Updated: March 10, 2014
A few weeks ago, the forum moderator of the MakuluLinux distro contacted me and politely asked me for a review. An unbiased one, mind. Which means letting Dedoimedo go wild with art and fun. Indeed.
Anyhow, I decided to comply with the request. MakuluLinux 5 is a Debian-based distro, offering KDE, Xfce and Enlightenment desktop environments to its users. It is designed to be stable, sleek, elegant and fully usable out of the box, which means tons of programs, drivers and codecs. Let's see if it's any good in real life.
At first, I had a bit of trouble getting into the live session. I knew up front the user name and password, but for some reason, the distro was refusing to let me in. Eventually, it worked, and I was logged into a most unusual desktop session.
Makulu comes with a dark-themed desktop, with non-transparent desktop icon text, a colorful set of icons everywhere else, and a bunch of rotating wallpapers and quotes, plus a huge date and clock widget, somewhat reminiscent of Windows 8.
There were no issues, and I was able to use both 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wireless networks, Bluetooth, as well as Samba shares. The tabbed Thunar is a pretty neat thing, but I did encounter a glitch while copying some files from a Windows network share. One of the copy attempts stalled, and I was forced to do a bunch of command line kills before I could get rid of the unresponsive copy dialog window. It did not happen since, but it kind of got me slightly worried.
Look & feel
Let's focus some more on Makulu's aesthetics. The dark theme is pleasing, but it is a strain for the eyes. If you work in a bright environment, your eyes will tire quickly, and you will feel as if you have been reading Fifty Shades of Whatever under a flashlight illumination under your blanket, so your significant other won't notice.
The menu is very cool, and very much Xfce unlike, with clearly sorted out categories and good accessibility. But then, Makulu 5.0 sins the sin of all newbie distros, and that is the overkill, so you have another menu icon on the far right, and this one invokes a Gnome 3 like full screen menu, except that it is transparent, which makes things ugly, and completely unnecessary. Especially with those quotes there. Cluttered.
Oh, do notice Spanish in the search field? Why Spanish all of a sudden? You will also find a few applications in the menu with the same phenomenon, so I guess we are dealing with some botched QA and remastering problems.
The system menu does offer each individual setting on its own, but you can also fire the unified settings tool, which has everything, like any regular Xfce desktop.
The hectic pattern continues everywhere you look, including the file manager. Overall, the somewhat cartoonish twist is fresh and interesting, but it's too trippy and it might scare away more conservative users. I mean, this is like playing Team Fortress right there.
Worked fine and without any great problems. The only thing I did not like was that VLC was configured for 1:1 ratio, and huge videos would display beyond the borders of the screen, and I was unable to resize the player. Other than that, MP3, Flash and HD video were all fine.
Take a look at Audacious above. Sweet but too cartoonish by far. Most people will probably find this all too sugary, like Turkish delight. And the biggest sinner of all, Chromium, the browser of choice, which comes crammed with extensions of all sorts, which reflect the personal taste of the developers, but surely should not be used in a public release.
Installation - Impractical and dangerous
Makulu comes with one huge problem. Its installer is extremely unfriendly. Unlike most typical six or seven-step Debian-based wizards, this one offers a hundred windows for each separate setting, as if you are installing using the expert mode, from console. Not only that, some of the options are seemingly incorrect, and others, extremely risky.
Notice the locale. Set to ZA. Why? And the same thing with the browser search engine. I don't mind these kind of things, but overall, I think it should be a little more neutral. And we had Spanish earlier, so what gives.
You will be asked if you want to use a keyboard shortcut for X restarts. Except it tells you about terminating the X server. Horrible wording, and a totally geeky option that does not belong here.
Now, the worst thing ever. So many options. You are supposedly to manually check what you want to do. I thought we were in 2014 and not 2004, and not installing Gentoo or such like. Furthermore, all other wizard steps have Forward on the far right, but not the Installation Options window. So you may accidentally hit Exit and quit.
Partitioning is hardly friendly, either. You will be told all about Gparted and whatnot. And the worst part is that you may want to click skip, which means using what is already available.
The selection of the root partition is not helpful. Because MakuluLinux also lists extended partitions, which cannot be directly used. Furthermore, there's nothing to tell you about the data that may already be present on the disk, and if you have two identical SSD like my test box does, you will have to manually mount one to see which one was enumerated first.
