After being left a bit underwhelmed by Ubuntu Budgie 20.10, I decided to check out Solus Budgie 4.1. Being the original home of the Budgie desktop I was hoping to find a more polished experience.
The last time I had used Solus and Budgie was in 2016 when I built a desktop out of a cheap used Acer laptop. I believe it was an Aspire One Cloudbook with a Celeron 3050, 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of emmc storage. I installed Solus on it – version 1.2 at the time with the Budgie desktop. This little machine served as the reception PC of a small hostel for a couple of years and was running 24/7 with no issues other than being a bit slow. So I’m excited to see what 4 years of development have brought us.
Before we start, what makes Solus OS unique? It is a stand alone Linux distribution that is not based on any other distribution. It’s built from scratch and has it’s own package manager EOPKG. Solus OS has adopted a rolling release cycle with a new ISO coming out roughly every year. I downloaded the latest ISO 4.1 and tested it as is without applying any updates. This is not ideal but since releases are so far apart, one can expect them to be solid.
Solus Budgie was a 1.8 GB download. I flashed it to a USB thumb drive, disabled my internal laptop drive and attached my external Distrocrunch test SSD.
Solus Budgie booted fairly quickly from my thumb drive. After checking basic functionality, I proceeded installing it to my external SSD. Solus recognized my previous installation of Ubuntu-Budgie 20.10 and offered to resize the SSD and install Solus alongside it. The process was very smooth and took less than 4 minutes to complete! Upon reboot, however, there was no Grub menu to choose an OS and Solus booted automatically. The boot time was impressively short.
My first impression compared to Ubuntu-Budgie was a less cluttered cleaner look. Solus defaults to a traditional single bottom panel and the system tray comes with only the absolute necessary elements. Solus has no welcome app whatsoever. Being a system that is not based on any of the big players it is less suited to Linux newbies and the welcome app is probably not really missed by it’s target audience.
As mentioned, it uses a fully traditional layout. The overall theme is very dark and some elements reminded me of older Android versions. All The supplied wallpapers are of a high quality but a bit gloomy, depicting different autumn moods. I proceeded to move the panel to the top where I prefer it. Solus doesn’t offer fractional scaling so I went with a 1600 x 900 pixel resolution. I switched the theme to “Plata” to get lighter colors – The default theme is dark. In the Budgie Settings we get less options compared to Ubuntu-Budgie. There are a lot less applets to choose from. I tried to look for the hot corner applet that didn’t work for me in Ubuntu Budgie but it wasn’t offered. Turns out it didn’t make it into this Budgie release before feature freeze. So the two main elements that clouded my Ubuntu Budgie experience, fractional scaling and hot corners, are not offered in Solus, at least not with my non-updated version 4.1. A good decision, considering their instability. Unfortunately something else stopped the party as we shall find out in a minute.
We get a decent basic selection out of the box. For browsing the web there is Firefox and for managing emails Thunderbird. For productivity we get LibreOffice (Calc,Write,Draw and Impress) and for multimedia we get Gnome MPV, Rhythmbox and Photos plus some smaller utilities.
To install additional software and applets we have a very responsive software center with good search functionality. Download times, however, were a bit slow during my brief testing. I looked up Abiword and it was promptly found – something Ubuntu Budgie didn’t. I installed htop but hadn’t taken the readings from a fresh boot before a major bug stopped the whole test from going any further. Ram usage did appear to be below 900 MB so that was actually looking promising.
Next day, I fired up Solus again and decided to look for some additional applets to install. I found the QuickNote applet I thought was a nice feature in Ubuntu Budgie and installed it. I then went back to Budgie settings to add it to my panel but the option wasn’t there. I suspected I needed to sign out and back in again for it to appear so I did just that. Unfortunately, I couldn’t sign back in again. After entering my password, the screen would go black for a second and revert to the login window again. This kept repeating so I decided to power off and reboot. The shut down process also appeared stuck with repeating error messages: “device not accepting address XX, error -XX” (XX = numbers that kept changing). I had to force shut down. The system rebooted without issue back to the log-in screen but the bug persisted. I could not get back into my system. Thankfully I had not encrypted the drive so I could salvage some screen shots and review notes I had saved there.
I do not think it is fair to judge the system at this point. I checked the Solus forums to see if this was a widespread issue but found only one entry that might have been related. In that case the user had installed and uninstalled software which caused some vital Gnome session components get removed. I didn’t uninstall anything but some component must have gotten overwritten or moved when QuickNote was installed. This bug is obviously a major issue as it renders the system completely useless and most users wouldn’t be able to resolve it.
My initial impression of Solus Budgie was fine and it felt very much like the Solus I had used back in 2016. This is a good thing but the leap in version number doesn’t translate into any substantial visual differences. Ubuntu Budgie 20.10, on the other hand, seems to better reflect the years of development. The welcome app and the bigger assortment of applets and desktop configuration options available make that clear. Some of those features, however, are still not ripe for prime time. Hopefully both systems will improve as the Budgie desktop deserves a good home so we’ll be taking a fresh look at them again next year.
Cheers and happy holidays!