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


The Crystal Linux desktop with a custom Dock To Dash extension.

Image: Jack Wallen

Arch Linux is well known not only for being incredibly stable, but also for being considerably more difficult than many other distros. For this reason, several developers (and teams of developers) have attempted to make Arch more accessible to those without years of Linux experience.

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

Also: EndeavorOS is an Arch Linux distro for everyone

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

  • Onyx (default)
  • Plasma KDEComment
  • LXQt
  • Cinnamon
  • Comrade
  • Budgie
  • AwesomeWM
  • i3
  • To balance
  • bspwm
  • Herbslufwm

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

What’s good about Crystal Linux

One thing I like about Crystal Linux is that it installs with minimal software. Because of this, I can only install what I want on the OS and don’t have to worry about deleting a collection of software I won’t be using.

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

  • firefox
  • GNOME Weather
  • GNOME Disks
  • Disk Usage Analyzer
  • Document viewer
  • time lag

That’s pretty much the bulk of user-facing apps. Luckily, there is the Amethyst wrapper for the Pacman package manager (which isn’t as friendly as apt or dnf). For example, if I wanted to install the LibreOffice office suite from the command line with Pacman, this command would be:

sudo pacman -S libreoffice

No, it’s not a difficult command to execute. But when it comes time to upgrade, then you’re looking to remember:

Installing LibreOffice with Amethyst looks like this:

Note that there is no use of sudo with the me ordered. This is by design, as running the command with root privileges could cause a break. the me requires sudo privileges, it will prompt you if needed.

Another thing I can enjoy with Crystal Linux is using Dock To Dash. However, this comes with a caveat. By default, Dock to Dash is installed, but not enabled. Luckily, it’s very easy to open the Extensions tool and click the ON/OFF slider for Dash To Panel 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 have activated the extension, click on Settings and you can customize the panel according to your needs.

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

The not so good

Fortunately, this list is rather short. In fact, it pretty much stops and starts with the version of GNOME software that comes with Crystal Linux. For those who don’t know, GNOME Software is a GUI application store that makes it easy to install software on Linux.

Unfortunately, my experience with Crystal Linux resulted in less usable GNOME software. When I open GNOME software on Crystal Linux, the Explorer tab is blank. If I try to search for software, it comes up empty. Even after running an update with Amethyst, it does.

The GNOME Software Store.

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

Image: Jack Wallen

In other words, as it stands, the only way to install software – at least in my instance of Crystal Linux – is through the command line. I’m sure this is a product of the cast’s youth and will soon be fixed. Until then, I will have to continue installing and managing software through the CLI.

Who is Crystal Linux for?

The ideal audience for Crystal Linux is anyone who wants a taste of Arch Linux, without complications. However, since Crystal Linux is so new, I’m not 100% sure I’d recommend this distro to a user who doesn’t want to fix a few minor bugs along the way. As it stands, Crystal Linux lacks a reliable GUI for installing software, but makes up for it with a simple command-line option. But for users unfamiliar or comfortable with the command line, Crystal Linux is a tough sell – at least until they fix the GNOME software problem). Even with that caveat, Crystal Linux is very impressive, even in its infancy.


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