Crystal Linux is a user-friendly version of Arch Linux that shows a lot of promise

The Crystal Linux desktop with a customized Dock to Dash extension.

Image: Jack Wallen

Arch Linux is known for not only being incredibly stable, but also significantly more demanding than many other distributions. Because of this, several developers (and development teams) have tried to make Arch more accessible to those without years of Linux experience.

One of the latest distros to attempt this feat is Crystal Linux. This new distro not only helps make Arch Linux easier to use, but also offers some improvements to the GNOME desktop with a user interface that the developers have dubbed Onyx. Onyx includes the GNOME Dash To Dock extension to make the GNOME desktop environment a bit more comfortable for users who might be migrating from the Windows desktop operating system.

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Crystal Linux includes automatic backups (via Btrfs snapshots), zRAM support, and a Pacman wrapper called Amethyst that makes installing applications from the command line even easier. You can also download different versions of Crystal Linux, each offering a different desktop environment, such as:

  • onyx (default)
  • gnome
  • KDE Plasma
  • LXQt
  • Cinammon
  • mate
  • budgie
  • Awesome WM
  • i3
  • Vary
  • e.g
  • herblufwm

I downloaded and booted up a virtual instance of Crystal Linux to see what the fuss was about and came away with a mixed bag of conclusions. Let’s see how it went.

What’s good about Crystal Linux

One thing I like about Crystal Linux is that it can be installed with a bare minimum of software. Because of this, I can only install what I want on the operating system and don’t have to worry about removing a collection of software that I won’t be using.

This standard list of Crystal Linux software is really naked. Out of the box you will find:

  • fire fox
  • GNOME weather
  • GNOME disks
  • Disk Usage Analyzer
  • document viewer
  • time shift

That’s pretty much the bulk of user-centric applications. Fortunately, there’s the Amethyst wrapper for the Pacman package manager (which isn’t nearly as user-friendly as apt or dnf). For example, if I want to install the LibreOffice office suite from the command line using Pacman, this command is:

sudo pacman -S libreoffice

No, it is not a challenging command to run. But when it’s time to upgrade, remember this:

Installing LibreOffice with Amethyst looks like this:

Note that sudo cannot be used with the an i Command. This is by design, as running the command with root privileges could result in corruption. Should the an i command require sudo privileges, you will be prompted if necessary.

Another thing I appreciate about Crystal Linux is the use of Dock To Dash. However, this comes with a caveat. When delivered, Dock to Dash is installed but not activated. Luckily, it’s very easy to open the extension tool and click on the Dash To Panel ON/OFF slider until it’s in the ON position.

The Crystal Linux GNOME Extension Manager.

Enabling the Dock To Dash extension in Crystal Linux.

Image: Jack Wallen

Once you enable the extension, click Settings and you can customize the panel to suit your needs.

Another very big plus of Crystal Linux is its performance. Thanks to zRAM support (a Linux kernel module for RAM disk much faster than the traditional paging file). With this enabled (you must enable it during installation), the desktop is very fast.

The not so good

Luckily, this list is pretty short. In fact, it pretty much stops and starts with the version of GNOME software that ships with Crystal Linux. For those who don’t know, GNOME Software is a GUI app store that makes installing software on Linux very easy.

Unfortunately, my experience with Crystal Linux resulted in less than viable GNOME software. When I open GNOME Software on Crystal Linux, the Explore tab is empty. When I try to search for a software, it comes up blank. This is also the case after an update with Amethyst.

The GNOME Software Store.

The GNOME software tool does not display application data, which is a problem.

Image: Jack Wallen

In other words, as it stands, the only way to install software – at least on my instance of Crystal Linux – is from the command line. I’m sure this is a product of the distro’s youth and will be fixed soon. Until then, I’ll still need to install and manage software through the CLI.

Who is Crystal Linux for?

The ideal audience for Crystal Linux are those who want to get a taste of Arch Linux without complications. However, since Crystal Linux is so new, I’m not 100% sure I would recommend this distro to a user unwilling to fix a few minor bugs along the way. Crystal Linux lacks a reliable GUI for software installation, but it makes up for it with a simple command-line option. But for users who are unfamiliar or unfamiliar with the command line, Crystal Linux is hard to sell – at least until they solve the problem with the GNOME software). Despite this limitation, Crystal Linux is very impressive even in its early stages.

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