Deepin Linux Review: Stylish Distro or Spyware?

Deepin Review Featured

Deepin is a rising star among Linux distributions, thanks to its combination of an elegant desktop environment with the stability and reliability of Debian. But Deepin is also a divisive Linux distribution, both because of its Chinese origin and some arguable choices by its creators.

Where does it diverge from the alternatives? What does it offer compared to other distributions? How is it in actual everyday use? Do you have to worry about the safety of your data if you use it as your primary operating system?

Deepin’s primary goal is to offer a dependable, but also beautiful, and easy-to-use work environment. To a large extent, it achieves this. It both looks attractive and feels unique among its peers. But it’s also far from flawless, and some cracks show on its otherwise polished surface.

Your typical easy installation

Deepin’s installation is as simple as any other modern Linux distribution’s. The hardest step is downloading its ISO file and converting it to a bootable DVD or USB.

Deepin Review Easy Installation

By booting with this, the installation itself is the classic sequence of steps where you choose where to install it, in what language, what the computer’s and the user’s aliases will be, and a handful of clicks on “next” buttons.

From the very beginning, a peculiar choice casts a shadow on its trustworthiness: Deepin is one of the few Linux distributions where the installation can’t continue unless you accept an end user license agreement.

Deepin Review Eula

You know … just like Windows.

Beautiful and easy to use

Even its most ardent critics have to recognize that Deepin provides one of the most beautiful, complete, and well-designed open-source desktop environments. Aesthetics and visual cohesion are its core ingredients.

Deepin Review Right Click Menu Display Settings

The force behind Deepin’s desktop is the same powering KDE: the QT framework. It provides Deepin with a great mix of technology, performance, and looks. It displays shadows, transparency, and animations without consuming significant resources. It’s “current” with no need for “current” hardware.

Deepin has great default options for its window theme, the icons, and the wallpaper it uses, and offers access to interesting alternatives to all of them if you’re not happy with the defaults. Unfortunately, though, most of them feel too similar – even the initially striking wallpapers. Here’s an example: can you tell the difference between the two icon themes, “Deepin” and “Deepin Dark?”

Deepin Review Design Inconsistencies

Transparency, one of the key elements of its look, regularly turns out to be annoying instead of beautiful. It makes it hard reading white text on a transparent background when white windows are behind it – e.g., when the “main menu” opens in front of a browser that displays the homepage of a popular search engine.

An original take

Deepin manages to differentiate itself compared to all other distributions by following its own unique path. It achieves this by going above and beyond what many other distributions do. Instead of offering some original window themes, icon sets, and wallpapers, plus some mostly aesthetic tweaks to popular apps, Deepin comes with its own custom software alternatives.

Deepin Review Looking Shiny

The Dock is probably the most important – and polished – out of them since it’s also the first thing you notice when you log in. Taking the place of the OS’s primary taskbar, the Dock is the place through which you launch and manage all the other software available, and control your computer. It is smartly designed to present everything in an organized fashion, grouping program launchers, tray icons, and system buttons visually to ease access. And for those that don’t like the dock approach – called “Fashion mode” here – it can turn to a more standard taskbar spanning the whole bottom of the screenm called “Efficient mode.”

Deepin Review Shiny With Problems

Unlike any Control Panel found on any other distribution – or even flavor of Windows – Deepin presents all its system-related options in panels living in a “sidebar” that appears on the right edge of the screen. It’s Deepin’s Control Center, and the approach makes it feel like everything necessary is just a click away.

Deepin Review Dark Theme

Deepin’s comes with its own File Manager that tiptoes between the modern and classic take on the subject and feels a bit like a mix between Dolphin, Nautilus, and Thunar. It follows Deepin’s visual language: looking “clean,” and offering easy access to all its functionality. It works as anyone would expect from a relatively modern file manager, allowing easy copying, moving, renaming or deletion of files and folders, access to the contents of connected devices and network shares, or preview of images.

