Updated: April 15, 2017
Witness a strange journey. I am getting tons of emails asking for distro reviews, and one that featured a lot recently is this little Debian-based beastling. Imagine my dismay when the latest version, 1.8.3 Orion, refused to boot on my G50 laptop, despite the promise of UEFI support.
But then, for the sake of it, I had it running as a virtual machine, and I liked it a lot. So I decided to extend the testing and try this curious distro on my semi-ancient LG RD510 laptop, an oldie but goodie currently booting Fedora and CentOS 7. Plus it has an Nvidia card. Let us begin.
Booted fine, no hiccups like the UEFI system. Orion loads fully and entirely into memory, so you have a lightning fast session, with everything done in fractions of a second. That sure helps create a very powerful first impression.
The Trinity Desktop Environment (TDE) is everything KDE3.5 was, old, solid, somewhat arcane yet designed for maximum productivity, if through the eyes of some very nerdy people. But you can definitely see the trend of taking away from the visible functionality in newer products, which is good, because it simplifies the UI. However, on the other hand, you don't get the same level of deep, calculated decisions that went into the software back then. More time for pondering and quality, and also, more chance to over-complicate the desktop. But this is something we will explore in more detail as we plod along.
Then, of course, everything else I noticed in the previous review holds. You are offered a lot of goodies right away. The splash screen gives you media codecs, popular software, and even complete desktop bundles. The system also auto-suggested configuring Nvidia drivers, even in the live session. And you can turn desktop effects on!
I had no problems here. The LG machine has a nice dual-band Wireless NIC, even though it was released in 2009, and both 2.4GHz and 5GHz worked just fine. Samba sharing was also good, even though timestamps are not retained on copy, an issue that affects Trinity as much as the brand new Plasma. Ridiculous, if you think about it. Printing and Bluetooth will have to wait until after the installation.
Speaking of Wireless, it's funny to see how the network connection wizard evolved over the years. This one has no less than five steps, offering you to name your new setup or configure the IP address manually and a whole lot other tricks. Very powerful but also pointless, because most people need point-n-click solution here. Progress is sometimes worth its price in, ugh, however you measure progress.
We've already seen this works in the live session. More to come.
To be actually able to collect screenshots, I did need to install KSnapshot - the tool is not available in the default set, which weighs at only about 500 MB. With in-RAM filesystem, everything was flying. Lovely jubbly.
I had a tiny bit of dilemma. What to do? Well, given that I have some neat Fedora upgrade plans, I decided to disrupt the CentOS 7 install. However, I intended to retain all the user data on the separate home partition, and we're talking roughly 200GB worth of ancient stuff, including pictures and games, dating all the way to 2009.
The installer is all Debian, with a twist. Very fast, very slick. However, the speed does come with a tiny compromise - you don't get any partition labels, so you must know what resides at the target partitions. The actual data copy took 2 minutes, even faster than the lighting-quick MX-16, but then the bootloader step took almost three times as long.
The system installed fine. The GRUB2 menu is a bit basic but functional. There was an error booting up, but this is a leftover from my older installations, to be frank. Since Q4OS does not ship with KDE4, but my user roger has KDE4 as its default session, I had an X error. Nothing to do with this distro, though. Just years of legacy stuff in the home dir.
Basic setup & packages
As you know, the default desktop is pretty nude. However, the system will help you get it all sorted very quickly. If you run the Desktop Profiler, it can install all manner of bundles for you. The full desktop comes with a lot of goodies - but not Ksnapshot, which you need to grab yourself, preferably from the command line. You can also install individual applications a-la Windows fashion, using next-next wizards.
The Software Centre has a hard-coded GB spelling, for some reason, and it gives you roughly a dozen most common apps, including Nvidia drivers, which we will talk about in a second, as this is an important part of the desktop experience and this review. You can also use the Software Centre to install Synaptic, but it will also be available through the full desktop profile. Then, if you're savvy, you can use the apt-get interface to speed things up. You can't install Skype from terminal, though, you must go through the Software Centre. Weird.
