MX Linux MX-16 Metamorphosis - Winds of change


Updated: January 14, 2017

Corny titles are my specialty, and I hope I nailed it with the most recent entry. But I just couldn't resist. Anyhow. MX Linux. There's been a lot of noise around this distro slash community. We had the interview, then the Xfce end-of-year vote, and the annual roundup, all of which featured the last year's product as a respectable candidate.

But we need to put MX-15 behind us, and focus on the winter release, MX-16, funnily named Metamorphosis. This new edition promises a lot, and I have just the right man and the right hardware for the occasion. Introducing me! Plus my multi-boot test machine that is known to have brought many a distro to its knees. Separating the nerd from the chav. Let us begin.

Teaser

Live session

The distro booted fine. No woes, no trouble, no complaints. The in-memory-loaded session comes with a dark Xfce theme, pretty icons, an optimistic wallpaper, and a somewhat controversial vertically placed panel on the left, with the bottom orientation. This contrasts the human top-left focus mindset when it comes to vertical alignment, but more about that later.

Live desktop

From a purely visual perspective, this is a presentable product, with more refinement than MX-15, but there are still some oddities in the setup. The icons are not all equisized, and this violates the OCD Prime Directive. For instance, both the update and the volume icons stand out as being naughty, and the workspace applet also feels out of place.

Menu

Networking

An interesting bag of results. Samba sharing worked, but I was twice prompted for password. This must be a one-time glitch, as I didn't see this again, but I still hate the entire security community for not allowing anonymous access. Not everyone is operating a data center in their homes, relax. Let people browse their pr0n shares freely. Is that not what Internet is all about?

Samba printing worked fine. Wireless worked okay, but the network did drop 2-3 times, which is expected from the Lenovo G50 box and its RTL8723BE modules, mostly when accessing aforementioned Windows shares. Re-inserting the module fixed it, but in the long term, you want some brand new kernels. The one thing that did not work at all is Bluetooth. I just wasn't able to turn the adapter on, no matter what. DOA.

Smartphone support

I had my Lumia 520 (Windows Phone) and my Aquaris Ubuntu Phone available, and they both worked successfully. However, there were some problems with media playback, but that's a topic for another section. Cue in dramatic organ music.

Windows Phone

Ubuntu Phone

Multimedia playback

Das ist gutte. All of my vanities were satisfied. MP3, HD video, and Firefox was extra snappy playing stuff from Youtube. Finding Flash content that can be safely shown through a review is getting more difficult by the day. Hue hue.

MP3 playback

HD video

Firefox, HTML5, fast

But not all was perfect. VLC was unable to play music files from the Windows Phone, complaining about unsupported MTP actions, and from what I've been able to read and learn online, this kind of thing was fixed a long time ago. So perhaps we have a regression at hand, or something. No such issue with the Ubuntu device.

VLC MTP error

The error emphasizes the dark theme issues.

File reading failed:
VLC could not open the file "/run/user/1000/gvfs/mtp:host=%5Busb%3A002%2C007%5D/Phone/Music/
Haddaway - What Is Love.mp3" (Operation not supported).

Your input can't be opened:
VLC is unable to open the MRL 'file:///run/user/1000/gvfs/mtp%3Ahost%3D%255Busb%253A002%25
2C007%255D/Phone/Music/Haddaway%20-%20What%20Is%20Love.mp3'.
Check the log for details.

Also, I didn't quite figure how to manipulate the system volume. If you click on the volume button, it mutes the whole thing, there's no draggable bar or slider available, either through a left or right mouse button action. The whole contextual thingie, meta data, playback from external devices needs to be polished.

Other observations

There were a few odd little things here and there. For instance, in Thunar, if you try to mount one of the available internal volumes, you will be asked for a password. If you choose not to do so, there will be a spinning wait animation next to the disk until you close and relaunch the file manager, even though you have clearly completed that action.

Thunar icon bug

That said, Thunar is quite handy, with a lot of little scriptlets and context-menu actions, but the dark theme is just too heavy on the eyes. However, I decided tor refrain from making aesthetic changes until after the installation, provided it succeeds.

Thunar, context menu

Installation

MX-16 has a fairly unique approach here. The installer looks and feels archaic, and it has a lot of steps, but then, it's the fastest thing around, taking only about three minutes to complete the installation, and it will preserve your live session, something that no other distro will do at the moment.

The partitioning step can be smarter and safer - I did not like that it defaulted to my Windows 10 partition as the target (labeled Windows 8 from the original setup), as it would have killed the Windows system. Then, there are no names - AKA Sergio Leone's famous spaghetti distro The Linux With No Name, so you need to know what your partitions hold. This can definitely be streamlined.

Installer

Bad partitioning defaults

After this step, the installation begins quite abruptly. There are no niceties, no fancy slides. Once the copy stage is complete, you will be able to set up your user, additional services, and of course, the bootloader. This was a funny one, as it took almost 10 minutes. I guess most of the time is lost discovering other partitions.

Bootloader setup

GRUB configuration underway

One of the last steps is to indeed configure your user and root, but you will still be able to use the sudo mechanism separately. Saving live desktop changes will preserve pretty much everything, including your customization like shortcuts or wallpapers, as well as any documents. Weirdly, my Wireless configuration was not carried over into the installed system.

