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Jack Wallen/ZDNET

ZDNET’s key takeaways

  • SDesk is available now, free of charge, and can be installed on as many computers as you need.
  • SDesk is a fast and dependable Linux distribution with a user interface that anyone will be instantly familiar with.
  • I did experience some minor issues during my setup, but they were simple to resolve.

I wouldn’t normally suggest an Arch-based Linux distribution for new users, but every so often I come across one that challenges my perceptions. Recently, I discovered one such Arch-based Linux distro called SDesk, and there couldn’t be a more clear use-case for it.

First of all, SDesk is fairly straightforward and doesn’t do all that much to separate it from the ever-growing list of Linux distributions. But sometimes, that’s a good thing. I wasn’t sure what to expect after installing and logging into this desktop distribution but when I did, everything was immediately familiar. 

Also: 5 quick tweaks make your GNOME desktop so much easier to use

SDesk opts for the GNOME desktop, which is configured to resemble a “standard” desktop that would be familiar with both Windows and MacOS users. On the interface, you’ll find a panel, a menu, a top bar, favorites, and desktop icons. On the top bar, there’s the Workspaces button (far left), the time/date (which, when clicked opens notifications and calendar), and the system tray.

The list of pre-installed applications is also fairly standard, including:

  • LibreOffice (office suite)
  • Geary (email)
  • GNOME Music (music player)
  • GNOME Video (video player)
  • Octopi (GUI package manager)
  • GNOME Maps
  • Swirl Web Browser

Of course, if you don’t find the app you need, you can always install it with Octopi or Flatpak. 

The one curiosity I encountered was the Swirl Web Browser, which isn’t based on either Chromium or Firefox. In fact, I’ve not had much luck digging up any information about this web browser at all. I can tell you that Swirl is fairly minimal and has very little in the way of settings. It works fine, but I’m not ready to recommend a browser for which I can’t find much information. That’s fine, because you can always install Chromium or Firefox from within Octopi. I installed Firefox and it runs quite well. 

The Swirl browser settings window.

The extent of the Swirl Browser settings.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

What I liked

I really appreciate how the developers created a GNOME layout that would appeal to a vast majority of users. It’s clean, it’s easy, and it looks quite good. It’s also helpful that the distribution ships with most of the tools you’ll need (the primary being a web browser and an office suite). I would, however, suggest you install Firefox or Chromium (as I mentioned earlier).

The performance is also quite good. I found applications responded instantly, nothing stalled, and the installation of apps was quick. This is fairly typical of Arch-based distributions, so I wasn’t at all surprised.

Also: 4 ways to add more eye candy to the GNOME desktop

There’s also window snapping, which SDesk does well. Most Linux desktops have this feature, but some limit the basic configuration to half of the display. SDesk takes this a step further and allows you to drag a window to any of the four quarters of the screen.

An example of window snapping.

Three windows open, each snapped in its own convenient location.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

What I didn’t like

Now’s the time when I have to mention that SDesk is a fairly new distribution, which means it can be a bit rough around the edges at times. Let me explain. 

After the usual round of testing (installing applications, tinkering with the settings, etc.), I ran an update and rebooted the machine. Upon reboot, I went to log in and the desktop locked up. This happened after selecting the default user that popped up in the login window. I did a quick test (after a hard reboot) and clicked “Not Listed”. After typing my password, I was able to successfully log in. I’m sure this is a bug that will soon be fixed. 

The SDesk login window.

If I clicked my name, the login would freeze.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Another issue was multimedia playback. Out of the box, SDesk wasn’t set up to play MP3 or MP4 files. The reason for this is missing codecs. Fortunately, that issue was easily resolved by installing VLC Media Player like so:

Once VLC was installed, I could play whatever I needed.

Other than those two caveats, I found SDesk to be a take on Arch Linux that is viable for just about any user level. As with any Linux desktop OS, there really wasn’t much I couldn’t do. After installing a few simple apps, I found SDesk could serve just about any purpose. 

Also: 5 Linux commands for managing users

SDesk is beautiful, simple, fast, and reliable. What more do you need from a desktop operating system? You might find yourself preferring it over your Windows desktop.

Download an ISO for SDesk

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