Monday, February 24, 2014

MakuluLinux 5.0 Review: A good Debian spin with an attractive XFCE desktop

Can you name an XFCE distro which can put any GNOME / KDE distro to shame in aesthetics? Yes, I know - Voyager. Now add another XFCE distro to that list - MakuluLinux. Normally XFCE distros are designed to be functional and less importance is placed on looks. Even the best of the XFCE distros like Linux Mint XFCE, Xubuntu or Manjaro XFCE, don't look as attractive as a KDE or a GNOME. And it is not that I don't agree with the developers of these distros - they are meant to run on low spec / relatively low spec machines and hence, very little attention to aesthetics.

Voyager is a definite trend setter in this regard and now we have MakuluLinux, a South African distro. I used their previous release and found it refreshing. The present release, based on Debian Testing, takes it a completely new level. I'll take you step by step my experience with the distro in this review.

From MakuluLinux 5
MakuluLinux us a South African distro based on Debian and ships with XFCE as the default desktop environment. The latest release boasts of a lot of improvements in terms of aesthetics and animations, as stated in the release note by Jacque Raymer:
"MakuluLinux Xfce 5.0, built on a strong Debian base, offers users not only stability and speed, but now also provides a much more effective modern animated desktop environment. Pre-compiled with hundreds of themes and wallpapers, users can really take full advantage of configuring their desktop to their liking. Dual menus now allow users to either click bottom left of the desktop to make use of the familiar whisker menu or click bottom right and make use of the fancy mouse-driven slingshot launcher. MakuluLinux Xfce 5.0 is also the first release to show off the newly revamped Makulu Installer. Based on Debian 'Testing' and PAE-enabled Linux kernel 3.12. Major software changes: GIMP replaced by MyPaint 1.1; WINE 1.4.1 replaced by WINE 1.6.x...."

Makulu has 32-bit version only but it works pretty fine on 64-bit machines with greater than 4 GB RAM pretty well because of the pae-kernel. In fact, the machine on which I installed and checked Makulu had 8 GB RAM and it detected the same quite well. The 32-bit ISO is about 1.8 GB in size and I used Mint Image Writer to create a live USB out of it.

I did a live boot followed by installation on Asus K55VM laptop with 2.3 Ghz Core i7 processor, 8 GB DDR3 RAM and 2 GB NVIDIA GeForce hybrid graphics.

MakuluLinux 5.0 ships with XFCE 4.10 as the desktop environment with Linux kernel 3.12.1. Thunar 1.6.3 is the default file manager. Makulu also has some documentation about how to install and use, available on the distro desktop. Also, the common issues in Makulu 5 are documented there. Documentation quality is mediocre at best.

As promised in the release notes, MakuluLinux literally ships with an animated desktop. I actually recorded some of the animations in Vokoscreen and uploaded in YouTube, as given below:

You name an animation and it is there in Makulu. I specially liked the Mac like minimize-maximize effects.

From MakuluLinux 5
Animations apart, the desktop looks pretty nice with whisker menu, original wallpaper, original theme and conkies to talk of message of the day. Quite unique and I really like it!

From MakuluLinux 5
The grub is customized and looks pretty good. The boot splash is graphical and looks professional.

The distro has a dash in addition to the conventional menu. The dash gets activated on clicking the right corner of the bottom panel and is similar to GNOME 3 dash.

From MakuluLinux 5
MakuluLinux 5.0 ships with a package called Variety and it keeps on changing the desktop wallpaper at regular intervals. Also, users can manipulate the preference and the speed through Variety. And I must say, MakuluLinux has an interesting collection of wallpapers.
From MakuluLinux 5

Further, a conky manager is there to create user customized themes. I created a Bruce Lee theme as shown below. Conky Manager ships with pre-configured interesting conky collection, some of which are really good.

From MakuluLinux 5
However, one major drawback is that upon reboot, the user-customized theme is lost and Variety takes over. It is a bit annoying and I removed Variety from the startup application list to preserve my own theme.

