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MakuluLinux Core OS Debuts With Impressive Desktop Design | Reviews

A new Linux OS gets to the core of Linux computing with a revamped desktop environment and a new way to have fun with your daily computing tasks.

Developer Jacque Montague Raymer on Monday debuted the MakuluLinux Core OS. He hopes Core becomes the crown jewel of the Series 15 release family.

MakuluLinux released the latest versions of family members LinDoz and Flash several months ago.

While the Core entry integrates some of the features of its two cousins, it offers something new and exciting that brings MakululLinux to a higher level of usability. It adds a homegrown desktop design that turns something old into a modern Linux platform.

MakuluLinux is a relative Linux newcomer. Its positive reputation has been growing since 2015, thanks to a variety of desktop environments the developer adapted for better integration. Its small developer team, based in Vietnam, forged the first two desktop distributions, both efficient and productive, in a relatively short time period.

All three of the Series 15 editions -- LinDoz, Flash and now Core -- feature a redesign of the original Ubuntu-based LinDoz OS. First, the team revamped LinDoz's Ubuntu foundation. Series 15 is based on a hybrid that gets its primary updates from both Debian and Makulu directly.

New Base to the Core

The new strategy is not to borrow the base from Debian or Ubuntu, as other big developers have done. Makulu's team chose to build its own base instead.

LinDoz uses an in-house modification of the Cinnamon desktop developed by Linux Mint. Flash runs a modified version of the previously forked environment the developers designed for Flash. Series 15 is not an update of previous editions.

Both LinDoz and Flash are complete rip-and-replace builds on top of developed-in-house computing bases. The new Core OS is not an upgrade of Flash.

Instead, Core introduces some radical changes under development for the last two years. Core borrows heavily from features designed for Flash and adds even more adaptations.

For me, the most exciting eye candy that the Core edition offers is the dynamic animations that provide a new way to interact with the OS. Core does not have the classic Linux layout.

Kernel Fix Plus

The debut of MakuluLinux Core was held up for more than a month while developers debated the merits of waiting for a newer, better kernel. At stake was speedier performance with a patched kernel to avoid the infamous slowdown bug caused by computer chip vulnerabilities discovered last year, said developer Raymer.

"Core is ready. However, we can already see some problems on the horizon and are not sure we should rush to release," he told LinuxInsider last month.

The distro team gets kernel updates from the Testing Repository, which then was on the 4.18 kernel and soon would go to version 4.19. That posed a potential performance hit.

One of the upcoming 4.20 kernels that will be moving through testing repo slows down Linux by 50 percent. The kernel after that one fixes that bug, Raymer explained.

"So we are just sitting and waiting to see how the testing repo handles this," he said. "It will be a big blow if we release now and three weeks later that kernel with the slowdown bug enters testing."

A second dilemma added to the mix was that Raymer's team also was busy working on an Ubuntu variant of Core.

"So there is that to consider as well," he said. "To release now and release the Ubuntu variant later -- or make use of this time and get the Ubuntu variant on par and release both."

Meet the Core Distro

Core uses a combination of a Cairo-style dock for favorite applications and a spin-wheel style circular menu display. This approach is innovative and attractive.

MakuluLinux Core's innovative circular menu display.

The centerpiece of MakuluLinux Core's innovative homegrown user interface is a spin-wheel style circular menu display.

- click image to enlarge -

The biggest difference that distinguishes the new Core OS from LinDoz and Flash is the way the Xfce desktop design works as the Core desktop. A dock along the lower right vertical edge of the screen holds system icons and notifications. This design keeps the essential system elements separate from the applications dock.

In numerous ways, Core's new desktop design blends some of the best features found in Flash's use of Xfce and the forked Cinnamon environment that LinDoz uses. Core especially borrows heavily from the Xfce tweaking in Flash.

Both the latest editions of LinDoz and Flash remain unique operating systems in their own right. Core has the winning recipe for a tasty change in computing platform design, however.

Adding the Cinnamon spices to Xfce boosts the new desktop's performance. Mixing in MakuluLinux's own special sauce bakes Core into a computing environment that is exciting and refreshing.

