Trent and I were both looking forward to the release of the Linux Mint LXDE Community Edition for various reasons. Luckily for us, Kendall (maintainer of the Linux Mint Fluxbox CE) pointed us to the .iso for RC1, which is what we’re using as the basis for this review. Since we both have feedback on this CE, we’re trying a Trent Says/Joe Says model. Enjoy!
Ever since I got up close and personal with LXDE a few months ago, I’ve had my eye out for a distro that had a solid instance of LXDE as its default desktop environment. LXDE is getting more press and more attention, but the number of distros that rely on LXDE is still pretty small. When Kendall announced that he was going to make an LXDE Community Edition, I got very excited since Mint is generally my preferred distro. I had also dabbled a bit with his work on the Fluxbox CE and was generally impressed with that, so my expectations were high.
I should mention right off the bat that my test laptop is not ideal for running live CDs or modern distros (which, in a way, actually makes it good, because bloat and inefficiency have nowhere to hide.) Pretty much immediately upon getting the LiveCD booted, I was running the installer. Installation was smooth, and after a little while I was able to take a good look at what was hopefully a solid LXDE implementation.
I was also excited when I heard about an LXDE Community Edition of Linux Mint, for many of the same reasons Joe has: as a lightweight-yet-user-friendly desktop environment, my experiences with it in the past year have been very intriguing. I think LXDE has a lot of promise and a lot of potential, particularly if coupled with a full featured distro such as Linux Mint.
Also like Joe, I have been using my aging laptop as my primary test bed for distro hopping and reviewing lately, which in my opinion makes a perfect place to try out some of the lighter weight releases, such as LXDE and Fluxbox.
Right away, I could tell Kendall had made several good decisions. It all began with his decision to use SLiM as the login manager. I’m becoming a big fan of SLiM: it gets you logged in and lets you switch sessions quickly, but leaves off extraneous bloat. I don’t need a login manager that will polish my sidewalk or water my pet hippo. SLiM gets the job done, and as an added bonus, allows for auto-login (if you’re in an environment where that would be beneficial.) My one reservation about SLiM is that whereas GDM remembers what session you used last, SLiM will always revert to the default session. For the majority of users, this should be a non-issue; after all, why use the LXDE CE if you don’t plan on using LXDE as your desktop environment?
I like SLiM as well. Compared to GDM, SLiM has negligable overhead, and it’s far more responsive on aging hardware like my laptop. Also, unlike the version of GDM that installs with the Linux Mint 8 Main Edition, SLiM is actually configurable and themable, so what it lacks in other features, it makes up in flexibility and speed.
The good news continued once I was into LXDE itself. Kendall took care to make sure that it looked and felt like a Mint install. While that’s something of a minor matter, it’s also important in that the reasons for using Mint over, say, Lubuntu, are consistent. It goes beyond mere aesthetics, too. Mint’s management tools (mintInstall, mintBackup and the like) are seamlessly integrated, just as they are with the main Gnome version. I was also pleased with the choices made regarding included software.
The installer was the familiar Ubiquity installer used by Ubuntu and Linux Mint alike, which was not an issue on my hardware — though Ubiquity can be an issue if you’re running less than 256 Mb of RAM. While you may scoff at that, some people are looking to lighter weight releases like this one as an option for resurrecting old hardware, so keep that in mind if you’re thinking about giving this or any other distro which uses the Ubiquity installer a try.
I also liked many of the choices made regarding software inclusion, but on Mint’s management tools I disagree with Joe. Where “mintInstall” and “mintUpdate” were easily identifiable and easily found in the Mint 8 Fluxbox CE, in the Mint 8 LXDE CE RC1 they are not so clearly labelled. “mintInstall” is actually labelled “Software Manager” in the LXDE menu, and “Update Manager” is what launches mintUpdate, which is found on the “Preferences” submenu. While both applications work just fine, a redesignation of them in the menu should probably be done to make them consistent with other Mint Community Editions.