Deepin, the Chinese Linux distribution, has previously been covered on MTE. In the two years that passed, Deepin has evolved both visually and in functionality, beyond expectations.
Deepin 2014 has a brand new “homemade” desktop environment, called Deepin Desktop environment (or DDE), custom applications and a new approach towards how we use our desktops.
A new desktop experience
While the previously covered version (11.12) used a heavily-modded Gnome 3.2 desktop, Deepin now has its own custom DE, based on a mix GTK2/3, Compiz and HTML5, making it quite outstanding and unique among all Linux DEs.
After the installation, you will be greeted with an interactive first use tutorial, after which a minimalist wallpaper, a dock and a few icons show up.
The desktop is smooth, with nice animations that work seamlessly out of the box, but are not quite customizable. The standard icon set is Deepin’s own flat design and goes quite well with the overall looks of the distro.
Notable new features since 2012 version
By default, three corners of the screen are pre-configured as “hot corners.” The top left will show the application launcher, bottom left will show/hide the desktop, and bottom right takes you to the control center. The top right corner is configurable to enable showing all windows from the current/all workspaces, or any of the above three functions.
Deepin Desktop is definitely one of the easiest to configure. The control center, available from the bottom right corner, makes setting up and changing things a breeze, be it style of password or network.
Probably remaining from Gnome Shell activities, the HUD launcher works quite well. You can sort the apps by name, category (icon or text style), time installed, or frequency.
The new dock is a bit overly simplistic. There are three different modes – “fashion,” “efficient,” and “classic,” but they are all not customizable and have only the most basic functionality.
Deepin comes with a good standard set of applications pre-installed – browsers, office suite, mail client, text editor, etc. You can also install more applications from Deepin’s own software center.
Other than the desktop, Deepin also has its own home-cooked set of applications and tools, some of which are quite notable, and most importantly portable.
The software center, called Deepin Store, is a straight continuation of what you might have seen in earlier versions, with minor improvements.
While developed in China, Deepin has a worldwide array of mirrors available, and the software center can find the best one for you. This would usually happen on the first start automatically, after a quick speed-test, or it could be configured manually.
A small and simple music app that plays your local files or online radios. It may look overly simple at first,
but with a press of the button, Deepin Music unfolds into a full music app.
An interesting function is “Mini mode,” accessible from the main menu. You get the app minimized to a small widget that has the main music controls on it.
The music player is extendable with a few plugins, although these have to be manually enabled from the preferences. The plugins can add desktop notifications and online radio support.
The four viewing modes and plenty of useful functions could easily make Deepin Music one of the most versatile music players developed for Linux, but unfortunately album and track sorting works less than perfectly, and re-scanning the library only seems to mess things up further.
Deepin Movie offers a truly immersive viewing experience. You get a minimalist window at first.
When you load up a movie file, the controls are nonintrusive
and hide away when the mouse is inactive, even in windowed mode.
Minor drawbacks are few and scarce, such as the menu button being easy to miss, as it does not stand out from the dark background, and unfortunately the file menu’s translation is not quite complete. You still get some Chinese characters showing up, yet Deepin Movie is a very nice and simple movie player that delivers a truly immersive movie experience.
Deepin comes with its own terminal emulator. It is quite simple although customizeable.
The terminal app has some useful functionality built right into it, such as a rich context menu (right click)
and the ability to set up an SSH connection right from the main menu.
Deepin terminal does not support tabs, but you can split the terminal window both horizontally and vertically to emulate sub-shells. These can then be re-sized both ways within the main window, giving you multiple tiled terminals.
An interesting feature is “quake-mode.” This could be accessed by typing
into another terminal, which of course would not make much sense. Fortunately the
F4 hotkey is pre-configured for this. (You can also access full-screen mode from the context menu.) Quake mode also supports splitting the terminal.
Although not a new feature, the screenshot app has seen some design and possibly functionality changes.
With the ability to annotate, blur, draw rectangles, oval shapes, arrows and freehand in different colors before you take that screenshot, it is one of the most intuitive screen capture applications.
Just press Enter to take a full screen shot, select a window to take a window shot, or draw a rectangle to take an image of specific area. It is really that simple.
The good news is these Deepin applications are not so much Deepin-specific after all. All are written in python, which means they should be distribution agnostic and easily portable.
While not an in-house developed application, a Deepin special version of Crossover is included.
Crossover makes it easy to install Windows software on Linux which could become quite handy. Considering that the full version of Crossover is not free, this inclusion is really a good news for Deepin users.
Glitches and rough edges
Where Deepin falls short is its handling of virtual workspaces. Four workspaces are hard-wired with no easy or obvious way to change them. There is no workspace switcher applet available either. Your options to navigate are not quite obvious at first.
You can navigate with the keyboard: “Ctrl + 1, 2, 3 or 4” will bring you to the similarly numbered virtual desktop, but without a permanent indicator it is difficult to keep track of where you are.
Windows can also be moved by right-clicking their title and choosing the desired desktop from the context menu. Finally, if you enable the “All windows” hot corner (possibly upper right) when you move your mouse there, it will show all windows from the current desktop. Just release the mouse and bring it up again, and it will expand to show windows from all workspaces. This is definitely “flashy” but not exactly useful, as you still have no idea which window belongs where or which view you are in.
Proprietary Video Driver
One of the most important problems Deepin has is the issue with the proprietary video drivers. Nvidia drivers are reported to break the control center, while the ATI Radeon drivers can make the screen laggy and make the Deepin Screnshot crash. Fortunately the open source drivers work flawlessly.
If you’d like to try Deepin in a Virtual machine, it will not work as good as a native install. The desktop is not quite compatible with visualization technologies and can become laggy and distorted, even with 3D acceleration enabled.
Inconsistent Window Decorations
The least concern is the lack of unity (not the DE) when it comes to window decorations. The python-based applications have their own often-skinnable window decorations that do not integrate with the rest of the system … or each other.
Deepin 2014.3 has delivered more in two years than you would expect from any Linux distribution. It now has a strong focus on design and usability. Get Deepin from its official download page, and enjoy your new Linux system with a fresh take on desktop experience and interaction.