The past month or two have not gone in favor for a couple of major GNU/Linux distributions. Few are well delayed from their original release schedules, which is also why I have not written reviews as much as I used to in the recent past. However, there were a few that got released and one such distro that caught my eyes was ‘SparkyLinux’ because I never had used it before.
This according to its developers, is a fast & lightweight OS, aimed at both old and new computers. The core however, is based on Debian’s ‘testing’ branch, and to tell you the truth, after seeing it, I did hesitate for a moment. But of course I quickly summoned my manly courage 😉 and decided to take it for a spin.
‘Sparky’ ships with few desktop variations that are considered lightweight. The main edition is based on the LXDE desktop, but you can also choose between Enlightenment, MATE, Razor-qt and a minimal, command-line based edition for advanced users as well. SparkyLinux is also based on a ‘rolling release’ model, thus, once you install it, you can upgrade to new releases, without ever having to re-install it, neat!.
For the review I choose the Enlightenment 18, 64-bit edition (1.4 GB download). Although the disc images are slightly bigger in comparison, they include lots of useful applications.
Below is a brief information about my hardware setup:
Intel Core i3-2330M CPU, Intel HD 3000 GPU, 4GB RAM (DDR3), Toshiba 7200 RPM (320GB) SATA HDD, Intel N-1030 Wireless adapter, Realtek network adapter ('RTL8168'), LED display with 1366x768 resolution (60Hz/60FPS). It's a Dell Vostro V-131 notebook.
I measured the performance related data before touching any settings (so that the OS remains in a ‘pure’ state), and when it came to comparison, there was a bit of a confusion. This was because to compare it with, I had no data from a similar OS. But then again, since we are only trying to compare the performance, not the GUIs or other features, I thought it is justifiable to use data from other distributions, despite what the underlying desktop environment is. So as a result, I have compared the performance related data of SparkyLinux 3.5 E18, with Linux Mint 17 Cinnamon and Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, respectively.
The Installer …
‘SparkyLinux’ 3.5 uses the Debian installer. It is easy to use and intuitive. However, it took a long time to install, 3 or 4 time more when compared to others. Sure the ISO is a bit large, but I have installed even bigger ones twice faster. So why is this then?
Well, I am no expert on how a LiveCD works, however, my understanding is that, most LiveCD based installers, when installing, treat the LiveCD environment as a one big image and thus simply copies (like a system image backup restore) it over to the disk which significantly shortens the installation time. This is also why, unlike when installing in a traditional or a non-live environment, one can no longer see the individual files that are being copied, because they are not treated individually.
The installer in ‘Sparky’ however, as you can see above, copies all the files in the now mounted ‘root’ (/) directory, individually!. I do not know why it does that despite it being so inefficient. But then again, there perhaps is a reason for this behavior, that I am not aware of. Anyhow, other than that I have nothing against the installation process.
First Boot-up …
The entry that lets you boot into SparkyLinux in GRUB says ‘Debian GNU/Linux’ not ‘SparkyLinux’ which is a bit confusing at first. The screen also looks a bit cluttered with all the menu entries, but that is how it is with most distributions these days anyway.
Below is the boot logo.
The Desktop …
The Enlightenment 18 (E18) desktop arrangement in ‘SparkyLinux 3.5’ is slightly different.
It is an iconless configuration with the virtual desktop switcher sitting at the top middle, application dock (aka ‘Shelf’) sitting at the bottom of the screen, a clock gadget to the left top, and the top-right corner is occupied by the NetworkManager icon which I found to become an issue because when opening and moving applications, sometimes their window controls (Minimize, Maximize & Close buttons) get hidden behind this icon, thus for closing, I had to drag them around. Other applications such as ‘Gnome MPLayer’ & the clipboard manager, display their system tray icon next to it also. It is perhaps a secondary ‘system tray’, but personally, I think they should be displayed in the ‘system tray’ of the bottom panel.
