-and-drop it to the Favorites label. Right-clicking also gives you the chance to add an item to the panel (bottom of the screen) or to the desktop.

Across the top of the screen is the "Docky" launcher, which is similar to the MacOS desktop launcher.  The icons in it will expand and contract as you sweep the cursor across them.

The bottom panel should look and work in a way that is familiar to Windows XP users, with the MATE menu button at the left side (as with the Windows "Start" button), then a group of "Quick Launch" icons just beside that. At the right side of the panel there are a series of status and control icons, for things like volume, battery, network, date/time and various others. At the right end of the panel, basically mirroring the MATE menu button, is a button to bring up the "Slingscold" launcher display.

Makulu Linux
The Makulu Slingscold Launcher

This is essentially a graphic alternative to the MATE cascading menus. Everything available is listed; in this case, there are eight pages of icons that can be selected across the bottom of the screen, or you can enter search terms in the input field at the top to filter the icon presentation.

What else can I say about the desktop? Well, it has Conky included to display the date/time and a "fortune"-style message of the day on the wallpaper; it has Compiz and Emerald enabled for full desktop effects, including things such as "wobbly windows", transparent windows, window open/close effects, and all sorts of fun stuff. The important thing is, it should be easy and intuitive to use.

As for application contents, it is pretty similar to the Makulu 5 Xfce distribution I looked at previously:

  • Linux kernel 3.13.7
  • X.org X server 1.15.0
  • MATE 1.8
  • Chromium AND Iceweasel browsers
  • Thunderbird mail/news reader
  • Kingsoft Office Suite
  • Audacious music player
  • VLC media player
  • Pitivi video editor
  • Handbrake media transcoder
  • Image Magick graphic tools
  • Pinta image editor
  • WINE Windows application compatibility
  • Adobe Reader
  • Adobe Flash player (and plugin)
  • Lots more utilities, games, controls...

As I said about Makulu 5 Xfce, this is a very good selection of applications. I can only think of two things that I might consider "missing" - gimp for graphic editing, and some sort of photo management program. But of course as with any good Linux distribution, both of these are just a few clicks away in the package manager. I just did a couple of quick searches in synaptic, and of course gimp is there (duh), and simply searching for "photo" produces a very long list including shotwellf-stop and various others.

Here's the bottom line — Makulu Linux 6 MATE rocks. It's solid, it's easy, it's beautiful, and it's fun. The amount of work that has been put into it is obvious. I started this post by asking if this might be a good path to Linux for Windows XP users. Now I can answer that — and not only for XP users, but for anyone else as well. Try it.

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