Updated: November 24, 2014
Netrunner Rolling distro release is a very interesting concepts, on many level. It's a KDE desktop, based on Arch and Manjaro, the latter also being partially based on Arch itself, plus it comes with a rolling update model. A far cry from the typical asterisk-buntu philosophy that pervades most of the market.
In the canonical notation, Netrunner Rolling is actually an Arch-Arch-Manjaro distro, and this actually sounds like Ice Ice Baby, only geekier. Arch, Arch, Manjaro. Tam dam dam da da dam dam. Sort of. Anyhow, we have a new edition out there. 2014.09. So let's see if it's any good. The previous one surprised, immensely. Follow me.
Arch is back with its brand new adventure. Something's grab a hold of me CD, flow like upstart daily and nightly. Builds will ever stop, I don't know, turn off the git, and I'll chmod. To the extreme I rock a ... enough.
The distro booted fine into a familiar Netrunner desktop. The clutter is dropping edition after edition, which is a good thing, but the bottom panel is still a little hectic, and there's too much good stuff available, instantly, so it can be a little confusing and suffocating.
On the plus side, everything is like you remember. On the minus side, the same. You see, some of the things in this distro can definitely benefit from improvements, and keeping them around is cramping everyone's style. The system menu is cute, but there are many other, more functional alternatives.
Things worked fine. Samba, Bluetooth, Wireless in both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectra. There were no unknown or outstanding issues, and the distro was behaving, mild and docile.
Like Mint unto Ubuntu, Netrunner is unto Kubuntu - the media codec savior. You get the desired plugins to be able to enjoy music, namely MP3, and silly online videos, namely Flash, without any big hassle. However, the default player of choice for music files seems to be something from the Commodore 64 era, and not either Clementine or VLC, both of which are included in the distro software. Why? Furthermore, Flash was a little choppy in Youtube videos, but we will see how things work out after the installation.
The screenshot problem that's plagued me in pretty much every single distro this autumn is also present here. So, with great confidence, I conclude this is most likely related to something that's been recently done with the X system. Not so much a compositor or window manager or desktop environment problem, because it manifest across a wide range of different distributions and their particular desktop implementations.
Still need more testing, but this is becoming a concern. And like before, if you disable desktop effects, then you can't take screenshots. If you enable the desktop effects, the window borders will glow, as expected, but you won't get anything else, like Cube, Sphere, Magic Lamp, and such like. Nope. Desktop effects, broken. Again.
Yes, it's beta software, but it does not have to be bad. Especially since it worked without any incidents last time. And yet again, we're back to Netrunner not really changing. This means partitioning that also shows the zram devices, bad DPI slash resolution and blurry text on the installer slideshow, and the timezone being hardcoded to Berlin once again, without any regard to the actual timezone or geolocation.
How long can an installer be beta?
But that's not all. Partitions were not labeled. Then, when I tried to format one of the partitions, the installer complained. We saw the same issue with Ubuntu, and there, rage and white ire bested me. Here, something else happened. The installer actually proceeded, and there's no return button. The installation began, the destination partition filled up with data, as the wizard would not delete old mount points, like it does in the Ubuntu family, and the installer stalled forever without any useful error messages.
I had to abort everything and start fresh. First, I deleted the data, then tried to format again, and failed, and finally, the installer dumped all the data into the marked root partition, and this was the end of this sorry setup. Bootloader, quad-boot, all of that worked fine. Go figure.
As you can see, my Rolling testing was more sort of stumbling. The installer was messy, and there were old problems carried on into the latest edition with flawless tenacity. But what worried me the most was the lack of consistency, because the experience was going completely opposite the one I had with the last test, back in the spring. The distro was not willing to grant me two consecutive release with similar or identical results. That's probably the meaning of the word rolling, it rolls between moods.
The default set is very colorful, very rich. Most of it is excellent, but some of the software is simply unnecessary, and some of it caters to niche crowds and expert users. You have Firefox, Thunderbird, Skype, VLC, Clementine, LibreOffice, GIMP to keep you happy and occupied, and you sure don't need Kdenlive or vokoscreen, because you're not an artist. Not bad, but can be slightly slimmed down.
Here, I hit another problem. First, the distro offered additional language packs. But when I tried to install them, it complained that my system was out of date, and that I should do a full upgrade first. Then why bother suggesting those packages?
And then, the update manager broke. One of the dependencies was missing, and the system could simply not proceed. I've seen the same thing with Manjaro, and it hit me here again. I read this can be resolved by running an update from the command line, but then, many things can done in many different ways. If you have a GUI, it should be able to do everything, recover if needed, and provide all the necessary functionality. Otherwise, it's pointless, and just annoys the reviewer.
You have the Manjaro Settings Manager and the standard KDE settings to configure and tweak your box. I'm not sure why you'd need the first, and it seems a little thin on content.
Netrunner is a big memory guzzler, eating some 1.1 GB on idle. That's quite a bit. The CPU is relatively quiet, but it can be more peaceful. Overall, this can be classified as a medium to heavy distro in terms of resource usage, and there's a slight but still perceptible impact on the responsiveness of the desktop session. Can be done better.
Samba sharing did not work. Grayed out. Shame.
So, I encountered a few more niggles. Firefox would ask me whether I wanted to remember all the open tabs, no matter how many times I ticked the box that it should not warn me again. The inclusion of extensions is controversial.
Suspend & resume worked, but after waking up, Wireless was not connected and would not connect automatically. I had to manually restore my connection. Flash playback remains slightly choppy, and I'm wondering why. Desktop effects still don't work.
I like the Pacman motif, you can guess the reasons for that.
I am disappointed with this release, I must say. Netrunner Rolling 2014.09 failed to impress me, mostly because it did not deliver a consistent experience in line with its predecessor, plus things kind of worsened. Most of the annoyances from the last time adamantly remain embedded in the desktop, and a bunch of new ones have cropped up, some of them really big.
The installer, plus desktop effects and screenshots, plus the broken package manager, plus half a dozen other woes, and the subpar Flash performance, all of them contribute to the negative feeling about 2014.09. I know it's trying hard to prove its identity and remain loyal to the product line, which is fine, but the compromise cannot come at the expense of the users, the system stability and predictability, and basic functionality like updates. This makes it unworthy for daily use. Hopefully, the issues will be sorted out the next time, but for now, the grade is quite low, I'm afraid. Something like 5.5/10. That would be all.