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Garuda Linux 'Talon': Arch, but different. Dare we say it? Better

This relatively new distro from an Indian founder is smart, capable, fast… and colorful

Garuda Linux brings an important feature to the Arch world: snapshots and rollback.

Garuda Linux is an Arch derivative founded by Indian developer Shrinivas Vishnu Kumbhar, and named – as is the national airline of Indonesia – after the Hindu demigod who is the flying mount of Vishnu. Garuda is one of the newer distros we've looked at, founded in 2020.

We have recently looked at Arch Linux itself, and a couple of Garuda's other relatives – Manjaro Linux and EndeavourOS. Like its progenitor, Garuda is a rolling-release distro, but it periodically issues updated ISO images for installing new machines, so we took the new mid-July snapshot, codenamed "Talon", as a chance to take a look. We tried the Xfce version, but the selection of desktops is comprehensive: both a Mac-like tuned KDE edition, a KDE Lite version and a KDE-Git edition, plus GNOME, Cinnamon, LXQt, and MATE, and a choice of tiling window managers: Wayfire, Sway, i3WM, and Qtile.

Up front, Garuda has quite startling system requirements: it wants a full 30GB for its root partition, which is two or three times more than most distros ask. There is a good reason, though: Garuda formats the root partition with Btrfs, and uses the Snapper tool developed by SUSE.

Even the Grub bootloader menu has a fancy font, logo and color scheme.

Even the Grub bootloader menu has a fancy font, logo and color scheme (click to enlarge)

This is a significant benefit with a rolling-release distro such as Arch Linux. Garuda's disk configuration is quite similar to that found in SpiralLinux, which we played with recently. You don't really need snapshots and rollback with a distro as stable as Debian (although they don't do any harm, if you have the disk space to spare). Where they, and SpiralLinux, score is if you choose to track "Sid", the rolling unstable release where the latest Debian components are tried out.

Arch Linux is a permanent rolling-release distro, and that's exactly where you really do want snapshot support.

Unfortunately, with rolling-release distros, updates sometimes break things. It's just a fact of life. Without snapshots, you have little choice: most people just keep on updating and hope that whatever broke gets fixed again within a day or two. If it doesn't, or if your OS is so broken you can't update, then your options are even worse: try to fix it by hand, or just reinstall.

With snapshot support, though, you are in a much better position: you can just roll back the system state to a snapshot before that update, and immediately have a working system back.

Garuda also enables Btrfs compression, as used in recent versions of Fedora, meaning that all those snapshots won't take quite so much space. This is a good combination of features, and that alone immediately puts Garuda ahead of any other Arch remix we've seen so far.

Garuda's welcome screen has options to get your system just so, without editing a single configuration file.

Garuda's welcome screen has options to get your system just so, without editing a single configuration file (click to enlarge)

The installation experience is quite similar to Endeavour OS: Garuda uses the same Calamares installer, and also has a friendly welcome screen with some helpful options to get you started.

In our testing, it scored points over Endeavour in a few places, though. Whereas Endeavour just reported that our Nvidia GPU wasn't supported and told us the older driver version we needed, Garuda's Nvidia-setup tool identified, downloaded and installed the right drivers automatically and configured GPU switching for us. Another win is that rather than offering a separate package manager for apps from the AUR, Garuda pre-configures the pre-compiled Chaotic-AUR, so that the same packaging tools will fetch programs from both.

Garuda's Welcome screen integrates various other helpful tools, such as tuning Btrfs settings, installing additional programs including a choice of graphical software stores, updating, setting kernel and boot parameters, partition managers, and so on. It has a selection of privacy-centric browsers available, anonymous search engines, online backup tools and the like, plus links to the forums as well as various community chat channels and groups and more. The "Garuda Gamer" tab has a rich selection of tools to run both Windows and Linux games, multiple emulators, and a selection of FOSS games.

The "Post-installation wizard" offers an astonishingly comprehensive range of settings, from cosmetics like wallpapers to enabling specific kernel versions, secure networking and browsers, virtualization and development tools, and more.

The startup and shutdown screen are both animated, with spinning circles around the eagle's head.

The startup and shutdown screen are both animated, with spinning circles around the eagle's head (click to enlarge)

The choice of pre-installed apps is biased towards media and internet tools rather than the more typical office tools. Under "Office" there's just AbiWord, a dictionary and a PDF viewer, but again, the Welcome screen offers a choice of stable or current LibreOffice, OnlyOffice, WPS Office, Calligra, and multiple others, including personal finance managers. Both Snap and Flatpak support are available, but neither is on by default. It is based on systemd, but saying that, it provides better graphical tools for managing systemd and systemd services than any other distro we've seen.

We are seriously impressed with Garuda Linux. It's smart, modern, and stylish. Its hardware and driver support is excellent, and the range of customization options, from cosmetics to low-level drivers and performance optimizations, is about the best we've seen in any distro yet.

This is an OS aimed at gamers, performance tweakers, streamers and other more techie types. Arch is ideal if you want to get your hands dirty and learn about how Linux works under the hood. Garuda aims to make things simpler: the tuning options are all there, but with a friendly UI on top. It isn't an office tool and it's not trying to be: if you have a day job to do, Ubuntu or Mint are there for that.

Garuda's lock screen has an on-screen keyboard, which is handy if you have a touchscreen… like our VM does not.

Garuda's lock screen has an on-screen keyboard, which is handy if you have a touchscreen… which our VM does not (click to enlarge)

It's not perfect. Its themes and logos can be a bit brighter and more colorful than this particular grumpy old vulture might choose. Some error messages have been replaced with jokey ones, which might annoy some people. Because its kernels are located in Btrfs subvolumes, it doesn't dual-boot well: Ubuntu's os-prober didn't detect Garuda, even after we installed Btrfs support. To be fair, we've seen similar issues with other Snapper-enabled distros such as SpiralLinux and various flavors of SUSE.

It is refreshing to see a distro that isn't trying to be the easiest, or the most businesslike, or the best for technophobes… because there are already strong contenders in all of those segments. Garuda is proudly different. It's bright and colorful, but approachable, and it would be a great choice for a gamer, streamer or content-creator, maybe someone who builds their own PCs but isn't a Linux expert yet. If you are an expert, well, there are plenty of options to adjust here, but you can do it in the GUI rather than by editing config files.

It isn't going to be the Reg FOSS desk's new OS, but we definitely have a new option to recommend to Windows-oriented techie friends. ®

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