Nitrux 2.4 Linux distro shows promise

Jack Wallen kicks the tires of a beautiful, Debian-based systemd-free distro, and comes away with more questions than answers, but a second try goes better.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
Nitrux's NX Desktop with a single panel added.

Nitrux with a default panel added.

Image: Jack Wallen

UPDATE, Sept. 7: It was brought to my attention by the Nitrux developers that they were concerned about my experience with their distribution. With that in mind, I thought I'd give it another go. Instead of using the same ISO as I had for the original article, I downloaded a new version (my network can be a bit flaky at times) and created a new virtual machine with the same settings as I had previously. This time around, the experience was much improved, although still not perfect.

Once the new instance was installed, I rebooted and logged in. To my surprise, nearly all of the desktop elements were present. I had a dock (Latte dock) and a top panel. With those elements in place, the desktop was nearly perfect. However, the one thing that seemed to be missing (which was also missing in the original installation) was window title bars (seemed being the operative word).

The default Nitrux desktop saying Fire starts here.

This time around Nitrux had everything but title bars for windows.

Image: Jack Wallen

As you can see, neither Firefox nor the terminal window has title bars in this image. That's actually by design. Instead of window controls being in the window themselves, they now default to the top bar. As you can see above, when you focus on an application the window controls are in the top bar, where you can exit, maximize, and minimize each window. This will be confusing at first, but once you get used to it, the layout starts to make sense.

Now that I've experienced Nitrux as it should be, I want to say that the problems I experienced originally were obviously a one-off situation, and can happily recommend Nitrux to just about any type of user (regardless of whether or not they are familiar with Linux). The only caveat is getting accustomed to the top bar window controls -- which shouldn't prevent anyone from giving this fantastic distribution a try. The original review follows below.

Nitrux is one of the many KDE Plasma-based desktop Linux distributions that, once upon a time, made for a great operating system for first-time Linux users. Not only did it enjoy the reliability and ease of use that come with Debian, but the KDE Plasma desktop will also be immediately familiar to any computer user type. However, with the latest release, 2.4, (which includes the 5.19 kernel, ensuring it will work with most modern hardware and perform like an absolute champ), the distribution is a bit rough around the edges for everyday users. 

Let me explain.

What is Nitrux?

You can download Nitrux from its website, which says, "Nitrux is a Linux desktop distribution based on Debian. It uses the Calamares installer and includes NX Desktop built on the KDE Plasma 5 desktop environment and MauiKit Applications. Nitrux also does not use systemd as its init system; instead, it uses OpenRC."

What does that all mean? First off, Nitrux uses Debian as its base. If you don't know, Debian is often called the "Mother of all Linux distributions" because it is what Ubuntu is based on and a great many distributions are based on Ubuntu. 

Debian is one of the most rock-solid operating systems on the market, so the choice to go with Debian as a base makes perfect sense.

Calamares is the operating system installer and makes installing the operating system incredibly simple.

The NX Desktop is the default Nitrux desktop, which is based on KDE Plasma Five with the addition of the MauiKit Applications, which are apps that can run on both desktop and mobile Linux operating systems.

Nitrux shrugs off the common systemd system initializer and opts for OpenRC. That won't really matter to the average user, so long as all apps and services start as expected.

And finally, Nitrux defaults to installing apps as AppImages, instead of as standard applications. This could be a real boon, as it would defeat a lot of app dependencies that come along with many app installations.

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What makes Nitrux so special?

I realize the average user won't care about this, but Nitrux ships with the XanMod general-purpose Linux kernel that includes a few custom settings and unique features to provide a stable, responsive desktop experience. 

The main features of this kernel include caching, full multicore block layer runqueue, BBRv2 TCP congestion control, ORC Unwinder for stack traces, high-responsiveness multitasking Task Type scheduler, and third-party patch sets. 

This kernel makes for a high-performing, reliable foundation for the operating system.

Next, Nitrux ships with KDE Plasma 5.25.4, KDE Gear 22.08, and KDE Frameworks 5.97, which is the latest release of the desktop environment. 

As well, you'll find the new Maui (Multi-purpose App UI) apps that cover tasks such as calendar management, file management, media viewing, note-taking, and development.

Speaking of applications, one thing to mention is that the developers removed LibreOffice from the default installation. That's not really a problem, as you can install the office suite from the Software Center with a simple click.

New users are probably thinking, "So, why should I use Nitrux?" How about a beautiful, stable, user-friendly, fun desktop? That's what you get with Nitrux. What the developers have done with the KDE Desktop (here named NX Desktop) is quite a feat. The NX Desktop is as beautiful as it is functional, with a sort of KDE meets GNOME meets MacOS feel to it. 

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That darned caveat

There is, however, a caveat to all of this. After installation is complete, and you log in to Nitrux for the first time, you may be presented (as I was) with a blank desktop. All you will see is wallpaper and nothing else. If this is the case for you, to make the desktop usable, you have to first add the default panel. To do that, right-click anywhere on the desktop and click Add Panel > Default Panel.

The right-click desktop menu for Nitrux.

Adding a default panel to the Nitrux desktop.

Image: Jack Wallen

Once you've added the default panel, you can interact with Nitrux. Click on the main menu button to reveal the menu hierarchy, where you can open any of the installed applications.

Don't let this one caveat prevent you from giving Nitrux a try. Once you get your first panel added, you'll find everything starts to go much more smoothly.

 I do recommend, however, that as soon as you get your first panel created, you open a terminal window and update Nitrux with the command:

pkcon update

Once the update completes, reboot, and your Nitrux experience should be greatly improved. Should being the operative term.

With this caveat in mind, is Nitrux truly a distribution best suited for new users? In my honest opinion, it would be a shame to skip this Linux distribution simply because you have to take a few extra steps to make the desktop usable.

However, I will say my experience with the latest version of Nitrux was far from perfect. Beyond having to create the basic interface options on the first login, there are a few bits and pieces that preclude Nitrux 2.4 from gaining a spot on my "must use" list. 

For example, many of the windows that opened did not include title bars, so closing them was a bit of a challenge. As long as the application in question appeared as an icon in the default panel, you could right-click it to close. That alone will frustrate many an end user. 

On top of that, the default panel included icons with no images and even icons that didn't launch anything.

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I have a hunch this whole issue with the default desktop could have to do with my installing Nitrux as a virtual machine in VirtualBox. To make this worse, I was unable to install a different desktop to test out a few theories of mine. 

So, in the end, I view Nitrux in its current state as more of a curiosity than anything. If the issues I experienced were strictly from running Nitrux as a virtual machine, then none of these caveats would apply. However, it's a rare occasion that an OS doesn't display exactly as expected when running as a VM. So these issues could simply be growing pains with the new release.

Download and install Nitrux yourself and see if this Linux distribution suits your needs.

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