Updated: January 15, 2016
Tough is the life of a distro reviewer, at least has been in the last months of 2015. One bad distro after another. What is distro, baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me no more. That bad. Seriously, nothing good happened this autumn. Crazily, Fedora 23 with its GNOME desktop was the closest to being a sensible distro. A few others delivered okay, but when you expect mega wow, okay just isn't good enough. Oh yes, Netrunner Rolling scored zero.
So you can imagine my apprehension ere this review, wondering if I'm going to have another bad day fighting technology, regressions and retardation all combined. But let's be optimistic. The glass is half-full, even if I like to drink from the bottle. To wit, Netrunner 17 Horizon, tested on my G50 machine, alongside Windows and many a Linux.
Problems started by trying to copy the ISO to a thumb drive. Failure after failure, no matter what software I used or what device. In the end, I had to do it the old school way, with an external DVD drive. But boot then it did. The live session is very pleasing and cool and lovely. Extremely well designed, smooth, polished, sexy, everything that Plasma should be. The colors are a bit plasticky, neony, but I likes them a lot. There's a retro-80s new wave look about the distribution, and the dark tones plus blue and purple add to the ambiance. The menu is activated with the Win (Super) key, a first time ever for KDE if I'm not mistaken. Lovely Jubbly.
Dolphin also looks rad, but the image preview in the right pane should be lowered by about 3-4px so it aligns with the top of the center frame where the files and folders are displayed.
Wireless worked fine, and you don't get a Wallet prompt. Copying to and fro Samba shares was spotless, which only makes the Mint failure last week all the more infuriating. But then I'd have been more forgiving if the bug did not come to bear within seconds into the live session. Never mind. Printing does not seem to work. If you type printer(s), then invoke whatever the menu gives, nothing will happen. You need to start the wizard in a different fashion, but that's for after the installation. Likewise, Bluetooth, later on.
No complains except the default choice of the music player and the excess of available software. But apart from that, everything worked peachily, including but not limited to Flash, MP3, HD video. There's also a very nice system tray integration for your media, regardless of the choice of the player. Very neat.
Overall, it went fine and without any problems. Contrast that to the Rolling release if you will. The Wireless step bug that we saw with Kubuntu has been rectified. The partitions are not labeled, which makes it more difficult to detect the right target device in multi-boot scenarios.
After that, the installer continued smoothly, quietly, accompanied with an extremely well-designed slide show. Proper DPI, contrast, scaling and such. A professional work, which shows that QA isn't fairy dust. It requires long hours. The installation completed successfully.
Event Party On
Now, we're using Horizon. What gives? Well, a few small problems right away. The update applet was complaining that it didn't have proper authorization to download the packages, so I tried the command line and then the network died. It happened AGAIN, which makes the hairs under my armpits tingle. FFS, we've moved on ten kernels since, please fix this nonsense. But my little hack sure did work around the issue, and I've not seen any problems after that.
Updates & package management
As I said earlier, it worked all right. Not the best, but doable. I am annoyed that you get the language installation prompt, which should be part of the standard installation set, or at least presented to the user in a way that actually explains why the extra language packages could be useful. Muon Discover is also behind USC and friends in terms of usability and appeal.
Finally, a reboot away, with the little bugs and glitches behind, I had a fine and presentable Plasma desktop at my disposal, and I could actually commence to start trying to begin enjoying myself with this distribution. To be fair, so far, it was behaving, and it had delivered a more pleasant experience than other Plasma desktops this year. Netrunner 17 Horizon was showing promise of cautious optimism only mildly spoiled by cynicism of old age and hard experience.
Roughly 2GB worth of image data sure brings you a lot of stuff. The selection is extremely generous, colorful and balanced. Some of the stuff may be an overkill, but most of the programs are sensible. Firefox, Thunderbird, Pidgin, Skype, Steam, GIMP, LibreOffice, VirtualBox, Cheese, Audacious, VLC, KDEnlive, and then some.
I am not too pleased by the extra browser extensions used in the distro. The repertoire has been tamed recently, but still, let users choose what they want or need for their system, if any. Then, the digital signature warning must be the new Firefox thingie announced a few weeks back.
Not too promising. Apple iPhone is still a nope, unless you do it manually. Windows Phone is also problematic, because Netrunner 17 refused to mount it. This seems to be a KDE or Plasma issue, because Zorin and Mint Rafaela have had no such troubles. Not an NTFS issue either, because the distro mounted the Windows 10 partitions beautifully. Last but not the least, Ubuntu Phone is the only device that actually worked without any glitches.
If we recall the Ubuntu family saga, only Kubuntu Werewolf delivered some semblance of a fully functional Bluetooth stack. Netrunner 17 Horizon does a similar job. It did complain a little bit about not being able to pair when it did, so it's a false positive. And then Plasma crashed when trying to send a file to the device. Only once. After that, subsequent transfers worked fine.
It does work, you just have to use the System Settings menu or the system area, but not a word search invoked through the main menu. Works means the applet launches, but if you want to print to Samba, you will be an unhappy camper. Shame.
Resource usage, stability, suspend & resume
Apart from that what I've mentioned already, there were no other crashes. As always, the network stack is the weakest link. Plasma does feel a little more robust than in the past, but this implementation does not match openSUSE. Suspend & resume, fast and furious. Resource usage is quite low in terms of RAM, less than 0.5 GB. The CPU can be quieter, and it does often spike into the double-digit area. Performance is reasonable. Responsiveness can be slightly sharper.
Shiver me puzzled, but for a distro that's relatively lean on resources, battery life ought to be better. Nope. Only about 2.5 hours, including an auto-dimmed screen. Not the best of results. Then again, the CPU can be more peaceful.
I didn't even have to download any new wallpapers. The default set is rad enough.
Netrunner 17 Horizon redeems the Plasma desktop. It is not perfect, but after all the ugly fiascoes and disappointments we've had, it delivers salvation. There's more work to be done, some bugs to be patched, some niggles ironed. All in all, though, it's a pretty solid distro. It looks the part, multimedia support is very good, and Bluetooth is okay. Printing, smartphone support and battery life can definitely be improved or polished or both.
My biggest fear is the new version might undo all the good work invested in this particular release. But if we compare to the 16th edition, there are small, incremental improvements all over the place. Again, not perfect, and some areas still need to be fixed, but that's fine. We can live with that, as long as we achieve progress and no regressions. Anyhow, if you're looking for a Plasma experience, this autumn slash winter slash new year, this is the one and only distro out there that delivers anything beyond tears. In fact, quite all right. 8.75/10. Peace.