Today I’d like to take a quick look at a distribution still in the early stages of development, but one that, in my opinion holds massive potential. That distribution is Chakra Project and it’s based on Arch Linux, which I reviewed not too long ago. According to their own website the idea was formed one night, in a dark corner of the Freenode IRC network where KDEmod developers linger. The idea to try and create a liveCD to display the virtues of Arch and KDEmod is a noble one. I tried out alpha 2 this week to see how they were getting on…
This won’t be my typical in-depth review because Chakra is only in alpha, and I think it’s a bit unfair to hold it up against other finished distros just yet. Like any software in the early stages of development it has it’s bugs, I’ll talk about them of course but I’d rather focus on the features and potential. It’s more of a distro preview than a review of the finished product I suppose. With that in mind, lets get into it.
I booted up the Chakra liveCD, and immediately was offered a choice of whether to use proprietary drivers or not, for the live session. I chose to use them as I have a freedom hating Nvidia graphics card, and I like to get all the 3D effects. The boot process stalled for a minute or two as it installed the Nvidia drivers, but eventually continued. Booting from the liveCD seemed a little slow compared to some others I’ve tried but it wasn’t arduous, and visually it’s very impressive. Whoever does the graphics deserves a pat on the back. Upon reaching the KDE 4.2 live session I was pleased to see that everything worked as expected, right down to wireless. I clicked the install icon on the desktop and was amused by the following message – “WARNING: This is alpha software, it could eat your hamster!!“. Hamster owners beware, nevertheless I continued on bravely. Next you’re greeted by quite a few license and EULA screens which come as a bit of shock. These are for the Microsoft fonts, Nvidia drivers and Adobe Flash Player, all of which are proprietary of course. I had no problem with this as I use these things anyway, but perhaps some Free Software advocates wouldn’t be as keen.
The installer seems pretty easy to use and offers you the usual prompts for regional settings, user details and other such things. When I reached hard drive partitioning though I noticed the screen flickering a lot as you moved the mouse around the interface. This is one of the little bugs you’d expect in alpha software and I didn’t worry about it too much. I was still able to set up my hard drive in the usual fashion: 12gb root partition, 5gb swap and the remaining 140gb(ish) for /home. While installing you’re shown a slideshow of system screenshots and features to keep you amused. This part only lasted about 15mins before I was prompted to install GRUB and complete the process. Unfortunately, next I hit a pretty major bug as the installer crashed; I was waiting for it to close and it didn’t. I exited the program manually and saw the message “Tribe – Fatal Error” which sounded dramatic. The install seemed to have completed, so I figured the best course of action would be to reboot from the hard disc. Trying to shut down with the KDE4 menu didn’t seem to do anything, as a last resort I hit CTRL+ALT+F2 to switch to a terminal, I could then issue the command “shutdown -h now“. This worked. Before it sounds like I’m being too critical here, I fully understand that I was testing something that’s not intended for release in any way. I’m just conveying my experience, that’s all. Upon booting from the internal drive, the new system started fine. I think this is just a glitch in the installer, which is still under heavy development. The full install took about 25mins, a very respectable time.
Configuring The System:
The new KDE4.2 desktop looks slick and shiny but I ran into a bit of problem with the mouse trackpad on my laptop. It wouldn’t do anything. Having seen the same problem in Arch I knew how this could be fixed, and having all the Arch documentation to rely on is really great. I said many times during my Arch review how great their wiki and supporting docs are, I can’t stress that enough. Chakra also has it’s own wiki, forums and support channels of course. You’re spoilt for options. I plugged in a USB mouse while I sorted things out. There’s actually a full article on the Arch wiki dedicated to my machine, the Dell XPS M1330. This includes information on how to make the Synaptics touchpad work. I added the necessary options to my Xorg.conf file and rebooted. To my delight, the touch pad worked. Next I wanted to get wireless working, and like the trackpad it had been working on the live session. I noticed that Wicd (the network manager) is installed by default, but trying to run it didn’t get me anywhere. I then remembered more nuggets of wisdom (yes I have some) from my Arch install. So I used Nano to edit the main rc.conf file in a terminal. At the end of the file there’s an array of daemons to run at startup. I removed the “network” entry and added “wicd”. After a restart I was pleased to find the Wicd icon in my system tray. From there it’s a simple matter of clicking a few boxes, adding your wireless key (WPA2 in my case) and connecting. I was able to tell Wicd to connect to my network every time I started the machine. Sound was already working and all the codecs I needed seemed to be installed. I was able to watch videos in Kmplayer without any trouble. Most things were easy enough to set up for anyone who’s used Arch in the past. I think as the development progresses all those things which already work in the live session will be translated into the installed system. It’s a work in progress and getting the LiveCD working as a demo was their primary goal it seems. That works very well.