Makulu only lets you choose one swap.
And now, the summary. Wow, wait a minute! Did you read that? Makulu wants to format my /home partition. No way. I explicitly marked the correct installer option so that my filesystems would not be messed with, and yet Makulu marches boldly forth, ignoring my decision. I have important, working distros installed on other partitions, and that shared /home dir contains files for many a user. Formatting it would be a disaster.
Unsure whether Makulu would respect my choice or not, I decided to halt the installation and proceed the testing in the live session. This is the very first time I was forced to do this with anything other than BSD-based distros, which are fairly greedy and aggressive when it comes to disks and partitioning, but there, you at least know it upfront.
I did have distros that would not boot, or would not run after being installed, but this is not the situation here. With MakuluLinux 5.0, I made a conscious decision not to proceed, because my pr0n might be affected. So we will finish the review with some more testing in the live mode. Shame, because it won't give us all we need, including stuff like system resource usage, suspend & resume, performance and such, but that's life.
At this point, I decided to play some more with the look & feel of the distribution, and here, I stumbled across many interesting and buggy things. After restarting the X Server with its magic key combo, the desktop came up with Compiz and Emerald enabled, which did not run beforehand.
The system has some twenty different Emerald themes, which is way too many. You even get ridiculous things like the butterfly theme, which gives you butterflies instead of ordinary buttons. Seriously.
The same goes for Xfce themes and icon sets. Way too many, and some of them are simply not functional. The default set is the nicest one, though.
Work fine, but then again, not really. I wanted a cube, so I increased the number of workspaces to four, but MakuluLinux only retained two. Weird.
The default collection is pretty and crazy. And here, I learned that the applet in charge of those desktop wallpapers and quotes would rotate my own custom images away, and impose its own. Not nice.
MakuluLinux 5 Xfce comes with a very bright, almost too colorful arsenal of programs of every sort and kind and gender. The basic set includes Chromium and Iceweasel browsers, Thunderbird, VLC, Kingsoft Office, Steam, and many others. There is no common grounds to the choice, because you get both supposedly lightweight and heavyweight software.
Then, there's a million utilities and tools, plus tons of odd choices. Why would I need CherryTree? NitroShare? FlareGet? Isn't this a Windows program? Then, you have still more and more of these, and they all come together in a big, confusing jumble that leaves your eyes watering at the sheer clash of color and culture and purpose.
Stability was there all right, and suspend & resume also worked fine in the live session, but I can't say what might happen after the installation, although I think everything would work out fine. Performance was reasonable for the USB medium. But let's not forget the password thingie earlier, the X restart and the desktop effects suddenly coming to life.
Now, here's something I have not told you, and that is MakuluLinux 5 is only available in a 32-bit version. You do not get a 64-bit edition anywhere, and I wonder why. This is pretty wrong in the modern era, unless the desktop is only targeted at very old systems.
One of the odd things in the system menu is Chromium 4 Virtualbox. What?
I did not test package management, due to live session restrictions, or printing, but I think I have covered enough to draw a bunch of conclusions regarding the Xfce version of Makulu. First, it is really nice, visually. Reminds me of Dreamlinux, and it showcases what Xfce can do when you floor the accelerator all the way down. Second, it's rather robust and stable.
However, the installer is absolutely awful, and there's too much clutter and kitsch in every aspect of use, probably because the developers went too enthusiastic with their own creation, and did not know where to stop. Naturally, long-term support and continuity are also something you must consider. The lack of a 64-bit edition is a big miss. Finally, there are a lot of QA-related glitches in the product, including mismatches languages and options, too many programs, weird options here and there.
Overall, it's not a bad effort, but a lot more needs to be done before it can be made ready for mass use. And by more I mean far, far less. Fewer options and software, fewer themes and icons, less bling-bling, and so forth. Tear down some of the jewel-encrusted scabbing and make your own life and testing easier. Focus on the bare essentials that should make Makulu unique. Of course, fix the bugs and problems. Most importantly, sort that lethal installer, because it's simply a horrible effort. Without it, this distro would probably deserve 6.5/10, but with it, it only gets something like 4/10. Let's see what the next edition will do.