Deepin Review Screenshot

Screenshot does what its name promises, able to capture anything displayed on-screen to an image file immediately after launch.

Deepin Review Recorder

Similarly useful and straightforward to use, Screen Recorder allows the user to capture any part of the screen as either a video file or an animated GIF.

Deepin Review Voice Recorder

An even simpler to use Voice Recorder makes taking voice notes dead easy, its interface more reminiscent of a simple smartphone than a complicated desktop app.

Deepin Review Media Player

Deepin movie can play any media file you throw at it or, at least, all of the ones we tried. It’s a good alternative to admittedly more popular media players, like VLC or MPlayer, and works fine as a full replacement for them if you don’t need any specific functionality or features they offer over it (like the advanced filters and stream management VLC allows).

Deepin Review Image Viewer

Those are the ones we deem the most important apps of the bunch, but they’re not the only ones. Deepin also offers a Music Player, Image Viewer, Calculator, Calendar, Terminal, System Monitor (Task Manager), and a Graphics Driver Manager that helps when installing GPU drivers.

Deepin Review System Monitor

They’re all serviceable and good at what they do, but also don’t excel at anything, offering precisely what you’d expect from programs of their kind – but nothing more.

One of them, though, to which we’ll have to dedicate almost the whole next part of this review, is the Deepin Store.

Negatives and controversy

Like all things in life, Deepin is far from perfect. At first contact, it looks polished and leaves you feeling as if you just discovered the ideal operating system for the rest of your life. Then you remember you had to accept an end user license agreement to install it. You notice that its dark theme is only available for a subset of its apps, that some of them are “basic” at the very best or even forced, like the choice of WPS Office instead of the more full-featured and mature LibreOffice.

Deepin Review Wps Office

Arguably its primary highlight and differentiating factor, Deepin’s Control Center feels revolutionary at first. It combines a notification center with everything you’d expect to find in an OS Control Panel in an elegant and theoretically easily accessible way.

Deepin Review Side Panels

In practice, though, its confined space means there’s a lot of back-and-forth between options, realized when you find yourself in a sub-sub-panel with options that could be easier to see if the Control Center took advantage of the large screen estate it forcibly ignores.

The aforementioned small problems and quirks aren’t significant enough to push you away from Deepin – there are more positives than negatives. Unless you’re ultra-conscious about your data, and that’s because Deepin was accused of being “spyware.”

Some time ago, a YouTuber “caught” Deepin communicating with the Chinese data analytic company CNZZ’s servers. Since there was no reason for such an exchange of information, many users branded Deepin as spyware.

Deepin Review Deepin App Store

Its creators explained that the whole data exchange was restricted to its Software Center. It works as a site and, just like most sites today, was using the analytics services of CNZZ to improve its functionality further, based on what Deepin’s users “did in it.” In that regard, CNZZ did for Deepin what Google Analytics does for millions of sites around the world.

The problem is that Deepin didn’t inform anyone that such a data exchange would take place, nor offered any opt-out options. As the cherry on top, all of the exchanged information was encrypted, with no way to check it to verify Deepin’s innocence.

Adding further fuel to the fire, Deepin collaborates closely with Huawei. Officially, their relation is restricted to Huawei using Deepin as the primary OS for a series of laptops they offer to the Chinese market. Unofficially, it’s implied Huwaei has a say on how Deepin evolves.

Deepin Review Intro Video Security

Putting those negatives one after the other paints a clear picture of why many people would rather avoid Deepin: it’s one of the few Linux distributions (and the only one this humble writer remembers) that comes with an EULA. It sends all data about which apps you install and use to a Chinese analytics company. And its primary benefactor is a Chinese tech company accused of cyber-espionage.

Objectively, with its source code available, Deepin Linux itself looks safe. It’s not “spyware” in the real sense of the word. That is, it does not secretly track everything the user does and then send relevant data to third parties. Not as far as day–to–day use goes.

