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Chakra Review: Arch Fork For Mortals

Arch Linux has a cult following, and there is a price to pay too – it is one of those operating systems which requires its users to be well versed with the UNIX-like system. You build everything from scratch. There are quite a lot of benefits of using such a system. But, it also means that Arch Linux is not for mere mortals like me. I did install Arch once, reading a manual written by a Muktware author, but then moved back to my secure cocoon.

I continue to dream of using Arch one day. Chakra brings me closer to realizing that dream. I may not have compiled the OS for my hardware and gone through the interesting installation process but through Chakra, the fork of Arch, I do get to experience all the goodies without sweating too much.

History of Chakra Linux

Chakra started off as KDEmod, a modular software package for Arch Linux which was phased out earlier this year, transforming Chakra into an independent Arch based operating system. Since Chakra is still going through the transition things will change and improve over time. Which puts Charka in a ‘still in the making’ distro. But is it stable enough to be used in every day life? Can an average user use Chakra? Does it have all the needed application one uses? We will try to find the answers to these questions in this review.

Installation
I installed Charka on the PC which already has around 10 partitions for different operating systems so all I had to do was select the partition on which I wanted to install Chakra, format and mount the root. So, I can’t comment on how stable it is if you want to create fresh partition using Chakra. The installation was sleek and the GUI is quite appealing. I don’t want to drag other distros here, but Chakra’s installer is definitely one of the most polished installers around. So, kudos to the Chakra team for doing a great job from look and feel point of view.

A Tip: I recently moved to Belgium but write and speak English (still working on learning French and Ducth) so I wanted US English as the language, but when you select a region it automatically selects the language as well.  I made that mistake and ended up with Dutch in Appset-Qt (I was able to change it, thanks to Phil). So, if you are someone like me I would suggest during installation select your country and then click on ‘show all’ from Locale and then scroll and select the language you want.

Hardware Support
Chakra is an Arch fork so I assume you will get the hardware support that Arch used to offer. Since I am running it on a laptop which doesn’t have any non-free hardware, so it was a flawless installation and usage.

There is good news for those who have some kind of proprietary hardware. When I tried to run the Live version of the OS on my main PC which Nvidia GTX 470 card, I chose the option “start with non-free drivers”, which meant that if I do have some non-free hardware it should work out of the box with those proprietary drivers. To my surprise it did. The PC booted perfectly and ran fine in the live mode.

Sorry, Dude, There Is No Gnome 3?
Chakra is a ‘pure’ KDE desktop, which means it comes only in one flavor which is KDE. So, don’t expect Gnome here. Before you ask any question let me make it clear: “no, you can’t install Gnome 3 on Chakra Linux”. You can, however, install some of the popular GTK/Gnome apps in Chakra. But the Chakra team is a bit of puritan and wants to keep KDE and GTK dependencies separate.

The OS comes with a tool called Cinstall or Bungle Manager which allows you to install GTK applications. I found almost all the needed Gnome apps in Cinstall expect for a few exceptions. I installed Firefox, Thunderbird (latest 9.x version) and GIMP via Cinstall.

Caveat, you may not find all the GTK apps that you use. I, for example, did not find Liferea, the feed aggregator. But there is always a Qt/KDE equivalent for a GTK/Gnome app.

Lead developer of Chakra Phil Miller told me, “Cinstall is part of our bundle-system. Those applications are GTK-based. Since Chakra is a KDE-centric Distro we want to keep GTK dependencies separate. So you see only a few of those in that systems.”

Apps. Apps. Apps.
The CD version of Chakra doesn’t come with important applications such as LibreOffice or Firefox pre-installed. So, if you are looking for such apps to be available by default, use the DVD version of the distro. I downloaded the CD version and did not mind installing the needed application except for one. It doesn’t come with any screen-shot tools such as ksnapshot. I had to install that manually, then create keyboard shortcut for it to be able to take screen-shots. I think new distros must have such tools pre-installed to help reviewers. You can easily install apps from the Konsole using the ‘sudo pacman -Syu NAME_OF_APP’ command.

If you want to install the GUI for Pacman, you can install Appset. Just run this command: ‘sudo pacman -Syu appset-qt’.

Appset Qt: A GUI For Pacman
Appset Qt has a decent GUI and will allow you to manage your KDE packages with greater ease. I found it quick and easy to use. There might be minor bugs as when I tried to install LibreOffice using Appset it couldn’t install it and was stuck. I resorted to the command line. Which is far more easier if you know the name of the app.

Installing VLC was a pain as it asked almost a dozen times about the dependencies it needed to install, in the end it did not even install it. I don’t know if that was an isolated case or if Appset Qt has some bug in it.

So, Who Is Charka’s Typical User?
Phil explains, “Chakra is for people who want a good KDE-centric distro. Our tools give beginners simple power over their boxes. Freaks can tweak our distro using several bash-scripts or terminal apps. Search our forum for reviews of our past releases. Some reviewers have tested Chakra beyond and found some tools and apps we didn’t have added to our default install medias but which are already online in our repos, like TakeOff our alternative to KickOff.”

