REVIEW

Garuda Desktops Put a New Spin on Linux Looks

The Linux operating system is many things to many users. It is not a one-size-must-fit-all computing platform like Microsoft and Apple provide.

A prime example of Linux’s wide range of functionalities is easily found in Garuda Linux. Not typically available in mainstream distributions, its large assortment of desktop offerings will challenge your computing passions.

Developers released the latest version of Garuda Linux, aka Hawk Eagle, on April 9. But not all of the collection of desktop offerings are available, at least yet, in this latest version. Although you can still get those that are not in the previous release of Serpent Eagle from January of this year.

Garuda Linux, based in India, is an Arch-based rolling distribution. Linux distributions give you one of two maintenance options. Rolling releases come piecemeal — but often — so you never have to install a complete system upgrade once or twice a year when developers issue traditional major point releases. Arch-based Linux systems push the rolling method.

Normally, I do not favor Arch-based Linux distros. But I use rolling update distros on nearly all of my office computers. Arch’s rather rigid design philosophies usually make Arch finicky to install and maintain. Arch systems require a working knowledge of how Linux works under the hood. That puts new users at a disadvantage. But Garuda is an exception to that barrier.

Garuda Linux comes with the Calamares graphical installer for easy installation. Plus, Garuda Linux comes with other advanced graphical tools for system management. For instance, the standard Arch package management tool called Pacman has a text-based interface. It uses simple compressed files as a package format that users need to hand tweak at times.

Enter Pamac, a graphical user interface (GUI) that takes over the package management routines. Garuda Linux also includes a GUI tool called Garuda Assistant to handle various common tasks like managing drivers and kernels and other GUI tools to manage GRUB boot options and network and hotspot creation. If you are a gamer, you will love the GUI that installs curated gaming software.

First Impressions

I especially like Garuda’s performance-oriented design with many performance enhancements. These include tweaks such as the performance CPU governor Zram and custom memory management software.

I also like what makes Garuda Linux different from other general-purpose Linux systems. Take, for instance, the Linux-zen feature that provides a faster, more responsive Linux kernel that is optimized for desktop, multimedia, and gaming. Overall, the Linux-zen feature brings a faster, more responsive Linux kernel that is optimized for desktop, multimedia, and gaming.

From a technical standpoint, Garuda Linux is a very modern OS. It uses the BTRFS filesystem with zstd compression. BTRFS is a storage format that combines a file system based on the copy-on-write (COW) principle with logical volume management.

By comparison to the more widely used Ext4 file system, BTRFS is designed for high-capacity and high-performance storage servers. The Ext4 filesystem was designed to be a simple local filesystem. That gives BTRFS advanced features beyond that of Ext4.

Another easy-to-use maintenance tool bundled with the default installation is the Timeshift backup utility. Set it up for what you want to be backed up and how often and forget it.

Timeshift runs automatically, capturing snapshots of your system at the intervals you set. Should something go wrong with an update or errant application setting, it is easy to install a previous snapshot to get up and running without missing a beat. Your saved settings and data are never at risk.

Desktop Delights

This distro is an exceptional choice that offers numerous desktop options. Some of them are not available in other distro choices. You can download and install a version of Garuda Linux that comes with nearly every desktop variation. The list includes KDE, Xfce, GNOME, LXQt-kwin, Cinnamon, MATE, Wayfire, Qtile, BSPWM, and i3wm desktops.

The large collection of desktops — technically, some of them are window managers rather than complete environments — seems like an alphabet soup of computer jargon. But it is well worth checking them out by using the live session ISOs. You will find lots of surprises.

For instance, the KDE version is particularly interesting. It is about as standard as you can get. That said, Garuda’s developers put unique spit and polish into this KDE iteration that makes it artistically noteworthy by design.

Another very intriguing desktop option is a flavor I had not stumbled upon prior to discovering Garuda Linux. Wayfire, an open-source project is a fast and eye-pleasing computing environment. It is a Wayland compositor that creates a customizable, extendable, and lightweight environment without sacrificing its appearance.

If you are familiar with the Compiz display of yesteryear, Wayfire brings much of that glitz and glitter back to your monitor. I am talking superior eye candy the likes of wobbly windows, over-the-top window animations, and the rotating 3D cube. The Wayfire environment does all of this without subjecting your system’s resources to a starvation diet.

