Today let’s have a look at RebornOS, a rolling Arch based distribution. It followed the now defunct Antergos, using its installer cnchi and repository. Since Antergos died, they have made their own repository and are now apparently also working on their own installer called Fenix.
What sets RebornOS apart? It aims to offer an easy to install, configure and use Arch based distribution. This positions them in the same space as EndeavourOS and Manjaro. The installer is the star of the show letting the user customize their installation and choose between 10 different desktops. As a result, there is only one main ISO which is both a pro and a con as we shall see further below.
I downloaded their latest ISO dated March 2021 via torrent. It is a 2.13 GB ISO that boots into a Gnome based live environment configured with a combined dock and panel at the bottom, see the screen shot below:
This is probably the most interesting aspect of the system so I will dwell a bit deeper here than usual. The installer needs to be connected to the internet as it will retrieve most data from online sources to install the system. This assures an up to date system individually crafted to the user – Well, sort of! The downside is of course the amount of data transfer required for an installation. I’m for example on a 4G modem with a 150 GB cap, so I am not very pleased with this set-up. The original 2.13 GB ISO was essentially good for nothing. I think they should have made a minimal ISO with just the installer on top of a simple light weight desktop.
The installer does warn us of the large download traffic that will ensue and suggests we set up a dedicated storage for the fetched data so it does not need to be downloaded again if something goes wrong. I opted to ignore the suggestion and just went ahead and hoped for the best.
We get 2 main installation options: The usual “erase & use whole disk” or the “set up partitions manually”. The former has a few sub options available as well: Encrypt installation, use LVM, use ZFS or set our Home folder to a different partition.
I chose the standard non-encrypted whole disk option with a KDE Plasma desktop. The installer also offers to install additional software like Chromium but some other options were very vague: “Common photo editing programs for Linux”. What does that really mean? Why not give us the names? Probably as they will vary depending on the chosen desktop. The installer then proceeded to download over 2.6 GB of data to complete the installation. Thankfully, the installation was successful and the system booted up in just about 6 seconds to the log-in screen. It does require another 6 seconds, though, for the desktop to be fully displayed after the credentials are entered.
I am not really an expert on KDE Plasma but it appears that what we got is a very standard clean set-up with the original wallpaper and original Breeze theme. No RebornOS specific theming or major tweaks anywhere. Plasma was very recent at version 5.21.4 and the Kernel used was 5.11.12. Wayland is used as display manager but X11 can also be chosen at log-in. After connecting to the internet, Pamac reported 97 packages out of date requiring 420 MB of downloads – Welcome to a rolling release! If we add that to the 2 GB ISO and the 2.6 GB installation we end up with a grand total of 5 GB for an up to date RebornOS installation, a bit too much for my taste.
I installed htop and after a reboot it reported:
- 643 MB RAM
- 66 Tasks
- 135 Threads
Excellent values and in line with what to expect from a KDE Plasma based desktop environment.
As I didn’t choose any additional software during the installation process we get a mostly stripped down system. There is no office software or email client. There is, however, a large assortment of system software and utilities. For browsing we get Firefox in version 87. For multimedia we get a bit more than I expected. There is Elisa for music that played my m4a files while Kwave played my mp3 files. Videos were played back in Dragon while VLC was also installed. The video editor Kdenlive was present as well.
Browsing through the menu I discovered there was a welcome app that was supposed to launch at start-up but it hadn’t. It doesn’t do any system configurations but provides all available online links and resources of the project.
RebornOS FIRE: This piece of in-house developed software lets us choose the display manager / greeter as well as install additional desktop environments. It also lets us perform important system tasks like clear unnecessary cache and reinstall GRUB when needed. There is also the option to install additional software like the Anbox Android emulator. Stacer was also present as an option to install but nothing happened when I tried. Another option available is to rollback the system to a prior date.
I went on to test changing the display manager. There are two options available: Light-DM and Simple Desktop Display Manager (SDDM). When selecting the SDDM option we get to see a preview of the greeter which is a nice touch. The same didn’t work for me with Light DM. I tested changing SDDM and it worked fine. Changing to Light DM, however, rendered my system un-bootable! I tried the “Fallback” boot option but got the same error: “Failed to Start: Light Display Manager”.
At this point I didn’t try to fix it. I had already gotten a pretty good idea of the system as a whole and decided to end the test drive here. I mainly missed the section of installing additional software.
Well, it didn’t go too well due to the major issue I had encountered and this is fully on them. It was an additional piece of software that was supposed to add value to the user. Unfortunately it didn’t deliver. If we look past that, we get a pretty decent KDE Plasma Arch installation. Compared to EndeavourOS, its nearest cousin, we get a more recent set-up as the ISO was newer and most of the packages do get pulled from the net. We also get a more vanilla experience with no theming.
What is your experience with RebornOS? Did you try it with a different desktop? Why would you use it over EndeavourOS or Manjaro? Let us know in the comments below.