Clear Linux* Delivers a Lucid if Limited Vision of Desktop Linux

As much as I extol the variety that Linux offers, I’ve done a bad job of enjoying it. Sadly, playing with new distributions usually gets bested by competing priorities. Not today.

A browse through Linux reviews revealed one dearth in attention: Intel’s Clear Linux*.

It’s been on my radar for its ambition to sprint to the head of the pack. While it’s certainly not the first distro developed by a tech heavyweight, it’s a rare case in which a private company releases a distro with no direct commercial application. It’s an experiment to prove what Linux might aspire to.

Given where it seeks to go, and that it’s had a few years’ travel time, I thought Clear Linux deserved a look. So I took it for a spin. After a week of testing, here’s what I observed.

The Raw Metal We’re Molding

I installed Clear Linux onto a second-generation ThinkPad X-1 Carbon packing a quad-core Haswell i7 processor and 8 GB of RAM. The .iso image was numbered 34500.

For performance comparison purposes, I later installed Ubuntu 20.04.2 to this same hardware and ran as close to the same tests as possible (more on that later).

The Choice of Desktop Is Clear

Let’s start with the part you can see, the GUI.

To be totally transparent, the first boot was really rough. Granted, they’re seldom perfect, but this was one of the worst I’ve witnessed. Terminal emulator keystrokes registered invisibly, and windows flickered so badly that the GUI was unusable.

Boot two was a totally different story. The flickering disappeared, likely due to the sizable update that Gnome’s UI overhaul (from 3.x to 40) gave away. Updates happen, preferably automatically, though it was odd that on boot one the updater swore there weren’t any.

Yes, Clear Linux ships with the Gnome desktop. Those with Gnome experience will notice that the Gnome Tweak Tool and Gnome Shell extension configuration tool come included. Gnome’s philosophy is “take it or leave it,” but it’s nice to have options.

The big news, though, is that Clear Linux sports the shiny new Gnome 40. This is a fresher Gnome than you’ll find even on Ubuntu’s more experimental 21.04 release. The only big names that let you test drive Gnome 40 (as of this writing) are Fedora and Arch Linux. This isn’t a Gnome 40 review, but it deserves some attention.

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