Updated: September 9, 2020
A few weeks ago, something momentous almost happened. I was this close to not doing any more Linux desktop reviews, at all. I've found the exercise absolutely draining lately, with little to no joy to be had from the software at hand. I won't repeat myself, but we all know what gives - the Linux desktop is more or less stuck in the 2014-2015 vibe, and the only thing we get more of are regressions and sadness. But then, I decided to keep testing, with a new approach. I will conduct reviews, but cut them early and short if I feel that there's no value in the experience.
So, with that in mind, I am going to look at MX Linux MX-19.2 KDE. Now, if me memory serves me right, this would be the first Plasma release for this distro, which normally specializes in lightweight Xfce works. Given that I've been mighty pleased with how the MX team did their distro in the past years, this should hopefully be a worthwhile escapade. After me.
Foreword & boot on
So, a couple more sentences on the subject at hand. MX Linux does a pretty good job. A sensible distro with lots of useful and unique features out of the box, and more than satisfactory results on ancient hardware. But then, I did find MX-18 to be better than MX-19. So there's the perennial question - has MX Linux peaked, the likes of which many other distributions over the past two decades? Can it sustain the momentum before inevitable fatigue and fragmentation take their toll?
My first obstacle in getting a happy answer to this question was in finding the download button for the KDE spin. There's a lot of useful text on the home page, explaining about different flavors, but you ultimately have to go to Sourceforge (easier if you see the blog post announcement), to find the relevant ISO file.
Boot. We get: text message error whatnot, flicker, boot splash, flicker, boot splash again with a slightly different graphics mode, Plasma splash, desktop. The stock looks are a bit dark, and the color scheme is too Manjaro like. You also have a Conky in the top right corner AND another one next to the system area. Is there really a need for so many system monitor applets?
First impressions ...
I have to say, I wasn't liking what I saw. The clarity and contrast aren't the best. I've always found MX font rendering (in Xfce) rather decent, but here, the fonts aren't ideal. Screenshots have shadows - the old and unnecessary thing with Spectacle. But it gets worse. MX 19.2 uses an older version of Plasma, more on that soon, so you get no timestamps when you copy files to Samba shares, for instance. Moreover, I wasn't able to connect to my Windows boxen using the name, only the IP address.
If you look at things in isolation, they aren't that bad, but something feels off. For example, the terminal application (Konsole). The default font type and size are just too small, and they don't feel Plasma. Even the color code just doesn't fit in. Works okay for Xfce, but not here.
I found a bug with app pinning - something that used to afflict older releases of Plasma. For example, in the screenshot below, Dolphin is pinned, but it also shows as a second, unpinned icon on the icons-only task manager. This kind of thing simply dejects me.
Plasma 5.14, why?
Then, I discovered that MX 19.2 was running more or less stock KDE from Debian archives, set at version 5.14, which is neither here nor there. Similar to what I observed with Raspberry Pi OS recently. You don't get either of the two LTS Plasma releases, nor the latest Plasma release. Why would I care about a desktop environment that isn't really on anyone's roadmap, doesn't have the necessary fixes introduced in the latest editions, nor support and stability of the long-term versions?
Furthermore, the About applet reads Debian, not MX Linux. Oh well, then ...
I decided to cut this review short. Apart from the obvious glitches and bugs that were supposed to have been left far behind us, there's the cardinal, almost philosophical question of branding, and of course, the use of Plasma 5.14 completely negates the value proposition of MX Linux. This is in contrast to how MX Linux does its Xfce crop, which is far more mature, far more polished, and better organized all over. As an experiment, this is a bold and possibly laudable initiative, but it is also completely misplaced.
There are already way too many distros, distro spins and distro editions out there. Roughly 90% too many. Even maintaining a single version can be tough, for small or large teams alike, and splitting thin resources to create an extra edition make things even worse. Finally, what's the actual benefit? Is this going to sway the Windows masses or revolutionize the desktop? This isn't MX Linux specific in any way, but in this mini-review, it rather is. I wish I could be more positive, but hey, I see no real purpose to this particular version. Once more, on a sad note, Dedoimedo out.