Today we’re going to take a look at SparkyLinux 6 and test it with the UKUI desktop. I chose the semi rolling version 6 based on Debian 11 “Bullseye”. This is the semi stable “testing” branch of Debian. Sparky had just recently released the first snapshot of 2021. The minimal UI version is ideal for our review. It is just over 1 GB in size, installs in under 5 minutes and boots in under 10 seconds. After a fresh boot, htop showed it uses a mere 316 MB of Ram with 56 tasks and 62 threads active. It doesn’t get much lighter than this. Ideal for testing different desktops. I used the same approach with our NsCDE review.
The installer is Calamares and the whole process was uneventful. The login screen is very simple. You need to enter manually both your user name and password to get to your desktop. Sparky’s minimal UI version uses Openbox as a window manager. We’re not going to dwell around for long here as we will be installing the UKUI desktop from the APTus AppCenter. This software center gives us no less than 26 different desktops to choose from! You’ll need an internet connection to install anyone of them.
Once installed all we need to do is reboot and choose our new desktop from the top right of the log-in panel.
Before we log-in, just a quick reminder what we are looking at. UKUI stands for Ubuntu Kylin User Interface and is the desktop especially developed in China to be used with regular releases of Ubuntu. It caters for some specifics of Chinese input methods and other Chinese particularities. From a pure desktop point of view though, it is perfectly usable for any user and is visually quite pleasing. Let’s have a look at it now.
UKUI has a very classic layout with a panel at the bottom and icons like the home folder and the trash can on the desktop. There is a system tray on the right and a menu as well as pinned apps on the left. Although traditional, it does look very modern. Semi transparency is used throughout together with a slight curvature of many corner elements. It does remind a little of deepin’s desktop without all the in-house developed apps. UKUI only comes with its own file manager and settings app. It uses its own UKUI icon theme and there is a nice selection of abstract wallpapers that fit the overall appearance very well. UKUI is QT based.
Notification view slides out from right hand sideThe well designed UKUI Control Center lets us adjust all the visual settings. Theme wise there is a choice between dark and light themes. The default icons look nice and modern. Alternatively we can chose a more classical set as well.
The menu can be sorted by usage popularity, alphabetically or by categories. We also have an option to include favorites on the side pane like the file system or the control center. It also has a type to search field that works just fine. I wished, however, that it would choose the top result and open it when hitting enter but alas one has to highlight the desired result for launching – An unnecessary additional effort. The menu can also be viewed in a full screen view. Probably to cater for touch based devices.
The system tray includes a toggle to quickly switch between dark and light modes – a nice idea. The tray has its own calendar and notification screen. Notifications pop out from the right hand side of the screen in a semi transparent fashion – very similar to deepin’s.
What didn’t work with my installation was moving the panel around. It is a the bottom by default and using the control center to move it to the top or to the left did not work. The menu would open in a displaced way but the panel stayed put at the bottom, even after a log-out/log-in.
Since I opted for SparkyLinux’s minimal UI install image there isn’t much to talk about here. You will need to add all your favorite apps after installation. I believe this is how distros should be in general. Oddly, Sparky gives us Gnome’s Web as the default browser. A very strange choice. It performed badly in my test last year being terrible at video playback. As it turns out, video playback is disabled out of the box. Interesting approach. For browsing normal text based sites it is fully serviceable though.
UKUI comes with its own file manager called Peon. It is a fully featured modern looking app offering tabs, colored labels and a handy “open in terminal’ button. The other UKUI app is the previously mentioned control center. It follows the same overall look and lets us adjust every aspect of the system.
To install additional software we have Sparky’s own APTus software center and the good old Synaptic package manager. The GDebi package installer is also present. I installed Abiword through APTus and it worked just fine.
Before I added UKUI, the minimal install came with a diverse assortment of light weight utilities that are commonly found in different desktops. Installing UKUI on top added another bunch. There are now elements of XFCE, Mate, Gnome and KDE present so do not expect to get a polished, well focused system out of the box. Using this approach will require some fine tuning by the user.
I have never looked at Ubuntu Kylin but after playing around with UKUI for a couple of days I think it could be worth a visit. It is classic without feeling dated. It doesn’t really bring anything new to the table but it felt nimble and pleasing to use. After installing it over Sparky’s minimal install, htop showed the following values: 625 Ram, 89 Tasks and 208 threads. These are very good figures for a modern system. My only fear is that it will be hard to fix issues when they arise. Just like deepin, the fact that most of the development takes place in China, it is unlikely to find too many helpful search results in English. That was my experience with deepin at least. That being said, my experience went very smooth here, with the only quirk being the inability to move the bottom panel around.
I’d like to shout out a special thanks to Pavroo for adding yet another interesting desktop to Sparky’s long list of desktops.
Did it tickle your fancy? Head over to SparkyLinux’s download page and try it out yourself or any of the other 26 available desktops. Your feedback on your experience is also much appreciated. Share your thoughts in the comments section below.