SpiralLinux is the result of the creator of GeckoLinux turning its attention to Debian – with an interesting result.
Some Linux distributions have many remixes and respins, while others have very few. For example, there are several downstream variants of Debian and Ubuntu, but very few of Fedora. The Reg The FOSS office only knows of one for openSUSE: GeckoLinux, the Rolling Edition of which we reviewed earlier this year.
Now the creator of GeckoLinux – who prefers to remain anonymous – has turned to one of the most remixed distributions around, Debian, to create SpiralLinux. What can a new remix add to the already crowded table of Debian meta-distributions? (That is: distributions built from other distributions.)
SpiralLinux is to Debian what GeckoLinux is to openSUSE. They both offer easier and more user-friendly ways to install the distribution upstream, but the end result is as close to its parent as possible. Neither adds new components not found in the parent distribution, and updates are direct and unmodified from upstream.
Debian and openSUSE offer default downloads that boot directly into an installer. This contrasts with Ubuntu and Fedora’s more modern way of doing things, where the install image boots to a live desktop, so you can try it out and get a feel for it before committing to it. ‘install. (We should be fair and note that Debian and openSUSE also offer optional live image downloads – but you should know to look for them.)
Debian and openSUSE exclude proprietary drivers from their install image, relegating them to optional additional repositories. This can make it difficult to get things like Wi-Fi to work. (Debian offers optional “non-free” installation media with proprietary firmware and drivers, with scary warnings that these are unofficial.)
Both SpiralLinux and GeckoLinux are remixes, which take the upstream distro and repackage it in a way closer to Ubuntu: so they boot straight into a live desktop environment, which you can try out – or use to grab a damaged installation.
Both include the most important non-FOSS drivers and firmware, so you have, for example, a much better chance of connecting wirelessly directly from the live image, and thus being able to install updates or additional software.
Once you install Spiral or Gecko, you basically get a smartly configured copy of Debian or openSUSE, respectively.
This is very different from most other downstream Debian meta-distributions, such as Linux Mint Debian Edition to name just one example. An installed copy of LMDE is noticeably – fine – Mintand it inevitably contains components that don’t come from upstream Debian.
It sounds a lot like what Debian, in its rather puritanical terms, calls a FrankenDebian: a mix of several different parent distributions.
SpiralLinux offers some improvements that installing from a Debian live image (even “not free”) does not.
You get Btrfs, configured with both compression (Fedora style) and automatic snapshots (openSUSE style), including for the kernel. You get better font rendering. You get Flatpak support, complete with the GNOME Software application, even on non-GNOME installations.
In addition to additional drivers, the non-free Debian repositories are preconfigured, so more hardware will work out of the box – including VirtualBox guest support and HP printers and scanners – and they will receive updates in the future.
Rather than a dedicated partition, it uses a swap file on the root drive, as well as a ZRAM compressed swap for low-memory machines. TLP is also installed and configured for better laptop battery life.
Subject to the concerns about Btrfs that we have already expressed, and more than once, this is all a good thing. It’s also worth noting that you get the best aspects of both openSUSE and Fedora configurations of Btrfs.
The Xfce desktop in SpiralLinux looks a lot like the one in GeckoLinux… which isn’t a bad thing
We tested the Xfce version, but you can also choose the Cinnamon, GNOME, KDE Plasma, MATE, Budgie, or LXQt variants, as well as a simple “Builder” edition if you want to set up your own desktop.
The Xfce edition installed smoothly, both in VirtualBox and on bare metal. Everything worked without a hitch and the resulting OS feels fast. It looks a lot like GeckoLinux Xfce, with a dark theme and a similar wallpaper: muted but clean.
Now, to be fair, some of this stuff is a bit controversial. Not everyone loves Btrfs, and while Snapper can be a lifesaver, you’ll need a lot more disk space with snapshot support than without. Not everyone likes Flatpak either, but given Debian’s stringent free software guidelines, it’s by far the easiest way to install proprietary freeware such as Chrome, Skype, or Steam on a Debian box.
At the end of the installation you run something precisely called Debian Bullseye. It contains virtually nothing else, with just one small exception, as its creator told us:
So the result is vanilla Debian, and that means a rather dated distribution in places: kernel 5.10 and a somewhat old version of Firefox. But to circumvent this, Flatpak is integrated, or it is possible to update the whole distro to Debian Test Where Unstable…but if you want a real rolling version, there’s GeckoLinux Rolling, which uses openSUSE Tumbleweed underneath.
SpiralLinux, like GeckoLinux, is not so much a new distro as a new and improved way to install an existing distro. If you like Debian – or the idea from Debian, with long-term stability and a slow, cautious release cadence – but you want some of the brighter bits from rival distributions, SpiralLinux seems like a great option. ®
That much, The Reg The FOSS office must admit some confusion in the original writing of GeckoLinux. I thought it avoided Btrfs, but I was wrong. This is not the case. As a rule, I normally pre-partition destination computers with Gparted before installation – but the GeckoLinux installer picks up existing partitions and their file systems, and by default won’t suggest changing them. Also, GeckoLinux Is include non-free firmware and drivers that openSUSE does not have. My mistakes and my apologies.