This Linux from Mexico offers some convenient tools and a customized KDE environment

Nitrux

Article from Issue 217/2018
Author(s):

Nitrux Linux integrates a flexible new package tool, an easy-to-use encryption system, and other useful innovations.

Mexican-based Nitrux [1] is an Ubuntu-based Linux that features a modified KDE desktop, an innovative app store, an easy-to-configure firewall, and an easy-to-use encryption mechanism for personal data. Nitrux puts the emphasis on portable application formats and custom plasmoids for a pleasing and efficient desktop experience.

One unique feature of Nitrux is that it was actually created by professional user interface (UI) designers. Founder and project leader Uri Herrera, who has a background in graphic arts and UI design in addition to programming, envisioned the Nitrux project with special emphasis on its usability and aesthetics.

Download the approximately 1.5GB ISO image [2], which is designed for 64-bit systems, and transfer it to an optical data carrier or memory stick. When you boot the freshly created Nitrux medium, you will find a conventional GRUB boot manager that only supports live operation; the system does not provide for direct installation.

After a short boot process, the Nomad desktop appears. Nomad is based on KDE Plasma and the Qt5 toolkit, but the working environment has some optical and functional differences from KDE Plasma 5: You will find the panel bar arranged horizontally at the top of the screen, and a small dock with applications appears at the bottom in the form of the Latte bar.

Top-left in the panel, where you would normally expect the application menus, you will find a launcher for the file manager. By default, Nitrux only offers a few programs. The Restart, Shutdown, Lock, and Logout buttons, which are usually integrated in the application menu, are arranged horizontally at the bottom of the window.

Open the Start menu by pressing the second small round button bottom-center in the file manager. The individual programs are represented by large icons (Figure 1). Unlike conventional desktops, Nitrux does not provide a hierarchical menu structure.

Figure 1: The Nitrux application menu.

The software equipment is limited to essential programs for office use. The applications include Chromium, LibreOffice, and the proven VLC player. Dolphin acts as the file manager, and qpdfview serves as a lean PDF reader.

For system monitoring, the developers have integrated KSysGuard and the KDE Information Center; Kvantum Manager and KDE System Settings are used for system configuration. Larger multimedia applications, such as Audacity, HandBrake, or Gimp are missing.

A single icon on the desktop lets you install Nitrux. Clicking on the icon takes you to the Calamares installer, which, like Ubuntu's Ubiquity installer, installs the operating system on your hard disk or SSD in just a few steps.

General Store

In Nitrux's software selection, you will find an app store named Nomad Software Center, but no graphical front end for a traditional package management system. However, if you prefer conventional program installation using Synaptic, you can quickly install the program in the terminal: Run the apt-get update command with administrative rights, followed by apt-get install synaptic.

The app store seems a little immature: For example, some programs that are standard in almost all other distributions, such as Firefox, are missing. The Nomad Software Center is also very terse in terms of functionality. Although you can launch updates by typing in text boxes or by mouse click, no status messages are displayed during the installation of selected packages. If the package management freezes, you need to pop up a terminal to search for errors.

To install software, simply click Get in the package viewer, which triggers the data transfer and installation. The app store also looks a little rustic. Almost all the available packages use the same icon, making it difficult to distinguish between them quickly based on the program icons (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Rustic on the outside, but a good start for modern package management: the Nomad Software Center.

After installing a program, you can launch it directly from the app store by clicking Run. The Remove option lets you remove the software from the hard disk.

The Nomad Software Center often does not request administrative rights to install programs because the app store relies on AppImages in part. AppImages do not need additional libraries, because the libraries are added directly from the image. In addition, Nitrux relies on Snap containers from the Ubuntu environment, which also come with all the necessary dependencies. This means that new programs installed in the Nomad Software Center do not appear in Synaptic.

A disadvantage of modern package formats is the enormous storage requirements, since the containers always contain all the libraries required by the application. So make sure you have enough free space on your computer's hard disk and that the partitions can easily be enlarged later on.

Firewall

Nitrux comes with the Nomad Firewall, its own graphical front end for setting up a firewall. The tool, which is based on the Qt toolkit, relies on the ufw/iptables firewall used by Ubuntu. The Nomad Firewall interface supports fast and easy configuration with a few mouse clicks. The settings dialog for configuring firewall settings is available in the system settings, which you can call up via the application menu.

The firewall is disabled by default. The configuration wizard lets you configure settings for incoming and outgoing packets separately at the click of a mouse. In addition, you will find an option to run the firewall with different profiles. Depending on the situation – for example, on a public WiFi network or on a secure home network – different rules can be activated very quickly and conveniently (Figure 3).

Figure 3: The firewall can be configured with a few mouse clicks.

Encryption

Nitrux offers the possibility to encrypt personal data via mouse click. This encryption feature relies on the well established EncFS or CryFS technologies.

You will find a small folder icon with a padlock in the system tray for creating and managing encrypted folders. If you click on the padlock for the first time with the left mouse button, a dialog appears, in which you select Create a New Vault…. A window opens in which you first enter the name of the folder to be encrypted and then the filesystem of the encryption. After clicking on Next at the bottom right, the system provides information on the encryption method.

In the next dialog, enter the desired password twice. Below this dialog, the program visualizes its security in the form of a horizontal bar. Another click on Next displays the path in which the system stores the encrypted data. Below it you will find the path under which the encrypted drive appears. You can customize both path specifications by clicking on the folder symbol to the right.

In the following dialog, select an encryption algorithm from a list in the Choose the used cipher: selection box. Nitrux has a considerable number of different options, but in most cases, you will want to use the default setting.

The options shown at the bottom of the window are particularly well thought through: After creating the encrypted folder, click Create to mount it for specific activities and to disable Internet access while the decrypted data is available. As soon as you close and unmount the folder, the system will re-enable Internet access.

You can make subsequent changes to the configuration of the encrypted folders at any time using the Configure Vault… option. The corresponding dialog also lets you change the folder path for mounting the drive, but not to subsequently modify the physical location (Figure 4). In addition, only preset activities can be selected; task-specific options are still missing.

Figure 4: Ingeniously simple: the use of encrypted folders in Nitrux.

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