As the whole “what happens to Unity” thing unfolds I decided to redouble my efforts in trying different distros again. I’m trying everything from trailing edge (latest Debian) to bleeding edge (Solus). As luck would have it it was time for me to refresh one of my development VMs so I decided to jump that one from Mint to Solus to give it a real world spin. My first impressions are that it is a really interesting distro and one I’ll keep playing with but there is one not-so-tiny problem that hopefully they will grow out of.
On the Linux Action Show, soon to be retired, has been a great cheerleader of distros like Solus and ElementaryOS. As I decided to start playing around with alternative Gnome desktops I decided I’d look into both of those. I don’t recal why I chose Solus over Elementary to start, but I did like the concept of experimenting with Arch-like rolling releases versus what I experience with Mint and Ubuntu. I also liked the idea of getting into a desktop more Gnome3 like without the actual Gnome3 desktop because I quite frankly hate it.
The install process was relatively painless although like many distros it doesn’t allow the VirtualBox Guest Additions to properly build right out of the box. I think the only let down was that there seemed to be some differing opinions on how to apply it to the OS and others saying it was really meant for bare metal so don’t bother trying it on a VM. As someone who lives in VMs and usually does all of my experimentation with OS’s in VMs this lack of easy documentation of how to do the install and then minimization of Solus uses in a VM gave me pause. I powered through though. I cribbed off of this article, which mostly had the same steps that worked for me, and relatively easily got the Guest Additions going. With all the caveats mentioned I was sure to snapshot the VM at each step.
With all of that done I played around with the OS a bit and did some customization. I thought that the rendering and graphics choices were spot on. I think this is my favorite Gnome look at this point. The control panels took a little getting familiar with as it would with any OS, or in the case of Windows every new release of their OS, but it was pretty standard. Satisfied that this is a system I could enjoy I started the update process so I could start installing software. This is where things started going off the rails.
I hit the Software Center and went to the “Updates” tab and sure enough there were updates that needed running. So be it, I hit the updates and away it went…excruciatingly slowly. The transfer speed was sub 30 KB/sec so the updates were going to take a very long time. Feeling like a bit of a bozo for probably using a default server instead of a more local mirror I tried stopping the updates to switch mirrors. First, I couldn’t figure out how to stop the updates, and second I couldn’t figure out how to configure mirrors. Searching around it appears that I am not the first person to run into these problems.
The problem here is two-fold, one software part software and one part the realities of a small distro. The software part is that the distro maintainers don’t seem to want users to be able to select a mirror. Lots of users have requested it they do not want to implement it. That seems ludicrous if you are used to distributions with dozens of mirrors but that’s not the calculus here. The Solus distribution has only had mirrors relatively recently and it seems like there are only half a dozen at this time. Therefore it’s not too complicated to have it pick the mirror closest to you geographically. Therefore, in their estimation, the selection of a mirror is superfluous. For my personal use I can just be patient with upgrades, especially since this is just one of many VMs I use daily. But having to wait hours for updates is not something I want to recommend to a more casual user of a system or if this was my bare metal OS.
Once the installs were done I went about the process of installing third party tools. The software center has really cool capabilities in this area because I didn’t have to go find Google Chrome it was just there. The same was true for Slack. I could just click and go and it worked great, or it should have. The Software Center warned me that Google Chrome was going to take a long time to install. Having just gone through the update process I expected that could perhaps be the case, but I figured it was coming from Google servers so how hard could it be? A few hours into the install I gave up but with no way to stop it I just closed the Software Center and was going to go find the install process that may have been still crunching away. I couldn’t find any so I opened the Software Center up again. It now had Google listed as installed. Sure enough it was there and running. I tried the same process with Slack this time after only a few minutes closing Software Center. It too looked like it was installing still before I closed but in actuality the software had already long been installed. It seems like Software Center needs some more baking, at least on the third party front.
Overall I’m enjoying the Solus experience. I haven’t tried doing stuff like installing stuff not in the Software Center, that’ll come later, to see how I get around losing my very familiar apt-get install processes from 3rd party vendors. However the overall feel of the distribution has been pretty solid and I’m stuck with using this for awhile versus cycling through to Debian, Elementary, or some other OS. That said, I would highlight the extreme problems with download speeds and the flakiness of some of the Software Center features. As the distro grows I imagine the number of mirror sites will too and help mitigate that problem. As it is I think it is something that is easy to tolerate and something I will keep powering through. Despite what some in the community say, it seems to run quite fine in a VM.