My Experience with Deepin Linux

Deepin Raises the Bar for Linux Style

Introduction

I first discovered Linux when I was 16. I am 35 now and I’ve been using Linux exclusively (except at work where we use Windows) for 10 years. I didn’t always use Linux exclusively. I used to have a Mac but even then I would dual boot Linux.

I’ve experienced the ups and downs of using Linux as a primary operating system. I still use Android as my primary mobile OS but I also own a Pinephone because I hope the future will include a true Linux phone.

I mostly use GNOME and either Ubuntu or a similar OS like Pop!_OS or Debian. I like the user experience of GNOME because it is simple, intuitive, flexible and most importantly it feels smooth. I like the speed and momentum of the window animations and I like working with multiple workspaces.

I like GNOME the best but I also have a Pinebook Pro running Manjaro KDE Edition. I like to test out the UX of different Linux distributions and desktop environments. When I was younger I’d make my own desktop environments with tiling window managers and bash scripts.

Deepin is Debian

Deepin Linux is based on Debian but it’s unlike any other Debian based distribution for a couple of reasons. Deepin does not use one of the incumbent Linux desktop environments like GNOME, KDE or XFCE. Deepin uses its own desktop environment called the Deepin Desktop Environment. In this sense Deepin is most similar to elementary OS, i.e. the OS has its own desktop environment.

Deepin is Chinese

Deepin is a Chinese Linux distribution and its software center includes many commonly used Chinese apps. Many of these apps are proprietary and run only on Windows. Such apps are packaged to include WINE (an open source implementation of some Windows libraries required by Windows programs). Because of WINE, these apps are as easy to install as anything else from the Deepin software center. I think it’s important to mention this because in order to serve the user, a Linux distribution should provide all the apps a user would want to use.

WeChat

For instance WeChat is included in the software center because most people in China use WeChat. Without WeChat Deepin Linux would not be appealing to anyone. Does it make any sense to have a 100% free operating system if no one uses it and everyone uses a Mac instead? I think Jim Zemlin (the executive director of the Linux Foundation) uses a Mac. This suggests the 100% open source Linux operating system isn’t good enough for most people.

Change is Hard

Asking a user to change operating systems is hard enough but if that operating system does not include the apps the user is accustomed to using then changing operating systems must necessarily then also mean changing all the apps and forcing the user to relearn everything they know about using computers. Having to learn all new apps on top of having to learn a new operating system is just too much to ask of potential Linux users.

Adobe

Web apps are becoming more popular but not all popular apps are web apps, yet. Will Adobe ever stop their systemic discrimination against Linux users? It’s an old saying, Adobe won’t release apps for Linux because of the small install base but few people use Linux because Adobe and Microsoft won’t release their apps for Linux. You can’t put the pressure on the individual. It’s up to the monopolist to make the move. The monopolist has all the power. Anyway, imagine Photoshop on Linux. Deepin seems to think that’s a good idea.

Installing Photoshop on Deepin Linux

Photoshop is in the Deepin App Store.

Photoshop running on Deepin Linux.

Art by Pawel Czerwinski.

Options

Without Photoshop we are left with GIMP and Krita (among others). I like GIMP and I like Krita too. Open source design apps are good, just maybe not as good as Adobe’s products. I am still wishing for an open source creative cloud suite comprising open source design apps with UI/UX improvements and cloud storage. Why not offer a freemium open source design suite?

Having Photoshop on Linux would not in any way force anyone to use it. I’d still use GIMP and Krita but I imagine many users would feel more inclined to use Linux if Adobe’s apps were officially supported. No one will make the switch to Linux if they lose options in the process.

How to Win

It’s one thing to offer a different OS that has all the same apps as Windows, this is what allows people to switch from Windows to macOS. But with Linux there are often missing apps so even though there may be equivalent apps (e.g. GIMP instead of Photoshop, Scribus instead of InDesign etc…) it’s just too much to learn all at once.

A better approach (which is what Deepin is doing here) is to include those familiar apps (WeChat, QQ Messenger, Photoshop) in the software repository. This way a user can learn the new OS while using familiar apps. The user may even eventually move over to open source apps if they want to.

The Style

Right away you can see Deepin is unique and familiar. Deepin borrows style and function from both macOS and Windows but Deepin is not just copycat or a mishmash of user interfaces. Deepin builds on what Apple and Microsoft do well and incorporates many original features.

Retro Icon Theme

While test driving Deepin I discovered the Retro Icon theme. Many screenshots will feature this theme which reminds of me the webOS icons by Rich Dellinger (https://richd.com/).