Everything worked just fine, if not as fast as the RAM-only live session. Still, the performance is quite reasonable for a slow machine with a slow, old disk. Very reasonable in fact. I was able to quickly install lots of goodies. And then, even grab some updates. The only visual niggle is, the update hover text is positioned relative to the mouse cursor, so it can obscure the system area, a problem that affects many lightweight desktop environments, like LXQt, LXDE and so forth.
You can also easily uninstall software - this is Windows behavior for new users.
Worked majestically. No complaints. Wunderbar.
Multimedia playback, again
Now, in slightly more detail, good and bad stuff. Yes, you do get the right codecs, once you install them from the Welcome screen, that is. MP3, HD video, all the shebang. However, when I tried to take a screenshot of a video clip in VLC, the preview was live, and it could not actually capture the contents. I had this a long time ago with Windows Media Player on Windows XP. Weird. Then, TDE could not play clips from Samba shares, much like all and any KDE setup ever since, before and after. This is just ridiculous, but more so that it still exists in Plasma in 2017. Sad.
The profiler will install Chrome, Thunderbird, VLC, LibreOffice, Synaptic, and a few other programs. I also installed Skype and Firefox. Steam is available, too, if not listed. You can really grab the latest bunch of goodies easily. Konqueror is useless as a browser. It would not even load Youtube. And you can't search using the address bar. Very 2003.
Zero. Zilch. Nada. I tried both my Ubuntu Phone and my Lumia 950 device, and neither was recognized, let alone mounted. Maybe it's Konqueror, maybe something deeper, whatever the case, the phones were an alien presence. Then again, Plasma only recently stopped sucking when it comes to mounting external gadgets, so perhaps TDE has a few years before it catches up. Or maybe, given that it is based on a relic, it does not have the needed functionality for modern stuff. It did mount an SD card, though.
This worked fairly well. I was not expecting it, because of the whole browser & CUPS thingie, but Orion properly identified my network printer. However, there's no Samba option, which again, extends into the more recent versions of KDE. Why oh why?
It did not work, I'm afraid. I was able to see my Ubuntu Phone and all, but then pairing failed, and then connections failed. It would briefly connect for a second and then drop, with an odd 'no such file or directory' error. This is really awkward.
This turned out to be far more difficult than I imagined. Again, it goes back to the whole usability thingie as I've outlined in the Plasma review and also the LXQt piece. First, you will actually need to unlock the TDE Control Panel, because otherwise, you won't be able to edit themes or icons. But then, it becomes quite frustrating.
I started with the Look Switcher tool, which is one of the recommended applications in the Software Centre [sic]. This only gives you a few pre-selected themes, but it's mostly a combo of panel looks, menu and windows decorations.
Unsatisfied with the granularity of this change, I unlocked the full TDE options and started fiddling. I even tried using the Faba and Moka icons. This did not lead to happy results. Much like LXQt, TDE comes with hard-coded options, so you get clashing and conflicting styles all over the place. Best left alone, which means no customizations for you.
sudo kcmodules --unlock
Checking control panel items ...
Updating: File: /opt/trinity/.../tde/tdm.desktop ; Key: Hidden ; Value: false
Updating: File: /opt/trinity/.../tde/twindecoration.desktop ; Key: Hidden ; Value: false
Updating: File: /opt/trinity/.../tde/ksplashthememgr.desktop ; Key: Hidden ; Value: false
Updating: File: /opt/trinity/.../tde/kcmlaunch.desktop ; Key: Hidden ; Value: false
Updating: File: /opt/trinity/.../tde/icons.desktop ; Key: Hidden ; Value: false
Updating: File: /opt/trinity/.../tde/style.desktop ; Key: Hidden ; Value: false
Updating: File: /opt/trinity/.../tde/kthememanager.desktop ; Key: Hidden ; Value: false
All in all, you won't be happy. Uneven icons, inconsistent looks, semi-supported themes. TDE is nice, but the newer versions of KDE have truly surpassed it, while also introducing a million new bugs and never quite solving the customization piece, a whole decade of development later.