Little Changes, Big Differences

One of the little things that makes the three MakuluLinux distros artistically distinct is the wallpaper. The background images are stunning.

Core, Flash and LinDoz use the same Wallpaper Changer tool, but each has a unique set of scenery to display.

The wallpaper changer in Flash and LinDoz displays thumbnail views in a vertical display on the right edge of the desktop. Scrolling through them is quick and easy. One tap and the background is updated.

MakuluLinux Core's two additional menus as alternatives to the spin-wheel menu

MakuluLinux Core has two additional menus as alternatives to the spin-wheel menu. A wallpaper changer banner display at the top makes choosing background images quick and simple.

- click image to enlarge -

Core goes one better. Its wallpaper display scrolls across the top of the screen.

Core has many new color schemes for the themes and icon sets. These themes are not the same as the ones in Flash. They use the same color schemes, but the Themes themselves are quite different. Also, Core is optimized for Virtualbox.

Fiddle Free or Not

The settings controls let you fine-tune how Core looks and how its features behave. The animations and options come close to the degree of personalization that used to be available in the KDE environment.

If you are a power user, you can fine-tune Core to your heart's delight. If you are not into fiddling with settings, Core's default configurations work fine.

Core comes stuffed with Makulu toolkit applications that supplement the usual Xfce settings panels. The system tools provide yet another layer of settings.

You also get a large collection of desktop applets. To add or remove them, open the Conky Manager panel and check/uncheck your choices.

Meet New Menus

Core's new menu system is far superior to the tired columnar-style panels that pop up from a traditional panel bar in other distros. Core provides multiple options for using menus and docks. The interface is mouse-driven with a touchscreen gesture system.

The traditional Xfce right-click menus and panel-style menus are still part of the user interface. There is much more than the right-click Xfce standard.

Put the mouse pointer into the left bottom corner to get a traditional two-column vertical menu to appear along the bottom left edge of the screen. Or press the dedicated Windows key to pop up the same Whisker-style menu in the center of the screen.

One of Core's more radical interface innovations is the new circular menu display. Application icons and launchers for system tools appear in a spin-wheel design displaying icons for each software category.

Fly over any icon in the circular array to have the contents of that category hang in a larger circle layered over the main menu display in the center of the screen. The menu system is also hot corner-based.

You trigger the new menu along with a few custom actions by mousing into the designated screen corners. Use the Hot Corner option in System Settings to set up your choices.

Docking Around

Another option for launching the circular menu is to pin its menu launcher to the Cairo dock. Oh yes, the dock is another replacement feature in Core. There is no panel bar at the bottom of the screen or anywhere else.

MakuluLinux Core's Cairo dock

The MakuluLinux Core Edition runs on a heavily tweaked forked Xfce environment that functions as a new style desktop. The Cairo dock at the bottom of the screen replaces the traditional bottom panel. The design includes a Web applet bar at the top, system icons in a right-side panel, and a collection of Conky widgets.

- click image to enlarge -

The Cairo dock hides at the bottom of the screen when covered by an active window. Otherwise, it sits centered at the bottom of the screen.

Slide the mouse pointer to the bottom of the screen to have the dock appear. When an application is running, its icon appears on the dock. You can pin or unpin an icon to the dock to use as a frequent program launcher by right-clicking an icon showing on the dock.

Core is a marriage of old and new. The new style circular menu displays may take time to adjust and fully adapt. Transitioning is easy, though.

Old Xfce New Again

Core still runs the Xfce desktop, sort of. This is a new type of Xfce, however. The developer integrated transparency and glitzy animations to give Core a version of Xfce you will not find elsewhere.

It goes far beyond the original MakuluLinux fork used in the current Flash edition. The new MakuluLinux base, combined with in-house tweaks that modernize the Xfce desktop, hikes features and convenience to another level.

MakuluLinux Flash comes with Compiz OpenGL compositing manager preconfigured for on-the-fly window dressing and fancy screen displays. With 3D graphics hardware you can create fast compositing desktop effects like minimization animation. Also, you can turn the Compiz effects off or on with a single click.

