MakuluLinux MCDE 2.0 and Xfce 7.1

News from Africa

© Lead Image © Martin Malchev,

© Lead Image © Martin Malchev,

Article from Issue 174/2015

Two desktop environments and two different distributions as a base – introducing MakuluLinux.

Most Linux users associate Africa with Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu, but other Linux fruits thrive on African themes: The exotic-sounding MakuluLinux takes its name from a Zambian mountain. Maintainer Jacque Raymer publishes Makulu, which means "big" in the language of the Zulu, for a number of desktops: KDE, Xfce, Cinnamon, and a soon-to-be-released LXDE/Xfce hybrid.

Start-up Linux distros often fall into predictable patterns, but MakuluLinux comes across as a truly original vision. Makulu's sophisticated design, inspired collection of extras, and sophisticated package selection help it stand out against the field of competing distributions.

According to the Makulu website [1], the ambitious goal of the project is to provide "… a sleek, smooth, and stable user experience that is able to run on any computer from old to new, from netbooks to notebooks, desktops to server stations." Like other Linux variants designed for out-of-the-box usability, Makulu comes pre-installed with the necessary codecs and drivers for smooth multimedia experience on a variety of hardware platforms. Makulu also comes pre-installed with the Steam gaming platform. According to the Makulu developer, you can "… simply log in to Steam and start playing your favorite game titles."

Wine is also pre-installed. The Makulu website promises that, "… installing Windows software has never been easier; simply double-click your installer or exe files and they will operate in Linux much the same way they do in Windows."

Thus far, Makulu has always been based on Debian "Testing." During the release preparations for Debian 8 "Jessie," the Testing repository was frozen in November. Since very little is happening in the Debian camp right now for this reason, Raymer followed user requests and published Makulu with the Xfce desktop environment on the basis of a Ubuntu offshoot. More releases on this basis are to follow, according to statements made by the developer, but a return to Debian "Testing" is also planned.

Raymer brings extraordinary energy to the Makulu project, and new features appear frequently. As this article went to press, Raymer announced an exciting new tool called the Makulu Constructor [2], which lets you easily clone a customized system to create a UEFI-ready Live boot ISO, which you can then install on another computer. The first 64-bit edition of Makulu arrived in March 2015.

MakuluLinux Cinnamon 2.0

MCDE (MakuluLinux Cinnamon Debian Edition) [3] was published in January 2015. Although MakuluLinux releases have always been slightly bulky, weighing in at around 2GB, the developer has cut back this time. By significantly reducing the number of pre-installed applications, the developer reduced the ISO image to 1.2GB. Nevertheless, the software selection should cover most applications (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Despite being reduced to the essentials, the application menu in MakuluLinux Cinnamon 2.0 reveals a wealth of software.

The login manager used here is GDM3. Gaming fans will be happy to see that the system does not just offer the usual selection of programs, but specifically caters to their daily needs with a version of Wine [4] specially patched with D3D and CSMT for gaming, including Winetricks, PlayOnLinux [5] and Steam [6].

MakuluLinux comes as a hybrid ISO for DVD or USB flash drive in the form of a Live medium with an installer. MCDE is a 32-bit system, but a new 64-bit version appeared as this issue went to press. Live mode boots to a login screen where typing the password, makulu, takes you to the tidy desktop. The installation routine, which you can call from there, handles localization of keyboard layout and date and time. This was not the case with MCDE 1.1, but a bug report quickly led to a remedy. In terms of language support, the maintainer has spared no efforts, integrating many Berber languages and several dialects and ethnic idioms from around the world into Makulu to reflect its origins.

The installation wizard borrowed from Sparky Linux provides three modes from which to choose (Figure 2): graphical, graphical with terminal, and an advanced installer that runs in a terminal window and additionally prompts the user for information via dialog boxes. In this mode, you can disable many languages and dialects for an English-language installation, which would otherwise unnecessarily take too much time and occupy too much disk space for language data and translations. Here, too, Makulu is much improved compared with version 1.1. In all three modes, partitioning now works perfectly (Figure 3), so there is nothing to prevent the install.

Figure 2: The installation wizard in the Debian-based Cinnamon edition of MakuluLinux offers three different installation routines.
Figure 3: Disk partitioning is handled either graphically using GParted or in the terminal using Cfdisk during the MakuluLinux MCDE install.

On our lab system, the installation completed in about five minutes. Restarting the freshly installed system revealed very few worries, as did the system updates (Figure 4). The Cinnamon install takes only a modest amount of RAM (Figure 5), and when you begin customizing your environment, you'll find the system and desktop configuration tools in the Control Center (Figure 6).

