GeckoLinux 421 Plasma review - It ain't no dragon


Updated: June 27, 2016

I heard a lot of good praise about this little distro. My inbox is flooded with requests to take it for a spin, so I decided, hey, so many people are asking. Let us. The thing is, openSUSE derivatives are far and few in between, but the potential and the appeal are definitely there. Something like CentOS on steroids, the way Stella did once, the same noble way Fuduntu tried to emancipate Fedora. Take a somewhat somber distro and pimpify it into submission.

GeckoLinux is based on openSUSE Leap, and I chose the Plasma Static edition. There's also a Rolling version, based on Tumbleweed, but that one never worked for me. The test box for this review is Lenovo G50. But wait! Dedoimedo, did you not recently write in your second rejection report that GeckoLinux had failed to boot? Indeed I did. But the combo of yet another firmware update on the laptop and a fresh new download fixed it, allowing for a DVD boot. Somewhat like the painful but successful Fedora exercise back in the day. Tough start, but let's see what gives.

Teaser

Before we begin

I have to warm you. I'm skeptical. Because openSUSE 42.1 was something I hoped would skyrocket SUSE back into the realm of fun and relevance, but it just flopped. Yes, I will test again to see if some of those initial issues had been resolved, but meh.

Then again, in the past, I used to try a variety of Kubuntu, Fedora and other distros yet again several months after the initial review, and they would often show progress, fixes and general improvement. We can possibly expect the same from SUSE, or alternatively, Gecko can give us all that, and then some.

Speaking of GeckoLinux, it is a spin, created using SUSE Studio, which makes for a nice, elegant experiment. However, there's a bigger philosophical question here? Do you really need these extra distros to make up for the original shortcomings? You have seen my guides on how to pimp SUSE, as well as Fedora, or CentOS. Or Scientific Linux. A few simple tricks can transform unfriendly distributions into excellent home players. All that said, it is time to boot GeckoLinux and investigate its added value. Proceed with caution and mild optimism slash skepticism.

Live session - 'orrible beginning

It didn't go well. Right away. The desktop loaded, but then it froze when I tried to setup the Wireless connection. I had to Ctrl + Alt + Backspace the desktop environment, which mercifully worked. The second time around, the Wireless setup stuttered, and I was not able to get the network connection. Only the third time it worked, and this required removing and then adding the network card kernel module into memory. Eventually, it succeeded, and I was logged into a functional but none too amazing or prettily customized Plasma session.

Network fail

Live desktop

Live desktop, menu

Things look okay, but then, is this the best Plasma can do? What's up with the Language desktop icon. Why use non-transparent text background like in the olden days of Xfce? Why break the text across two lines? Why does it have to look 1994?

Ugly icons

Then, that language script, what's that? Why does it prompt for a repo addition, and why does the text need to be so small and manky? I am not happy. This does not look like a carefully thought out design. Nopey nope. Oh, and Spectacle, as a brand new screenshot tool, sucks monkey balls.

Languages installer is ugly and dubious

Samba sharing & printing

Kind of sucky. In the live session, there's no WINS, so you can't use names only IP addresses to get to your Windows boxes. Later on, there will be WINS support in the installed system, and this bugs me, because consistency is very important.

After that, it worked, but if you copy files over to Windows, timestamps will not be preserved. Likewise, printing to Samba did not work, because 45Kb of extra files is way too mainstream. There are too many printing options in the menu, as if a random bunch of people submitted their code, and no one bothered to actually cross-reference the stuff.

Too many print options

Samba printing

Then, the process of copying some files over actually got stuck. Boom. The Realtek bug strikes again! This total and utter diarrhea is only getting worse with every new kernel release, and it's making more and more manifestation across different distributions. Hey, can you please fix this shit?

Samba stuck

What is love?
Baby don't Samba,
Don't Samba,
No more.

