I've used more flavors of Linux than I can remember. Some of them were nothing more than blips on my radar, whereas others were serious contenders for my desktop. And then there's Linux Deepin (formerly Hiweed Linux). This Linux distribution, based on Ubuntu, aims to provide a beautiful and user-friendly experience for any level of users.
Surprisingly enough, it achieves its goals with impressive results. With a new desktop (DDE – Deepin Desktop Environment), Linux Deepin takes nods from nearly every desktop environment available and rolls it into one, elegant solution. Part Windows 7, part Ubuntu Unity, part KDE, part GNOME 3 (which DDE gets its base), this desktop brings to mind exactly what Microsoft should have done for Windows 8. You take a deeply embedded desktop metaphor and give it a modern twist, a flush app store, and make it scream on nearly any hardware. That’s what Linux Deepin did. There was no re-inventing of the wheel, no damaged reputations, and no slighting of users. Although the Deepin “Dash” isn’t nearly as functional or as efficient as the Unity Dash, it does a great job of getting to your apps as simple as possible. DDE makes use of Compiz, so it owes a lot of its elegance to that piece of technology.
Linux Deepin holds it origins in China, which is made very clear the minute you open the Productivity section and see Kingsoft Office installed next to LibreOffice, and then when you open the Games Store and are greeted with plenty of Chinese text. Outside of that, you'd think that you were working with one of the most highly polished, well thought out Linux distributions that's ready for home or business usage.
It’s clear Ubuntu was the base, mostly because of the app stores. You’ll also see KDE-like desktop widgets and KDE-influenced start menu (which includes a beautiful blur job on the desktop background (Figure A).
The Linux Deepin start menu.
The installation is incredibly simple: Pop the disk in, reboot, let the live disk complete the start up, and then double-click the Install icon. It’s as simple as any modern Linux distribution. What Linux Deepin does better than most other distributions, staking the claim of “desktop,” is that everything works right out of the box. There’s no need to install codecs of any kind (for music or movies). Music played fine (mp3 and ogg were the file types I tested) and, after a quick update, DVDs played fine as well. Browser functionality worked as expected and both office suite tools performed perfectly.
Here are some highlights of Linux Deepin:
- Chrome and Firefox
- LibreOffice and Kingsoft Office
- Deepin Music Player
- Deepin Media Player
- Remmina (remote desktop tool)
- Audio recorder
- Pidgin (chat)
Linux Deepin even went a bit further and included a tool they call “Windows Wireless.” This tool installs extra drivers to get your wireless card working. The only downfall is that you have to locate the drivers manually -- it doesn’t automatically find them for you. However, I did test Linux Deepin on an older Sony Vaio, and it had no problems whatsoever with the wireless drivers.
Another very interesting piece of built-in technology is the face recognition software. You won’t find it enabled by default, but you can quickly enable it from System Settings | User Accounts. Obviously, you’ll need a camera on the installed machine, but the face recognition works very well. It's a slower means of account login, but it adds a unique level of security to your machine.
Are there any downsides?
Like every platform on the planet, Linux Deepin does have its pitfalls. One of the biggest issues that I came across while working with Linux Deepin was the speed of the update mirrors. I’m talking 8 Kbps at times. Typically, a full-blown update (say, after an installation of Ubuntu Linux), takes 15 minutes to a half hour. For Linux Deepin, the update ran overnight. That’s right... it was an all night affair. This is something that must be worked out if Linux Deepin has any plans of making it in the United States. I’m sure the mirrors work great in China, but having to tolerate an overnight update is a real deal breaker for many users.
My take on the office suite? Go with one or the other. The idea is to make this as simple as possible for the end user. Yes, it’s great to include LibreOffice (as it is the most powerful open-source office suite, as well as the likeliest candidate to usurp Microsoft Office), but having two office suites installed could be confusing to many users. I’m not saying which way they should go (because that’s a tough choice, since Kingsoft is the single best suite for the Android platform); but one way or another, make a choice and stick with it.
Finally, there are two application decisions that are questionable. The first is the inclusion of ChmSee, a compiled HTML help viewer that happens to no longer be in development. There is already an outstanding user manual included (found in the main menu), so why include ChmSee? Drop it.
The second questionable inclusion is the terminal in the taskbar. When new users see “terminal,” they assume the standard position against Linux -- it’s too hard. Yes, you must keep the terminal application installed, but don’t announce it on the taskbar. Anyone familiar with Linux will know how to get to the terminal, and those unfamiliar to Linux will not be turned off by assuming they're going to have to enter a bunch of commands.
Who should use Linux Deepin?
This is the big question always asked about Linux distributions. Linux Deepin is an outstanding platform for the following:
- New users
- Younger users
- Business desktops (that do not require proprietary, Windows-only software)
- Home use
- Anyone wanting to migrate from Windows
Because of its polished look and stability, Deepin could be used anywhere. It's as solid an entry as nearly any in the Linux space and deserves to be given a long, hard look by anyone in the market who's looking to switch to a new distribution or making the leap from Windows or Mac. Again, Linux Deepin should have been the template for Windows 8 -- once you use it, you’ll understand what I mean.
Will I be making the switch? Probably not on my main desktop, but once I’m ready to refresh my laptop, you can bet Linux Deepin will be the first distro that I install.
Give Deepin a try. I’m certain you’ll be very happy you did.
Have you used Linux Deepin? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.