Updated: September 3, 2014
Several months back, I reviewed a relatively new Debian-based distribution named MakuluLinux, and while it did have lots of cool stuff, it was tailored with too much kitsch, some bugs, and a complicated installer. The developers read my review, responded with a nice friendly email, and took some of my commentary to heart.
Now, approximately half a year later, I am going to test Makulu again, this time the KDE flavor. And while the lack of a 64-bit version is still very much evident, perhaps there are other redeeming features that may delight us. The test box is my usual T61 laptop with its four distros spread on two SSD. Let's see.
The most immediately apparent features are definitely the visual ones. Makulu comes with its unique, slightly cartoonish styling, which looks cute and funny and fresh, and is only slightly tinged with a hippo fetish, because hippos are everywhere. The splash screen is unlike any other, but the desktop is slightly more toned down. However, it is still too busy and too dark right away, making it hard to use the distribution in low-light conditions.
Wireless worked fine, both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz networks. KDE Wallet popped up, but then it did not ask for a password. Samba sharing was horrible in the live session. Super slow and practically not usable.
More look & feel
Speaking of all the little details and changes that went into Makulu, the menu is one of the more prominent ones. Or rather, which of the two menus? You have the regular menu, but it has the problem of being transparent, and with too many desktop icons, it is very hard to read. And then, you have the musketeer-style menu, called All in One, which invokes a full screen scroll tablet full of icons, somewhat like Mageia. Why?
Furthermore, why the hippo desktop, and why the kids? I don't want to see someone else's children on my desktop. It's disturbing. It's enough that I have to see this phenomenon on my colleagues' work laptops all day long. Simple, neutral schemes please!
But that unique beauty persists. The theme and the icons are very much Makulu, and you will find them everywhere. If only the overall tone was not so dark. Really hard on the eyes, with the font contrast and whatnot.
I tried the usual, Flash and MP3. Konqueror stalled on launching Youtube, so I could not even test this really. Trying to fire up an MP3 file also caused a problem, because the default music app, deadbeef, is not there! VLC did the trick, but this is one of them QA demons.
Furthermore, I disabled desktop effects to make it easier to take screenshots without transparency, and then, all sort of weird artifacts started cropping up everywhere. Take a look at the image above. This does not happen in other KDE distributions, so it must be wonky drivers. Regardless, FormaN decorations are nice! More artifacts below, see that weird white line, what!
And now music:
Installation - 'Orrible
Makulu offers two wizards - a slower, GUI wizard that is supposed to run for about 40 minutes, and the faster text-driven one like we've seen before. I tried the GUI one and failed, because it asked for a password that just wasn't there. Not the user one, not the default root one, something else. No go.
Frankly, at this point, I considered giving up, but decided to continue, just for the completeness' sake. Anyhow, it's the text wizard, and it has its share of snares and traps for the unsuspecting user. To call it unfriendly would be an understatement for many reasons.
Finding the right partitions is a chore. First, look at the image above. Middle option? What middle option? Use Existing Partition? Should it not read Use Existing Partitions? Install Guide? What?
Then, the chore gets even trickier, because you don't know what hides under those labels. So you will have to manually mount and test to see what gives. This was my great complaint in version 5.0, and it has not been addressed. What makes it worse is that Debian does have both text-driven and wizard-driven installer wizards that are so much better than this one. Take a look at SolydK, for instance. Why, oh why?
But the big, big problem is that it wanted to format my /home partition, even though I clearly marked NOT to do that, because it hosts home directories for a whole bunch of other users. Lethal! Another reason to quit. Instead, I rerun the installer and simply selected a single partition for both / and /home, without any separation. But this is a disgrace, really.
After the installation
The installed desktop looks like the live session one. An excellent feature is that Makulu imports your live documents into the installed system. This is very, very neat. Few distros bother to do this. Then, you also have a post-install script that can setup your machine.
We have seen these kinds of utilities before - in Pardus, Chakra, Crunchbang. They all did their work fairly well. Here, I was quite frustrated. It took almost 90 minutes for this script to run its course. Plus I had to setup the locale, timezone and more, all of which should have been configured BEFORE the first boot. Then, after the wizard finished, closing the window caused the system to reboot. No, I don't want that. Why?
The wizard will ask you to choose the closes [sic], so there's a typo there, location to your own location. In other words, these are the available Debian mirrors, but it does not explain this in any way.
During the setup, Device Driver Manager popped up and asked me to choose the right video driver for my system. C'mon, this is a trivial step with Intel graphics on most other distros, why complicate it?
Despite its heavy size, 1.7 GB to be exact, there's not that much software packaged in the distribution. The browser of choice is Konqueror, and it is annoying, because it does not allow searches in the address bar. You do have Kingsoft Office, VLC and ImageMagick, but that's it. Hardly the KDE repertoire you'd expect.
Sure, there are many other programs, but they seem somewhat strange, obscure and frankly pointless. Utilities that add weight but little practical day-to-day substance. And this is before the system installed some 200MB worth of other programs that no one asked for. That happens during the 90 minutes of post setup, mind.
Then, the overcomplication with software from a million different sources continues. Observe the menu, if you will, under the Contacts tab. It complains how there's no Kopete. Why and how did anyone remaster this KDE is a mystery.
System usage, stability, suspend & resume
Sleep and wake, check. Stability, ok, expect all of the above and below. System usage was roughly 460 MB, and this sounds low, but remember, this is a 32-bit system, so we cannot really compare. Oh, there are two system monitors in the menu, and one of them does what exactly? Again, why?
Works, including Samba. Notice those low contrast fonts and whatnot. Bad.
Other weird stuff and such
Why do hidden files show in Dolphin? And that hidden file actually defines an action for Nautilus file hiding. That's inception and QA fail, at the same time.
There's no Firefox in the repos! What?
I didn't check Youtube slash Flash playback because of this. Konqueror was a no-go, and I could not install even the most basic of browsers for my own use and pleasure, and this means I'm not going to play this game. I was supposed to do some more testing and such, but I simply had no desire to continue with all these weird things coming and going at me like a wild flock of rabid geese. This was no fun. Why bother.
What happened? MakuluLinux 5.0 showed a lot of promise, and this version completely dashed it. Ruined it. The stupid installer remains, and it is extremely dangerous for your data. There are a lot of problems with applications and configurations, which probably stem from a desire to include everything only without sufficient QA.
It can't work like this. It's not sustainable. I admire the hard work, and the art is really unique, but the composition is simply not there. The distro is full of holes and problems. The integration of different parts is shoddy, and the lack of a 64-bit version presents yet another challenge. All combined, I must give up on Makulu, I'm afraid. Maybe one day, it may rise high and mighty and show everyone its beauty, but for that to happen there must be a diamond-hard base of impeccable, predictable goodness. Grade wise, the KDE spin is worse than the Xfce edition, and with the installer, it's only 3/10. Sorry.