Updated: February 29, 2016
My experience with sidux slash Mepis slash AntiX has been one of the more interesting road trips in the history of Linux. As they say in Latin, per contumelia ad laudem. At first, my honest opinion was ridiculed, but then people figured out I mean well, and they took my advice to heart, and MX got into the 2014 end of the year distro vote, and then kind of rose in popularity. And kept on rising.
The latest release I tested, version 14.3, was rather average, but there was a steady, promising incline of improvement. Now, we're about to embark on the test trek again, with some extra hurdles. Xfce against Lenovo G50, with UEFI, Secure Boot, GPT, 16 partitions, Windows and six or seven Linux distros - or in Latin, distra. Follow me.
You get a nice GRUB menu, with a serene background image. Then, within seconds, you are logged into the live session. Comparing to the previous release, the visual side of things has been spiced up a little, with nicer icons, more color, better order, although you still get that controversial vertical panel. Now, you may say, Ubuntu does the same thing, but the approach is different.
Not all icons come with high resolution. For instance, the installer icon looks all fuzzy and blurred, and the clock applet has a rather weird maroon background for some odd reason. The menu is pretty and functional, and overall, the distro feels more like some of the top shots we had earlier, the likes of Manjaro and the latest Mint.
The Wireless was working fine. Bluetooth refused to turn on, no matter what, which meant no fun trying to sync stuff with my smartphones. Samba sharing worked well, and quite speedy. Samba printing is there, and it's lightning fast. Literally, within less than two seconds, I had my HP thingie discovered.
The printing applet is butt ugly though. Notice the buttons, the borders and all that. It feels as if something designed for Gnome or MATE or whatnot has been ported into Xfce, and there's a lot of problems with DPI, percentages and similar.
Unencumbered by politics, MX-15 happily ships with the right codecs. You don't get Flash, though, but it can be easily installed using the MX Toolbox, which we will discuss later on in the review. MP3 plugins are there, and HD video works fine. Clementine behaved quite well, and it's fun to use.
The one thing I liked less was that the popup information, which is quite colorful and useful, covers the panel. It should actually pop out farther to the right, and present a clear, unobstructed view of the contextual information.
No complaints. Everything worked peachy dandy. I tried iPhone first, and got it mounted and running without any problems. Even Clementine was able to initialize the device, scan it, and then play the music files I put there a while back using Rhythmbox, and which do not show up if you use iTunes. But who cares. Ubuntu Phone was the second device I used for this test, and again, there were no problems whatsoever. Xfce has come a long way from the ugly duckling back in 2009.
Overall, the installation wizard has not changed much from the previous version. It works, but it is a frugal, nerdy thing, and it may frighten less knowledgeable users. There's always room for improvement, and this is one of the key areas so far. To wit.
The first few steps are innocent enough. The story about Debian heritage is not really important, but okay. Then, you're asked to setup your disk for installation, and the default is to use the custom step.
Choosing the right devices is a little tricky. First, you need to know what each partition stands for, and what kind of data hides there. As there are no labels, you will need to do a bit of research. Then, under Preferences, the option to preserve /home data is not checked by default. Risky and dangerous.
After that, the installer will ask you if it can format swap, too. This is not really something that users should be asked. But it can be alarming. After that, the system installed and completed in its typical four-minute run. Nice.
However, you're not done. You still need to configure the bootloader, which was kind of easy and well explained, especially the differences between MBR and ESP. Then, you will be bored by configuring users, timezone, locale, and a few other weird little details. The reason why you will find this less practical than, say, an Ubuntu installation is that it feels ever so slightly less streamlined, and you might clamor for some bling bling. The way SUSE does that combines professional frugality with safety, and that's the benchmark for all installer wizards, witches and sorcerers out there.
But wait. There is something really cool in the installer. You can actually preserve your live session data. I haven't seen this in a long while now, and if my memory serves me well, it only used to be Mandriva and maybe PCLinuxOS what dunnit. MX-15 gives you the same option, and that means all your documents and little configs will be preserved.
Reboot, beautiful GRUB. All of the distros and Windows 10 were there in the list. MX-15 boots super fast. And lo and behold, my live session data was saved, including network config, even the failed Bluetooth games, all my screenshots and downloads, my panel configurations, everything. Amazeballs.
This is one of the areas that MX-15 needs polishing. Sure, it gives you Synaptic and you get the apt-get thingie for your updates and such. But it does not look all too pretty, and there's more that can be done to help people search for software and install new stuff. This works for experienced users, but not for first-times trying Linux.
