The variety of Linux distros is quite staggering at times, and with so many to choose from it’s often difficult to decide which to download and test. We therefore have several distros on test, for you to try out next time you fancy having a distro hop.
Pop!_OS is an interesting distro that looks great and performs very well indeed.
System76, a US-based developer and retailer, has been building laptops, small form-factor desktops, standard desktops and servers for a number of years. Previously, the company’s hardware came shipped with Ubuntu pre-loaded, however, from April 2017, the company has started to ship its kit with its own custom Linux distro: Pop!_OS.
Pop!_OS isn’t just another Ubuntu distro with a snappy theme haphazardly slapped over the UI. It comes with a customised Gnome desktop, along with some nicely sourced wallpapers and icon sets. The removal of ‘bloatware’ from within the core Ubuntu build has had a significant impact on the operation of Pop!_OS. Where a fresh Ubuntu 18.04 build can drag down our somewhat aged test machine, Pop!_OS instead didn’t show any signs of slowing down. In fact, it gave the poor PC a new lease of life.
There are some interesting elements to Pop!_OS that mark it above the usual slew of distros. For example, Pop!_OS encrypts your entire installation by default, which dramatically heightens the computer’s security. In addition, any System76 supplied laptop employs a feature that will automatically apply any firmware updates; further ensuing the latest security patching.
Performance management is an enhanced feature, too. With the latest version of the operating system having a much-improved battery life. There’s also a CPU and GPU toggle that enables the user to switch between power profiles from within the system menu. So you can better utilise the abilities of more modern power-saving components.
There’s a function called Popsicle, a utility that opens when you launch an ISO from within the system. It’s basically a USB disk creator, but it’s rather well designed and leaves out the often unnecessary technicalities of flashing images to one or many USB sticks.
System76 has also gone the extra mile to provide two different versions of Pop!_OS depending on the user’s graphical setup in their PC. There’s a version exclusively for NVIDIA GPU owners, and one for Intel and AMD owners. This means that once you’ve installed the relevant version, it will automatically download and install the latest available drivers for the chosen GPU. It’s a small thing, but it’s something that again sets Pop!_OS from the usual variety of distro.
It’s a good Linux distro, Pop!_OS. It’s quick, great to look at, runs smoothly, and has some nifty features too. One to certainly try out.
Antergos, built on Arch but without the technical difficulties of getting there.
If you’re the kind of user who likes their Linux distros to be on the cutting edge of development, then you’re probably already running a flavour of Arch; or you’ve created your own distro. Arch users enjoy the bleeding edge of Linux, but it’s not always the easiest distro to get up and running with.
Antergos is built on top of Arch, offering system and package updates as soon as they’re classed as stable, so it’s a rolling release distro. It offers something a little different to the usual Arch setup, in the form of a custom installer called Cnchi.
Cnchi is a Python-based GUI installer that setups up the main Arch system, together with the Antergos extras in a neat, and easy to use system. The usual aspects of setting up an Arch install are all present, from location to keyboard layout, WiFi and network setup and so on. It also offers you the choice of seven different desktop environments to boot up with; with GNOME as the default.
There are two versions of Antergos available at present: a standard version, which is 1.9GB in size, and a minimal installation ISO, which comes in at just 726MB. Both images include the custom GUI installer, and the choice of desktops.
As such, the installation of Antergos is a breeze. It’s similar to that of Ubuntu, Mint and so on, so it’s familiar ground to those of you who have already played around with a few distros. The choice of desktops is a good idea, offing Cinnamon, Deepin, KDE, MATE, Openbox, Xfce, GNOME and a Base install, which is just the command prompt. Strictly speaking it’s seven interfaces, but we don’t count the CLI as a desktop.
Antergos also has a useful feature selection depending on the desktop installed. For example, choose GNOME, and you can opt for extra package installations, such as LibreOffice, Steam and PlayOnLinux, Chromium and so on; including optional packages for individuals who are blind or visually impaired.
There’s a lot to like about Antergos. It’s quick, thanks to the core Arch base, it’s stable, it looks good, and it’s a gentle way in getting more Linux users in to Arch; specifically those who don’t necessarily want to go through the whole setting up process. It can be argued that’s the best way to experience Arch, and thus learn how Linux and Arch work, but there are some who just enjoy Linux for its freedom and not the technicalities of the OS.
