LXLE 14.04 review – new paradigms
LXLE updates for the Lubuntu 14.04 LTS release – but can this lightweight distro really keep an aging PC going for two years?
LXLE has been kicking around for a while now and, for a supposedly lightweight distro, it’s looking fearsomely feature-packed right now. Having said that, it’s hard not to love LXLE, as it’s treading the line between resource efficiency and usability pretty well, and is borderline addictive when it comes to the DE itself. The clue’s in the updated acronym; rather than standing for ‘Lubuntu eXtra Life Extension’, as it did in the days before Lubuntu LTS releases, when LXLE was around to fill that niche using the LXDE desktop environment, it’s now pitched as the ‘LXDE eXtra Luxury Edition’.
Based on the L/Ubuntu 14.04 long-term support release, LXLE is for users of ‘aging PCs’ and, reading between the lines, is aiming itself squarely at Windows XP users. The installation process is simple and straightforward, taking just a few minutes and requiring no manual partitioning and not really needing any follow-up configuration. Once you hit the login screen, you can choose from five desktop paradigms: GNOME 2, Unity, Windows XP, Mac OS X and Netbook, with the latter providing the most bare-bones environment for small-screen Netbooks with low system resources. While the other four paradigms are only relatively minor cosmetic adjustments, changing the positions of the dock and menu bars and occasionally conflating things to match the paradigm’s target look, the real advantage here is that they will be useful for all switchers. So if you’re a seasoned Linux user who’s a fan of lower, centralised docks or a refugee from the abandoned Windows XP camp, you can change your framework to suit and speed up acclimatisation.
But the real core of the design is pure LXDE. There’s a neatness to the whole thing that’s down to the font choices and the icon and panel designs as much as the menu structures. You can switch between two desktops, with their thumbnails showing outlines of opened windows (it’s a nice touch, but it would be nice to be able to select these directly, rather than just select the desktop). There’s a button in the corner that lets you minimise all open windows (‘iconify’) or shrink them to show just their top bars (‘shade’) with a left- or middle-click, respectively. You’ll see an at-a-glance panel of CPU info that can be hidden or popped out, and a nice-looking weather panel you can open with the button beside the date and time.
Random Wallpaper is a little button that sits in your menu bar beside the app and file trees, and on-click it randomly changes the desktop background from its library of a hundred images, many of which are stunning. Our main gripe is with the windows themselves, in that the handles for resizing them need close to 20/20 vision and pixel-perfect mousework in order for you to actually grab them, and there are a few graphical bugs in both the 64- and 32-bit versions – but we can live with that. Throw in PCManFM (also in Lubuntu) and suddenly the whole thing really starts working.
LXLE uses ROXTerm as its main terminal emulator, rather than Lubuntu’s XTerm, which is plenty customisable and quick-launches with a nicely mapped Alt+X (the app finder/ launcher shortcut is Alt+Z, though with that it’s only picking up app names – so typing ‘email’ won’t give you Claws Mail, for example). This is where LXLE starts to make its mark – compared to Lubuntu, which also runs LXDE, the ‘eXtra’ differences really are apparent. It’s not just that XTerm has
been replaced with ROXTerm, but more that the LXLE team seems to have really weighed up exactly what software it wants to use – and this curation is apparent.
You have the Parcellite clipboard manager and BitTorrent Sync sat in the menu bar; TLP power management is already available in your terminal, which is great for laptop users; OpenShot and Audacity are provided for video and audio editing; GIMP, Shotwell and Simple Image Reducer handle images; there’s Firefox, Claws Mail, Pidgin, Libre Office and Osmo for productivity; the Ubuntu Update Manager, Lubuntu Software Centre, Synaptic Package Manager and Y PPA Manager (plus Steam) give you a load of ways to get more software and keep it up to date. The apps available on boot belies the intentions of LXLE; this LTS release wants to get you up and running right away, with no need to go looking for more FOSS – chances are there’s something there already. And it shows in the sizes – the 64-bit ISO is a gig and the distro itself consumes a cool 7 GB.
Thing is though, LXLE is lightweight where it counts. The 32- bit version we tried (an updated 12.04.4) on an old PC was nippy as hell, and it was just blistering with the 64-bit on a more modern machine. It’ll certainly breathe new life into aging machines. That, plus the ‘ready to go’ philosophy of this good- looking LTS distro, has really made LXLE grow on us.
It’s quick to install, quick to run and boasts a huge array of baked-in software. It might be too much for the more selective software user, but casual users will love this – and LXLE looks gorgeous.