The dark MakuluLinux windows decoration theme is pretty nice but it doesn't gel with all the pre-installed wallpapers. MakuluLinux comes pre-installed with about 40-50 windows decoration themes and it helps to get rid of all black default theme.

Compiz settings are activated by default and as mentioned, the distro is full of animations (at times I felt it is a bit over-animated!). However, the desktop cube is not fully activated and Settings -> Workspaces only show one workspace. I tried increasing the number of workspace from there but it didn't allow. Even increasing the workspace counter to 4 didn't help. So, I changed the number of worksapces from the xfwm4 settings by running the following command from the terminal:
$ sudo nano ~/.config/xfce4/xfconf/xfce-perchannel-xml/xfwm4.xml
In nano editor, I changed the workspace count to 4 and added 3 more workspace names. Upon saving it (Ctrl+X), I could create the desktop cube.
From MakuluLinux 5

MakuluLinux comes with an exhaustive settings option and an integrated settings manger. However, not all options work in the distro. E.g. I tried manipulating the Windows Manager Tweaks but it didn't open. Similarly Window Manager won't open though it shows on the menu. Also, some common functions like Alt+Tab doesn't work by default but there is no way to change it as Windows Manager Tweaks doesn't work.

In spite of these bugs, I give MakuluLinux 100% on aesthetics primarily because of originality in the distro.

Score on Aesthetics: 10/10

Hardware Recognition
This section is pretty solid for the distro as it clearly recognized WIFI, LAN, screen resolution, touch pad, etc. with precision. Sound was good and it worked with both laptop speakers and headphones. Also, tap and 2 finger scroll functions worked with precision and were enabled by default.

Score on Hardware Recognition: 10/10

Pre-installed Packages
MakuluLinux ships with almost all possible commonly used packages I can think of, pre-installed, namely:
  • Office: Adobe Reader 9, Dictionary, ebook reader, Kingsoft Office suite (Presentation, Spreadsheet, Writer), Orage Calendar
  • Internet: Chromium 4 Virtualbox, Chromium browser, Deluge bit torrent client, Dropbox, Flareget download manager, Iceweasel browser, Thunderbird email client, Mumble, Nitroshare, Pidgin IM
  • Graphics: Image magick, MyPaint, Pinta, Ristretto Image viewer, Screenshot
  • Multimedia: Audacious music player, FF Multi-converter, Handsbrake, Minitube YouTube client, Pitivi video editor, VLC 2.1.2, Vokoscreen screen recorder, Xfburn
  • Accessories: Application finder, Backup, Bulk rename, Calculator, Catfish file search, Cherrytree, Clipman, Conky Manager, Leafpad, Menu editor, Orage globaltime, Root terminal, Screenlets, Slings cold, Sysinfo, Variety wallpaper changer, Xarchiver, Boot repair, Compiz Manager, gparted, Emarald theme Manager, Gdebi package installer, Grub customizer, Bleach bit
  • Others: Wine, PlayonLinux, Steam client, Sunflower file manager, Image2usb, Conky Manager
Most of the application categories have pretty good apps and cover all bases, except office. The Kingsoft Office, set as the default office app, is alpha version and is unable to edit documents saved by LibreOffice. I had to install LibreOffice suite to make it productive.
From MakuluLinux 5

Multimedia section seems the strongest with all non-free codecs pre-installed and the best video player VLC installed.

From MakuluLinux 5
Also, I like the option of giving Chromium browser along with the Debian default Iceweasel. A lot of users are more comfortable with Firefox than Iceweasel and hence, giving Chromium in addition actually helps. Further, Chromium ships with a lot of plugins (Gmail, Firefox, Google+, Twitter, etc.) pre-configured and thereby, making it more usable.

From MakuluLinux 5
Wine and PlayonLinux are icing on the cake for users like me who would like to run some MS Windows based software in Linux. Also, Steam installer is present in MakuluLinux extending it's appeal to Linux gamers.

I was happy to see image2usb in MakuluLinux for creating Live USBs. It is different from Unetbootin or Imagewriter (which I use regularly) and requires USB to be partitioned as FAT16/FAT32. Never-the-less, it gives the intended output - a live USB at the end.

