Updated: January 16, 2015
One of the things you can count on in the Linux community is love and understanding from the wider audience, especially if you write a less favorable review of a distribution favored by a particular segment of the community. The smaller they get the fiercer the response. Most people would decide the flak was not worth their time, file relevant distributions under the ignore label, and move on to friendlier crowds.
But I'm a better person than that, which is why I'm testing Antix MX-14 once again, this time a dot three flavor, once again adorned with the Xfce desktop. The previous version did not impress me, for which I got love, then having included this operating system in the best Xfce of 2014 competition also got me some more love. Never mind that, let's focus on the technical bits, not the drama. After me.
All right, a little bit of drama. Just a smidgen of Antigone and Hamlet. Just to be fair, some of the Antix users emailed me, without much fanfare, and requested that I give their distro another try. Sure, why not. Then, some others asked me to take the distro mission statement into account, too. Well, no. Let me explain.
If you ask someone to sympathize with your ideology, then for that matter, you might be an atheist, but you'd need to judge religious text from a positive belief perspective. Right? No. You judge the way you do, and that's the point. If I have to agree with the way a distro has been designed, then you can justify any and every decision.
Moreover, there's a similarity, a pattern if you will, how users of the sidux, Mepis and recently Antix family respond to reviews. This is nothing my little share of ultra awesome bloggery is going to change, but it does shed light on the so-called esprit-de-corps behind the product. If you're not looking for emotional charge with your bits and bytes, you could go for something else. Not that passion is bad, but it should a healthy one. Stress free.
Now, Antix comes in a 32-bit edition only. This is a curious decision, but since the system targets older and weaker systems with ancient processors, and since the flavor should not conflict with 64-bit architecture, there might be little harm in this option. Although I expect to see a proper full-architecture coverage, because in 2014, not having a 64-bit version is a little weird, to say the least.
I tested MX-14.3 on my T61 laptop, which comes with two cores, 2GB RAM, two SSD, and Intel graphics, plus it hosts four operating systems at any given time, often changing a lot. And we're done with the philosophy. Let's see how the distro fared.
The desktop is unchanged from the previous version, with blue and gray as dominant colors. The icon set is a standard Xfce set, which isn't very pretty or inviting. The icon text background has been removed.
Look & feel
The system menu is simple and functional. The menu alignment is troublesome, with a small gap between the bottom of the screen and the actual GUI element. Moreover, playing around in the distro, I noticed the Fn buttons did not work at all, and the volume icon did not have a slider, just on/off functionality. I was not able to expand it and then slide the button to a desired position.
Right clicking anywhere on the desktop gives you a lot of options, including the ability to change ownership of files and folders. You can also share folders, but you need to activate this option on a folder, you see.
You do get music and Flash, but. IceWeasel complained that it did not have the plugin. If you use the browser function, you won't really succeed in installing it, so why show the prompt in the first place? Moreover, you do get Flash, only it supposedly isn't there.
But at least MP3 playback was cushty, inside Clementine. Plus pretty notifications, right.
Both 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wireless networks were fine, and so was Samba, although it flaked a little toward the end of the live session. All in all, not bad.
Installation - Fast but can be more streamlined
My next step was to deposit MX-14.3 onto one of the two SSD. The installer is very old school, and it can be made simpler and prettier and more inviting to new users. Still, there are some small improvements. You do not need to worry about choosing whichever disk, because all partitions will show later on. This makes the disk selection unneeded.
Home partition formatting option default has been changed, which is good, but you still don't get distro label identifiers to help you choose which partitions to select, and this can be tricky if you have many operating systems and/or multiple identical hard disks, like in my case.
The setup was lightning fast. Maybe three or four minutes. I'm not joking. This is a record. Post-install steps have been slightly streamlined. Fewer questions, fewer nerdy options, so it's good. The installer also exits when done rather than looping back to the first step.
Still, some of the options are a little funny. Like the domain question. C'mon. Who cares what your search or domain is at home. And let's face it, that's where Antix MX-14.3 is going to be installed.
After installation, I verified whether some of the live session niggles were still there. In fact, all of them were. Fn buttons, volume control and such. Food for thought for the developers, that's for sure.
I tried fiddling with Flash one more time. There's nothing to install, the plugin is there, and it works, but IceWeasel supposedly cannot see it, although if you check the memory maps for the running browser process, under /proc, it does show the Flash Player shared object. So it's a weird bug, or a weird setup, or both. Either way, this needs to be fixed, because it could annoy and confuse less skilled folks.
Applications & tools
Antix MX-14.3 ships with a colorful arsenal of programs that cannot be easily classified. It's not a standard Xfce offering. You have IceWeasel, LibreOffice, Orage, Minitube, VLC, and several other handy programs. There's also a PPP dialer for dial-up users, which is a nice thought. And like the last time, Antix ships with a wagonload of utilities, including bootloader customization and repair tools, remastering tools, Flash manager, codec installer, and more. It's a very decent and practical collection.
Best of all, you can access all these tools using a single unified program. You can also hide individual options in the system menu. Indeed, I think this should be the default, and this way help consolidate all system functions and options under a single umbrella. System settings and desktop customization should also be included here, and that's something we will hopefully see in the next version.
It's a 32-bit version, true, so we can't compare directly to 64-bit software. Thus, the memory footprint of only about 175MB idle is difficult to estimate. But on its own, it's an impressive number. Indeed, Antix is super fast, although it does not have the same visual effect like Xubuntu or Ubuntu MATE. CPU usage is also very low, roughly 1%. If we recall the very quick installation, speed and performance remain a strong side of this distro.
Stability, suspend & resume
There were no crashes. The only real errors relate to IceWeasel. The Fn keys did not work, but at least, the suspend & resume functionality did. Very fast. Less than one second to sleep and wake. Quite lovely.
No Samba printer browse option. It's grayed out. Shame.
I did try to make Antix prettier. Unfortunately, the distro would not really let me. You do have the standard Xfce settings menu, and in theory, it's powerful and cool. But Antix refused to use new icons, for example, even after manually installing them. I was only able to slightly change the existing layout and switch the wallpaper, but the default look remains, and that's a shame. Moreover, if you place the panel horizontally, it's aligned right to left. All in all, this can be massively improved.
In a way, MX-14.3 is unchanged from its previous version. On the other hand, tiny but important improvements have been added. But there's still a lot more work to be done to make it relevant. The installer can be more streamlined. Flash would-be problems. Samba printing. Fn keys. Customization. All of these need to be addressed.
I believe the idea of any and every product is to excel at what it does, and so, to beat competition, Antix MX-14.3 must play its strong cards, performance and MX applications, against their strong cards. For instance, being able to customize the desktop is a basic necessity. You can't be having bogus messages about browser plugins, now can you. And so we go back to the missing stuff. Indeed, this distro is not yet good enough to fight against the likes of Xubuntu and friends, but then, in the Xfce world, it's very difficult nailing down the formula. Even Xubuntu sucked for a long time before it flourished. The truth is, it won't take much for Antix to fill its gaps, but it will take a mindset change. Anyhow, this latest version gets 6.5/10. An improvement, but there's more to be done.