Deepin Retro Icon Theme

WebOS Icons

The Panel

Deepin offers two ways to display the panel: Efficient Mode and Fashion Mode. Both Fashion and Efficient Mode are able to display an app menu or an app grid.

Fashion Mode

This sets the panel to operate as in ChromeOS.

Efficient Mode

This sets the panel to operate as in Windows 7.

Launching Apps

The user can launch apps with a menu, an app grid and an interesting addition: the organized app grid.

Menu

App Grid

Organized App Grid

Adjustable Corner Radius

I like customization. Deepin includes a unique customization feature I’ve not seen before in any OS. The user can adjust the radius of the window corners. It’s a small detail but has a surprisingly large impact on the look and feel. The following series of screenshots show off the three corner options in both light and dark.

Square Corners

Round Corners

The Middle Way

Switching Between Themes

All Deepin apps have the ability to switch between dark and light modes. The Terminal app however has a few extra themes.

Default Apps

Let’s take a look at some of the default apps.

Apps of the Same Design Philosophy

The apps all look like they came from the same set of genes.

The OS Feels Cohesive

The icons in the upper left corners of the apps do nothing.

Empty States

I also like the use of icons in the empty application states. These could be even more funky and cute in my opinion.

The File Opener

The File Opener Has Previews and Thumbnails

If only GTK/GNOME could have a file opener like this. Notice the difference in button layout between Deepin and GNOME? Some things should be standardized across Linux desktops. Just because we have different desktop environments and different toolkits doesn’t mean we can’t also have a common design philosophy or standardized set of human interface guidelines for common tasks like open and saving files.

Deepin File Opener

GNOME File Opener

Some Deepin Apps

The Device Manager

I love this laptop icon. It’s cool to see my laptop properly identified!

The Photos App

I love this headerbar transparency and blur. This kind of effect is sorely needed in GNOME.

The File Manager

It’s like Nautilus but better in some ways.

The Calculator

GNOME has a better way to switch modes. I don’t like nested menus because they are awkward.

Deepin Calculator

GNOME Calculator

Installing Software

The Deepin App Store is awesome. It’s so good that I forget I’m using Linux.

The App Store

The Deepin App Store is the best app store on any Linux distribution I’ve used. It’s fast, looks good, is easy to navigate and has good amount of metadata.

For reference here is a screenshot of the Pop!_OS App Store.

Here are a couple of screenshots from Manjaro KDE Edition.

And the default GNOME Software Center on Ubuntu (which may be getting redesigned).

Categories

The Categories on the left are useful. With the GNOME and elementary OS app centers the user has to press the back button to explore a different category. With the Deepin App Center the user just has to press a different category. Like a website. Web UX is useful to learn from when it comes to managing massive amounts of data.

Metadata

I am a data scientist by day and let me tell you it’s all about the metadata. Maybe I should start calling myself a metadata scientist. 🤔️

Pop!_OS also has metadata.

Just a Website?

If you hold the Control key and zoom with the scroll-wheel you can adjust the zoom level of the software center. This is the only Deepin app supporting zoom in this way. Is the Deepin App Center just a website? I often find myself going to Snapcraft.io and Flathub.org instead of using the GNOME or Pop!_OS software centers since the websites are so much better than the native app stores.

Zoom Out

Here we zoom out.

Zoom In

And we can zoom in.

UX Troubles

The UX of Deepin has some rough edges.

Animation Quality

The animations are more like Windows than GNOME, which means the quality of animations in Deepin are not as nice and fluid as GNOME. I also don’t like the app launching animation in the dock.

Sounds

I don’t like the system sound theme. It could just be personal taste but the Deepin system sounds are not cute. Linux Mint has cute system sounds. Classic Mac OS had cute system sounds.

Workspaces

The workspace management in Deepin is not as good as GNOME. No one has workspace management quite like GNOME. Workspaces in Deepin behave similarly to Windows 10.

Dragging Windows

Unlike GNOME, I cannot drag windows by the headerbar buttons. Imagine trying to drag this window by the empty space.

The Drop Down Terminal

The animation could be more fun.

The System Tray

I personally don’t like system trays. GNOME does not have a system tray. The Deepin system tray is my least favorite part of the Deepin Desktop Environment. The animations are terrible. The dark border around the icons looks bad. The separators in the panel look awful.

Here’s a recording of the Deepin system tray’s hide/reveal animation.

What’s the alternative? Maybe something like the following by Tobias Bernard.

Transparency and Blur

The use of transparency and blur sometimes backfires. Transparency here does not look nice because we have black and white objects in the background. The transparency also makes it hard to read the text.

The Photo Viewer

The photo viewer is trying to do something cool here but it doesn’t work well with light images or light backgrounds.

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