Once again, I was able to gain my network back using the modprobe trick, as outlined in my second tutorial on how to fix Realtek problems. After that, the network stupidly died another three times during the live session. I gave Linux Mint a zero score because of this, and now I kind of feel bad, because EVERY distro since had pulled the same trick, and they all deserve a zero, bin them all, one collective pile of crap. The only reason you are still reading reviews is because I care about you, and I want you to know what you get if you chose to play with the Monumental Spring Failure Edition Release (MSFER) storm that we've had in the last few months. Letters MS in that acronym. Coincidence?

BTW, after modprobing the driver (probe ze driver, ja, ich bin eine prober expert), the system area was stuck for another good minute or two, and I was about to restart the desktop session again when it recovered. I also wanted to see if the distro actually had a network, so I tried an innocent little ping and got a stupid error around libcap. As a root user. What? Why? Are you trying to ruin my day?

ping google.com
ping: error while loading shared libraries: libcap.so.2: cannot stat shared object: Permission denied

Multimedia playback

I was too pissed off to pay too much attention, but I quickly checked Youtube, no Flash there, it's all HTML5, good. And then MP3, which worked just fine, so there's some improvement compared to SUSE. Clementine is an interesting choice over Amarok. I failed to test the HD video, but we will talk a little more about extra media functionality after the install setup.

Youtube, HTML5

Music, MP3

Installation

The one thing you can NEVER fault with openSUSE is the installation wizard. Again, it's not the simplest or most intuitive, but it is the safest. It always finds the best partitioning defaults, it never makes a wrong choice, and it always recommends a separate home, which is not going to be formatted. All in all, a blast.

One thing that may surprise you is a very simple, even pointless license agreement, which I suspect the author of the distro just added because he or she needed something to complete this step in the Studio. Well, whatever.

License agreement

Without any big fanfare or pretty slides, the procedure completed within only about 15 minutes, from a DVD, which is quite a respectable achievement. This includes the GRUB2 setup sequence, and this host has 16 GPT partitions, Windows 10, half a dozen Linux distros, and more. BTRFS and all that. Lovely jubbly. Oh, the bootloader reads openSUSE, which is often the case with remastered distros. Anyhow, it worked fine.

Partitioning, nice and safe defaults

Gecko installing

Cold blooded

The installed system comes with a default linux user - in addition to whatever one you have created. Why? I don't want this random user there. The desktop looks just like before, green and not too inspiring. I admire the effort to make SUSE more presentable, but the excellent SUSE theme is not used, and Plasma looks a bit old school.

Applications

The repertoire is fairly humble. Not bad, just not as bombastic as KDE distros normally go for, with a billion little tools and utilities. Here, you get the Firefox and Thunderbird combo, the former elegantly clad with a nice custom SUSE search, VLC and Clementine, the latter being the default media player of choice, but then do you really need both of these, LibreOffice, Okular, KTorrent, Pidgin, GwenView, and some others. You don't have Skype, Steam, GIMP, or a webcam utility, but I was able to grab these easily.

Apps

Firefox search

Speaking of Firefox, there are no other browsers in the system, but it still complained about not being the default one. What? This must be a leftover from the studio remix or something.

Firefox, default browser

Package management & updates

Not the most refined, but it works well. If you've used openSUSE once, you know the drill. YaST does it for you, and sometimes, it can be a little clunky, but it will find and install the right packages for you. Plus you do need to approve three or four custom software sources, including the Packman repo. SUSE on steroids, indeed.

Updates working fine

Package management

More multimedia

I did some more testing, and VLC could not play remote media streams from Samba shares. There is a fix for this, I shall tutorialize separately, but as it stands, this is another little failure that needs to be added to a growing list. And the worst part in the whole scheme is, it's so very simple to fix this thing.

VLC cannot play remote stream

Smartphone support

The usual Plasma nonsense. As you can imagine, iPhone was a no-go, and the same applies to Windows Phone. Only my Aquaris worked, but all in all, it's a very sad state of an operating system that showed such amazing promise about a year and a half ago. Yes, let it die.