Deepin, a tasty looking distro with a dark side.
Linux Deepin, using its former name, is a Chinese-developed distro that used to be built on the latest Ubuntu Long Term Support release. However, since 2015, Deepin has instead been built on Debian.
It’s an extremely well-presented distro, using its own custom designed desktop environment called DDE (Deepin Desktop Environment), which is based on the Qt5 toolkit combined with Mutter Windows Manager. It’s a crisp look and feel, with a snappy response time and not too dissimilar to that of a Mac desktop.
The latest release, 15.7, packs in a decent amount of content. There’s also a Deepin Store, which is easily accessible from the menu. Within the store you’ll find a wealth of apps, such as Firefox, Skype, VirtualBox and so on; all happily installed with a click of a button. The store itself is broken down into categories, much in the same vein as the Ubuntu and Mint stores, such as highest ranked, internet, Chat, Music, Video, Games, Office and so on. It’s easy to find content, and you can also install a package via the web-based version of the store too.
There have been several bug fixes from the previous version of Deepin, over 217 bugs fixed according to the development team. This means of course that 15.x is a pretty stable release, and introduces some neat touches too, such as a new welcome app to help users acclimatise themselves with the Deepin environment quicker, and get an icon theme, desktop mode and so on. There’s also a window launcher to help Windows users make the transition.
But, and this is a big but. There have been reports of Deepin sending browsing information to a site called cnzz.com, which is a tracking, analysis and statistical site based in China. Deepin has issued an official statement regarding the usage of the information purely for data analysis when using the app store, warding off the claims from some that Deepin isn’t so much of a distro, but rather a large piece of spyware. The problems came to light with the previous version, with these tracking models being built into the app store and the update manager.
Sadly, the tracker is still present, this time in the app store only. Now, you can argue that the distro is simply collecting data from its users to see what apps are being used, and where in the world its product is being used. Some would say that’s fair enough. we, on the other hand, don’t like any form of tracking. In our opinion, no data should be collected from your system other than what is strictly needed for services to function correctly. Especially not data that’s going to be sent as plain text to a server in China. At any rate, there should be an opt-in option that users can choose to agree to have their data used for statistical use, such as in the Debian setup.
Deepin is a good distro that performs well, looks great and offers the user a good desktop experience. If you’re not bothered by the transmission of data to a Chinese server, then you’ll certainly enjoy this distro. If you don’t like the idea of sending your data over, and you want to test Deepin still, then consider running it from a virtual machine with a VPN installed on the host to hide your real location.
Classic Linux, but often overlooked.
Debian is often missed out when it comes to listing interesting, great looking, and performance distros. It’s probably because it’s often used as the core Linux distribution that a lot of the popular distros are built from.
Debian has been around since 1993, with its initial release, version 0.01; the first stable release wasn’t until 1996. Twenty-four years of creating a Linux distro accounts for something, and with Debian you’re getting one of the best distros currently available; after all, why do you think the likes of Ubuntu and such are based on Debian.
The version we tested in this instance, 9.5, was released in July 2018 and is by far one of the most stable versions of Linux you will ever download, install and use. It’s not just the core system that’s stable, all packages are selected exclusively for their stability. So, rather than installing the latest version of any single package, you’re instead going be using the most recent stable version. While that may not appeal to some, there are a lot of users out there who would much prefer a stable system complete with stable packages, than something that’s bleeding edge.
There’s plenty to like about Debian, that a lot of newcomers don’t realise are available. The installation and setup routine is excellent, giving you plenty of options while still remaining easy to use. The choice of desktop environments is immense, and the setup utility will offer to install some for you; all you need to do is tick the relevant box. There’s an opt-out option for data collection, and it’s all in the open for anyone to look up and investigate further. Due to its naturally slimline setup, Debian is blisteringly quick on a modern PC, and even works exceedingly well on older machines; plus, you can use a lightweight desktop environment to further improve the performance.
True, Debian does have its quirks now and then, and some elements that you may find can be completed with a single click in the likes of Ubuntu do need a little more leg work. But there’s plenty of content available with a clever search to help you get over the initial hurdles.
Once up and running, however, Debian is a fantastic distro for daily use. Running GNOME on Debian looks fantastic, and with a few simple installations you can have one of the best Linux desktop setups available.