Semplice is a Debian based GNU/Linux distribution that comes with a simple & a lightweight desktop of its own called ‘vera’, which is actually a combination of Openbox window manager (a utility that lets you control your application windows such as resizing, minimizing & moving them around) and a lightweight bottom panel called Tint2. It also makes use of couple of applications & functionalities from LXDE, Xfce & Gnome3 as well. So the desktop is a bit of everything.
I’ve been using Semplice for a couple of days now, and I can say that from the look-n-feel of things, it indeed does deliver a simple desktop which is also lightweight.
You can obtain Semplice in two versions. One is called Current which is based on the unstable branch of Debian & hence includes latest software versions. Other one is called Workstation that is based on the stable Debian core and thus comes with tested software applications.
For the Semplice 2015.2 review (2015.2 is the latest release), I decided to go with the Workstation version that comes with the Kernel 4.1 & Xorg 1.16.4. The ISO disc image size is about 662 MB which is relatively somewhat small, too.
Before I start the review, below is the hardware details of my laptop computer that I tested it upon:
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’ve gathered performance related data (as usual), but I didn’t have a distribution that closely resembles Semplice. The closest I had was LinuxLite 2.2 Xfce edition, which is not exact an equal. Still, as giving a way to get some sense about its performance, I decided to compared the two. So my advice is, take it with a grain of salt.
I’m assuming that Semplice uses the Debian’s installer (I haven’t use Debian in a long time), and it is easy to use as well. The partition set-up step can be slightly confusing, especially if you have logical volumes, but compared to Fedora or openSUSE‘s installers, this is still pretty much user-friendly, though Ubuntu still contends, due to its elegant UI.
Anyhow, after I made all my changes, I let the installer install Semplice. The installation was quite fast and didn’t take more than 2 or 3 minutes (which is not surprising considering the disc image size) & finished without any errors.
Semplice somehow failed to add an entry for Fedora 22 (oh I forgot to tell you, I installed Semplice along side with my main operating system, Fedora 22), though, and I was able to fix it quite easily after I logged into the ‘vera’ desktop and then by re-running GRUB installer. If you come across the same issue, let me know, I’ll provide you the steps for correcting it.
Semplice doesn’t come with a special GRUB theme and uses one of the built-in basic color themes.
Semplice does not include a boot-logo either, but this has never been a big deal for me. I am always quite happy looking at them ugly screen outputs 😀 .
The desktop, as briefly mentioned in the beginning, is a very simple one. At the bottom you have a panel that shows your opened applications & a notification area that displays a clock, network status, a clipboard app and a sound icon. And there is no start-menu.
But if you right click on the desktop, then you get a context menu, one that closely resembles a start-menu which gives you access to all the installed applications, system settings & entries for, logging out, shutting down & rebooting the system. It’s a typical Openbox desktop context menu. Nothing fancy, nothing new, doing exactly what it’s supposed to be doing.
Coming back to the panel. I must say that it presents you with basic functionality. You can’t right-click on a docked application and close, resize or minimize its window, as you would do in other desktop environments. You can’t also easily add launchers (application shortcuts) to it such as by right clicking on the panel or through the main menu. But you can add icons to it through the panel’s settings window which can be accessed through the desktop context menu (‘Settings’ -> ‘Panel’).
This process however is a bit buggy, though.
For instance, the first time I added a shortcut and closed the Settings window, nothing happened. After that, I couldn’t even open the panel’s settings window. I had to reboot the laptop to fix it. This time, being the genius that I am 😛 , rather than closing the window, out of curiosity, after adding my application shortcuts, I clicked on the Backarrow (<—) and it immediately added an icon to the panel. It’s weird, but if you didn’t know, just like when we’re drunk, apps too do weird things when they’re buggy 🙂 . Other than that, on the positive side though, the panel so far, haven’t crashed, or any other component of the desktop for that matter.
Another nifty feature of ‘vera’ is that whenever you need to open an application, you don’t have to navigate the application menu, you can just start typing (make sure the desktop is selected) and it’ll display the results at the middle top section of the desktop. I like it very much!.
The desktop also allows a lot of customization features via the ‘Settings’ window. You can enable/disable fancy window management effects (shadows, transparency effects etc), change themes & fonts, add wallpapers etc.