Windows Phone, nope

Ubuntu Phone works

Bluetooth support

Broken. As simple as that. I couldn't even turn the service on. FAAAIL.

Bluetooth broken

Resource usage

Well, not too bad. About 500 MB of RAM, which is less than most distros we've seen this year really. The CPU is fairly quiet. On paper it looks like a good deal, and perhaps the second redeeming feature of this distro, after the installation.

Resources

Performance, responsiveness

Okay, but nothing ideal. The system was decent, but I've seen many faster, more lithe ones. Could be BTRFS, could be something else. I don't know, and frankly, I don't care. Stuff should just work. Firefox would often get stuck a lot, freezing for a few seconds while trying to compute Javascript or some similar modern-age nonsense. Not acceptable, and it's a disappointment that in 2016, smooth, clear Web experience isn't a given.

Suspend & resume

Worked fine. No problems here.

Battery life

Even though memory consumption is okay, and the CPU isn't too wild, the battery only has enough juice for about 2 hours and a bit. Very disappointing. Amazing how much regression there can be in the Linux world.

Battery life

Customization

I tried making Plasma pretty - we will have a separate article on this, but I found that lots of themes and icons available in the system settings menu are broken. Clean that crap up please. Garbage helps no one. I settled on the openSUSE theme, and I spent a bit of time playing with bling-bling until I got everything right. Sort of.

In the end ...

After fiddling with different windows decorations, themes and icons, my buttons were all wrong, white on white background, and I couldn't find an easy way to fix this, so I moved my plasma config files into a backup folder. A fresh new session that came up as a result is identical to SUSE Leap. So I'm wondering what's the actual added value of Gecko? Yes, the same can be said for pretty much any distro out there, but still. Because the raw functionality was not that much better than openSUSE. That's the big problem.

Nice 1

Nice 2

Nice 3

Then, there are still more problems. There's no Show desktop widget, I think this is a general regression in Plasma. Absolutely maddening. WINS is installed now, so Samba works by name, but the lack of consistency is just as bad. Steam is listed twice, including a dubious category called Toys. WTF? Less is not installed. What? And if you have not yet configured a printer, the system area applet will just complaint rather than do something useful like, I don't know, let you configure a printer perhaps. Anyhow, I'm tired. Enough.

Widgets

Steam listed under Toys

System area complaining about printers

Less not installed

Conclusion

GeckoLinux is an attempt to make openSUSE better. Well, in that regard, it does succeed. That, on its own, means nothing. Losing three fingers in a chainsaw accident is better than losing four fingers. One year in prison is better than five. But the end result is not positive or redeeming.

This distro does have some improvements over stock SUSE, but it still fails in way too many areas. On the visual side, there are some tiny glitches, but bigger issues include Wireless, Bluetooth, Samba, and printing issues, missing packages, weak smartphone support, inconsistency in behavior, bad battery record, seemingly random errors and bugs, and more. Not something you'd expect from a system that aims to tame SUSE and give you a superior experience.

I think Year 2016 is not going to be the year of Linux. It's going to be the end of it. It feels like the entire domain is just weary. There's nothing new and innovative in the desktop space, power consumption has skyrocketed, the bugs are multiplying because you can't keep pace with such rapid release cycles, even Mint is rumored to drop codecs from its base build, so what's the point really, and there's nothing good this spring. Nothing at all. Absolutely terrible. GeckoLinux is another manifestation of this sadness.

All in all, Gecko deserves 5/10. Maybe. Its biggest conceptual problem is offering all the different flavors. Too much work to sensibly QA and provide a good product. GeckoLinux should only focus on the Plasma edition, and maybe Gnome. But that's it. Still, regardless of the desktop choice, there are tons of problems under the hood. Until these are resolved, GeckoLinux 421 is not much better than openSUSE Leap, and definitely not something that I would recommend for daily use. Alas, not meant to be. This season continues to be the worst even in my entire life of using Linux. Carry on, Tux, boldly, right into the grave.

Cheers.

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