Chakra doesn't need any introduction, it is fast growing in popularity among the KDE users. But, I will give you a brief history of Chakra. It started off as KDEmod, a modular software package for Arch Linux which was phased out last 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. We reviewed Chakra last year and we are back to check what's new with the latest version.
The latest of the greatest
Chakra's policy of offering a pure KDE experience makes it an ideal distro for KDE users, on top of that its release cycle makes it even more appealing because there is _no_ release cycle for Chakra, it follows a half-rolling release system. What it means is that you get the latest of the greatest KDE technologies.
The latest version of Chakra, named Archimedes was releases this Sunday. Last time when I tried Chakra I loved it. The latest version of Chakra comes with fresh KDE 4.8 and Linux 3.2, so you will be getting the latest of the both worlds.
The installation of Chakra is extremely easy and visually very appealing as it uses Tribe which is just sexy. It leaves very little for a user to worry about. However, it is recommended that you already create a partition where you want to install Chakra so that there is no risk of losing data. The Chakra team has done a great job in documentation so you can read more about installation if you have any confusions or just throw your question in the comment section and we will see what we can do.
Apps. Apps. Apps
Chakra has a huge repository of application so you will find almost everything you need. However, there is a bit of difference which you may already be aware of if you a Chakra user. Chakra is a ‘pure’ KDE distro and the team wants to keep the Gtk dependencies separate. So you won’t be able to install Gnome 3 on Chakra. Period.
There is another difference here when it comes to installing Gtk (or Gnome) application in Chakra. Before we go there, let's talk a bit about its package manager. Chakra uses pacman but the team is working on replacing it with akabei, their new package manager which is under heavy development and is scheduled for this Summer. So, all you need is to fire up the konsole and run 'sudo pacman -Syu NAME_OF_APP' command.
For those of us who prefer a GUI based tool to install or remove applications, Appset-Qt is a nice tool. It gives you quite a lot of information about the application you want to install. However, there are some issues with resolving conflicts so you may want to use plain pacman in such cases. The team is also working on the switch to kmod. “Those packages are currently in our development repository hidden from our users.” says Phil Miller, the lead developer of Chakra. Keep in mind that the CD version of Chakra doesn't come with a lot of tools and applications, so if you do need them please download the DVD version.
"The CD is intended for users who know Chakra, and want a minimal install to build there own desktop, no apps included, besides the bare minimum of a file-manager, web-browser and simple media player. There actually is no room on the x86_64 CD version to add anything more," explains Anke Boersma of Chakra team.
Now, this is where comes the difference I was talking about above. Despite being a KDE-centric distro Chakra does allow installation of Gtk app. However, you can’t install Gtk apps through pacman or Appset-Qt. Chakra comes with a separate app 'Bundle Manager' which allows users to install Gtk apps with great ease. Yes, it is not as polished as Appset-Qt, but as I stated above the goal of the team is to offer a pure KDE experience.
When asked about Gtk apps, Phil Miller, the lead of Chakra told me, “Those are squashed images like you might now from MacOS with all dependencies bundled in. So a User can simple delete the cb-file and the app is gone. Cinstall is our bundle-manager for this.”
From my experience till data, you will find pretty much everything that you need in either Bundle or Appset-Qt.
In addition to the main repositories, there is something called CCR or Chakra Community Repo and you don't find any application in the main repos, there are chances you may find them in CCR. You may want to check this page if you plan to use CCR.
What I missed
I use GNU/Linux for everything so my demands are a big higher than an average PC user. I did not find the apps I use such as Liferea (an RSS Feeder that I have been using for couple of years now) and Arista which I use for converting movies for my Android tablets. There are many KDE-based rss-readers available for Chakra, but I prefer Liferea.
