Solus 2017.04.18.0 review - Second time lucky?


Updated: July 15, 2017

It is time to give Solus another shot. Approximately six months ago, I tried Solus 1.2. The test commenced with a promise of many good things to come, but then it was cut short by an installation error. Solus was unable to setup the bootloader, and subsequently, my system was rendered inoperable until I applied some rigorous fixing.

There's a new Solus out, and it carries the 2017 version label. I will try to get Solus running, because I liked what I've seen so far. Elegance, style, easy access to goodies, and continuous improvement of a solid baseline, with some rather impressive results from Budgie, a desktop that is growing to be an interesting contender in the Linux space.

Let there be sun

This time around, this worked more smoothly than before. Solus booted without a hitch on my bruised-'n'-used, test-dedicated Lenovo G50 machine, its colorful UEFI setup with 16 partitions and some sevenish operating systems notwithstanding.

The desktop is pretty - and it looks more and more like Gnome, well, duh. You have the top panel, with a powerful, contextual right-click set of options, allowing you to pin applications, but also use their features directly, in most of the cases. Very nice.

Desktop

Menu

Panel, right click

There are still some visual niggles - moving icons about happens without any clues, so you will only know if your drag-'n'-drop operation worked after you've completed it, and the menu comes with a rigid, fixed size that crops some of the presented items. This is no news, but it can be a little frustrating. Some Gnome-like features are good, but others should not be embraced.

I really like the window decorations piece, too - but I'm not so keen on the huge transparent border, which again, if you take screenshots, showcases anything in the background. Not something ordinary users will face overmuch, but worth noting. However, overall, the desktop is pretty, stylish, and it blends minimalism with warmth.

Files

Network connectivity

Worked pretty well overall. No issues with Wireless, a stark difference to the life-sapping Debian 9 experience we had recently. You can also print to Wireless devices but not to Samba ones, oddly. Samba shares, no sweat. Lastly, Bluetooth sort of worked. I was able to pair with my Lumia 520 phone, but I was not able to send files. The system just reset the connection. Maybe goes hand in hand with Realtek firmware warnings during the boot process. Once again, many years into the life of my little laptop, distros continue having fundamental problems with its basic, widespread hardware configuration. For the time being, Kubuntu Zesty remains the one distro with a flawless track record on this one, so there really isn't any excuse as to why it shouldn't work.

Printing wizard

The printing wizard does NOT have the big, thick transparent border. W00t.

Search for devices

Send files

Multimedia playback

Alles Klar Herr Kommissar. Almost. HD video, MP3, good. You even get a nice little applet notification in the system area, but unlike Solus 1.2, this one does NOT show album art. Also, you cannot play music from smartphones. This did not work for me.

HD video

MP3 playback

The borders are not symmetric; this annoys me.

Playback from phone, error

No smartphone playback.

Applets & notifications

No art, no love.

Smartphone support

Among the various devices that I own, I opted for Windows Phone and Ubuntu Phone tests. Both were correctly recognized and auto-mounted, with read and write permissions. Groovy.

Windows Phone

You cannot resize the sidebar more than this; max. width.

More on the bold and the beautiful front

Before we move on to the installation, let's focus a little more on what Budgie does on the aesthetics side. I will conduct a new and separate review of the desktop, soon, but for now, some extra observations. Font clarity is an issue, and this affects many, many, many distros. Not enough contrast, and ultimately, this means eye fatigue.

Quite a few elements have fixed sizes - Files, for instance, has a side pane that can only be resized a little bit to the left or right, but not as much as one might please. Likewise, it does not show internal volumes out of the box, and this does reduce the clutter, but then, you are again limited in your maneuvering space in the vertical dimension.

Other locations

More on the functional front

Much like early days Xfce, there's quite a bit of redundancy with system settings. You can access the general System Settings menu, but it does not feature all the categories as the System Settings sub-menu in the system menu. And there are still other ways to access system functions. And yet, you're still limited in what you can do, mostly in terms of how you tweak and configure the desktop. This is one piece where Budgie too closely follows the Gnome mantra, and it does highlight questions around the differences between these two.

Settings do not match

The presence of the Tweak Tool makes for an even tougher case, because you begin wondering how different the two really are, and whether most of what we see here can actually be achieved through some rigorous Gnome pimping perhaps. And, as we can see, Arc is a very nice theme, but its gray-on-gray is bad for your ocular thingies.

Tweak Tool

There are also two logout options in the system area, and this feels rather redundant and possibly even dangerous. You cannot edit the system area in any way. And you cannot create documents in Files by default. Really. Really?

Installation - Cross fingers

Now, the tricky part. Very similar to Solus 1.2, with a clean, streamlined wizard. It detected the partitions in a record time, and it almost correctly labeled all of them. This is a decent approach, but there are safer installers out there. The one thing that bothered me is that you can only select target partitions with a right click. There does not seem to be an option not to format some. There's no option to separately mount /boot/efi or else, so I assume these are handled automatically.

Install window, begin

Where to install

Partitions

Fast discovery, no window borders here, either; some of the partitions are misidentified.

Partitions selected

Once you get this sorted out, you can begin the installation. There is no bling-bling. No slideshow. Just a simple progress bar, and boy, it was faster than a Soyuz re-entry vehicle. Within five minutes, it had copied everything and told me job done, Orc peasant accent. No bootloader errors this time around, great, but I was surprised that it had done something that most distros need a good 10-15 minutes to get around. Well, no retreat, no surrender, we reboot!

Installing

Boot into ... Manjaro

The GRUB menu came up, and it did not belong to Solus. Nope, it was Manjaro, which currently controls the boot sequence on this system. Whatever Solus 2017 did, it sure did not configure the bootloader. It didn't fail or cripple the box like the last time, but it also did not commit itself to the idea of this complex multi-boot.

I figured, no matter. I'll just boot into Manjaro, update GRUB and then I'll have Solus as another operating system in a long and colorful list. However, once I did this and rebooted, there was no Solus listed. Whatever was installed was not usable or compatible. And thus, for the second time, Solus thwarted my affection.

On the technical side, I mounted the target partition in one of the other running distros, just to see what gives. I browsed about, and there aren't any installation logs to go through. What is evident, though, is that there is nothing under /boot. It's completely empty, so it's no wonder that the system cannot boot. It has no initramfs, no kernel, nothing. What it did do is copy two files called initrd-com.solus-project.lts.whatever and kernel-com.solus-project.lts.whatever under /boot/EFI/EFI/com.solus-project, but there should be a GRUB config and a set of EFI images here instead. The EFI image named goofiboot is actually there, located in the namesake directory, but on its own, it's probably not sufficient to help chainload the distro correctly any which way. And no bootloader config. This is quite dangerous, because systems should not attempt to place random junk and clobber the small EFI partition. I guess Solus just does not handle UEFI systems well.

Conclusion

Solus 2017 looks like a nice distro, with some obvious visual caveats and tiny functional quirks. It's reasonable enough than I'm determined to test it on non-UEFI hardware, where I'll hopefully have more luck. But on a UEFI platform, it seems hopeless. I don't know there should be a problem when so many other distros do just fine without any issues. Solus seems to be a special snowflake, and it does not cooperate well with a modern and complex system.

All in all, I cannot recommend the distro, because the outcome may still be harmful. If a distro cannot install properly, the results can be unpredictable. My testing shows some very favorable things, and Budgie looks quite all right now, but as a package, Solus just doesn't handle UEFI well. I'll report back after a third, and hopefully lucky test, but you are warned to carefully proceed until the hardware side has been polished. Double sigh. Maybe another another time.

Cheers.

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