Resources & battery life
Whatever the case with everything else, Q4OS is a speedy and ultimately frugal thing. It is difficult comparing systems, especially when one comes with a discrete graphics card, but even so, with two cores minted sometime in 2009 (ancient architecture), the resource utilization seems to be just fine. The distro is quite fast, which must be TDE in action. Idle memory usage is 800 MB total, with 300 MB active set, the CPU dances at 4%. Remember, 2009. But these numbers do not tell the whole story.
The battery held fast, and that's rather impressive. Roughly 2 hours, about the same result Ubuntu Jaunty gave when freshly installed. If you're in the mood for a time warp, read that original review, then. 18 seconds boot on this old beast back then. All the fine and modern distros with the glorious systemd can't do less than a minute on the 2015 laptop. Right. This has everything to do with what happens in user space, because Q4OS ships with kernel 3.16. I never liked pure Debian per se, but you cannot deny the fact it's a lean thing.
Notice the wicked power management module. So nerdy. So informative. Tells you the power consumption in Watts, too. An overkill for most people, yes, absolutely, but it has its special charms. When software development wasn't just a silly game of buzzwords. Anyhow, RD510 idles at 1W. Lenovo G50 does roughly 9-10W for most typical Ubuntus, Fedoras and friends. Anyhow, 2 hours, and possibly even more than that, because leaving the laptop idle, a solid hour later, it was still showing similar figures. I don't know how much you can trust an 8-year-old battery, but this is good stuff, nevertheless. It also shows that the choice of hardware is infinitely more important than any power tweaks you can possibly implement on the operating system level. Always the case, really.
Things weren't all too rosy here. You do get everything supported, but I was not able to resume after suspend. Black screen. A second time, it did resume, however I was unable to unlock the screen. For some reason, I need to do this manually, as the digital camera screenshot suggests. Very avant garde. Very fail.
Moreover, there's no touchpad utility by default, and you need to install the synaptic package yourself. Annoying, if you ask me. Why not include this? It's such a simple little thing.
Samba keeps asking for password - every single time. I guess Konqueror does not have an option to save the credentials. Quite annoying, even more so since "security" rather than usability and convenience became the focus of home distro file sharing. Nonsense. If you change the language or time format, you need to log out for the effect to take place. What. I mean really. Oh well. Konqueror also did not remember the view mode.
The system menu does start nicely with the Super key, but if you click anywhere on the desktop, it does not close. So you only get half the needed ergonomics. Software Centre is good, but you can't tell which applications are installed, and which ones aren't.
Some basic beautification:
Q4OS is like an ancient tapestry. Beautiful, stylish, iconic, but then, also fraying at the seams. The initial impression is mighty. You can't argue that. I was amazed by the virtual machine setup, and loved the live session even on the LG laptop. But then, the more I used it, the more I started seeing problems.
Orion does some things exceptionally well - it's friendly, it's designed to assist newbs in getting underway, it has a calm presence, and it's very frugal. But the hardware side of things is mediocre. First, no boot on UEFI. Then, no smartphone or Bluetooth support. Wonky suspend & resume. Moreover, customization is weak, UI has some rather rusty spots, and the multimedia front can benefit from improvement. The worst part is, prehistoric bugs linger, souring the experience.
All in all, Q4OS 1.8.3 Orion is the kind of desktop that got worse the more I used it, rather than better. Eventually, I settled in and enjoyed most of the experience, but there's a lot missing that most people take for granted. Curiously, it does some things exceptionally well, especially where some other distros struggle. But the balance isn't worth it. At the end of the day, TDE isn't the promised desktop and Q4OS isn't the promised distro. Good, but a lot more effort is needed to nail that professional feel. If you have an old laptop, you should definitely give it a try, just remember that the Ghost of KDE3.5 may come to haunt you. 5.5-6/10. Take care.