Solus OS Review: A Linux Distribution That Does More with Less

Solus Os Review Featured

Although Linux distributions like Ubuntu and Mint have made great strides regarding user-friendliness, they’ve sometimes had difficulty convincing the majority of users of other operating systems to drop the way they currently do things and adapt to something new. Solus OS is a new Linux operating system that isn’t based on anything. It’s a fresh take on Linux with a message: less is more. No hassling with settings or choices. Everything is taken care of for you ahead of time.

Usage

When you boot up Solus OS, you’ll notice a single taskbar at the bottom of the screen. This single panel is the basis for the Solus-developed desktop environment known as Budgie. Based on GTK3, Budgie presents a user-friendly, simplified environment designed around the idea that your computer shouldn’t be a hassle to use.

Solusos Livedesktop

Windows users and those using common Linux distributions like MX Linux, Manjaro and Mint may find this panel familiar, though a few tweaks have been added to make it more user-friendly. For example, moving your mouse over a category doesn’t immediately switch you over to it like in other Linux distributions. Instead, you can freely scroll through one category without worrying that your mouse will slip and take you to another.

Solusos Panel

Budgie has a neat Windows-like menu that can search installed applications on the left and a notification center, calendar, and Settings pane to the right. Everything the Budgie desktop has to offer is condensed into this small area, giving you immediate access to the most important parts of your user experience.

Solusos Notifications

Through this interface, Solus is making a statement: Everything you need can be found quickly from one point of access. Instead of bogging you down with package managers, Solus trims the fat and provides a more central, well-updated and vast database of applications that are pre-packaged to work out of the box.

Solusos Software

Can’t find what you’re looking for from the curated lists? Just use the search function, and you’ll likely find your favorite application anyway!

Installation

The process of installing Solus OS is fairly similar to that of most UX-oriented Linux systems. In recent years, it’s even begun to incorporate features that automate the experience, making it more friendly to beginners who may find partition management on a Linux installation somewhat intimidating or tedious.

Establishing a time zone and locale is easy with its automatic location detection, which works as long as you’re connected to the Internet.

Solusos Locationinfo

Although you have the option to automate the partitioning of the drive where you wish to install Solus, you’re also given the option to fully nerd out your installation if you wish to make some finer adjustments.

Solusos Partition

Once that’s all done, it’s just a matter of choosing a name for the computer and creating the main account that will log in to the OS. The rest of the installation runs on its own without requiring any input from the user.

What Makes Solus OS Special?

In short: It’s not a derivative. The truth is that in this day and age we seldom see new Linux operating systems come along with a completely fresh core. Most distributions in daily use by consumers are based on either Debian, Arch, or even other derivatives like Ubuntu.

This is not to say that these flavors or “flavors of flavors” don’t bring anything innovative to the table; there’s a reason why Mint is more popular than straight Debian.

However, there’s something “clean” about the Solus experience that mostly results from everything – including Budgie – being built from the ground up.

Whether you’re a Windows/Mac user looking to migrate over to a version of Linux that meshes together some of the features you’re accustomed to, or you’re a Linux veteran who wants something more curated, Solus may just check all those boxes.

What About Gaming?

Five or six years ago, Solus would probably not have been a first choice as a Linux gaming system. But with the advent of Steam Proton, protontricks, and Solus’s commitment to making its system as friendly as possible to gaming recently, 2021 brings with it a whole different ballgame.

Solusos Steam

You can find Steam inside of the software repository using the search function, install it, and be gaming within 20 minutes.

Some Possible Hitches

As great as Solus is, given the strong strides it’s made in recent years of extremely active development, it still has its own shortcomings. The biggest has to do with the fact that as an operating system built from scratch, its package manager (“eopkg”) has almost zero name recognition.

This means that if you’re unable to find an app you want in the software manager, there’s a very good chance you’re going to have to manually compile it.

