Welcome to a new series here at Forbes that zeroes in on your very first experience with a desktop Linux operating system: the installer. This time around I'm exploring a desktop Linux OS that's been around in one form or another since 2004 and deserves more exposure than it seems to be getting. My first impression with the Deepin 15.8 installer leads me to believe an incredibly elegant and beginner-friendly desktop experience awaits.
Previously Reviewed: The Pop!_OS Installer From System76
"But You're A noob" (The Template Intro And Disclaimer)
As someone relatively new to Linux land, I may not seem like the ideal candidate to critically evaluate a Linux desktop OS installer. Then again, since beginning my regular Linux coverage I've been focused on relating to fellow beginners or people interested in making the jump from either Windows or macOS. And the first point of contact with any Linux distribution (beyond the website) is normally the installer. It's where you start to fall in love or begin to pull your hair out in frustration.
Linux installers can be many things. Streamlined, elegant affairs taking mere minutes until you're up and running. They can be satisfying challenges. In some cases they can be complete deal breakers based on your skill level. They are the doorway to what could be your next daily driver, or the on-ramp to a continuing search.
So in these reviews I'll show you every single step the installer guides you through, and point out the thoughtful touches that make the experience better than most. Or the potential barriers that could stop you in your tracks.
Alright, let's talk about Deepin 15.8 and begin by getting in front of a ridiculous rumor that practically turned into a witch hunt. Yes, it's from China. No, that doesn't mean it's spyware. From what I've gathered, the developers had installed a traffic analytics tracking service into their Deepin Install app store (you can see that source code here). While the presence of traffics analytics in Deepin software can be debated, there was never anything malicious happening. And as of Deepin 15.8, it has been removed anyway.
Deepin 15.8: The Crucial Details
Video: The Deepin 15.8 Installation Experience
The video below captures the entire installation process. Don't worry, I sped up the boring bits! Unlike my Pop!_OS installer video, however, the bulk of this one is actually comprised of the welcome video Deepin 15.8 presents you with. It's a polished visual tutorial that shows you the various desktop tweaks you can make, and how to navigate the dock and system settings.
I'm highlighting it here because it's so well done, and unlike anything I've seen (thus far) at the first boot of a desktop Linux OS. The installer itself is executed well, but the moment I saw this I felt compelled to stick around.
Ok, let's get down to what you'll come across during your installation of Deepin 15.8. Overall the installer flows well right into the desktop environment, as it uses a blurred version of its desktop wallpaper overlayed with centered, translucent menus. The effect is pleasing.
After selecting your language, you'll be greeted with something I've rarely seen in a desktop Linux installer: An End User License Agreement. This particular EULA is verbose, and you'll have to scroll through it to trigger the "Accept" button and move on. There's references to intellectual properly, trademarks, logos, release of liability disclaimers, not using any Deepin software for illegal purposes, things like that.
There's nothing egregious here, but it was definitely a surprise.
Next I brushed up against a nice touch by the Deepin devs. The installer detected that I was using VirtualBox and gave me a friendly warning that performance could be affected. A similar message is also displayed after first boot when you're choosing desktop effects.
At the user creation screen, Deepin 15.8 starts to reveal its ideal demographic. This is very reminiscent of macOS. This is a Linux distribution for people who want to keep things pure and simple, or indeed for people who might be experiencing desktop Linux for the first time.
There's no requests for a separate administrator password ala Manjaro. No subtle encouragement to strengthen your password ala Pop!_OS. And that's ok.
Now we arrive at something I do have a strong opinion about: the time zone selection screen. Whereas Pop!_OS takes the more elegant approach of asking you to type in your city, Deepin 15.8 requests that you click your location on world map. Now, even if you didn't totally flunk geography, there's some precision required here to nail the right location. Hopefully the devs will simplify this step in the next version.
Just as I was pleasantly surprised at how streamlined the Pop!_OS installer makes partitioning, I love how Deepin handles it by relying more heavily on visuals than text. It makes the Ubiquity installer seen in Ubuntu feel archaic by comparison.
You can select Simple, Advanced or Full Disk. Simple asks you to select the partitions you want to use. Advanced handles your typical manual partition, and Full Disk makes the process fully automatic. Other installers have variations on this theme, of course, but this is elegant. Plus, Deepin reminds you that you'll need at least 16GB for a root partition. Nice touches all around here.
Once you've selected your disk or partitions, the installer does its thing. Go grab a cup of coffee or an adult beverage. This one takes a bit longer than Pop!_OS or Ubuntu, but at least the wait is entertaining.
What do I mean by that? Well, Deepin's origin country is China, and some of the translations during these slides are amusing. You'll see a reference to one such translation in the opening of the video above: "Easy screenshot with continuous happy." It's not very professional, but it's perplexingly endearing.
This needs to be said though: whoever designed these has a real eye for design. They're sharp, they're slick, they're informative. I've seen presentations much less polished at major conventions and press events from multi-billion dollar corporations. Even Apple events! Amusing translations aside, they serve as a way of whetting your appetite for that first boot.
Final Thoughts On The Deepin 15.8 Installer
The process of installing the OS to my system seemed a bit on the slower side compared to something like elementary OS or other Ubuntu-based distros, but wasn't sluggish either. I did install this in a Virtual Machine like all the others I test, and there could be optimization issues there -- as the developers point out during the installer itself.
Aside from my little time zone selection pet peeve, the installer is beautiful, brisk and very intuitive. There's nothing here that would baffle a newcomer.
Normally I'd say goodbye here. . .
But Then You're Welcomed With A Fantastic Tutorial Video
On your first boot Deepin 15.8 greets you with a tutorial video outlining the various features of the OS. It points out that a low battery warning will pop up neatly in the dock allowing you to auto-activate power saving settings. It illustrates how to enable dark mode (even on a per-app basis!) and how to find system settings from inside the dock -- which slide out from the right side of the screen instead of demanding a new window or multiple windows. It introduces you to the "faster and securer" fingerprint unlock. And so on.
It zooms by and it looks fantastic. Before you're off the leash, Deepin 15.8 then asks if you'd like to enable one of two desktop modes: Efficient Mode or Fashion Mode. The former gives you a more Windows-like taskbar and system tray alignment, while the latter reminds you more of elementary OS or macOS with a dock aligned at the bottom middle of the screen.
Finally, you'll switch on or off desktop effects. Now you can enjoy Deepin 15.8, and I certainly plan to. Damn you distro-hopping temptations! (You too, Pop!_OS!)
Have suggestions for future installer reviews (yes, I will do Arch and Gentoo. . . eventually)? Want to see changes to the format? Reach out to me on Twitter and let's chat.
If you enjoyed the music in the embedded video, check out my band Hurricane Blonde on Soundcloud.
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