Dragora Linux Is Anything But Simple


Dragora is a fledgling Linux distribution that neither works out of the box nor is user-friendly.

That said, if you have an adventurous interest in practically starting from scratch and somewhat building your own computing platform, Dragora could be an interesting side project to learn how a distribution works on the inside.

Brace yourself for a strong measure of frustration, especially if you are not already familiar with how the Linux operating system works. The Argentina-based developer, Matías Fonzo, offers very little documentation. An online wiki file provides little help, thanks to its heavy dose of technical terminology.

My initial experiences in trying Dragora remind me of my early days some two decades ago, when I first dabbled in this thing called “Linux.” That was not a pleasant experience. Neither was revisiting those days while testing Dragora.

Dragora’s intended audience is users who want to learn more about the technical aspects of a GNU/Linux distribution and people looking to use the purest ethical software for daily use.

Distro-Hopping Ritual

Ultimately, my salvation in getting Dragora’s live session to work was luck. I used trial-and-error tactics. Thanks to years of applying hands-on knowledge and reading website blurbs about the latest, greatest same-old desktop features, I was able to fill in the vast gaps of missing information on the Dragora landing page.

The process for many Linux adopters, I’m sure, resembles my weekly approach to selecting Linux distributions and testing them for reviews. It somewhat resembles catalog or online shopping.

The limited blurbs about the relatively young Dragora Linux piqued my interest. Some of its goals and technologies were interesting.

This release begins the development of the series 3.0 migration toward a new C library, Musl, along with the continuation of supervision capabilities and the restructuring of the hierarchy of directories. Another goal is the improvement of the tools provided by the distribution, a new automatic method to build the distribution, and the prebuilt cross-compiler set.

So I made the free download in anticipation of a satisfying new Linux OS discovery. Alas, the installation ISO was a big disappointment. The letdown was much like opening a delivered package from a catalog purchase only to find the contents fell short of the hype.

What It Is

Dragora GNU/Linux-Libre is a distribution created from scratch to provide a multi-platform and multipurpose operating system. It is independent, and is built upon 100 percent free software.

The developer published version 3.0 Beta , a new development release, on Oct. 19. This latest version release follows the 3.0 Alpha 1 released nearly two years ago.

It includes a new system installer and Xfce 4.14 as the default desktop environment. Also available are the IceWM — dragora-ice, a customized version of IceWM — and Scrotwm window manager environments as desktop choices.

The latest beta release of Dragora 3 offers a traditional Xfce desktop (pictured here ) along with a customized version of IceWM and Scrotwm window manager environments as desktop choices.

One of the enticements that led me to checki out Dragora Linux was curiosity about the modified IceWM desktop, as well as Scroptwm. I like distros offering the IceWM desktop and was not familiar with Scrotwm. Lightweight pseudo desktops based on these window managers generally run well and are good choices for newcomers looking for simple-to-use systems.

However, my disappointment with the default live session seriously dampened my plan to pursue the other two options. It no longer seemed worth the effort to find the packages on the disorganized Dragora website and try again to get another installation working.

Independent Distro Drawbacks

Dragora’s independent status should be a strong adoption point. That was another high-interest draw that led me to select this distro for testing.

Being independent means that instead of plugging in working components from a base distribution such as Debian or Ubuntu, the developer has to provide those tools in-house.

Despite being around for a number of years, Dragora has had only a few stable versions. The developer is working on perfecting the version 3.0 Beta family, so running Dragora means working with unfamiliar distro tools.

One of the major new components is Dragora’s in-house bred package manager system, called “Qi.” Its newest version 1.3 is included in the 3.0 beta distro.

The problem is not being able to find Qi. It appears to be a GUI-less tool that works only via command line.

New Stuff Must Work

Qi is described as a very simple packaging system that allows installing, removing, upgrading and creating packages. Given the lack of a well-stocked software repository, the process involves automating the compiling process.

Qi is founded on the concepts of simplicity and elegance. It can be run for almost any purpose — be it desktop, workstation, server or development.

In short, Qi does not come bundled in the initial installation. It is not part of the live ISO either. So you first have to go through the hassle of finding the download packages to install Qi before you can add other missing applications.

With considerable effort, Dragora 3 Beta displays a few running applications on the Xfce desktop.

This distro and its in-house tools are not user-friendly. It is also more difficult to set up, thanks to a lack of documentation.

Demanding Installation

The Dragora website gives you nothing in the way of a quick startup guide. What it does provide mostly does not work. You can sense already the source of the startup frustration.