That being said, I was able to find all the daily driver applications I could muster in Solus just fine. This included Brave Browser, Google Chrome, VLC, Libre Office, OpenJDK, Python and many others.

Another possible turnoff, especially for people who are used to the rugged experience of using the console for almost everything in Linux, is the fact that the experience in Solus is curated to the point where it almost feels wrong to use anything but the UI. This may feel a bit strange if you’re used to quickly configuring your experience using the conventional Linux methods.

While it is possible to navigate to configuration files and do the old-fashioned rigmarole of finding those files and, for example, configuring PulseAudio plugins like DysonCompressor, it’s not as feasible as it would be in other distributions. Solus seems to attempt to hide all the “techy” stuff from plain view. Where you’re used to seeing the terminal emulator, you instead see a clean list of applications and the software manager. It can leave a bit of a sour taste in the mouths of power users.

Conclusion

After more than five years in development, Solus OS has come a long way from its early beginnings and kept to its promise of becoming an operating system for the “everyman.” Adding a plethora of applications to its software repository, it’s become accommodating for even the most veteran of power users, while at the same time retaining the ability to appeal to a less “nerdy” demographic.

It does what you expect, looks after you, and curates your experience so that you don’t have to fumble around. If you are looking around for a stylish Linux distro, you should also check out Deepin Linux.

Image credit: Solus 3 with Budgie Desktop

Miguel Leiva-Gomez Miguel Leiva-Gomez

Miguel has been a business growth and technology expert for more than a decade and has written software for even longer. From his little castle in Romania, he presents cold and analytical perspectives to things that affect the tech world.

11 comments

  1. Solus is just another me-too distro that instead of developing its own Linux identity is trying very hard to become a Linux rewrite of Windows.

    1. It kind of looks that way, yeah. But if this is a good gateway drug for people used to the Windows way of doing things, it’s not going to be long before the more tinkery users will start venturing into other distros. If all Solus is is a primer to bigger things, then so be it.

  2. “This means that if you’re unable to find an app you want in the software manager, there’s a very good chance you’re going to have to manually compile it.”

    So, the usual Linux downfall – want to run something a bit unusual then get the hoops out as you are going to have to jump through them!

    I’d love to leave Windows, but until I can do the equivalent of “download and run a .exe” Linux just aint for me.

    If only the Linux community would focus on that rather than distro after distro after distro after distro it might just attract more Windows users to transfer. At least getting rid of the need to use the command line (almost!) is a step in the right direction.

    1. That’s a bad faith argument imo.

      “sudo install ” or the GUI “application stores” are easier than “finding and downloading and installing an exe” and also much safer. There’s a good reason why MacOS also uses an app store and why windows is trying to convince users to use the microsoft store.

      As for the programs which are not in the repositories and that you have to compile are rarely the kind of programs you can “just download” on windows. Heck, they’re usually not even available for windows, or only with cygwin or WSL… talk about hoops.

      1. If you want the equivalent of “download and run a .exe” you can use literally almost any other version of Linux that isn’t Solus.

        I don’t think I was too clear in my article though, and I’ll clarify here: If you find a .eopkg file, that’s Solus’ version of an installer “.exe”. It’s just not so popular that every other website is going to include such a thing. You’ll end up having to manually compile the source as we used to do in the good ol’ days when computers ran on Pentium II processors and the like.

        Linux itself has come a long way though. Any Debian-based version should be right up your alley. You’ll find a “.deb” installer on almost every developer’s website that makes a version of their software for Linux. Mint, MX and Ubuntu are all extremely popular for this very reason.

        Give it a shot and dual-boot one of those three with Windows. I assure you it’ll be fun! If you have more questions about this or are curious to try some new things, let me know. I follow this comment section.

    2. You have the choice of installing Flatpak, app image, Snaps, etc… More than likely the app missing from eopkg can be found using the above mentioned.