As far as transcoders are concerned there are other tools such as Handbrake, Avidemux but somehow the converted files are jerky. On the contrary Arista comes with a lot of pre-sets which allow you to convert movies in a desired format or for the desired device. If I get these two applications on Chakra, I may be spending more time on Chakra. Looking at the dynamic team that this distro has I don’t have any doubts that these application may land in the repositories
“Chakra is a concept to use only KDE applications. Since the move of most pages to HTML5, which we introduced into rekonq with help of it's developer to Linux (we where the first distro shipping it) GTK is not needed at all cos flash isn't needed,” explains Phil.
KDE HUD coming to Chakra
Phil Miller told me that appmenu-qt is already in the repos of Chakra. “We have appmenu-qt in our repos. We had it already for some time now. HUD will come into a point-release of Archimedes in two month or so since there are 3 projects named appmenu atm and we have to figure out which one will be added to KDE 4.9-series.”
So, if you are someone like me who is excited about KDE’s implementation of HUD (which has been there for more than a year now) then Chakra is already ‘HUD-ready’.
Who can use Chakra
As I wrote in my previous review Chakra is targeted at those who want a ‘pure’ KDE experience and are also ‘pacman’ fans. In a nutshell Chakra's main audience is a mix of advanced and intermediate users. That doesn't stop anyone else from using Chakra. It is very simple to install and extremely simple to use. All you need to keep in mind that this is still an OS in the making. It is an extremely promising operating systems which once matures will give users a great KDE experience.
I faced some issues with my inbuilt microphone on Dell XPS, but then this laptop is known for this issue (I could hardly get it working under Ubuntu). But when I ran Chakra on my main desktop which has HD audio and non-free GPU everything was detected fine and I tested it by running audacity and recording my audio through the USB mic. So, make sure that your hardware plays nice with Linux. If you have to work too much to make things work even under ‘just works’ distros such as Linux Mint, then you may need to run a live session of Chakra before you install it on your PC. In most of the cases everything should work 'just' fine.
Gnome apps look ugly
One of the issues with KDE is that sometimes Gtk apps don’t look nice (in other words they look ugly). That is actually not the complete truth. Distros like openSUSE and Linux Mint do fix the problem, but distros like Kubuntu make Gtk apps look ugly and give you a very bad KDE experience. I think every KDE user who want apt-get must try either Debian Wheezy or Linux Mint KDE to see how great KDE is.
Chakra has done a great job here. Even if they keep the Gtk apps separate they do care about the overall look and feel of the apps whether it be a Gtk. They developed a tool called ‘Chakra-GTK-Config’ which has been adopted by KDE as ‘KDE Gtk Configurator’ since it is now used by other distros too.. [https://projects.kde.org/projects/playground/base/kde-gtk-config]
Community driven development
One of the core values of Chakra is the team spirit. The entire community works together to make Chakra one of the greatest KDE-based distros. Their hard work reflects aptly in the user experience, in the polish, in the ease of use and in stability.
Chakra, as I stated above, has a very strong community spirit. Phil told me that it were the users who came with the idea to have a real theme for naming the ISO's following a new major KDE release, after discussing ideas for about a month, the team settled on using famous engineers from now on, starting with the founding father of engineering "Archimedes".
Instead of 'my way or the highway approach' Chakra team not only listens to its users (just like Linux Mint) but also invites them to learn what they want to see in their favorite distro.
“This is the first time too, that most apps available on the DVD version are the users choice, a poll had been presented for many categories, and users voted very actively, to come to the final selection.”
Despite the red warning during the installation, I have not faced a single problem on Chakra. I have been using it on one of my PC for a couple of days now and I never felt I was not using the desktop that I had been using for a while now. It never crashed or hanged so I can vouch for its stability.
Watch a walk-through of Chakra on YouTube
Personally, I think a distro which has such a strong support and respect for the community and its users will go a long way. Chakra has just started its journey and has already created a very strong and loyal user-base. If you are a KDE fan then you must try Chakra. Even if you love your current OS, just give it a try. Just try to see what an excellent job this dynamic community has done.
Don’t blame me if you get hooked to it.