Figure 4: After the install, the Driver check searches for updated drivers for the video card or the WLAN module.
Figure 5: Immediately after the install, Makulu occupies a little less than 6GB on the hard disk.
Figure 6: In the Makulu Control Center, you will find the system settings and configuration tools.

Everything Is Fine

MakuluLinux uses a PAE-enabled kernel [7] version 3.16.7 and Systemd. The system starts in VirtualBox in around 6.5 seconds and feels very agile. The source list contains the official Debian sources for the "Testing" branch, as well as the source for Debian Multimedia, Skype, Opera, and several Google services. Additionaly, a Makulu repository contains the developer's programs.

The Software selection attaches great importance to multimedia apps and the matching codecs, but it does not lack software for other applications. For office applications, it relies on WPS Office (formerly Kingsoft Office) [8]. Although it impresses with very good compatibility with Microsoft formats, it cannot handle the Open Document format of LibreOffice/OpenOffice. There is even a WPS app for Android. If you prefer LibreOffice, then you can install it, along with tens of thousands of other applications, via the package manager. Makulu's choice of graphical front end for this task is Synaptic.

For the document viewer, Makulu uses FoxitReader, thus choosing freeware over free software. Google Chrome is on board for Internet access, Thunderbird acts as the mail client, and Pidgin is available for instant messaging. The application menus Tools, Settings, and System management are jam-packed with apps such as Adobe Flash Player, the Variety wallpaper changer (Figure 7), the Leafpad text editor, the GDebi package installer, and many other useful programs and utilities. In addition to the configurable main menu on the left edge of the panel, the Slingshot program launcher is located on the right side as a menu option that works well on tablets with a touchscreen [9].

Figure 7: Clicking the Variety option will change the wallpaper periodically on request. To do so, the small tool loads the images from the Internet.

Because the sources are integrated out of the box, proprietary applications such as the Opera browser or Skype install just as easily as Google Music Manager, the Talk plugin for Google Hangouts, or Google Earth. Because the newer versions of Opera are only available for 64-bit systems, Opera v16.12 is installed here. This will delight fans of the original Opera browser because Opera in this version still includes the built-in mail client and is based on Opera's own Presto engine. As of Opera 15, the Norwegian browser has relied on Google's render engine Blink and the source code from Chromium. However, because Opera only releases security updates for the latest edition of the browser, you might want to consider installing the Opera clone Vivaldi [10].

MakuluLinux 7 with Xfce

Shortly after the Cinnamon Edition of MakuluLinux was updated, the Xfce 7 series followed. After many user requests, the Xfce desktop environment (Figure 8) is now based on the Ubuntu 14.04 LTS version, thus inheriting the advantage of long-term support to the year 2019. Because of the upcoming release of Debian 8 "Jessie" and the associated change freeze in the development branch, Debian is currently not a good choice for derivatives anyway. As usual, Makulu does not simply clone the original; in fact, the current Makulu 7.1 Xfce has a unique look and feel.

Figure 8: The unique appearance of both Makulu editions – the Xfce edition is shown here – manifests itself in strong colors and imaginative wallpapers.

The installer comes from Ubuntu and shows no weaknesses in the partitioning step. The option inherited from Ubuntu of encrypting the hard disk during installation with Cryptsetup worked well in our lab. In this case, however, you should not lose the password; otherwise, the data on your hard disk will remain encrypted and inaccessible forever.

The Xfce variant is attractive in terms of both visuals and software engineering. The program selection matches that of the Cinnamon Edition in many ways (Figure 9), as displayed in a Whisker Menu [11]; the Synapse program launcher resides at the other end of the panel. Additionally, you can pin Docky [12] at the top of the screen. Other options include Compiz 1.9.2 and the Emerald Desktop Effects window dresser – if your computer has enough power. To ensure up-to-date software, the distribution relies on a dozen Ubuntu PPA repositories. Y PPA Manager is on board to manage them.

Figure 9: After the install, Steam reports outstanding updates, and PlayOnLinux is ready for your first game.

Makulu's browser of choice for Xfce is Firefox 35.1. Like its counterpart Chrome in Cinnamon, it comes with some plugins already in place, including Adblock, a YouTube downloader, and notification modules for Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail. The design of the desktop environment is extravagant and colorful, as in the Cinnamon variant, with some overlap in terms of backgrounds and themes. Systemd is not used in this distribution: Ubuntu is waiting until the next version, 15.04, to introduce this. Nevertheless, the startup is quite a fast process, and the system lets you work smoothly.

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