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Chakra Linux 2012.04 review – one to watch

The second Archimedes release of Arch spin-off Chakra Linux brings some major changes and a new office suite, but not everything has been improved…

Formerly an Arch remix designed for users looking for a distribution offering the power and flexibility of Arch but with a desktop environment installed by default, Chakra has come on in leaps and bounds since the project’s founders made the decision to fork away from its upstream.

The second release of the Archimedes family, Chakra Linux 2012.04 boasts some significant improvements over its predecessors – but, unfortunately, not everything about the new release is quite so positive.

Available in Live CD and Live DVD formats, with the former offering only a minimal KDE desktop with little in the way of bundled software, Chakra is an attractive distribution with cutting-edge packages. Out of the box, the Live CD includes KDE 4.8.2 with Chakra’s attractive theme applied, the 3.2.8 Linux kernel, Qt 4.8.1 and QtWebkit 2.2.1.

Installation of Chakra can be a problem for newcomers: unlike rival distributions, the installer doesn’t handle automatic partitioning of drives. Instead, it expects the user to manually create partitions and assign mount points – not a problem for anyone used to Linux, but a serious omission for a distribution which prides itself on its ‘keep it simple, stupid’ philosophy.

Installation is reasonably fast, although you’ll need to understand mount points and partitions

The biggest surprise of this release, however, is the switch from fork LibreOffice to the Calligra Office Suite. Designed as a modern replacement for KOffice, Calligra is a truly impressive package which includes a word processor, spreadsheet, project manager, illustration tools, flow charting package and even a mind-mapping utility.

While not exclusive to Chakra, it is the first distribution to include the software by default – no real surprise, given that the stable release came out just days before Chakra 2012.04 went live itself.

Although the cutting-edge software and attractive GUI fit in nicely with Chakra’s stated philosophy of keeping it simple for newcomers to Linux, the second major change with this latest release doesn’t: the abandoning of graphical package management.

The Chakra Live CD environment is friendly to newcomers, with a quick-start guide and release information

Previous releases had used the appset-qt package to provide a more intuitive interface over the pacman package manager, which can be somewhat hostile to newcomers. Sadly, Chakra 2012.04 sees this removed – although, hopefully temporarily.

The team explains in the release notes that none of the available pacman frontends, including appset-qt, were able to handle more complex updates from the Chakra repositories – resulting in users being bombarded with warnings. While the situation is hopefully temporary, the Chakra team have yet to offer a timescale for adding graphical package management back in to the distribution.

That rather troublesome regression aside, Chakra remains a great choice for anyone thinking about making the move from a more mainstream distribution. The KDE Plasma interface is impressively smooth, while the bundled software makes sure you can probably live without using the package manager – for a while, at least.

Chakra’s Live DVD includes an array of localisations, although the CD version isn’t as lucky

Speaking of bundled software, web developers will be interested to hear that Chakra comes with two browsers: while rekonq is, unsurprisingly given the distribution’s KDE focus, the default, there’s also QupZilla for those who prefer a more Mozilla-themed experience. Naturally, it’s also possible to install Chromium, Firefox and other alternatives from the Chakra repositories.

These packages, and a selection of others, can be installed quickly and easily using a concept Chakra calls ‘bundles.’ Taking the place of a traditional package, the software is compressed into a customised ‘Chakra Bundle’ and made available via the distro’s Bundle Manager. One click installs the software, and with packages including Firefox, Thunderbird, Pidgin and Inkscape available as bundles, suddenly the loss of graphical package management doesn’t sting as much.

Verdict: 4/5

The loss of graphical package management and a troublesome installation process aside, this latest release of Chakra is impressive. The user interface is clean and crisp, while the Bundle Manager makes installation of commonly required software quicker than on any other distribution we’ve seen. Coupled with the excellent Calligra suite, this is a distribution to keep an eye on.