LXLE Linux 14.04.1 review - Champagne without bubbles


Updated: March 11, 2015

Ubuntu derivatives are many and varied. Most build on the same base, and then add a new work environment in order to infuse the distro with a unique spin. LXLE 14.04.1 does this by applying an almost namesake desktop environment on the latest LTS Ubuntu release, and so a new fork is born.

Is this any good, you may ask? Well, that's a good question. We shall soon find out. My test will take place on a T61 machine, with its two SSD and Intel graphics. Rejoice, for the laptop is soon going to be retired, and we will have a brand new machine take its place. Let us begin.

Teaser 

Live session

LXLE boots into a colorful session with an HDR desktop that looks like someone took toy cars and arranged them to appear like real cars in a NYC traffic jam. Or maybe those are toys, and I'm an idiot. The initial impression is dubious. You have a bottom panel with a relatively bland and not-very-HD icons, an applet that tells you about your resource utilization, and there's also a lurking popup panel on the left side.

Live desktop

Look & feel

The system menu is very simple and utilitarian. It serves its purpose, but it's far from being the elegant, cool solution you get in a variety of other desktop environment setups. Moreover, in some situations, it will overlap the bottom panel.

Menu

Bottom panel overlap

The side panel does not make much sense, and it's so ungainly that I refused to take a screenshot just to show you a 36px-wide element on the far left side of the screen. Then, the bottom one is also quite tricky. If you start resizing it, you need to be careful about how you do that. Blow the panel width, but fail to match the icon size, and the desktop will look like someone vomited it out of a passing train onto a bunch of innocent sheep grazing on the diesel-specked grass growing at the sides of the tracks.

Panel editing, size

Panel editing gone wrong

Crazy panel after icons resizing

You can also not add any icons with great ease. This is a task that I will leave for later on, once the distro is installed. Or should we say, if, because so far, it only provided a fairly lukewarm setup that did not excite me. Just compare this to Plasma, will you.

One of the notable system area icons is the weather applet. It works okay, but it's not styled the same way like the rest of the desktop. More like something from Android or Windows 10. Does not compute in the aesthetic sense, for sure.

Weather Weather settings

The file manager is useful enough. It comes with tabs, and while the design can be improved, or at least aligned to the rest of the system, the program is perfectly functional. I don't recall any big problems while using it.

File manager

The search functionality isn't useful, though. If you try to find something, anything, this will happen in a separate search window, which feels slow and archaic, and does not make you more productive. Inline search is sorely needed.

Search, weird

Multimedia support

Well, here at least, things were just fine. Flash on Youtube plus MP3. The music player is a little crude, but perfectly sane and functional. Still, there are better, more aesthetic options.

Flash, Youtube

MP3

Samba printing

Behaved splendidly, including the live session. Furthermore, it is worth noting that the discovery and scan of network shares was lightning quick. That's rather commendable, and a first step to emotional enlightenment.

Samba printing

Networking

No problem here. Bluetooth, Wireless in both bands (2.4GHz, 5GHz), Samba sharing to Windows boxen, all the usual stuff that makes me happy and helps advance me toward more favorable conclusions.

Installation

What can I say? It's a copy pasta with cannelloni from Ubuntu, sans any pretty slide show images. Somewhat like elementary, when it comes to being unsensational. Why is it so difficult to make a beautiful and consistent desktop environment and still make it lightweight? As far and deep as my knowledge of English goes, neither the word light nor weight in any concatenation or combination or permutation does signify in any way that the product to which the said adjective is prefixed, or suffixed, if you want to make it posh and olden like, ought to suck.

Partitioning, like Ubuntu

Installing, ugly

Usin' and cruisin'

The installation completed without any errors. The quad-boot was up and running. I was also able to beautify the bottom panel without losing it, and after fiddling with some deep-like settings, I also managed to add icons, one by one, then rearrange them. The moment of 1997 nostalgia was strong in this one.

Installed

Customize desktop

Desktop, slightly tweaked

Software management

Worked fine. The distro devs did not even bother removing the word Ubuntu from their lexicon. Why call this a separate distro, pray? How is it special and unique? The Software Center has also been borrowed from Lubuntu, upon which LXLE is based. Okay.

Lubuntu software center

Updates, pointless

Applications

This distro would make a 17th Century gypsy caravan proud. There are so many programs included, so varied and different and non-uniform in looks and purpose that you really ask yourselves what LXLE is trying to solve. Unless it's just a random collection of apps.

You get everything and then some. To name a few, Steam, Marble, KeePass, Filezilla, Pidgin, Transmission, LibreOffice, and this is just a sampling. The list is much longer, including weird stuff like Ariki or Y PPA Manager, which is set to a very narrow, vertical alignment, and yet it can be resized indefinitely, making my OCD hormones spike up.

Apps

Resource usage

The distro is rather quiet, I'll grant you that. The CPU does not tick a lot above 1% on idle, and memory consumption is fairly low at about 330MB. This is quite commendable, but then Xubuntu does the same with ten times more style and flair and color and better ergonomics.

Resource usage

Other stuff

The distro was stable. At the very least, LXLE 14.04.1 caused me no grief. Hardware detection was good, Fn keys worked, suspend & resume worked, there were no weird issues or crashes or anything of that sort. The only problem was the slow and not very productive work flow caused directly by the desktop itself.

Final desktop

Conclusion

Functionally, there's nothing wrong with LXLE Linux 14.04.1. But it has no fizz. And while the lack of condensation nuclei in a champagne glass indicates the vessel is quite clean, it also means you're missing on that one special ingredient that makes the drinking experience so special, and in this case, fun to run and use.

Everything works, true. But there are better, more composed lightweight solutions, with a clearer identity and better ergonomics. The visual side needs immense improvement, because the way it's designed, LXLE is not a pleasant, enduring product. The app stack is too erratic for my taste. Finally, there's the question of relevance, because you can get all of the above with very little effort from stock Ubuntu, or just by making some tiny changes to one of its less resource hungry official derivatives. Not a bad idea, but it must needs gain some heart, some sparks, some hair chest before I can recommend it with a silly grin on my face. At the time being, it's just yet another Ubuntu based spin that might not be around in three-years' time. Grade, about 6.5./10. We're done.

Cheers.

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