Crystal Linux is an easy-to-use Arch Linux that shows promise

Crystal Linux desktop.

Crystal Linux desktop with custom Dock To Dash extension.

Photo: Jack Wallen

Arch linux It is well known not only for being incredibly stable but also for being more challenging than many other distros. For this reason, many developers (and teams of developers) have tried to make Arch accessible to those without years of Linux experience.

One of the latest distros to attempt this feat is Crystal Linux. This new distribution not only helps make Arch Linux easier, but also introduces some tweaks to the GNOME desktop using a user interface that the developers have dubbed Onyx. Onyx integrates the GNOME Dash To Dock extension to help make the GNOME desktop environment more palatable for users who might be leaving the Windows desktop operating system.

also: EndeavorOS is Arch Linux distro for everyone

Crystal Linux includes automatic backups (via Btrfs snapshots), zRAM support, and a Pacman file, called Amethyst, which makes installing applications from the command line even easier. You can also download different versions of Crystal Linux, each with a different desktop environment, such as:

  • onyx (default)
  • gnome
  • KDE Plasma
  • LXQt
  • cinnamon
  • Companion
  • parrot
  • Fabulous
  • i3
  • wobble
  • bspwm
  • herbs

I downloaded a virtual version of Crystal Linux and ran around to see what all the fuss was about and came up with a mixed set of conclusions. Let’s see how it performed.

What’s good about Crystal Linux

One of the things I appreciate about Crystal Linux is that it installs as little software as possible. Because of this, I can install only what I want on the operating system and not have to worry about removing a bunch of programs that I won’t use.

This default list of Crystal Linux programs is really just bare bones. Out of the box you will find:

  • fire fox
  • Gnome weather
  • gnome tablets
  • Disk Usage Analyzer
  • Document Viewer
  • time change

This is pretty much the bulk of user-facing applications. Fortunately, there is an Amethyst wrapper for Pacman’s package manager (which isn’t as easy to use as apt or dnf). For example, if I wanted to install the LibreOffice office suite from the command line with Pacman, this command would be:

sudo pacman -S libreoffice

No, it is not difficult to operate it. But when it’s time to upgrade, you’re looking to remember:

Installing LibreOffice with Amethyst looks like this:

Note that there is no use of sudo with a file Mom ordering. This is by design, because running the command with root privileges could cause it to crash. Should the Mom The command requires sudo privileges, it will prompt you when necessary.

Another thing I can appreciate with Crystal Linux is the use of the Dock To Dash. However, that comes with a caveat. Out of the box, the Dock to Dash is installed, but not enabled. Fortunately, it is very easy to open the extension tool and click the ON/OFF slider for Dash To Panel to have it on.

Crystal Linux GNOME extension manager.

Enable Dock To Dash Extension in Crystal Linux.

Photo: Jack Wallen

Once you enable the extension, click on Settings and you can customize the panel to suit your needs.

Another very big advantage with Crystal Linux is its performance. Thanks to the support for zRAM (which is the Linux kernel module for RAM disk which is much faster than the traditional swap file). With this enabled (must be enabled during installation) the desktop is very fast.

not so good

Fortunately, this list is rather short. In fact, it pretty much stops and starts with the GNOME software version that comes with Crystal Linux. For those who don’t know, GNOME Software is a GUI app store that makes installing software on Linux very easy.

Unfortunately, my experience with Crystal Linux resulted in a less than usable GNOME program. When I open GNOME Software on Crystal Linux, the Explore tab is blank. If you try to search for a program, it will appear empty. This is the case even after running the update with Amethyst.

GNOME Software Store.

The GNOME software tool doesn’t show any app data which is a problem.

Photo: Jack Wallen

In other words, as it stands, the only way to install the software – at least on my Crystal Linux instance – is via the command line. I’m sure this is a product of the distribution’s youth and will be fixed soon. Until then, I will continue to install and manage programs via the CLI.

Who is Crystal Linux for?

The ideal audience for Crystal Linux are those who want a taste of Arch Linux, without the complications. However, since Crystal Linux is so new, I’m not 100% sure I’d recommend this distro to a user who doesn’t want to solve some minor bugs along the way. As it stands, Crystal Linux lacks a reliable GUI for software installation but makes up for it with an easy command line option. But for users who aren’t familiar with the command line or aren’t comfortable with it, Crystal Linux is a tough sell—at least until the GNOME problem is resolved). Even with that caveat, Crystal Linux is quite impressive, even in its early stages.

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