Another problem was - I was downloading packages from the US, and this was a little slow. MX Linux isn't big enough to have its own regional mirrors, which can explain the phenomenon, but that means less than ideal bandwidth.
There's a lot of goodies packaged in the distro. The usual set includes Firefox, Thunderbird, which doesn't have a fancy icon mind, VLC, Clementine, GIMP, LibreOffice, SMTube, and a few other programs. But then, there's a ton of utilities and applications, most of which will appeal to more savvy users.
This is one of the coolest aspect of this distribution. It ships with a set of useful, practical applets, designed to make your life easier. You can configure various drivers, fix your bootloader, download codecs, install packages, find network shares, and more. Then, you can also create an ISO from your running system, if you recall my old remaster article, and other fancy stuff. We will actually explore this topic in a complete, separate article. That's how much I like the idea.
We all know Xfce is fast. MX-15 really takes the concept to the extreme. Virtually 0% CPU unless you do something meaningful. Memory consumption is only about 360 MB. The system is nimble. Tight like a tiger. Mighty as a mongoose. Eager like a beaver.
Continuing on the previous topic of speed, it takes less than a second to sleep and wake. At first, I thought what, but then, I was pursing my lips in that meaningful way that men use when they are highly impressed by something but then struggle to find the right words.
Not to make a fool of itself, MX-15 also managed to be stable. Sure, there were some niggles, but nothing stalled, nothing crashed, the Wireless marched on diligently and did not gimp with a sudden regression. It was a very pleasant, calm, happy experience.
Pimp my eyes! The speed has another added bonus. A kickass battery life. Even with the screen on full brightness, MX-15 blithely offered 3.5 hours of use time easy, without breaking into a sweat. And then, with the brightness adjusted, 4.5 hours. This is better than all and every other distribution we have seen so far. I am quite impressed, as MX-15 offered almost 25% more juice than even the other Xfce systems. Lovely jubbly.
At some point, I decided to play with the panel and re-orient it horizontally, the way I like it. There's a tool that does that, but it will also reset all your changes. My icons were gone, and I had to re-add and rearrange them. It was a bit of a hassle. But it make sense to change the orientation, because if you have roughly 10 icons or so, there's no room left for open application windows in the vertical setup.
Eventually, I started liking the layout and the snazz, but the system area was still looking rather rough. The icons have a decidedly Knoppix 2006 look. They feel like something taken from the KDE3.5 era, and there's no need for the language icon if only one language is used in the system. There's no way to hide icons, and they don't match and follow the same color scheme and design like applications icons. All in all, it needs fixing. Then, why would you have background color for the clock? Makes no sense.
But then, throw in the ability to save the session on logout, a bunch of nice wallpapers, a slightly different windows decoration set, extra software like Steam but no Skype, and you have a pretty decent Xfce desktop. Mom and Dad Xfce would be proud.
Of course, there were some. So we had the aesthetics niggles. The touchpad was a little too touchy. Not all Fn buttons work - the volume cannot be controlled, but then, the system area icon for the volume also did not work for me. The rest of the hardware was properly identified and initialized. I guess this has to do with PulseAudio, and which volume applet slash manager is used. Thunar ships with a single-click action - it does not make sense for a Debian-based, non-KDE distro. But other than these, really, I couldn't find too many issues.
I'm impressed. Not like shiver me timbers, I'm dancing naked in front of a mirror while Manhunter plays in the background, but still quite amazed by what MX-15 offers. On the negative side, we have some visual inconsistencies, a geeky and slightly dangerous installer, a system area that needs shaping up, Fn buttons and volume (ground) control, and a few other space oddities.
Then, on the bright side, super fast, super lean, works great on modern hardware without hiccups or whining, excellent media and smartphone support, awesome battery life, a good collection of programs and wicked tools, and still more. Well, you know, you've just read the review, haven't you, you impatient conclusion-only pervs. Anyhow, really neat. MX Linux has come a long, long way since its early days. It is shaping up to be a really nice distribution, and my biggest fear at this point is that it will die, like so many other distros have died before reaching that critical mass moment.
To sum it up, if you're looking for something different, something less avant-garde, whatever that means, or rather, you're fed up with the love triangle of Ubuntu, SUSE and Fedora plus derivatives, then MX-15 might be what you want. Somewhat of an underdog, and a bit scruffy and mongrely at times, but I like the progress. I like the consistent approach. It's a key to greatness. 9/10. It sure has joined my watch shortlist. Worth testing and whatnot. But my fear of the future always remains, please prove me wrong. However, the present is happy, so start downloading and burning them coasters. Dedoimedo out.