Oh and I do admit that once you enable shadows (disabled by default), everything looks better.
Well, I mean not in everything. They add a heavy shadows in some of the file manager’s (including few other apps) menus which are not that eye pleasing. See for yourself:
Another setting called ‘Features’ lets you easily enable/disable some core functionalities such as Bluetooth support, Printing support, Visual effects, Proprietary applications (such as Adobe Flash Player & a few firmwares). When you disable a function, it basically removes that application from your system.
You can also change Power related options, manage users, change the Date & Time settings, install updates, add/remove applications to system’s start-up etc from the ‘Settings’ window as well.
As I mentioned in the ‘Installer’ section, there is no option to enable user-autologin feature in Semplice. Not in the installer or through the user management utility of the desktop. And if you need this feature (I do), then you’ll have to edit a configuration file of LightDM (login manager). If you’re familiar with the the command-line, then you can use vim editor to get it done.
For that, use the below command to open it through the vim editor:
sudo vim.tiny +117 /etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf
This will open the exact text line where this specific option lies (line number 117). There, uncomment the line (remove the # before it) and then enter the user account’s name that should be used to auto logged into the system, as shown in the below screenshot.
Once you’re done, save the changes and exit.
If you don’t have the stomach for that, then you can edit it using the default text editor (Mousepad) GUI too. For that, use the below command instead:
sudo mousepad /etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf
Then enable showing line numbers in Mousepad (‘View’ -> ‘Line Numbers’) and make your changes.
Before moving onto the performance comparison, I’ll mention some of the applications that are included by default.
*. The web browser is Iceweasel. Iceweasel is actually Firefox (in disguise) with latest security updates ported back to somewhat an older version of Firefox. Iceweasel is developed & maintained by Debian. The included version is 38.2.1 and it also comes with the now outdated, Adobe Flash Player plugin for Firefox. So far it has worked well in popular websites such as in YouTube, and some websites display a warning saying its too old, but you can skip it.
I know this won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but, as a permanent solution, I recommend switching to a browser like Google Chrome. For that, first download the Debian/Ubuntu package from Google, then before installing enter the below command to install the prerequisite packages. Otherwise, Chrome installation will fail:
sudo apt-get install libappindicator1 libdbusmenu-gtk4 libindicator7
Then enter the below command to install the browser (make sure to replace ‘google_chrome_path‘ accordingly):
sudo dpkg --install google_chrome_path
*. File manager is ‘PCManFM’ (1.2.3), the default file manager of LXDE. It looks simple enough, but packs a lot of features.
*. Semplice ships with Abiword (3.0.0) as the default word processor and Gnumeric (1.12.18) is the spredsheet app, both relatively lightweight applications. Gnome3’s Document viewer (3.14.1) is also included.
*. Default multimedia player is the excellent Gnome Mplayer (1.0.9) and the music player is Pragha (1.3.3). And they both include support for proprietary multimeda playback.
*. Mousepad (0.3.0), Xarchiver (0.5.4), Xfburn (0.5.2), Mirage (0.9.5.1) image viewer, GNU Paint (0.3.3), Pulse Audio Volume control (2.0), Synaptic package manager (0.81.2) are some of the other major applications to mention.
Semplice does ship a lot of useful applications, but since it’s based on Debian, you can install pretty much anything that’s hosted on Debian’s repositories easily, using either the Synaptic package manager or the command-line (oh speaking of which, the default terminal emulator is ROXTerm. It’s packed with lots of features, do check it out!).
Performance related details…
As always, I made sure to make as less changes to the system as possible to keep the accuracy level of these readings high. So, even though as usual, I’ve added these readings toward the end of the review, I measured them first. And for each test, I took five samples and the only change I made to the system was adding the system monitor (which I use to measure the memory usage) to the bottom panel. Otherwise, even the act of right-clicking on the desktop and opening it through the menu would’ve affected the purity of the readings.
And again, remember that even though a bit similar, these distributions are still different from each other. LinuxLite comes with the Xfce desktop environment. While Semplice’s ‘vera’ is, as mentioned in the beginning, is a desktop that includes tools from couple of different desktop environments. Thus I think it’s unfair for both distributions, if one is to judge them by looking at these readings, instead, try to use it as a point of reference so that you can get some sense out of the performance aspects of Semplice 2015.2.