    3. Dave JS, yours is a straw man argument. You have fallen victim to the anti-Linux FUD. Without actually having tried a Linux distro, you are complaining that you will have to spend most of your time using command line and the only way you will be able to obtain any apps is by compiling them.

      Unless your “a bit unusual” is some esoteric bit of software that only a few dozen people in the world use, there is a 99% chance that you will be able to find it and install it from some site. Between distro repositories, AppImage, Flatpak, Snaps, AURs, and PPAs you should be able to find almost any application you need or want. Of course, this being Linux, you will not find any Windows-specific (MS Office, Edge, etc) apps. But neither will you find any OS/X-specific apps.

      Actually, with the use of emulators, such as Wine, you can run many Windows apps on Linux.

      For your introduction to Linux, try one of the Ubuntu family of distros: Ubuntu, elementaryOS, Zorin or Mint. If you do the default install (let the installer make all the choices), you will be asked only two or three questions and when the installer finishes, you will have a ready to use system – no other software need be installed unless you want it. If do you need/want an app that is not installed by default, the Ubuntu family of distros claims to have about 70,000 packages in its repositories.

      “If only the Linux community would focus on that rather than distro after distro after distro after distro”
      Another straw man argument. Do have problems making up your mind which particular brand of bread, pasta or beer to buy? Are you confused by the hundreds of car brands and models you can choose from? Linux is no different. You try one and, if you do not like it, you try another one. The nice thing about Linux is that the vast majority of the software (O/S and apps) is free to try and use.

  3. Well, I don’t see anything compelling me to switch from MX, Mint, or one of the Ubuntus. They could have stopped with developing the Budgie desktop, not a whole new distro. But if it helps people convert from Windows, why not?

  4. Have tried Solus several times over the years, but found it wanting, though, as the article points out, they believe that “… less is more. No hassling with setting or choices.” I’ll stick with Linux Mint as it is, for me, the perfect OS.

    1. Yeah I suspected as much. I also use Manjaro, Mint and Kali on both my PC and laptop and don’t intend to install Solus as a permanent OS. The review shots were all done from VirtualBox, though I’ve tested it as a native installation as well (useful to always do both as emulated vs native is a thing in some types of OS).

      I have a sneaking suspicion that we’re not Solus’ target demographic though :D

  5. Haven’t tried Solus but like Budgie a lot. Kinda surprised, the name is silly (puppy?) so I kept ignoring it because of low expectations. Using it on Ubuntu. By itself, Budgie is a fairly complete desktop that can easily be made to accept gnome extensions without gnome creep, probably enough for most users. It looks nice, very polished, has a useful (rare) dock, panel is movable and overall is well arranged.

    My test machine is a 2011 Dell laptop with i5, nVidia 5??, 8 GB RAM and an SSD left over from something else. Slow for today but it ran Win 10 OK and all of the distros tried, some well, some glitchy. Good tester for “Linux runs on anything.” Depends a bit on what run means.

    I have no idea how many distros I’ve gone through in the three branches but quite a few of them. Loved plasma desktop distros for a long time but the latest iteration, in KDE neon anyway, had a gigantic centered start menu a la Win 11, it’s not like the existing one wasn’t already too big!

    I pursued Linux in a brilliant fashion, starting with Debian with zero Linux experience. Not a good idea unless you’re pretty techy. The ones I remember are Mint, Arch (ouch!), Manjaro, KDE neon and now Ubuntu Budgie. I’ve used Ubuntu minimal on our home server (Xeon Dell) for maybe two years, works fine and I only have to endure gnome occasionally.

    Advice to newbies is start with Mint Cinnamon, it’s the most like Windows, then move around if desired, try different desktops. Ubuntu Budgie would be good for Mac users exploring Linux, it’s very similar. JMO but the best way to sour anyone new on Linux is for them to start with gnome, it’s a giant phone interface and works about the same, click and everything else disappears. Repeat ad infinitum.

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