Last time we had a look at Nitrux was around a year ago with version 1.2.9. I was amazed by all the original content and have been following the project ever since. Back then I felt it showed a lot of promise but that it wasn’t quite ready for daily use. I found it had a lot of similarities to elementary OS so it is only fitting we examine it right after the elementary 6 beta review.
What is Nitrux? It’s a distro based on Debian using the NX Desktop which in the developers’ own words is:
NX Desktop is our own set of applied customization to the Plasma 5 desktop
A great deal of customization is applied indeed! Since that last review, the base was moved from Ubuntu to Debian and the in-house developed Maui-kit apps have received a lot of refinement. Let’s see how it’s shaping up!
Nitrux 1.4 is a rather large download at 3.1 GB. I therefore highly recommend using the torrent method. You can find it like many other distros at Foss Torrents. As always, I used Etcher to pass it onto a USB thumb drive and install it to my test laptop: A Dell E7240 (I5-4300U, 8GB RAM, 126 GB SDD, 1366 x768 screen)
Nitrux uses the Calamares installer. Unfortunately it didn’t offer to install alongside the previous elementary OS installation. I simply opted to use the whole disk. Installation took a bit longer than average on this machine at six and a half minutes but then it has to do the huge ISO some justice. There must be a lot of software installed out of the box.
Nitrux comes with a nicely themed GRUB menu and splash screen. Boot times to the log-in screen are around 10 seconds – which is about average for this machine.
After installation, System Information tells us we’re running version 5.21.4 of KDE Plasma with Linux Kernel 5.10.33 and Wayland as our display server.
Htop showed the following values after a fresh boot and WiFi off:
- 731 MB RAM
- 72 Tasks
- 130 Threads
Tasks and threads are similar to both Debian based MX-Linux and Ubuntu based KDE-Neon. Although RAM usage is a bit higher than both, it has come down quite a bit from the previous version I’ve tested – we’re off to a good start!
Right off the bat, this looks nothing like KDE Plasma. Just like last time, the basic layout reminds us instantly of elementary OS albeit in a very dark version. We have a panel on the top with the menu on the left and the system tray on the right. There is nothing in the center but when we click on any system tray item it expands right there, in the center, occupying the full height of the screen. A little bug: Some system tray items fall behind the top panel and are not fully visible.
On the bottom we have a “Latte” dock with auto hide enabled. By the way, the top panel is also a “Latte” item. The wallpaper is a sleek dark blob of sorts fitting nicely with the overall experience. Visually, the NX-Desktop is as stunning as always.
The main menu is “Ditto” by Brasilian developer “Adhe” who has made quite a range of items for KDE Plasma. Ditto pops up in the center of the screen as well. It is a simple menu displaying all installed apps in a grid. The default keyboard short cut is: Super + alt + l. I wish all desktops could just agree on the universally acknowledged “super” key as a bare minimum of commonality across the board. The settings didn’t let me choose the “super” key alone so I settled for the elementary combination: “super” + “space”. Sometimes the menu opens to the second empty page instead of the populated first page. Type to search works very well and we only need hit enter to launch the first item on the results list.
The lock-screen and shut-down icons are located on the menu but are really tiny. This is actually the case with most elements of the desktop. I am a bit undecided here. I get a lot of desktop real estate with this set-up on my mediocre 1366 x 768 screen which I do appreciate but I did struggled a bit with my eyes – They’re frankly not what they used to be!
Multimedia Playback: Unfortunately none of my video files would play. Music, however, was much better. “Vvave” played both MP3 and M4A Files, although a few odd MP3s wouldn’t launch. A bit strange is that a new instance of the player is launched with each music file I opened making for a crazy jam session. The dock displayed each player instance with the same attributes of the first song – see screen shot below. Vvave didn’t let me add my music from the USB drive as a source. It only accepts sources from the hard drive.
Bluetooth: Nitrux connected nicely to my JBL speaker and music switched instantly – Well done!
Display Options: Nitrux shined in this category too. Fractional scaling was available and worked perfectly. Docking the laptop also extended the workspace seamlessly with different available options. For this part I used my Full HD Dell E7250 in a live environment.
Here is where we find part of the reason for the hefty 3.1 GB ISO. A lot of software is included and in quite recent versions too. So considering this is based on Debian, I suspect it is using the upcoming Debian Bullseye repositories.
A quick overview of the installed software:
- Internet: Firefox in version 88. No email or torrent client.
