July 17, 2024

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Deepin 23 is going all in on a Windows 11 look and feel – and it succeeds

5 min read
The default Deepin 23 RC desktop.

Look familiar? It should.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

ZDNET’s key takeaways

  • Deepin v 23 RC is available now and can be tested for free.
  • The latest Deepin Linux desktop looks very much like Windows 11 and includes all the software you need (including its own AI app).
  • Although the OS is stable, there are still some issues with apps (such as wrong languages presented and problems with the AI feature).

I’ve never been a fan of Windows. Not a single incarnation of that operating system has appealed to me. But I do understand why so many prefer it. The desktop is not too far from the traditional interface, it’s predictable, and it’s not ugly.

But there’s all that other “stuff” that detracts from daily usage. There are the Start Menu ads (that you can disable), the daunting system requirements, and the concern that all Windows accounts will be migrated to the cloud. If any of those issues concern you, I would like to introduce the latest Deepin Linux release. Before you get too excited, this is an RC (Release Candidate), which means it’s not ready for general release. That’s fine because RC candidates are a good indicator of what’s coming. 

Also: 7 ways to make Windows 11 less annoying

I jumped onboard the Deepin RC train to see what was what. To my surprise, this open-source operating system has made a slow shift towards resembling Windows 11. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing but it is certainly something to consider.

From my perspective, this once “most beautiful Linux desktop” has now become fairly average-looking. It no longer does anything truly special (other than cloning the look and feel of Microsoft’s OS). But, again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing… especially for those who prefer the look and feel of Windows 11.

Of course, because this is Linux, you can always tweak the desktop to better suit your needs. For example, you can shift the dock to the right, left, or top; align it to the left, right, or center; smart hide it; change the opacity; and change the icon size. The only disappointment for me is that you can’t change the size such that it looks more like a traditional dock. The Deepin dock is a panel and that’s that.

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I did find, on the RC candidate, that the left/right/top dock positions were grayed out. I’m still trying to figure out why this is the case.

One of the things that keeps tripping me up about the Deepin desktop is that I continue to drag my cursor to the bottom left of the desktop to open the menu. Guess what? The menu button isn’t there. Remember, this is very much Windows 11-like, so the menu button is the left-most icon in the centered section of launchers on the dock. The icon at the bottom left corner is the clipboard (which I’m used to having in the system tray). I get why Deepin did this but I struggle to make sense of the choice. 

That doesn’t, however, detract from how well Deepin works. It’s smooth, performs well, and is rock-solid (especially for an RC candidate). Yes, there were some issues (such as the default web browser – simply called Browser – defaults to Chinese, even with the OS default set at English) but overall the Deeping release candidate impressed me.

What’s new in Deepin 23?

As far as new and improved features, the list isn’t quite as exhaustive as you might think. The highlights include:

  • A new Backup Update toggle for performing system updates without backing up the system (use with caution).
  • New system fonts.
  • The proprietary nvidia-graphics-drivers package has been updated.
  • Video decoding compatibility now supports multiple video streams and playback of videos in multiple resolutions.
  • Optimized to prevent the /boot/ partition from saving too many backups from kernel snapshots.
  • Trial mode installer has been optimized.

There’s also the list of package updates, which includes glibc 2.38, llvm-toolchain 17, dpkg 1.22.6, apt 2.8, lightdm 1.30.0, openssl 3.2.0, pam 1.5.3, lybxcrypt 4.4.36, libselinux 3.5, audit 3.1.2, libxcb 1.15, ncurses 6.4, FFmpeg 6.1.1, mesa 24, wayland 1.2.0, and many more.

AI is here

The chance of AI becoming standard-issue on Linux desktops is slim. Yes, you can add it via extensions, use it within a browser, and even install apps for using the likes of ChatGPT. But most distributions have shied away from adding it as a default feature.

The UOS AI interface.

The UOS AI feature is interesting but it has a ways to go before it’s ready for public consumption.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Deepin decided to go in the opposite direction and has included UOS AI. According to Zhang Lei, Senior Vice President and CTO of Unisoft, “At present, UOS AI realizes the ability to access the mainstream large models at home and abroad, and encapsulates them into the AI underlying public capabilities of Deepin; at the same time, we will gradually open source UOS AI to third-party applications, so that more applications can directly call the large models on Deepin.”

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So, AI has arrived on this particular Linux desktop and it looks as though it’s here to stay. One thing to keep in mind is that UOS AI doesn’t work out of the box. You must first configure an AI account before it can be used. When you go to configure the feature, you must confirm that you are over 18 years old and agree to the terms. To configure the account, you’ll need your account name and API key for the AI service you plan to use (such as GPT 3.5). Oddly enough, the app failed to connect to my OpenAI test account, so I had to test UOS AI with the trial account. It worked fine but it was rather slow. I’m guessing this is because it is a trial account. Hopefully, when the general release is made available, the wrinkles will be ironed out.

In the end, however, I’m not so confident I’d use UOS AI over, say, Opera’s Aria. 

There is one thing I appreciate about UOS AI. There’s a drop-down where you can select between:

  • UOS AI – AI
  • Deepin System Assistant – answers questions relating to the Deepin operating system
  • Personal Knowlege Assistant – can answer questions and generate content based on your personal file data

The only issue I had was when using the Deepin System Assistant, the answers were in (I believe) Mandarin (even though the default language was set to American English). This issue was also found in the default web browser and a few other apps. Once again, I hope this is just a part of the RC release problem.

Also: Thinking about switching to Linux? 10 things you need to know

If you ask me, Deepin 23 RC isn’t ready for the average user. But when it does become generally available (as long as the language and AI issues are resolved), I can easily see this becoming a primary gateway between Windows and Linux. Because it looks and behaves very much like Windows 11 (and even includes AI functionality), this open-source OS should have a wide-ranging appeal. 

If you’re interested in kicking the tires of this release, you’ll find it on the official Deepin download page.


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