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I love happening upon a really cool Linux desktop distribution. And I’ve come across my share of them this past year. So it’s fitting that I end 2021 by reviewing one final Linux desktop distribution that’s worthy of the title “cool.”

That distribution is the Arch-based XeroLinux. According to the website, XeroLinux is an eye candy lover’s dream. That claim is pretty spot-on, as XeroLinux offers a gorgeous desktop filled with transparency, blurs, and more. If you’re looking for a desktop to show off just what’s possible on Linux, XeroLinux might well be the one you want. I’m so impressed with this desktop, I’m ready to call it the best-looking Linux desktop on the market. And that’s given it could still use a bit of polish (more on that in a bit).

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What is XeroLinux?

XeroLinux is based on Arch (without the challenging installation) and uses the KDE Plasma desktop as an interface. Even though XeroLinux claims to be using KDE, you’d be hard-pressed to tell (unless you knew Konsole was the default KDE terminal emulator and Dolphin was the default file manager). What developer Anindo Neel Dutta has done with KDE is beyond impressive. There are details to be found that bigger distributions easily miss. For instance, open Konsole and you’ll be presented with the details of your installation (Figure A).

Figure A

With every opening of Konsole, you’re greeted with system information.

When you click on the Application menu (top-left corner of the desktop), you can start poking around the menu (Figure B) to see how many applications Dutta has included … and it’s a considerable amount of software.

Figure B

The XeroLinux menu offers an impressive array of software.

You’ll find the LibreOffice, FreeOffice and WPS Office office suites installed, along with tools such as:

  • Gimp
  • Darktable
  • Blender
  • Inkscape
  • Firefox
  • Brave
  • Chromium
  • Claws Mail
  • Geary
  • Kmail
  • FileZilla
  • Insync
  • VLC Media Player
  • Disks
  • Thunar
  • Bulk Rename
  • Slack-Desktop

The list goes on and on (and on and on). This is no stripped-down version of Linux. In fact, once you’ve installed XeroLinux, you could go a long, long time before needing to install anything more.

The desktop employs an animated dock and topbar layout. The only issue I had with this pair was that the weather widget refused to accept either my local station ID or coordinates. That one little glitch should kind of hint who XeroLinux is geared toward (more on this in a bit). Instead of being able to simply type a city/state combination (as you can with GNOME Weather), you have to track down some fairly specific information for your city. Even then, chances are slim the weather widget will function.

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Eye candy in need of polish

This is where things start to get a bit dicey for XeroLinux. Yes, it’s gorgeous, but it’s not without its issues. I’ll preface this by saying some of the problems I experienced could very well be caused by my running the distribution as a VM in VirtualBox (where menus can get cramped because of screen size).

With the XeroLinux desktop, you never really feel like you’re working with a terribly stable desktop. For instance, I opened WPS Office for the first time, which typically requires agreeing with the EULA. Scroll all the way to the bottom of the agreement and you should be able to click the I Confirm button, but you can’t. That means WP Office can’t be used.

I then had an issue with the global menu blending in with the top bar widgets, making it unreadable (Figure C). I experienced this with any application that included a larger menu selection (such as LibreOffice).

Figure C

The global menu is unreadable in its current state.

Removing the top bar solved that problem (while also getting rid of the global menu — which I happen to think is a great addition). I was able to finally add the global menu back, but it did take some tweaking to get it right (Figure D).

Figure D

The global menu has been re-added.

Another issue is with the default Layan theme. I’ll confess that I’m not a big fan of dark themes and Layan is a bit much. But it’s not just that the developer opted to go with the dark theme. The Layan theme goes a little too far with the darkness. The LibreOffice UI makes it abundantly clear the Layan theme is somewhat excessive. Of course, that could just be my personal aversion to dark themes at play. You be the judge.

When I attempted to remove items from the top panel, things went really sideways. The panel/dock editing tools are far from intuitive, so it’s easy to wind up destroying a panel or a dock altogether. This needs some attention; otherwise, XeroLinux will wind up with some seriously frustrated users. And even once you get the Latte editor open, for some reason it doesn’t accept mouse clicks. Once again, I had to power off my virtual machine and power it back up.

In general, however, there seem to be too many issues with XeroLinux to make it a worthy contender for desktop of the year. That’s a shame because it is such a cool entry in the ever-growing pool of Linux desktop distributions.

Who is XeroLinux for?

Clearly, XeroLinux isn’t for the new user. Anyone who prefers their desktops work with a certain level of reliability will want to steer clear of this entry. But if you love eye candy and you don’t mind spending a bit of extra time getting things to work, XeroLinux might be just the sidetrack from the standard-issue desktop.

This is one of those distributions that I sincerely hope continues growing. Even with the issues, what Anindo Neel Dutta has done is impressive. XeroLinux has the makings of what could be the most beautiful Linux desktop on the market. If he can work out some of the quirks, he’ll have something special on his hands.

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