Calling The Shaman:
With a working Internet connection, it was now time to look at installing software and updating the system. I talked a lot about Pacman – the Arch package manager – in the my Arch review and I’m a big fan. It works very well, but only in a terminal at the moment. The Chakra guys have built a GUI wrapper which they’re calling Shaman. It looks very much like Synaptic, and it works in a similar way. You can type in the name of a package to narrow down the list, or just browse through and mark them for installation if you prefer. I chose to mark all updates and discovered there were 332! Things move fast in Arch land and the install disc was a couple of months old. I got some errors while trying to apply the updates though, and it failed a couple of times. I think there were some package conflicts between the KDEmod repos and the standard Arch ones. It would keep saying “failed to process queue”, so I ticked the “force queue processing” box and set it off again. In hindsight this may not have been the wisest move I’ve ever made in my life. The updates installed and I was able to use the system afterwards but I noticed some problems. Amarok stopped working and sound in general was playing up. That aside I think the Shaman interface is nice and it’s coming along really well. The problems I experienced were mainly down to the experimental nature of the software and I think they’re on the right track. One superficial thing I must mention is the Shaman logo. It’s one of the little ghosts from the original Pacman game, an obvious nod to the package manager, and I funny one I thought.
I’m not going to offer scores for various things this time as I normally do. This is not an official software release and I feel it would be a bit unfair. I really just wanted to see how it was coming along, as the combination of Arch and KDE4 intrigued me. I’m not normally a huge fan of KDE4 to be honest, but I’d heard many people say KDEmod was really the best implementation of it to date. Having spent a week or so trying it I would concur with that assessment. It’s very polished and while I still love Gnome, I could get used to this as my main desktop I think. It would take a while but eventually we’d get along. With version 4.2 the KDE guys seem to have really improved on a rocky start to the 4.x series. I never understood releasing a development version as 4.0, but that rant is for another article perhaps. The depth of the Arch repos and the really strong community around it have been mentioned many times. Chakra obviously benefits from both of those, and you can usually find someone to help if you get stuck.
I’ve enjoyed my time looking at Chakra, and while it has many rough edges to iron out before an official release, I do think it’s potential is there for all to see. Arch is a great distribution and building on top of it like this makes perfect sense to me. I’m not sure exactly who Chakra is aimed at but it doesn’t seem to be new Linux users. They even say that on their website. I think for Arch users who like KDE it’s definitely worth a look, even in this early stage. Why not get involved and help them make it even better. Some knowledge of Arch is essential if you’re planning to get involved with Chakra. Having the backup of my Arch experience really helped me fix some teething problems. The liveCD works perfectly already, they just need to tweek the installer a little and they’ll be onto a winner. One thing is for sure, when they finally get a full release of Chakra ready for public consumption, I’ll be back to look at it. It’s one to keep your eye on I say.
If you want to try Chakra Project you can get it here, bare in mind it may eat your hamster though 🙂
I’ve moved onto Linux Mint 7 now, as I wanted see what it had to offer. I’ll write up my findings and then hop onto Fedora 11 I think. I don’t look at enough RPM distros and I’d like to get out of my comfort zone a bit. Once that’s done I’m not sure where I’ll go yet. If you’d like to make suggestions please do, they are always welcome. Just leave a comment, drop me an email or shout out of your nearest window as loud as you can. Until next time, I’ll see you on the flipside…