Linux Deepin 11.12: A unique Ubuntu remix from China

Linux Deepin 11.12 is a Chinese Linux distribution based on Ubuntu 11.10 “Oneiric Ocelot”. The fact that it’s Chinese is important to any non-Chinese speaker attempting to install it, for the obvious reason that, as of this writing, there’s no online support available in English. Fortunately, the live CD can be run almost entirely in English simply by pressing F2 at startup and selecting English as the language.

Since the switch to GNOME shell has caused some controversy among Linux users, I may as well express my personal biases right up front. There are some features I really want in a user interface. One is a hierarchical menu system rather than a large blob of icons. Another thing I want is for there to be a place where icons for running programs are displayed. As you can probably tell, I dislike GNOME shell because it’s completely done away with those two elements. I dislike Ubuntu’s Unity for the same reason. On the other hand, the GNOME developers also built in ways to allow GNOME shell to be changed and extended, which left the door open for all sorts of small modifications. Deepin’s made some even bigger modifications to GNOME shell, which I’ll talk about in a bit.

I installed the 64-bit version of Deepin on a computer with a quad-core AMD processor, 4GB of RAM, and an onboard NVIDIA 6150SE graphics chipset. The live CD started up using the “nouveau” video driver, and came up running Deepin’s customized version of GNOME shell. Although the desktop icons are in Chinese, everything else is in English.

Before running the installer, you’ll probably want to make a change to the command that runs it, unless you understand Chinese. If you don’t change the command, a customized version of the installer will come up, with dialogs written only in Chinese. To change the command, right-click on the “Install Linux Deepin” icon, then “Properties”, and change the command

ubiquity –automatic –desktop %k gtk_ui


ubiquity –desktop gtk_ui

and you’ll be able to select your language and control all the other aspects of installation.

The installer is Ubuntu’s regular installer, customized for Deepin. It looks quite polished and professional.

At the end of the installation process, the computer will automatically shut down and reboot, unless you cancel out of it. If this is not what you want to happen, you’ll need to keep an eye out for the end of the installation process.

Strangely, the installer installed the legacy NVIDIA 173.x driver on my computer. This was odd for two reasons. First, I’ve never seen Ubuntu itself, or an Ubuntu-based distribution, install an NVIDIA driver without asking. Second, well, it was simply the wrong version of the driver. Although it worked (good to know!), I uninstalled it and installed the current version of the NVIDIA driver.

Using Linux Deepin
Once installed, the default desktop icons are still in Chinese, but they’re the obvious “Computer,” “Home,” and “Trash” icons. A link to a user manual is provided on the desktop as well, but unfortunately for us English speakers, the manual is written in Chinese. (Would someone please translate it into English?) The “virtual keyboard” icon on the right-hand side of the top bar brings up an applet named Fcitx, the “Free Chinese Input Toy for X.”

Deepin’s customized GNOME 3 interface seems to be intended to emulate Windows 7. The launcher icons on the top bar have a blue glow around them when the associated program is running, and a have a box drawn around them when the associated program has the focus. If you hover the mouse over the icon of a running program, a live thumbnail of the window is shown. (If the application’s not running, a tooltip with the name of the program will be displayed.) If an application has more than one window open (for example, if Firefox has a download window open as well its main window open), thumbnails of both windows are shown, and you can bring one to the foreground by clicking on its thumbnail. You can close the application’s window by clicking the “X” in the thumbnail, as well.

Like the regular, unaltered version of GNOME shell, clicking the button at the top left of the screen, or moving the mouse to the very top left corner of the screen, will bring up a window picker and an application picker. But the dash is gone, and the “Windows” and “Applications” buttons, as well as the list of application categories, has been moved to the left-hand side of the screen.

One thing that I really like about Deepin’s customized interface is that you only have to click once to start an application. Once you’ve brought up the window picker by sliding the mouse to the upper left-hand corner of the screen (or clicking the Deepin logo), all you have to do is to slide the mouse over the “Applications” button, and then slide the mouse down over the category you want, and finally slide the mouse over to the application’s icon, and click on it. In my opinion, this is a vast improvement over GNOME shell’s regular interface, although it’d be even better if they switched the position of the “Windows” and “Applications” buttons.

The Software Center
Linux Depin has its own Sofware Center. As an old Debian user, I haven’t spent much time with Ubuntu’s software installer, because I usually use Synaptic. Deepin’s Software Center, however, is pretty nifty. It manages upgrades; has suggestions for new software, and has several themes from which you can choose. Among other things, it also has a checkbox you can tick that tells it to clean out the software cache (the equivalent of doing an “apt-get clean” command) after installing software.

One interesting trick that only became obvious after looking through the user manual is that you can press “Ctrl+Alt+A” from within the default user interface to take screenshots.

In Conclusion…
There are a few cosmetic glitches. For example, sometimes the tooltips on the top bar don’t go away even though you’re no longer hovering your mouse over the associated icon. The startup sound stopped playing once the distro was installed. The custom cursor went back to a default white cursor after the proprietary video driver was installed (something that I’ve noticed on stock Ubuntu as well). When you first log in, the desktop icons show under the top bar until you run a program (also something that I’ve noticed on other
distributions running GNOME shell). But these are just cosmetic issues. So far, I haven’t run across any serious bugs.

Personally, I think Linux Deepin has the potential to garner a following in the English-speaking world. But before it can do so, it probably needs some bilingual fans to take the time to set up a website and support forum in English, as well as to translate the manual.


Update, 1/14/12: There’s now an English website up, as well as a section of the Deepin forum dedicated to English speakers.

eco2geek, aka Andrew Heil, 1/8/12.

Posted January 11, 2012 by eco2geek in Linux distributions

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