In overall, I am pretty contended with the packages provided in MakuluLinux, except for Office. For an exhaustive collection of functional apps, MakuluLinux gets 1 marks extra, in addition to 10/10.

Score for Pre-installed Packages: 11/10

This is perhaps the worst part of MakuluLinux. It's installation process has 23 steps and can put anyone to sleep. Though the overall time taken was 15 minutes but 23 steps? It is still insane. Either the developers integrate some of the steps together or else it can be a big put off for the average Linux users. Even it's parent distro Debian doesn't have so many steps.

From MakuluLinux 5
Score for Installation: 7/10

MakuluLinux sources applications from a variety of repos, e.g. Debian Jessie or Testing form the major source of packages; Makulu also bakes in other relevant Debian testing based distros like Linux Mint Debian and SolydXK ppa's along with third party ppa's like Skype, Opera, Google Chrome, Google Earth, Google Talk plugin, dropbox etc. Addition of these third party ppa's mean that the user can directly install these packages from the software manager, thereby simplifying the process.

From MakuluLinux 5
Linux Mint Software Manager is the default GUI to browse and install packages. Synaptic Package Manager is present as well.

From MakuluLinux 5
Given MakuluLinux is based on Debian Testing, I could easily download and install bumblebee and primus for the hybrid graphics. MakuluLinux ships with nouveau drivers and I had to remove them before installing bumblebee.

In overall, I think this is the best combination of repos that I have seen in a Debian spin and a lot of Ubuntu spins also don't provide the variety than MakuluLinux bakes in. Good job by the developers!

The performance estimated in my case was with all animations enabled and I expected MakuluLinux to be a bit high in RAM consumption. To my surprise I got pretty decent performance - at steady state, the RAM consumption was about 210 MB and 0-5% CPU usage. It is exactly same as the average RAM consumption of 32-bit XFCE distros on this machine. Below table presents comparison with other 32-bit XFCE distros recorded during 2012-14 on Asus K55VM.

Operating System (32-bit) Size of ISO Base Desktop Linux kernel CPU Usage RAM usage Size of installation
Snowlinux 4 Glacier XFCE 727 MB Debian XFCE 4.10 3.5.0 0-5% 137
Debian Wheezy XFCE 868 MB Debian XFCE 4.8 3.2.0 0-5% 150
Snowlinux 3.1 Crystal XFCE 639 MB Debian XFCE 4.8 3.2.0 0-5% 160
Linux Lite 1.0.4 XFCE 755 MB Ubuntu XFCE 4.8 3.2.18 0-5% 170
Mint 13 Debian XFCE 1.2 GB Debian XFCE 4.8 3.2.0 0-5% 175
Bridge XFCE 696 MB Arch XFCE 4.10 3.6.7 0-5% 180
Linux Lite 1.0.0 XFCE 916 MB Ubuntu XFCE 4.8 3.2.0 0-5% 180
Xubuntu 13.10 875 MB Ubuntu XFCE 4.10 3.11.0 0-5% 190 3.28 GB
Mint 14 XFCE 914 MB Ubuntu XFCE 4.10 3.5.0 0-5% 190
Mint 15 XFCE 992 MB Ubuntu XFCE 4.10 3.8.0 0-5% 190 3.8 GB
MakuluLinux 5 1.8 GB Debian XFCE 4.10 3.12.1 0-5% 210 4.8 GB
Fedora 17 XFCE 705 MB Fedora XFCE 4.8 3.3.4 0-5% 210
Manjaro 0.8.3 XFCE 817 MB Arch XFCE 4.10 3.4.24 0-5% 210
Mint 13 XFCE 850 MB Ubuntu XFCE 4.8 3.2.0 0-5% 210
Sabayon 11 XFCE 1.3 GB Gentoo XFCE 4.10 3.7.0 0-5% 210
Xubuntu 12.04.1 LTS 715 MB Ubuntu XFCE 4.8 3.2.0 0-5% 210
Xubuntu 12.10 727 MB Ubuntu XFCE 4.10 3.5.0 0-5% 210
Xubuntu 13.04 827 MB Ubuntu XFCE 4.10 3.8.0 0-5% 210
Fedora 19 XFCE 617 MB Fedora XFCE 4.10 3.9.8 0-5% 210 2.46 GB
Emmabuntus 12.04.2-1.04 3.5 GB Ubuntu XFCE 4.8 3.2.0 0-5% 220
Fedora 18 XFCE 694 MB Fedora XFCE 4.10 3.7.2 0-5% 230
Sabayon 10 XFCE 1.3 GB Gentoo XFCE 4.10 3.5.0 0-5% 230
OS4 OpenLinux 13.6 1.8 GB Ubuntu XFCE 4.10 3.2.0 0-5% 230 5.3 GB
Manjaro 0.8.2 XFCE 1.1 GB Arch XFCE 4.10 3.4.18 0-5% 250
OS 4 13.1 1.5 GB Ubuntu XFCE 4.10 3.2.0 0-5% 250
Voyager 12.10 991 MB Ubuntu XFCE 4.10 3.5.0 0-5% 250
ZevenOS 5 734 MB Ubuntu XFCE 4.10 3.5.0 0-5% 270
Voyager 13.10 1 GB Ubuntu XFCE 4.10 3.11.0 0-5% 310 4.2 GB

