Chakra Alpha 3: a review

Introduction

You have to hand it to the Chakra project developers: they sure have ambition. Don’t expect a remastered Ubuntu here, Chakra takes the do-it-yourself distribution Arch, and tries to make the installation easy, providing you with the latest and greatest KDE in the process. Chakra has more or less grew out of KDEmod, a modded and modular set of KDE packages for Arch. Apparently, the devs decided that they might as well slap an installer together and create a whole new distribution. Easier said than done…

I say “distribution”, but the Chakra people are apparently very modest and call it a distrolet. Their reasoning is that after the install, you end up with regular Arch, albeit with their version of KDE. Be that as it may, they also included their own tools: the installer Tribe, the package manager front-end Shaman, the system config utility Arxin, and even live media creation scripts. In my book, Chakra certainly qualifies to be called a distribution. I know many other projects certainly do, even if they’re just a glorified Ubuntu…

In any case, Chakra is still alpha software, and it hasn’t that many developers working on it, so it’s progress is rather slow. On the other hand, those devs are involved in KDE itself, so they have a pretty good pedigree. Still, bugs are to be expected, maybe even serious ones.

Installation

I grabbed the torrent from the website (apparently the servers were a bit overloaded after release), and copied it to a USB stick according to the instructions on the website. Upon boot, I was greeted with a few options, one of them including non-free software. I have a nVidia graphics card in this machine, so that’s what I chose. I booted into a nice looking, but default KDE. As far as I know, the only modification that has been made is the menu button, which is the Chakra swirly icon instead of the usual K. I was online, things looked good, so I clicked the “Install” icon on the desktop. Apparently, the installer checks for new versions of itself before running, which is a good idea, but unfortunately the newly downloaded version didn’t work. It got stuck, showing me a message “Setting up Tribe”. After a quick search around the forums, I learned that this is a known bug, and typing “sudo tribe” in a terminal takes care of that. The installer works fine after that, but it’s not a great start, really.

As you can see on the screenshots, Tribe looks fantastic. The various installation steps are visible in a list on the left, in a layout that reminds me of the openSuse installer. I especially liked the globe when choosing Language and Time settings. The disk partitioner on the other hand, was a bit confusing. You have to click the various options to change them (like mount point, filesystem, etc), instead of a general “Edit Partition…” button. It works just as well, it just isn’t that obvious. This part of the installation also took a very long time, to the point where I thought it had crashed. A couple of steps later and you’re installing the system, which happens very fast until you hit the part where the default mirror for the package manager is selected. You can’t choose from a list, instead Chakra uses the rankmirror script by default, which checks the five fastest mirrors in your location. It’s a good idea, but it takes a long time.
Eventually, there are a couple of configuration steps left to do, like creating the user (which you can grant Ubuntu-like sudo privileges), the root user, and installing the boot loader. You can choose the right partition, but you have to do it in grub-speak (hd0 for the MBR, hd0,0 for the first partition, etc). Again, this might not be obvious for everybody.

First boot

After a quick reboot you can enjoy your brand new Chakra system…well, you could, if grub hadn’t added hd0,4,4 to my configuration file, instead of hd0,4. This is such a strange error that I was wondering if I hadn’t made the mistake myself. I’m fairly sure that I didn’t. In any case, it’s quickly solved, but you need to know where to look. Another issue I had: the locale was correct, but the keymap wasn’t. Because I have quite a lot of experience with Arch, I knew I had to edit /etc/rc.conf and /etc/hal/fdi/policy/10-keymap.fdi, but I can’t imagine normal users knowing about this. Finally, upon reboot, I noticed that a couple of daemons failed to stop: networkmanager, avahi, and cdemud. I disabled the last two, because I have no need of them, and as far as I can see it’s not like there’s any trouble because of it. Still, it’s worrying to see that big red “FAIL” scrolling by.
A final minor point: a distribution that aims to look good, as Chakra obviously does, really shouldn’t have messages scrolling by at boot or shutdown at all. I prefer a nice scroll bar or animation, with the possibility to hit Esc or F2 for the more detailed messages.

