Chinese distro Deepin hits 20.5, complete with browser called Browser
Pretty 'community' version of one of the best-known Linuxes in Middle Kingdom
Deepin version 20.5 is the latest "Community" version of one of the best-known Chinese Linux distros, and shows an interesting blend of technological influences.
The Debian-based distro is from the UnionTech Software Technology Co (Chinese language only) in the People's Republic of China, however, it supports multiple languages and can be installed and used entirely in English.
We suspect that Deepin aims to replicate ChromeOS's automatic update mechanism, which uses duplicate root partitions to enable automatic self-updating with failover and rollback
For the Chinese market, the company also offers a commercial desktop called UOS and a server version.
The new version follows close behind the release of Deepin 20.4 in January. It offers no choice of desktop, because its home-grown Deepin Desktop Environment (DDE) is a big part of its appeal – as we mentioned when we looked at it and its related Ubuntu DDE remix.
We gave 20.5 a quick spin in VirtualBox – which it complained about. Like Ubuntu Kylin, Deepin uses a lot of animations and audio effects, including a fancy animated loading screen and colourful wallpapers.
Consequently, the installer checks if you're running in a VM and warns you that performance will be sub-optimal. Even after installing the Guest Additions, the "Window Effect" button in Personalization Settings remained stubbornly disabled.
Some interesting updates
Although this is only a minor version-number change, Deepin 20.5 is quite different from 20.4 in terms of its disk usage. It has a complex partition layout, with a boot partition, dual
Rootb partitions, plus dedicated
Backup, and swap partitions. For this reason, it won't install without a whopping 64 GB of disk. That's not a lot these days, but it's four or five times more than most distros need.
All the partitions are plain old
ext4, and the Data volume is mounted at
/data rather than
/home as you might expect.
The complexity means that when we tried to install it as a dual-boot system with Windows 10, it failed, gracelessly and hard. Interestingly, though, before that, it noticed that the test machine had an nVidia GPU and offered to install the proprietary nVidia drivers.
This dual-root-partition layout suggests that Deepin has been studying ChromeOS, which uses a comparable scheme. You can't use ChromeOS inside the People's Republic, of course, because it relies heavily on Google services – even to log in – and Google is blocked by the Great Firewall.
We suspect that Deepin aims to replicate ChromeOS's automatic update mechanism, which uses duplicate root partitions to enable automatic self-updating with failover and rollback. It would be good to see tech like this coming to more general-purpose distros.
Saying that, the graphical update tool didn't notice some updates that an
apt command in the terminal found. An issue with older versions of Deepin was very few updates, but it remains to be seen if that's still true.
UnionTech's Chinese-language site also talks about rapid boot times and planned support for domestic CPU architectures such as Godson and Loongson.
This may be connected with the recent submission of Loongson CPU patches to the GCC compiler suite.
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Because Deepin can't directly use Google components, the distro has its own browser, called just Browser. It bundles version 5.5.3, which is based on Chromium 93. It defaults to searching with Baidu, which isn't very helpful if you can't read Chinese, but that's easily changed.
You also get Deepin email and download clients, plus a drawing program, document viewer, music player, archive manager, various games… in fact, almost every program included is Deepin-branded.
Many of the apps have only basic functionality: for instance, the music player can only play local files, not online streams. To be fair, though, many of the GNOME apps are also pretty basic, and the project is actively removing functionality from its text editor, terminal emulator and so on.
In place of Deepin 15's bundled WPS Office – complete, capable, but freeware rather than FOSS – you now get LibreOffice instead: a rather dated version 22.214.171.124.
The look is colourful but flat. In what is surely a nod to Windows 11, the taskbar has been updated to have centred icons by default. Like GNOME, or Elementary OS's Pantheon desktop, most apps have a combined title-and-control bar with a menu button at the end. The task manager is attractive and functional, and the Control Centre does the job, although we preferred the pop-out panel in older versions of Deepin.
Compared to other Chinese-influenced distros that we've looked at, such as Ubuntu DDE and Ubuntu Kylin, Deepin is more polished and feels better-integrated.
Like Elementary, the built-in apps are easy and attractive, but power users will probably find they need to install more standard apps, which will reduce the system's aesthetic unity a bit.
Unlike Elementary, though, it's easy to do: the Deepin App Store has a lot of unfamiliar Chinese apps, but also familiar friends such as Firefox, Chrome, Skype, even the old Trillian instant messenger. It's Debian-based, so it uses plain old
.deb packages; no Flatpak, Snap or Wayland here.
True, its default apps aren't as powerful as those in, say, Linux Mint, and the default browser search will give you results in Chinese, but these things are easily altered or replaced.
On the other hand, it's the prettiest Linux around. It makes Mint or Fedora look positively staid, and in our humble opinion, it's more attractive than any KDE distro has ever been. ®