Semplice boots 18.8% faster than LinuxLite.
Memory Usage Upon Desktop Loading…
A bit surprisingly, LinuxLite 2.2 with its Xfce desktop environment, still uses, as you can see, a fraction less (0.6%) memory than Semplice, impressive!.
CPU Usage at Idle…
As you can see, the CPU usage readings when the system let to idle, was impressive in Semplice as for longer periods, it was set between 0-1%. Excellent!.
Power Usage at Idle…
Semplice again beat LinuxLite 2.2 at power consumption (idle) as well.
And, from my experience with my laptop under many GNU/Linux distributions, anything that’s around 12-12.3 Watts (especially by default) is pretty good. Heck, I even had to install a special utility such as ‘TLP’ (power usage optimizer) in Ubuntu 15.04 to get its power usage readings to 12.01 Watts, and unlike Semplice 2015.2, by default Ubuntu 15.04 consumed a mammoth 14.4 Watts, yuck!.
ACPI and Hardware Recognition…
Since it’s based on the awesome Debian core, Semplice had no troubles at recognizing and configuring my hardware correctly. I wouldn’t blame it if my fingerprint reader was not recognized correctly as there isn’t a proper driver for Linux, and even if it had recognized it correctly, I had no way of knowing it as there were no application to test it in Semplice anyway.
Suspending, shutdown, reboot all worked without any issues. Screen brightness & Bluetooth settings too were correctly restored to their previously set settings at desktop settings. However, I’m having a minor issue with my headphones. What happens is, if my headphone is plugged in when the system boots, then on desktop loading, it gets muted. And even if I increase the volume level using the volume icon on system tray, nothing happens.
The only fix is to use the advanced PulseAudio control utility (which as mentioned above, is included by default) and increase the volume. But this has to be done again and again, every time I forget to unplug the headphone before booting the operating system. It’s really annoying.
Also, once when rebooting the system got stuck and according to the terminal output, it was PulseAudio related and yes the headphone was plugged in as well. It only happened once so far though. Other than that, everything is working correctly.
Abrahm Lincolin once said: ‘Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power!’. And just like that, to me, it means pretty much next to nothing how eye pleasing desktop an OS renders, if it fails to be responsive under stress.
That said, it’s quite clear that anyone with powerful & newer hardware is not going to be that much interested in a distribution like Semplice, and thus trying to figure out how good its going to perform under stress (mainly the HDD & memory) doesn’t make a whole lot of sense here. But, this review is going to be really incomplete if I’m going to left it out. So, I went ahead and did what I usually do.
So, while copying a file that’s about 1.4GB in size within two folders in ‘Home’, I tried to play a multimedia file (720p resolution) in Gnome Mplayer, and then also, like a crazy dude, tried to open a couple of programs (Abiword, terminal emulator, Settings window, background changer, web browser…) to see what happens. Oh, I forgot to mention, when all this was happening, I also tried to navigate a folder that’s filled with thousands of files too. What!, seriously? yep 🙂 .
So how did it go, I mean, did it kill your computer?
No, it didn’t kill it. Instead, Semplice 2015.2, coupled with ‘bfq’ I/O scheduler (excellent utility that quite smartly manages I/O requests, not included by default in Linux), handled it with style!. The video play back was interrupted for a fraction of a second. For a glitch, if you can call it that, that was it, and pretty much all the applications got opened before the file finished copying and the cursor sensitivity was excellent. Can’t get better than that. Oh and, according to my LinuxLite 2.2 Xfce edition, the same test sucked under it, ‘big time’ (should be read like a Jamaican 😀 ).
Few Final Words…
I don’t see the point of using something like Semplice if you have a new computer with powerful hardware components, because if one was to use it on a such setup, he/she will be in a certain sense, wasting it.
But, I like how they’ve put a genuine effort to come up with a different & a lightweight desktop, the use of BFQ and the low power usage readings etc. Thus, if you’re looking to use it on an old computer or even on a newer one with limited resources such as on a netbook, then I think Semplice looks like a good choice, but, as always, the choice is yours to make.
If interested, get it from here and thank you for reading.