Upon first boot into KDE, I was greeted with a very familiar sight: a popup asking me to configure Automatic Updates. It’s looks and like the Windows Updater, but upon reflection it really is the best way to handle Arch’s rolling release model. I am however very happy that “Download and install the updates automatically” is the last option available, and is clearly marked as dangerous. This is true for any OS but certainly Arch: look at what you’re about to install. Arch has been very solid for me, but occasionally things do go wrong. For example, the latest update of the KDE printer applet made it crash every time at boot. I knew what I had installed, I checked the Chakra and Arch forums, saw people having the same problem, and waited a day. The next update solved the problem.

Chakra: Automatic updates

This brings me to another advantage of Arch, and by extension Chakra: you’re running the latest software. KDE was updated from 4.3.1 to 4.3.2 less than a day after the official release. I’m running the latest and greatest, which from a security point of view, is always a good idea. Hardware detection was very good too: the nVidia graphics card was detected and configured properly, and so was my wireless USB dongle. This is something the Chakra devs had to add in Tribe, because I know I have to do these things myself in Arch. Cups however wasn’t added to the main configuration file (/etc/rc.conf), and I had to add it myself to be able to use the network printer.

I mentioned before that I installed the Minimal CD. The official release will be a DVD image, but in the case of the CD, Minimal means indeed minimal. You get a barebones KDE, with Kaffeine, K3b and Arora, but that’s it. Everything else can be installed with Shaman, the package manager. The upside here is that Chakra/KDEmod splits the traditional KDE packages, so for instance it’s possible to install just Ksnapshot, and not the entire kde-graphics package. I prefer to use pacman and the command line, but Shaman is a very good (easier?) alternative.

chakra: Shaman

chakra: Shaman

Conclusion

All in all, I’m impressed. As I said in the introduction, Chakra is still alpha, so the problems I encountered can certainly be forgiven. They can easily be solved by anyone with a bit of experience with Arch Linux, but for others they might be show stoppers. I’m pretty sure they will be ironed out at the time of the final release though, because it’s quite obvious the Chakra devs know what they’re doing. They wanted to bring the speed, stability, and rolling release model of Arch, combined with the elegance and beauty of KDE to the average user, and in my opinion they’re well on their way there. Tribe needs some work, but it works. Some configuration has to be automated even more, but most of it has been taken care of. Shaman is an excellent and easy front-end of the command line package manager pacman. The rolling release model makes very frequent updates necessary, which the Chakra devs have solved by including a sane Automatic Updater, which provides plenty of information both before and after install. They’re very much on the right track, and I feel confident to predict that Chakra will become a popular choice among Linux users when the first release hits the internet. I know I’m sold: I’m using it as my main OS at the moment.

Chakra: My KDE after config

Chakra: My KDE after config

San

19 Responses to Chakra Alpha 3: a review

  1. Chris says:

    Oh that’s very interesting, I planned to try Arch Linux (even though I have no idea how to work a terminal) but Chakra looks like it could simplify things for me.

    Also, where do you get those impressive wallpapers you post up…?

  2. mandog says:

    Chakra is slowly but surely maturing.
    I,m mystified why people think Arch is all command line, Even to dyslexic person like me it is very simple to set up if you use the beginners section of the Wiki. In fact it is very stable and if you check the home page before updating it does not break.The Arch Wiki is your best friend.

  3. celettu says:

    Chris:

    Chakra seems like the distribution for you, but be careful. It’s still alpha, and some CLI magic will almost certainly be required.
    The wallpapers I used I found here: http://www.ewallpapers.eu/World/England/

    Mandog:

    I agree 100%

  4. eyeofliberty says:

    I encountered the same issues you did, and also thought the installer had crashed. I got it up and running, too, but alas, KDE4 is just too damn slow on my old Thinkpad T42! The Chakra folks have done a very nice job, though. I look forward to the final release. I hope it doesn’t take as long as the time between Alpha 2 and Alpha 3!