- Office: Full LibreOffice suite in version 7.1.22
- Multimedia: GIMP v. 2.10.23, Inkscape v. 1.01, Kdenlive v. 21.04
- System: Wine v. 4.2 plus the whole set of in-house developed apps we will look at in more detail below
I noted that Kdenlive and some other apps projected their menu items and window buttons onto the top panel but oddly still had separate window buttons on the actual app window.
The Maui-Kit Apps:
These apps are unique in that they work across different platforms and appear to have been especially developed with Plasma Mobile in mind so there are some issues with them on the desktop. The idea is great though, as Plasma Mobile is probably the most promising non Android Linux implementation for mobile phones. This might give us the convergence so many have tried to achieve in the past.
I opened most of the in-house developed apps and put them side by side on the desktop. As you can see they all look very similar which is nice from a uniformity point of view but they are not so easy to distinguish at first glance.
I then closed Nota and reopened it and this caused a major crash. As a result all open apps were closed and several crash reports were displayed. Thankfully the system itself stayed up and running and apps could be reopened without any issues. Bluetooth also stayed connected.
Index is the file manager. It’s snappy and looks good. It shows previews and lets us change folder colors. By default it is set for single click to launch items which needs some getting used to. It does come with comprehensive settings options.
Like all file managers, Index displays the user’s main folders like “Documents” on the left pane. Now I may be a little dense at times but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to move a document from one folder to another! There is no drag & drop? The only work around I found was to “cut” and “paste” which turns into a colossal mess with single click to launch enabled. While testing Index it did crash on me a couple of times and had to be reopened. What was also odd, clicking on a photo file would automatically open it in the browser and not the Pix app.
Nota is Nitrux’ default text editor. The name might confuse the user with the notes app which is called Buho. Both worked just fine!
Clip is the video player that unfortunately failed to play any type of file I tried. Vvave is the music app we already touched upon in the media playback section. Visually it looks almost identical to Clip. They both are simple apps with basic controls and settings.
Communicator is a contacts app. I made a test entry then modified the entry. This resulted in a second new entry. However, after re launching the app both entries appeared merged. A little bug? When we click the email address of a contact it offers to send a “Message” but I only get a “Subject” field to fill with no main body text area. Hitting “send” then crashes the app. I suspect this app is intended for mobile use where it would launch the phone’s email app?
Pix is the image viewer. Worked fine except for the full screen toggle which didn’t activate. It comes with a share button reminding us it was designed for mobile use as well.
Station is the terminal. I am not a heavy user and for my needs it worked perfectly well.
According to their latest blog entry on Maui apps, we can expect more refinement with the version 2.0 release expected around August this year.
Installing additional software: Nitrux offers two main routes to add additional software. The most convenient is using KDE Plasma’s Discover software center. The other is by running distro independent Appimages. Readers may know by now I dislike Snaps and Flatpaks due to their excessive size. Appimages are a similar concept but not quite as large. The downside is they are harder to maintain.
As usual I tested installing both AbiWord and VLC. AbiWord wouldn’t install due to dependency issues while VLC installed just fine and looked great with the desktop theme. VLC also played all my video files that Clip wouldn’t. According to Discover, this version of VLC was released 30th of December 1969 – Quite ahead of its time!
I also tried an Appimage to see if Nitrux handled it in a different way. I downloaded Etcher and the included Ark successfully turned it into an executable. However, there was no visible way to add it to the app menu or the dock. Searching for it in the menu only resulted in the downloaded zip file showing up but not the executable. Then a bit later on by pure coincidence as I was searching the menu I saw a folder called “Applications”. I moved Etcher there and voila! The app now shows up in the menu! This is where a “Welcome” app would have been very welcome! I also found two apps: Appimage-CLI and Appimagetools
but neither would launch. These are command line tools like htop intended for the terminal – The “CLI” should have given it away, my bad!
This is a tough one. Clearly a tremendous amount of work has gone into developing the apps and crafting the desktop. Nitrux looks stunning and has so much to discover which makes for a refreshing experience. The Maui-kit apps have improved from the last time I tried them but they are still some distance away from reaching maturity for daily use. The Appimage situation needs some attention as do some visual snags like the top panel covering items and duplicating window controls or the menu showing the second empty page when opened. Fractional scaling and docking on the other hand were second to none. All considered, my conclusion remains the same as last year: Not just ready yet but a lot to look forward for! We wish them the best of luck!
If you have used any recent version of Nitrux and want to share your thoughts go ahead and jot it down in the comments below!