Wayfire is a 3D floating Wayland compositor using wlroots. In non-computerese, that is a modular Wayland compositor library. A Wayland compositor is similar to compositing window managers in the less modern but still prolific X11 computing world that many distros still run. The Wayland software coordinates all of your input and output devices and manages all of your opened applications.

For a bird’s eye view of what all of this jargon means, watch this video to see the graphics in motion.

Garuda Viewing Options

To be frank, not all of these desktop options are for everyone. But the beauty of Linux is the freedom to try different options. Sometimes you will stumble on something that piques your interest and serves your computing routine better than your current Linux platform does. This is one of the attractions I find with Garuda Linux.

Here is a quick rundown on each option:

The dr460nized edition is the standard KDE version of Garuda Linux. It has a dark, blurry, and fully immersive Plasma experience. The workflow is Mac-like with the app menu on right into the top bar.

Garuda Linux KDE desktop

The standard top panel bar and the plank on the bottom contribute to the smooth and simple design of Garuda’s KDE Dr460nized desktop integration.

The Dragonized Gaming Edition has the same tweaks and appearance but comes preinstalled with additional software that Linux gamers might need, such as game launchers and video-centric tools.

The Dragonized BlackArch Edition is a penetration testing distribution based on Arch Linux that provides a concentration on cybersecurity tools. It is an open-source distro created especially for penetration testers and security researchers and has more than 2,600 tools available in the repository.

Garuda’s Xfce edition is a lightweight desktop environment that is fast and does not consume a lot of system resources. The lightweight design does not detract from its performance.

Garuda Linux XFCE desktop

Despite its aging character, Garuda’s Xfce desktop version is inviting and fully functional, making it an ideal computing environment.

Another lightweight desktop option is Garuda’s LXQT-Kwin edition. The combination of the QT environment with the KDE window manager gives you some surprising visual treatments.

Garuda Linux LXQT-Kwin edition Mac-like appearance

Garuda Linux’s LXQT-Kwin edition has a touch of modern with its vertical panel on the left of the screen and bottom launching bat for a Mac-like appearance. This option is so far only available in the previous serpent Eagle release.

Garuda Linux also gives you additional choices that you will not find in most distro offerings.

The Qtile edition has a dynamic window manager that is easy to customize. Its use of the ‘jgmenu’ makes it convenient to launch applications without remembering key bindings. Garuda BSPWM or Binary Space Partition Window Manager is a minimalist yet modern-looking tiling window manager that displays windows as the leaves of a full binary tree.

The Garuda i3WM edition is a lightweight window manager with a small memory footprint. You operate it exclusively with the keyboard. Garuda’s developers added an easy configuration with LXappearance to handle GTK themes. They also include a cheat sheet to get you started.

Garuda Linux’s Barebones KDE edition is for advanced users. It does not come with extra software and functionalities. You get only the bare minimum of packages needed to get started. You also do not get any support for Barebones editions from the developers.

Garuda Linux screenshot

Other than its dark, Moorish backgrounds, Garuda Linux has an otherwise inviting design that makes using it easy and efficient.

If you are a fan of the classic GNOME desktop, Gartuda’s Garuda GNOME version will not disappoint. It offers a modern desktop environment with an emphasis on ease of use.

Bottom Line

The minimum requirement for Garuda Linux is 30 GB storage space with 4 GB RAM and a 64-bit system. The recommended requirements, however, provide much better performance. These are 40 GB storage space with 8 GB RAM running a video card with OpenGL 3.3 or better.

The Garuda distro is optimized for performance on real hardware. Installing Garuda in virtual machines might result in a bad experience.

Oftentimes, there are two parts to evaluating Linux distros. One is the design and feature sets that make a particular Linux distribution unique from other offerings. The other is how the desktop environment contributes to or weakens the user’s computing experience.

Rest assured that Garuda Linux covers both of those factors. Not every desktop flavor will be a winning choice. But Garuda’s overall performance and design along with its wide range of environments can eliminate distro-hopping to find your best fit.

My only real disappointment with this latest Garuda Linux release is that most of the background images are dark and moody. But each flavor still has the Garuda uniqueness that performs solidly.

One caution to consider is that some of the less commonly used window manager options will take getting used to using. But computing is always about learning curves and adjusting to new processes.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you’d like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

Please email your ideas to me and I’ll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Reader Comments feature below to provide your input!

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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