For example, the single Web page says you can find more information about Dragora by running the commands “info dragora” or “man dragora” on your Dragora system, and that a brief summary is available by running “dragora-help.” (Note: Do not include the apostrophes.)

That’s all good if you succeed in loading the so called live session ISO, or spend a few hours loading basic system applications once you manage to install Dragora to your computer’s hard drive.

The “live” session does not have a Web browser, terminal application or package manager installed. So the website’s help suggestions are far from helpful.

Dragora 3.0 beta comes with a new installer invoked from the command line with “dragora-installer.” It also has a new tool to configure the keyboard mapping in the console called “dragora-keymap.” These are also additional steps in the installation routine.

It is nice having unique in-house tools that enhance an independent distro’s functionality — but having to install them to complete the system makes Dragora less user-friendly. The multiple installation steps and nearly empty menus make Dragora a far cry from being ready to use right out of the box.

Failure to Launch

Speaking of ISOs, that is where my unfriendly journey to installing Dragora began. The ability to download a Linux OS in hybrid form to run a fully functional testing version without altering the host computer is one of the great joys of Linux.

The operative words in that description of “live ISO” are “live” and “fully functional.” Dragora hedges on the first, and flat out fails on the second.

If the scarce information on the one-page website included just a tiny bit more detail, there would not be the expectation that users would boot to an actual desktop view when the “live” session loaded.

Sure, the page did conspicuously say that the user name is “root” and the password is “gregora.” It would have been oh so helpful if the developer added one final sentence: Then type “startx” (as in start the X Window System) and press the enter key.

That would have saved me at least one hour trying to diagnose why the “live session” was not loading. It would have saved me eliminating the cause: Is the download file corrupted? Was there a glitch in the process of burning the ISO files to a bootable DVD?

What other issues could cause the desktop not to load? Each time I tried rebooting, various lines scrolling down the screen displayed the words “failed” and “error.” So not getting a desktop justified my thoughts that Dragora was broken.

New users less experienced or unfamiliar with Linux no doubt would be unfamiliar with that command line script. Fortunately, I remembered the “startx” solution.

ISO Saga

Watching the Xfce screen appear gave me a new surge of confidence in Dragora Linux. That feeling left quickly when I tried to access the help and information files the website mentioned.

No terminal apps were installed. Instead, a window popped open with a selection field to pick one. Nothing was listed to pick.

Okay, let’s install one, I thought. Yup! No package manager was installed. The selection field again was empty.

Oh, so let’s download one. Oops! None was available.

The menu categories mostly listed only a few titles, but that did not matter as few of the titles actually were installed, except for the system tools and the system settings menu categories.

So much for a fully functional live Linux desktop session!

Unbearable Installation

Unlike many Linux distros, Dragora does not have an installation launcher included in the live session ISO. You cannot issue command line scripts to manually launch Qi because no terminal app is included by default. So the not-so-live DVD is little more than a demonstration vehicle and is otherwise useless.

The installation solution is not pretty. If you click on enough links on the Gregora Linux website, you stumble on the bottom of a page that gives limited installation instructions. The process does not involve downloading an installation ISO.

The Dragora project has two primary git repositories hosted on Savannah [https://www.dragora.org/en/index.html] and Notabug.org. The Savannah repository for Dragora links back to the Gregora website. The Notabu.org repository actually has all the file packages for downloading, uncompressing and compiling for a laborious installation task.

You also can go to the git repository and install the git application to retrieve the latest Dragora revisions with this command: git clone git://.

Either way, you must install this distro by compiling source code.

Bottom Line

The developer describes Dragora “as an independent GNU/Linux-Libre distribution based on concepts of simplicity.” Perhaps the problem rests on the definition of the word “simplicity.” Gregora 3 is anything but simple to install and manage packages.

Dragora version 2.2.0 had a text-based installer that automated much of the file fetching and compiling. It started the installation process by creating a bootable DVD from a downloaded ISO file.

You booted the computer using the DVD and typed “setup” to begin the scripted installation routine. The process included partitioning the hard drive manually and processing configuration tasks when prompted.

That was a more traditional installation routine. It was, in fact, SIMPLER than dealing with what I described above.

For the less adventurous, I can not recommend Dragora Linux. If you are a seasoned software engineer or otherwise are handy at performing complicated compiling routines, feel invited to try Dragora 3 beta.

My suggestion to the developer: Lose Qi. Replace it with an installation process that is actually SIMPLE.


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