  5. Linux Affic says:

    “I,m mystified why people think Arch is all command line, Even to dyslexic person like me it is very simple to set up if you use the beginners section of the Wiki”

    Probably because when you first install Arch. It takes about 45 minutes to an Hour, copying and pasting text into the command line, to configure and install X, your sound system, and the Desktop Environment. Not to mention editing half a dozen other text files so that it will boot at all. So there is absolutely no reason to be surprised.

  6. exploder says:

    I checked out Chakra Alpha 3 and I think that it is one of the most ambitious projects out there. Arch has a very good reputation and many people want a true rolling release, the Chakra Developer’s have done a fine job on making Arch simple to install.

    The Chakra tools demonstrate true development skill and I really hope these guys keep moving forward with their work. The Chakra project is an original approach to creating a rolling release and to use Arch as a base is simply brilliant.

    I checked out the Chakra forum and I could see that the Developer’s participated in the forum. I was impressed! The Chakra Developer’s are doing great work, have real vision and are involved with the community. These guys have my respect and I am looking forward to seeing their first final release.

  7. JoeGrammar says:

    “I know many other projects certainly do, even if their just a glorified Ubuntu…”

    I think you were looking for the word “They’re,” a contraction of “They are,” rather than “their.” As in “They’re complaining about my grammar.”

    Their is the possessive form of “they” as in “their dog.”

    And let’s not forget “there” indicating position as in “I can delete this comment by clicking the button over there.”

  8. celettu says:

    Joe:

    You’re absolutely right. Thanks for pointing that out.

  9. Jack says:

    The devs are certainly active and responds in the forum whenever they can or have to. I like that.

    Another good thing about Chakra is that the tools they suppy for “maintenance” are quite obvious when you compare it with the configfiles. If you use arxin and then look at the config file you will find the same options.

    That’s educational and does not “hide” the tech beneath.

    In terms of stability it’s the installation that is Alpha really. As soon as it’s installed it is just as stable as any Arch installation – if you stick to the standard Arch tools.

  10. valves says:

    I’ve tried Chakra and I liked. I have issues with Arch and xorg. But, in Chakra, the installer doesn’t recognize the timezone “Atlantic/Azores”. Maybe it’s a bug or something. Besides that, I only, I only have issues with cpufrequtils and fan noise, but this is because of my hardware (hp pavillion tx1000 series, which is a crap…). So, in resume, keep the good work, Chakra team.

  11. Mesanna says:

    Thanks for the review!

  12. […] Chakra Alpha 3: a review Introduction You have to hand it to the Chakra project developers: they sure have ambition. Don’t expect a […] […]

  13. Zikoss says:

    Thanks for the review.
    I was looking to install Arch and wanted KDE4, now my wish became true.
    I want to know the speed of the distro, how many MB it take, what are the time boot? After all, Arch is about speed and stability.
    On other note, I like your KDE theme. Where did you get it?

  14. […] So, several times I’ve been annoyed lately about how Kubuntu never stops feeling like it’s not getting the love it deserves. Canonical seems to give much more love to their main distribution which uses Gnome. I do not blaim them neither, it is the freedom of open source that any entity can prioritice as they want. However, being now too used to the KDE environment, and also being very fond of how the direction the project is going in, I have started to look for alternative distributions. One of the distributions I’ve been keeping an eye on is Chakra, which is based on Arch linux. In principle it is Arch with the KDEmod packages, a live CD and automatic hardware identification. They actually define themselves as a distrolet rather than a full distro. Them about that, I think it is a very interesting project in any case. I have heard from several sources that KDEmod/Chakra is the most properly built KDE distribution out there, even at this stage: Chakra: my new distro of choice, Alpha 3: a review […]

  15. […] when I tested Chakra Alpha 3, I also ended up with KDE 4.3.2, so why not have a look if things have […]

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  17. Barista Uno says:

    That’s it. This Chakra creature will get to be installed in my desktop rig once I get a replacement PSU.

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