Save live session settings

Desktophosis

The system chainloaded all the other distros and Windows 10 nicely, without any problems. The boot stage is polluted with verbose messages, and it's not the fastest, but it works fine. The installed system looked just like my live experience, golly.

Installed desktop

The network kept dying until I had it nailed down with the modprobe tweak, and after that, it was largely quiet and stable. I still had no idea how to control the volume button, and I set about making some rather drastic visual changes, to see if I could get MX-16 to look the way I had it in my mind.

Customization

I changed the panel orientation using the MX Tools, and the settings were correctly placed. I also changed the theme from dark to light, and this didn't quite give me what I expected. The panel color was weird, but this is because the system area icons have a hardcoded background, and if you deviate from its very specific RGB values, you will get distinct squares that do not look modern or pretty.

Panel orientation

Light theme

I started playing around, and eventually found the right combo of window decorations, borders, fonts, and such. The icons still bothered me, though. Papirus is all nice and such, but the icons all had funny shapes and sizes, so I was forced to use Moka. Manual install using the available DEB files on the original site, but it worked fine. All in all, you can make MX-16 metamorphose into something you like. However, it wasn't a trivial process. There are some other Xfce distros that do this better. Should be seamless, really.

Customization in progress

New icon themes

Behold, the sum of my autistic (artistic) skills:

Nice desktop 1

Nice desktop 2

New icons, Thunar

Package management

Simple and unassuming - Synaptic. It does what it should, but the initial update will not work (the Apply button will be grayed out) until you refreshes the repos, basically the GUI equivalent of the apt-get update command. After that, things worked out smoothly. And fast. Even if we put the Xfce element aside, the core functionality is brisk.

You might not get fancy graphics and recommendations, but it is better to have a spartan update tool that works rather than a crippled shiny new frontend that does nothing useful, the way it is with a lot of recent tools, like Discover and Gnome Software. Steam is available in the repos, but you don't get Skype.

Updates

Applications

Speaking of software, the default arsenal is modest but practical. You have Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, VLC, GIMP, Transmission, Orage. You also get a big handful of accessories, utilities and tools of all sorts. Then, an odd program or two like SMTube and friends.

Menu, apps

Apps

GMTP, Ubuntu Phone

MX Tools

This is a very useful package of goodies. Indeed, MX applications can save time and effort, especially to less skilled users. The offering in the MX-16 release is that much easier to use than before, with better logical and functional separation. Quite handy.

Tools

Flash setup using MX Tools

Resource utilization, performance

Metamorphosis is a very fast, nimble distro. Literally, point and click, instant response. Everything happens before your eyes can register the rendering of pixels on the screen, and this is quite refreshing, especially if you've used some 'heavy' distros recently. Or as the popular song goes, It Ain't Heavy, It's My Distro. Memory utilization is only about 350 MB idle, and the CPU is happy to stay at about or below 1% mark. Snappy, responsive, delightful.

Resources

Hardware compatibility, stability, suspend & resume

No issues. Nothing crashed or complained. Steady, rock solid. Suspend & resume also worked fine. Fn buttons also work, but you do not necessarily get any clues on the screen. For example, volume or brightness will change, but you don't see that watermark thingie notification.

Battery life

Now, the interesting bit. Very jittery, and it all depends on what you're doing. With the desktop completely idle, and the brightness set to 50%, I even managed to register more than 5 hours. But then within minutes, even light activity got this down into the 3-hour range. Overall, modest usage will give you probably 3-3.5 hours at least, and given the fact the battery has degraded about 10-15% over the past 18 months of use, this means the results are in line with MX-15. However, I liked what MX-15 did better, because it would consistently offer higher figures, even if this may depend on the chemical state of my battery cell and the overall usage patterns.

Battery life 1

Battery life 2

Printing, once again

Because I forgot to save a screenshot in the live session. The applet works, but the visual side of things is quite manky. For some reason, the buttons and borders do not align, and I guess this is Xfce meets Gnome meets wrong DPI or such.

Samba printing

Other things?

Well, not really. Nothing else comes to mind. No problems, to be sure.

Conclusion

MX Linux MX-16 Metamorphosis is a very decent distribution. It's a small product, not very well known, and probably not your first home choice when it comes to Linux. But then, despite its humble upbringing, it does offer a powerful punch. You get all the goodies out of the box, and except for some Bluetooth issues and less-than-trivial customization, the slate is spotless. Music, phones, speed, battery life, fun, all there.

Of course, the question is, can MX Linux sustain this record. If we look back, there were some rough patches, a bit of identity crisis, and the existential question of quality, the same journey that Xubuntu underwent. But then it kind of peaked and degraded some recently. Will MX Linux follow the same path? The last few years were good, with a steady, consistent improvement on all fronts. Then again, I thought Xubuntu was invincible, too.

For the time being, predicting the future remains tricky. However, here and now, MX-16 is a great choice for a lightweight desktop. Xfce has come a long way, and you get all the essentials you expect from a home system. It's all there, plus good looks, plus speed that rivals anything out there, among the best battery life numbers, great stability, and even some extra unique features like the live session save and MX Tools. A most worthy combo. All in all, 9.5/10. Warmly recommended for testing and sampling.

Cheers.

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