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Innovation

Netrunner 23 'Vaporwave' is a Linux distribution ready for productivity and gaming

If you're looking for a Linux distribution that's at home with productivity as it is with gaming, Netrunner 23 might be just the ticket.
A woman with headphones using a laptop
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I cannot even count the number of Debian-based Linux distributions there are on the market. But when you whittle that list down to those that are both productive and game-ready, the options are much fewer. One of those options is Netrunner. 

According to the official website, "Netrunner is a complete Linux Operating System for PCs, laptops/netbooks, and ARM microcomputers, that makes exclusive use of the KDE Plasma desktop environment." I find that description quite lacking because the distribution isn't just a complete Linux operating system, but a platform for fun and work. 

With plenty of applications pre-loaded, you can immediately start playing and working without having to install much in the way of third-party software. 

The only tools you might have to add would be the likes of Spotify and Slack. The caveat to that is you would need to first install either Snap or Flatpak.

Caveat aside, Netrunner is a fantastic desktop operating system that is sure to please many different user types.

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Let's take a look at what this Linux distribution, in its latest version 23, code-named Vaporwave, has to offer.

A slightly different take on KDE

One of the first things you'll notice is that Netrunner tweaks KDE just enough to make it look and feel slightly different. This is especially noticeable when you click the desktop menu, which opens an overview-like option, powered by Dash and Simplemenu (Core). This overview gives you access to favorites, a categorized menu for installed applications, a search feature, recently opened files, and a power menu.

The Netrunner take on the KDE desktop menu.

Netrunner offers a slightly different KDE desktop menu.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Other changes the developers have made to KDE include:

  • Task Manager has expanding icons.
  • Folder view desktop icons with no overlays.
  • Show Desktop hotspot in the lower-right corner.
  • Unified look for both KDE and non-KDE applications.
  • GTK apps are shipped with Kwin borders (instead of GTK decorations).
  • Kvantum theme engine.
  • Advanced Dolphin toolbar.
  • Firefox includes add-blocker and Plasma integrations.
  • Auto-start KWallet.
  • Double-click icons (instead of the default single-click).

Steam is ready to go

Another treat for gamers is that Steam is installed and ready to go. Click the Steam icon and it will automatically download everything you need, landing on the Steam sign-in window. Either log in with your existing account or create a new account. 

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Once you've logged in, you can start playing free games or purchase all the games you want.

The Steam app on Netrunner.

With Steam, you can play all of your favorite games on Linux.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Productivity at your fingertips

First off, everyone's idea of productivity differs. For me, productivity involves apps like Firefox, LibreOffice, Slack, Thunderbird, and the terminal window. Given the proliferation of cloud-based tools, most users tend to work within a web browser and, for that, Netrunner has you covered with Firefox. 

If Firefox isn't your jam, you can always install one of the many browsers available via the KDE app store, Discover, or you can grab a DEB installer for your favorite browser of choice, such as Opera, Vivaldi, Chrome, or Edge.

As for pre-installed productivity software, Netrunner is slightly limited, with the inclusion of LibreOffice (office suite), Kdenlive (video editor), Okula (PDF viewer), GIMP (image editing), Inkscape (image editing), Handbrake (video file conversion), VLC (multi-media viewer), and KDE Connect (sync Android). 

Also: The 5 best Linux distros for beginners

Another very handy feature built into Netrunner is the Network Drives option in System Settings, where you can easily connect to network shares. 

Netrunner's Network Drives feature in System Settings.

Adding network shares is simple in Netrunner.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

You'll also find a Network icon on the desktop. Once you've added network shares from System Settings, they'll appear there.

The Network icon launches Dolphin to your available network shares.

Network shares are easily accessible from the desktop.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

To round out the productivity for Netrunner, I found I had to install both Snap and Flatpak, which can be accomplished with the following two commands:

sudo apt-get install snapd -y
sudo apt-get install flatpak -y

Once those two are installed, it opens up a world of third-party productivity applications that can be added to the desktop.

Give it a try

I've found Netrunner to be a fantastic Linux distribution for the desktop. And even though it doesn't ship with every productivity app you need, those apps are easily added with the help of Apt, Snap, and Flatpak. 

And with the addition of Steam, Netrunner has you covered for gaming as well. Give this Linux distribution a go and see if it doesn't win you over from your current operating system. Download an ISO now and install it either on bare metal or as a virtual machine.

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