Another thing that I noticed was that ‘SparkyLinux’ does not exactly deliver a ‘pure’ Enlightenment experience, concerning at least the core components that compose a desktop environment. For example, by default it uses the ‘PacMan’ as the file manager rather than using Enlightenment’s own FM, although it is shipped with it. Then again, features vise, ‘PacMan’ is more ‘equipped’, so I can understand the logic behind it.
From the look of things, there seems to have not been big changes as far as the UI is concerned, compared to E17.
Other Applications …
‘SparkyLinux 3.5’ also comes with an app called ‘Sparky APTus’ which lets users to upgrade the system, install ‘deb’ files locally, add & edit repositories easily, clean the deb cache & another one called ‘Sparky APTus Plus’ which basically contains a list of popular applications (Skype, DropBox, TeamViewer…) and you simply select one and click the ‘OK’ to install them!, which is very handy, especially if you are new user.
Kernel version is 3.14.2 & Xorg version is 7.7. As mentioned in the beginning, it also includes lots of other applications such as LeafPad, LXTerminal, Terminology (E’s own awesome terminal emulator), Xfburn, Parcellite (clipboard manager) 1.8, Xarchiever, USB image writer, GIMP 2.8.10, LibreOffice 4.3.0, Imagemagic 188.8.131.52, Camorama 0.19, gFTP 2.0.19-4, Htop, BootRepair (grub recovering tool) 3.199, PlayOnLinux 4.2.4, Iceweasel 31.0 (Debian’s customized version of the Firefox web browser), uGet 1.10.4 and more!.
‘SparkyLinux’ includes the ability to play proprietary multimedia codecs by default (Adobe Flash included). Exaile 3.3.2 is the music manager and both VLC (2.1.5) and ‘Gnome MPLayer’ (1.0.9) are included for playing video files.
Although ‘Sparky’ came with a lot of apps, few failed to execute properly. For instance:
1. ‘Gnome MPLayer’ failed to play videos at first. As an attempt to see what was going on, I tried to open the file using the actual command-line based MPLayer that plays these files for ‘Gnome MPLayer’ and saw the below error.
It is probably caused by a missing link to DVD menu related library, but I did not bother to fix it, instead I manually installed the latest version of ‘mplayer’ from the Debian repository, and it did the trick.
2. I also experienced horrible issues with Exaile. Whenever you try to do something with it (may that be changing the track, seek into a different time-frame, add a new one, etc) it freezes for about 10-15 seconds, and then comes back. What a bummer!. (P.S: This might be related to the compositing window management of E18 perhaps changing its settings might fix it. I’ll keep you updated).
3. Enlightenment desktop itself gets crashed here & there, luckily though, it recover in such a manner that does not affect whatever the application that you are working with (so far at least). However, sometimes when it recovers the keyboard layout (I use ‘Dvorak’) gets changed to ‘QWERTY’ (default), thus I have to manually re-add it.
4. Enlightenment also makes you switch between virtual desktops whenever you hover over to the left/right corners. This usually happens when I am trying to scroll in my web browser, it drives me nuts!. The only way that I am aware of to disable this is to reduce the number of virtual desktops to 1 (though there should be another method methinks).
5. Although not really a concern, E18 once gave me an error saying that it failed to mount my USB on my desktop (if I remember it correctly), but I could access it through the file manager without any issues.
6. There is no option to enable ‘auto login’ in the installer, and you have to edit the ‘lightdm’ configuration file for enabling that. It can be quite frustrating for a new user.
7. Despite all the above, the one that was most frustrating was the login manager related bug that refused to let me login!. So far, it has happened twice.
Remember that ‘SparkyLinux’ is based on Debian ‘testing’ and it might have had played a role in some of these instances. It was quite frustrating nonetheless. That is pretty much what I have right now as an end-user. Below is the performance related details which I actually measured before doing any of the above, though as usual, I prefer to present that data near the end.
Since ‘Sparky’ disables auto login, I had to manually enable it before measuring. As always, I took five samples and the below graph (and others) is based on the average values.
Despite being very lightweight (which you will see shortly), Ubuntu 14.04 LTS was still able to beat it marginally (13.3% quicker). This should be due to the ‘ureadahead’ tool that Ubuntu uses (‘Sparky’ does not use it) which significantly improves the boot-up times.
