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Here's what makes Spiral Linux so good for new users

Jack Wallen offers up his take on why Spiral Linux might be just the right Linux distribution for those who've never tried the open-source operating system.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer

Spiral Linux

8 / 5

pros and cons

  • Numerous desktop options
  • Outstanding printer support
  • Pre-installed proprietary codecs
  • Outstanding performance
  • GUI app stores
  • Some applications are out of date
  • Budgie desktop only includes one theme
  • Budgie Raven sidebar is inflexible
  • No "Welcome" app.

There are thousands of Linux distributions to choose from, ranging from the user-friendly (such as Ubuntu and Linux Mint) to the very complicated (such as Gentoo). Every distribution that claims to be user-friendly isn't exactly cut from the same cloth, and how a distribution is made user-friendly depends on a great number of things. Package managers, desktop environments, and pre-installed applications are all areas that every Linux distribution claiming to be user-friendly must consider.

To that end, when a new distribution arrives, claiming to be user-friendly, the first thing I do is examine those three areas. So when the developer of GeckoLinux announced a new distribution, called Spiral Linux, I did just that.

What is Spiral Linux?

Spiral Linux is a Linux distribution, geared for users who aren't as familiar with Linux (although there is an option for advanced users) that is based on Debian Linux with the lofty goal of supporting all major Linux desktop environments. At the moment, Spiral Linux offers versions for the following desktops:

  • Cinnamon
  • Xfce
  • KDE Plasma
  • Mate
  • Budgie
  • LXQt

Being based on Debian ensures the OS will be very stable, reliable, and performant, with the caveat being that some of the applications are always of the stable release (which means they can be a bit behind). That's fine because stability and reliability are the name of the game here and you don't want bleeding-edge apps on a production desktop.

Some of the unique features of Sprial Linux include:

  • Support for newer hardware (thanks to the 5.16 kernel and installed proprietary firmware).
  • Easily upgradable to Debian Testing or Unstable branches.
  • Btrfs subvolume layout with Zstd transparent compression and Snapper snapshots for easy rollbacks.
  • Extensive printer support.
  • Optimized for power management with TLP preinstalled.
  • VirtualBox support out of the box.
  • zRAM swap for better performance.
  • Normal users are automatically added to the sudo group.

The developer has taken into consideration what a Linux distribution for new users should look like. The only miss here is the lack of a Welcome app to ease onboarding for new users. Even with that oversight, Spiral Linux is a wonderful Linux distribution that anyone could feel immediately at home on. I installed the Budgie version of Spiral Linux (Figure 1) and came away seriously impressed.

The Budgie desktop environment running on Spiral Linux.

The Budgie desktop environment is a wonderful choice for new users.

Image: Jack Wallen

Did we really need yet another Linux distribution?

If you ask most any Linux users, the answer to that question is a resounding "Yes!" Why? Because Linux has always been about choice and having more choices is often considered a good thing.

That doesn't mean everyone holds that same opinion. Some believe the massive amount of distributions water down the strength of Linux. I do not feel that way. Although I would prefer that there be an "official" Linux distribution that major companies could support (because having to develop for and support hundreds or thousands of distributions is an absolute deal-breaker for some companies), having yet another distribution geared towards new users should be seen as a positive. And what Spiral Linux does is check all the right boxes for this use case.

According to the developer, the reason for yet another Debian-based distro is:

"Debian itself provides a base system that is capable of being very user-friendly when properly configured. This is where SpiralLinux comes into play. Great effort has been expended in polishing the SpiralLinux default configuration for all the major desktop environments using the packages and mechanisms that Debian itself provides. So in effect, a SpiralLinux installation is actually a legitimate Debian installation that can be infinitely upgraded from the official Debian repositories while retaining its unique SpiralLinux configuration."

So not only are you getting a Linux distribution that's user-friendly and just works, but you're also getting a distribution that will continue as long as Debian exists. Given how fleeting some projects can be, it's good to know this new distribution has hitched its wagon to Debian in such a way as to be around long term.

What makes Spiral Linux so good for new users?

The answer to that question can really be summed up in a single phrase -- it just works. And although that makes the out-of-box experience quite good, it doesn't fully answer the question. For that, I would evolve that phrase to say "It just works, works well, and works with ease."

It's one thing for everything to work out of the box. That should be the case with every operating system. But to have things not only work but work well and with ease is another thing. Distributions such as Ubuntu and Linux Mint have nailed this for years (and Fedora has finally caught up). But not every distribution can stake such a claim

Take, for instance, elementary OS. This is a beautiful distribution that could be used by any user of any level, but it's hindered by a lack of applications. From within the elementary OS app store, you'll find a lot of software missing. And not every desktop environment is geared toward new users. Xfce is a great desktop, but it offers so much customization that it can get a bit daunting for those not accustomed to being able to configure every single aspect of the desktop. Budgie, Cinnamon, Mate, KDE Plasma, and GNOME are all outstanding options for new users (although GNOME does have a slight learning curve, simply because it completely redefines the desktop metaphor). 

Yes, Spiral Linux does offer options for Xfce (and the "Builder" option for advanced users), the other versions will perfectly serve those new-to-Linux users.

So, what are you waiting for? Download a copy of Spiral Linux and see if this operating system is just the thing to welcome you into the world of Linux.

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