An elegant and simple Arch Linux-based distro

Choose Chakra

© Lead Image © Elena Duvernay, 123RF.com

© Lead Image © Elena Duvernay, 123RF.com

Article from Issue 199/2017
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KDE lovers can rejoice at Chakra Linux's beautiful and functional operating system.

Chakra Linux is KDE – pure and simple. Its origins date back to 2006 when the late and great Jan Mette instigated the development of KDEmod – a light and modular way to bring KDE to Arch Linux. After releasing several versions, Jan decided to work on his own version of Linux, independent of Arch but inspired by "The Arch Way." The Arch Way encompasses the overall philosophy behind Arch Linux, which focuses on simplicity, elegance, versatility, and being user-centric [1]. Thus the Chakra Project was born.

In March, the project released Chakra 2017.03, codenamed "Goedel" [2] after Kurt Goedel, the famous mathematician and philosopher. This release, like previous versions, combines KDE and the Qt framework. The Plasma desktop makes for a picturesque and customizable environment. Although Chakra was developed under the auspices of Arch, it now stands as an operating system (OS) in its own right and has its own repositories [3].

Grabbing Goedel

The latest Chakra offering has a number of exciting updates. The 1.9GB Goedel ISO can be downloaded via BitTorrent or HTTPS from the Chakra Project download page [4]. Clear emphasis has been placed on selling the OS as it can easily be booted as a Live CD (Figure 1) or even within a VirtualBox virtual machine. Unlike most OSes, test driving in VirtualBox is made even easier by the inclusion of the Guest Additions on the DVD, which allow for extra features such as viewing the OS in full-screen mode.

Figure 1: The LiveCD includes an excellent introduction to Chakra and the beautiful Plasma desktop.

Chakra's Heritage theme for Plasma has been overhauled to be easier on the eye; plasmoids now have a more unified color scheme, and the panel is also a little more transparent to allow you to see wallpaper or windows in the background.

Most importantly, the Chakra project has updated the Calamares installer to version 3.0.1.91. This means Chakra can now be installed to Btrfs and LUKS-encrypted partitions. Sadly, Calamares still doesn't support RAID or LVM installations.

The installer itself can be started in a few minutes, by choosing a few basic options. You can enable encryption of the main and swap partitions via LUKS by checking a box and entering the password. By default, the system will log in to your desktop automatically without prompting for a passphrase, although you can change this in the installer options.

The system requirements are quite spartan. You will need 2GB RAM to run the installer or to load the system into VirtualBox; however, Chakra itself only needs 1024MB RAM once installed. An Intel Pentium 4 Processor with 64-bit support (or virtualized equivalent) is also required [5].

After installation, you may find that you still need to update a number of packages. (During testing, I found these amounted to around 450MB.) This is because Chakra implements a "half-rolling" release model for its repositories [6]. Fundamentally, this means the OS has a stable core of software with rolling applications on top of it.

Core software packages are updated according to predefined schedules. Unlike a garden-variety rolling release, there isn't one schedule for every single package; different groups of packages are updated at different times, ensuring a more stable system. Programs are updated following an application-based rolling release model, meaning you have access to the most recent version.

A major advantage of doing things this way is that you only have to install Chakra Linux via DVD once. The ISOs made available for download from the website represent current snapshots of the OS. However, you can also install any available updates via Octopi, a GUI front end for the Pacman package manager (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Use Octopi to run a system upgrade immediately after install to ensure your apps are up to date.

Although the Chakra project currently uses Pacman for package management, the developer's ultimate plan is to replace it with their own package manager, Akabei. The program is under active development, but at the time of writing there's no firm release date [7].

Goodbye Gtk

As a pure KDE/Qt framework, the Chakra project has not bundled Gtk, the GUI toolkit used by many Gnome applications. This also means that no Gtk-dependent applications, such as the Gimp image editor or the Thunderbird mail client, are preinstalled. However, Chakra does offer some respectable alternatives. The Chakra Project also maintains a gtk repository for more popular applications.

Chakra's FAQ justifies doing things this way because including any one of these popular applications requires preinstalling around 50 Gnome dependencies for the sake of one or two programs. KDE also installs applications in a more transparent manner to /usr rather than to several directories as is the case with some Gtk programs [8].

Plasma Perfection

On first boot, Chakra will load the Plasma desktop. This will not contain many surprises for KDE veterans, who will be used to a single-click environment.

The upper-left corner of the desktop contains the Desktop Tools button. This allows you to edit the main theme, add handy widgets, and change your wallpaper as you see fit. You can also access these options by right-clicking anywhere on the desktop itself. The Activities feature deserves special mention as you can use it to run multiple desktops, each with their own widgets and running apps.

You can navigate your entire system from the Plasma desktop using KRunner (Figure 3), which a very powerful tool that you can launch any time by holding down Alt+F2. You can then open an application or place in your system simply by typing the name. Click the configuration on the left to customize further options such as searching bookmarks or performing sums.

Figure 3: Use KRunner (above) to type the name of an app or location to open it. Click the settings wheel to fine-tune the search options.

Click the Panel button at the bottom right to fine tune your settings for panels, such as alignment and visibility. You can use the default Always Visible setting to ensure no panel intrudes on another's territory.

You can also select the small arrow next to the system clock to display the system tray. This has several useful built-in applications, such as KDE Connect, which can connect your system to an Android device.

Minimized applications stow away nicely on the panel, simply showing their icon. Left-click once to maximize them again or right-click to see further options such as pinning the app to your panel or starting a new instance.

Take some time to browse the preinstalled applications by clicking the Application Launcher at the bottom left of the Plasma desktop.

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