Arcolinux - Too much, too little

Updated: March 28, 2020

Walking the Tux road, one system at a time. A short while back, I thought a departure from the proven mainstream dozen distros would do me some fresh good. So I grabbed Solus OS, I tested Peppermint, and now, I'd like to embark on an Arch adventure.

Previously known as ArchMerge, Arcolinux is a distro that obeys Monty Python's rule of three. Three shall be the number of versions, and the number of desktop environments shall be three. Not two, not four. ArcoLinux has the main edition plus D and B builds for tinkerers. I opted for the Xfce-clad 19.12 release. Without further ado, let's see what gives.

Live session

The system booted fine on the UEFI-powered multi-boot Lenovo G50. But then, it launched the installer right away, even though I haven't yet had a chance to sample the system. The installer also hanged, so I quit it, and went about exploring. Like many a small distro, it comes with a somewhat inconsistent approach to aesthetics and functionality. Overload and minimalism combined, an unnecessarily low-contrast dark theme based on Arc, lovely icons, and then lots of stuff all over the place.

First screen

The system menu category bar is transparent, which is distracting. The system area looks odd with no spacing between the username and the digital clock. Also, you get no tooltips or hover info for anything in the system area, so you really must click to see what gives. Feels like a lot of random things thrown together. As expected, some of these are nice, but others are a total miss.

Menu

System area

Side panel

There are some nice touches, but the whole gray-on-gray is oppressive:

Files, dark theme

Settings

The vibrant icon colors against the gray background - simply jarring.

Network connectivity

Solid-ish. Wireless, fine, Bluetooth fine. Samba sharing was also okay. Printing, kind of meh. You have to manually search for network devices, even though most other distros with a similar implementation do the same for you. Then, there's Samba printing, which was ok.

Bluetooth

Printing

Media playback

All right, but. For music, you get Pragha, which looks quite 2005 bland. For video, you get VLC. So I'm wondering, why have both really, especially since the former doesn't look or do anything special. The system theme does not integrate well with VLC - looks all wrong.

Music, MP3 playback

Notice the window transparency across the titlebar. You can see the background from the file manager there. Quite distracting - and totally unnecessary.

HD video

The buttons look disabled, the orange volume thing is out of place, background windows intruding ...

Browser war

Strangely, or rather, curiously, Arcolinux ships with Firefox and Vivaldi - and both are shown in the vertical sidebar. I launched Vivaldi, and hit a couple of annoying errors. Codecs issues, what. And default thingie, well, why include it, or have it so prominently featured then?

Vivaldi, codecs

Vivaldi, default browser prompt

Error, error, error

I wasn't keen on the dark theme, like duh, so I thought, let me switch to a lighter one. Only Adwaita offers anything resembling any decent level of contrast, but as soon as I tried it, I broke the brittle balance upon which Arcolinux is founded. The system area icons became invisible against the light-colored background, and no amount of tinkering with the other available themes helped.

Adwaita applied, lots of visual glitches

So in a way, this looks better, but it does not feel like a complete product ...

Settings, light theme

At this point, I still had a few things to do in the live session, but then I realized I wasn't enjoying myself at all. Going through the motions, a tickbox exercise. Which is the wrong way to go about Linux. The idea is to have fun, to enjoy oneself. So I decided to stop the review.

Conclusion

I am struggling to reconcile with the polar brilliance of the Linux desktop. Even now, some 15+ years since I started using it, I haven't gotten used to it. You get something really cool, and then a bunch of random cosmic events that ruin the experience. And this is because most distros aren't designed with the end user in mind, and they have no product awareness.

Arcolinux has some interesting points. But this ain't new, radical or special. You can pick any distro, and it will do something significantly better than others. Then, it will also fail three or five basic things that ordinary folks expect. And most distros have this problem - they do not address the most mundane activities or needs that one wants in a desktop. Arcolinux was fast, it did all right on the connectivity front, but it's quite rough around the edges, and if you deviate from the dark-theme unicorn, the session loses all traces of fun. Which is not how it's meant to be. If you want to test something a bit avant-garde, and Arch-based at this, perhaps you want to look at Arcolinux. For me, this is a classic manifestation of a much wider problem in the Linux space, and once again, sadness rules supreme at the end of the short review.

Cheers.

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