Also, note that Deepin itself, and the software that comes preinstalled, may not be spyware, but there are no guarantees for the apps available through its App Store.

The gist of it

Deepin is an interesting distribution that stands out, thanks to design choices and the perseverance of its creators. For over a decade they’re been mutating and improving what we know today as Deepin, overtaking the alternatives in aesthetics and usability.

Deepin Review Calculator App

And yet, sometimes it feels like beta software compared to other distributions. Its options more restricted, and its apps less featured than freely available alternatives it could incorporate instead of trying to go its own way.

As for security, those who want complete control over all the data they share with third parties and the digital footprints they leave on the Internet would be better off looking for an alternative. But if you’re using Steam for all your gaming, “share stuff with friends” on Facebook and maybe still dual-boot with Windows, Deepin would probably be the safest – or “the least data-sharing” – of the bunch.

14 comments

  1. I used deepin for almost a year. It worked well never had any problems with it. And it is imo of course the most beautiful distro out there, no doubt about that. And thats why I used it. The negatives are that the apps in their store and display (nvidia) is outdated mostly (not their own apps though)
    Even though I accepted their explanation for the alleged “spying” I couldnt overcome the fact that it is a Chinese company and they are all slaves under the regime, since the regime is what it is.. Even though it is open source and, like the saying goes: “anyone” can audit the code, but, there is no guarantee what future updates will bring. I am not sure, but I suspect there is no one who constantly checks what updates do? So with a heavy heart I stopped using it. I went back to Linux Mint, but I miss the beautiful DE every day..

  2. Huawei of course doesn’t spy on Americans. Why spy on an inferior nation?
    End of line

  3. Since Deepin is open source, how can you say that it is “spyware”? If it contained any “spy code” somebody, somewhere, at some time would have discovered it and publicized the fact. Saying that it is “spyware” just because it was developed in China is like saying Kaspersky software is “spyware” because it was developed in Russia. How do we know that distros developed in any other country are not “spyware” for that country or for some corporate interests?

    Until it is definitively proven that Deepin is “spyware”, I would be much more leery of Ubuntu and its collaboration with Amazon than I would be of Deepin. I would also be leery of Google’s Chrome OS and Oracle Linux.

    1. Yes, that’s right, because communism, fascism and stalinism have never done anything to anyone to make them think they were spying on them or that they were doing really bad things to the citizens of the nation(s) with dictators in those powers. How could anyone be so foolish to belive China or Russia or North Korea would do such things afterall?

      I’ll wait for your defense of these things, and hopefully not just some pathetic ‘red menace’ smarmy quip not actually addressing anything to do with the topic.

      1. Could you please explain how secret spy code can be hidden in an open source program that anyone can examine? Ironically the only two O/Ss I can name that contain spy code and call home are both Made In the USA and they are Windows and macOS.

        1. Are you being this unbelievably obtuse on purpose or you really are that naive? Have you looked through every-single-open-source-program on the planet with your favorite IDE or editor? I didn’t think so. What makes you think every open-source program’s code *is* searched for ‘bad things’? What makes you trust if some person you have never met, no clue who they are or where they live, who they might work for or anything else, says ‘Oh yes, my ‘open source’ program is safe and secure because ‘it’s open source’?

          As for windows and apple/mac…I couldn’t care less about either of them. I’ve known about their uselessness since 1996 and the spying and other unethical garbage they’ve pulled over the decades is nothing new to anyone. I stopped using windows in 2000 and the only reason it took me so long was because I simply didn’t know there was anything else at the time until I got so sick and tired of it crashing and losing everything that I started searching for something, *anything* that was ‘different’.

          Since then it’s been nothing but Linux, but that doesn’t mean I went in blindfolded and with absolute trust any more than I do anything else. I *always* skeptical of anything new and there’s much in linux I won’t topuch, open source or not.