The boot time was about 50 seconds (with autologin enabled) which seems to be a bit on the higher side. However, this the first XFCE distro for which I recorded boot time and hence, I am not penalizing MakuluLinux here.

Even the battery backup was quite decent. It gave me about 3 hours of battery backup which is at par with prominent Linux distros.

Numbers aside, MakuluLinux is quite smooth to use and consumes lower resources for daily activities than a GNOME or a KDE distro.

Score for Performance: 8/10

Makulu brings on the table some great features like amazing collection of applications, super animated and attractive desktop and decent performance. A lot of the third party repositories and Debian spin repos are pre-configured in the distro, thereby saving a lot of time. However, it is hampered by some common features (e.g. Alt-Tab to switch windows not worked, not all settings option are amenable to change, etc.) and a complicated installation process. Never-the-less, MakuluLinux is a refreshing change from very similar and bland XFCE spins. If I compare it to SolydX, MakuluLinux may lag in terms of performance (because of the animations) but it looks way better than SolydX.

MakuluLinux is definitely recommended from my side for all Linux lovers and to Linux novices who are fed up of Ubuntu and want to try out something new. You can download 32-bit MakuluLinux from here.

Overall Score: 8.9/10
Installation: 7/10
Aesthetics: 10/10
Hardware Recognition: 10/10
Pre-installed Packages: 11/10
Performance: 8/10


  1. Great review.Thanks for info on how to add desktops.This distro sucked 6 months,but now is very good.Kudos to its creator.

  2. I'm using Makulu E17 actually. Very smooth, very fast, very beautiful. Excellent work on the part of the developer.

  3. I tried to use this distro twice in the recent past and could not get past the installer. With all the other distros out there that have reasonable installers that could be used, why does this very promising distro continue to use a 'roll your own' installer that is so frustrating?

  4. which distro you currently use for regular purpose??

    1. I can't do without Linux Mint XFCE - hence, it is always there. Alongside, every week I use a new distro on which I write a review at the weekend. Last week I used Manjaro Linux for all purposes :).

  5. is manjaro xfce good.. i am using it in my desktop for couple of days and its also giving me good service but the screen tearing issue is giving me headaches

    1. Hi Soumya:

      What graphic cards your system has? Can you do a check by running lspci | grep VGA?


  6. Because of this great review, I now have this on a Live testing DVD, and consider serious use of it. For me the key test is the repository sourcing for third party "foreign" non-free software packages >:- "Skype" + "GOOGLE CHROME + extras TALK /\ Hangout".
    Link >:-

    Environment "XFCE" appears to have no major disruptions ahead?

    The PHILIOSOPHY of Free Open Source Software is important, but not at the expense of becoming a geek ghetto, because it is wise to get the tasks done in the most effective manners.