Navigating Workspaces

I am somewhat anal when it comes to using virtual desktops or workspaces. My workflow demands multitasking: researching, note-taking, writing, editing and creating graphics.

If moving among workspace screens is not fast, fluid and intuitive, I do not hesitate to flag a Linux distro. The key to success for me usually is anchored in keyboard shortcuts and workspace switcher applets on a bottom panel.

MakuluLinux Core changes that assessment cycle. It does have the right-click desktop menu option built into window top borders -- but Core has no panel applets.

MakuluLinux Core on-screen switcher display

With no panel bar, Core has no workspace widget applet, but keyboard shortcuts and mouse movements easily launch an on-screen switcher display.

Core lacks keyboard shortcut mapping. It also does not have slide-out panels with graphical views of workspaces for point-and-click channel changing.

What Core does have might well be the best-yet solution for moving among virtual desktops. The absence of a workspace switcher applet at first seemed heretical!

My panic quickly subsided when I discovered that all I had to do was point the mouse pointer on the desktop and press and hold the button wheel or the middle button. Other options include pressing the CTRL + left/right arrow keys. Or pressing the left and right touchpad buttons. Perhaps the handiest of all solutions to navigating around multiple workspaces is finger gestures on the screen or touchpad.

More Core Features

I can think of only a small handful of Linux distros that have Web applets built in. The feature is starting to gain attraction as a result of users liking the connection shortcut icons in Android and Chrome-based OSes.

Raymer borrowed the Web applets feature from an earlier distro he developed called "LeThe." In Core, it is built into the Web Apps bar and is a handy feature.

Web applets are activated and deactivated easily with a single click. You can access the shortcut for the Web Applets toolbar from the bottom panel or in the settings manager.

Core comes with a few pre-set URLs mapped to icons. It is easy to configure additional Web app launch icons.

These Web applets do add to memory usage and are not recommended for use on systems with low memory. The developer recommends enabling this feature only on systems with at least 4 GB RAM available.

This lets you go directly to a frequently visited Internet spot without the baggage of using a full-featured Web browser. You can have a Web browser open and use the Web apps independently.

Convenient Installation

Like LinDoz and Flash, Core uses the Calamares installer. Core replicated the hassle-free installation I enjoyed when testing the earlier MakuluLinux offerings.

To its credit, the developers added updated scripts to ensure that Core installs smoothly. Core's new ISO format has a fully working second update patch script that will allow the developer to patch any botched packages that come through the Debian repository.

Bucking a trend of Linux developers retiring 32-bit distro releases, Core will be available for both -- 64-bit now and 32-bit systems soon. That makes it an ideal Linux platform for aging computers.

Raymer released the 64-bit version on Monday, but the 32-bit version is not yet ready. It will be released in a few weeks -- most likely toward the end of February.

New Features Galore

Core supports a face-lift feature that eliminates the need to reinstall completely when an update goes wrong. This face-lift script lets users reset the desktop to its current look and feel.

At the initial log in, the routine asks users to select a default Window Border and a GTK Color scheme. This is a repeat of the booting process when the DVD boots the host computer in a live session.

You can change your selections easily in the settings panel under the theme manager. This new feature is unique. The display changes color depending on which GTK theme is selected.

Bottom Line

I have charted the progress of Core's development through sometimes daily ISO releases over the last few months. I can attest to the near constant revisions and design tweaks Raymer has applied.

The more I used Core, the better choice it became over its LinDoz and Flash kin. That, of course, is purely a personal observation. But the features I loved in the other two MakuluLinux options either were even better when integrated into Core, or were surpassed by the Core-only innovations.

MakuluLinux Core's rebuilt Xfce desktop is so well tweaked it looks and feels like something new.

Given the amount of forking Raymer did to Xfce, he could call the desktop something new. For me, referring to it as "the new Core desktop" makes perfect sense.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you'd like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

Please email your ideas to me, and I'll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Reader Comments feature below to provide your input!

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software. Email Jack.

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