Another Chakra developer Anke Boersma says, “The Chakra Project is dedicated to providing a pure KDE/Qt desktop operating system that is simple and transparent. The LiveCD is an important tool and key to the user’s first impression, while the half-rolling release model ensures cutting edge features with solid system stability and long life. Simplicity is great for users new to Linux, but simple doesn’t mean that you won’t have to learn anything. Getting the most from Chakra requires a certain level of competency and is more focused toward KISS-minded users who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. However, if you are willing to learn and put in a little effort, Chakra is an excellent distribution to start with. It requires a minimum of distro-specific knowledge, and it’s bare-bones install is rock-solid and easy to manipulate. There is also a wonderful Beginners Guide available in the wiki, helping to guide you through the process of learning to use Chakra, KDE, and thus Linux, from the beginning.”

I, as a regular user, found Chakra to be as easy as any other consumer centric distro such as Ubuntu or Linux Mint. Unlike Fedora and openSUSE which do take some time to prepare them for usage (proprietary drivers and codecs), Chakra ‘mostly’ works out of the box. I don’t mean to criticize openSUSE or Fedora here. I am an openSUSE/Ubuntu user and I appreciate that my preferred OS endorses free software and not the proprietary ones. All I wanted to say was Chakra, despite being a fork of Arch (which has a cult following), is quite easy to use.

Stability
I have been running Chakra on my Dell XPS since the day it was released and have not faced any stability issues. None of the application have crashed. This review was composed on Chakra using Kate and LibreOffice. All images were edited on Chakra using GIMP and I have been using Thunderbird without any problem what so ever.

Phil admits, “Chakra itself is stable already. Only problem is our installer Tribe. We have still some work to do to get this application stable. Also much of our work goes into Akabei, our package-management which will join our bundle-system and our normal packages into one system with cli and graphical UI. We might be ready early Summer, latest next Winter to have all our tools stable.”

So, I think despite the warning during the installation Chakra is very stable and can be used as your primary machine. But then I have a tendency of playing with newest versions of operating systems and packages so don’t trust me. Go ahead, download and install Chakra and see it for yourself. Yes, I will recommend trying it in Virtualbox or in Live Mode first.

Conclusion:
If you are a KDE fan and have been dreaming of using an Arch fork, you will love Chakra. It must be noted that Chakra is now an independent distro and is not built on Arch anymore. However, it does make you familiar with the Arch structure.

The team has tried to give you a ‘pure’ KDE experience by keeping the libraries separate. If you are a Gnome user and want to try KDE because you are still (despite Gnome 3 extension website) unhappy with Gnome there is a warning: you may not find all the gtk apps that you are used to. Yes, the most important and the most used apps are available via Cinstall, but there will always be some apps missing. I did not find Liferea.

It is fast, responsive and have not crashed on me once. Yes, you must not have any fear of using the Konsole line if Appset-qt fails you, which is not at all that difficult. So if you are OK with that and have an open mind to try equally awesome KDE alternatives then you can go ahead and try Chakra.

Chakra team has done a great job and I think the OS will gain popularity and will become popular among ‘pacman’ users.

Useful Resources
Since Chakra is going through a transition phase you may seek help from time to time. Anke has shared some useful resources which you can used:

Pure KDE has brought Chakra to showcase the ISO’s completely GTK2 free, more on that in the FAQ of the wiki:

http://chakra-linux.org/wiki/index.php/Frequently_Asked_Questions

That is why you see a limited selection in the bundle system, Chakra is not trying to bundle all GTK2 apps, just the best, most well known and used. And all bundled browser have the flashplugin bundled-in (a GTK2 depending package).

Adding additional repo’s is not needed for the regular users, the additional repo’s are for those users willing to help with testing.  The one exception is for x86_64 users, who need applications only available in 32bit, like wine, they need to add the lib32 repo, this can be done in GUI through appset-qt.
For those willing to help with testing, it is explained in the wiki how to add repo’s:

http://chakra-linux.org/wiki/index.php/Become_a_Tester

(The wiki is really THE place were Chakra is trying to gather any and all needed info for any user)

Finding what is available in packages for Chakra can be done several ways:
– The website, all can be checked before having any Chakra install available, and is the most complete list, since it shows all arches and repo’s:

http://chakra-project.org/packages/

If not available there, it automatically gives the option to search in the user maintained, Chakra Community Repo.
– Appset-qt, the package manager
– Pacman

http://chakra-linux.org/wiki/index.php/Pacman

We are looking for aspiring bloggers and journalists for The Mukt. If you are interested, apply now!

– The bundle manager, Cinstallary. So much than even a new Linux user will feel comfortable with it.

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Swapnil Bhartiya

A free software fund-a-mental-ist and Charles Bukowski fan, Swapnil also writes fiction and tries to find cracks in the paper armours of proprietary companies. Swapnil has been covering Linux and Free Software/Open Source since 2005.

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