I think it is quite unfair to make judgments based on the memory usage as these desktops are quite different from each other. Still, having a lightweight desktop does not always mean that it is also going to boot faster.
CPU Usage at Idle…
A process called ‘Enlightenment’ (it is the ‘desktop shell’ I suppose) kept consuming 1% of the CPU the whole time, but other processes kept their interaction with the CPU to a minimum. Good!.
Power Usage at Idle…
The three distros scored similar power usage readings, although both LM 17 and Ubuntu, when compared to their previous version, use a bit more power. There is a tool called ‘TLP’ that automatically applies various hardware based tweaks to your system for reducing the power usage in GNU/Linux. It is also available for ‘Sparky’ through Debian repositories, so after installing it, I measured the power again, this time it was around 12.6 Watts (4.5% reduction, roughly).
However, in Ubuntu 14.04 LTS this same tool was able to reduce the power usage around 12.02 Watts and 11.72 Watts in LM 17!.
By observing the mouse pointer’s sensitivity & how fast multiple applications load while a file (about 1.5 GB in size) is being copied within the ‘Home’ directory, I tried to measure the responsiveness of the operating system. So how was it?
Well, I also tried to play a video through VLC while all this was happening, it did get interrupted several times and while trying to navigate through the application menu (for opening programs :- LibreOffice Writer, Terminal emulator, GIMP, Iceweasel, etc), mouse pointer did lose its sensitivity here & there, and one or two apps only able to fully open after the file was finished copying, but overall it was good, certainly not exceptional (as under Manjaro XFCE edition for instance), but very much acceptable.
Hardware & ACPI Issues…
My fingerprint reader is not yet supported by Linux, other that that, I am actually happy to say that ‘Sparky’ was able to configure all my hardware and let me use them without issues. It even was able to save the previous brightness level, on each desktop boot-up, something at which most other distributions fail (Ubuntu included).
I could not however, find this program through the application menu, but ‘Sparky’ comes with a Bluetooth manager (a GUI as shown below). You can start it by tying ‘blueman-manager’ into your terminal window.
Suspending and waking, locking … it all worked without issues, but the hibernation failed. Except for that, I am very happy with the manner in which my hardware were configured.
For some users, the shutdown-delay of the operating is not much of an issue because they rarely do that. However, others like myself who does that a lot, it is still very much a deal breaker.
Now with ‘Sparky’, as you can see above, shutdown delay was minimal (in comparison), however, it sometimes gets stuck while doing so and on one such occasion (where I accidentally had to wait that much longer 😀 ), it shutdown the PC after about a minute!. I did not wait to see what would happen on other such occasions to tell you the truth.
‘SparkyLinux 3.5 E18’ edition boots reasonably fast, very lightweight, comes with a lot of applications and is responsive. However I did come across few software related issues, and one in particular that refused to permit me to login to my own computer. Then again, being based on Debian’s ‘testing’ branch, I guess this is the price that a user should be willing to pay, if they want to test it out. If interested, please get it from here.
But personally, I am a bit of judgmental geek 🙂 and ‘Sparky’ was not stable enough for my taste. Plus, although it is based on the gorgeous looking E18 desktop, it does not exactly deliver a ‘pure’ E18 experience either. So if you are looking for an alternative, then my humble suggestion is that you
wait for the upcoming ‘Bodhi Linux 3.0’ release (update: ‘Jeff Hoogland’, the main developer of ‘Bodhi Linux’, couple of days ago announced that he will not be maintaining it anymore. This of course does not mean the distro is dead, unless someone else picks it up from where he left off. But at the moment, its future is uncertain. A thanks goes to ‘noszi’ and ‘John S’ for pointing it out), because in my experience, it is much mature & stable, because it is based on the stable Ubuntu core.
Thank you for reading.
P.S: I hope I did not disappoint any of the ‘Sparky’ fans or developers, I simply tried to share my experience without any prejudices. If you feel like this review needs a few corrections, then please, do use the comments section!.