          You’re trying too hard to defend the indefensible and it’s not making any sense *why*, unless, oh, is it possible *you* work with/for Deepin and are pushing for its acceptance? See what I did there?

          So answer the question…how and when has any communist/fascist/stalinist nation done anything ever to prove it *was* trustworthy enough that other nations and their citizens should just jump right in and start using any and everything they send out to the world, so we can try to understand why you keep trying to force the issuse of getting everyone to trust a piece of software from a cummunist nation made by who-know in that nation and all we have is your word that you must have studied upon the whole distributions code and every app that may have come with it and found it all just clean as a whistle and why we should trust *you* saying it and trying to convince anyone.

  4. Because it comes from china is *exactly* why I never gave it anything but a passing thought.

    I mean, who trusts the person who is always walking up behind you and slapping the back of your head hard enough to just hurt? If you say you trust that ‘friend’, you’re a liar.

    The chairman and his ruling class are communists and there’s nothing good about that. If it comes from china, you can bet the government has its hands deep in it. *Everything* thaqt comes from china keeps getting found with spyware or other garbage, why should this be any different just because it’s Linux.

    ‘Ooooohhhh! It’s so pretty!’ isn’t any decent reason to be stupid and think with the wrong organ – ones butt – and run this distro that is probably sending info back to its rulers.

    1. Ahh, Sen. Jow McCarthy’s Red Menace rides again! :-)

    2. I understand being anti-Chinese-governement, just like being anti-(Western Nation)-government, but you extend that to the whole population of China, it just reeks like xenophobia. It’s like saying every American is a capitalist because America is a capitalist country.

      1. That is the stupidest comment yet on this article. There’s no xenophobia anywhere to be applied to any of my comments, just your blatant want of there to be and your reading it into anything I write. It also speaks bushelsful of your lack of reading comprehension. I said *government*, right and left. Nowhere do I say anything about the everyday Joe in China.

        By the way, 99% of Americans *ARE* capitalists, because to try and not be capitalist you won’t make much of a living in the USA. Show me someone who is pro capitalist in China that isn’t being targetted by the government or has to do it from hiding.

        Any ‘reeking’ here is your ignorance and pathetic attempts at trying to make the Chinese government look like flower children of the 60’s and trying to blame it on someone and I just happened to be the most outspoken against that government, so why not attack me.

  5. Everyone spies, but China is a bit extreme, and — if only because of how they treat their own citizens (Uighurs (sp?)), not to mention the great firewall and other severe censorship mechanisms — one should never choose a Chinese option if others exist.

    As for the “open source cannot be spyware” — forget it. Open source can indeed be spyware… until it is caught. Companies in the west (facebook et al) are totally shameless about the spying they do, why would someone like China have *any* shame at all, when eventually caught? And even if they remove the piece they got caught with, a month more and something else will be added.

    Just say “no”.

  6. Regardless of what OS, browser, or search engine you use, someone somewhere, with or without your knowledge, is spying on you. That is today’s electronic reality.

  7. Does it offer tile windowing a la i3?
    – yes: worth to have a try
    – no: don’t me waste my time with toys

  8. Anyone who lives in Europe and is either old enough or has the appropriate education knows very well to what enormous extent dictatorships* took advantage of aesthetics. In this respect they were all true masters, and welcome teachers from whom China has learned it all and perfected it. Kudos! – or rather not?

    Whoever uses or defends Deepin today, “because it is so aesthetic”, is at least blue-eyed, if not a fool. Anyone who tries to convince her- or himself or others that Deepin would be harmless is not only a fool, but a demagogue. That, however, shouldn’t surprise anyone in a world full of morons who use Google and Facebook and Windows day in, day out. Or Zorin of which we have known for a week and a half now that it spies, too. But this as a sideline only.

    *Spain, Italy, Greece, Nazi-Germany, East-Germany, and the entire Eastern bloc before 1989

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