Updated: February 1, 2019
Several weeks ago, I tested MX Linux MX-18 Continuum, a lightweight Xfce-clad distro that aims to be uber friendly, nice and useful. The aim is well on target, because MX Linux has been gaining a lot of momentum in the past couple of years. It's become a hot cake among the distros, and for a good reason. It works really well.
Part of the charm is having all the fun bits out of the box. But there's another little sweet in the jar, and that's MX Tools. A combo of utilities that help you manage your distro in a newb-tender fashion. I've dipped my fingers into this proverbial bowl a few times, and I really liked it. My 2018 report was all superlatives and whatnot. Which means, we ought to retest. And so we are.
At first glance, you won't see too many changes from yesteryear. And that's correct. The changes aren't massive. They are subtle yet meaningful. MX Tools ... tool features a slightly larger set of utilities than what we've seen before.
The most notable changes include the addition of the system keyboard and cleanup programs. The former should be handy to multilingual people, while the latter is a nod to how Windows people expect their machines to look and behave. However, unlike most cleanup tools, it's quite benign. There are no aggressive options that can result in a breakage, hence my claim that such software is dangerous. Instead, MX Tools will just delete old package management cache, thumbnails, trash, and logs. No software configurations or any keys that will lead to tears three months from now. You can also schedule the run.
The rest is there, and behaves reliably and predictably. You can install codecs and Nvidia graphics drivers. You can create a bootable edition of your system, or create snapshots, so if something goes wrong, you can go back to a sane baseline. You can remaster your distro - strip personal data and then give out ISO images to friends who will have a poshed up and ready operating system to use. I don't recall any recent distro that still places focus on the wonderful concept of remastering. I talked about this a decade ago, and it's still a great thing.
You can customize or repair your bootloader, manage users, and tweak the system look & feel. Again, this is quite handy if you want to alter the somewhat unfriendly default vertical-bottom-up desktop configuration. MX Tweak lets you backup/restore your panel, so you don't need to fix everything if you mess up something. This is good, especially if you're a new Linux user, and you're not in the mood to play with hidden files and such.
This is not a new component, but it's one that I haven't used much in the past. But it is probably the best piece in MX Tools. This curated helper utility lets you install individual software that you don't typically get through the repos. Some yes, but most need more than one tweak to enable. Rather than you going about hunting for software, you just use Package Installer. I used it during my MX-18 review, and it was delightful.
I was able to install pretty much any program I needed, zero manual Interneting needed. You have a range of excellent choices, including stuff like Chrome, Opera, Spotify, Skype, Steam, and many other useful programs. But that's not all. That's just the Popular Applications tab. You also have the option to use repos with different level of stability, including test and backport packages, for instance. So you can grab even beta-quality software if you want.
Most of what MX Tools offers is intuitive, but there are a few tiny but weird options. For example, locales. That does not mean much to anyone non-techie. Moreover, the title of the tool is Debconf on mx1. What. Then, what does it mean configuring locales, what will happen and why do users need to think or care about that? And if this is language-related, what about the keyboard config?
The UI itself can be a bit prettier and more inviting - similar to the system settings in Xfce. Visual navigation can also be a little easier, especially when you resize the window but not to full screen size. And finally, as someone who is blessed (or cursed) with attention to detail, I think there can be more consistency in how the tools run and work. It's not a bad start, but not all of utilities follow the same flow. Small things, but still.
MX Tools continues to be one of the best and most unique Linux projects in a long while. It's original, refreshing and highly useful, especially to new users. The repertoire of utilities in this toolbox is very handy. System repair applications, tweak applications, codecs and drivers, and the lovely jubbly Package Installer. If you're not in the mood to work on the command line, you really don't have to.
But there's always more that can be done. Integration into the system settings menu, for instance. Simulated runs. The ability to script actions so that users can have them available for deployment on other systems. The ability to revert actions (and not just to a default reset state). Perhaps MX Tools can be part of a first-run wizard that helps configure the system extras. And then, Xfce feels a bit outdated nowadays, so maybe branching into the world of online stuff wouldn't be bad - a cloud/online section with accounts, storage and such.
All in all, MX Tools is a great feature. I haven't tested everything to the last detail, but from what I did do, I can say that the utilities are rather intuitive and safe, and they work reliably. Even experienced users will benefit from the toolbox, on top of already friendly defaults that Continuum has. The originality angle is another bonus, because there is a real effort of making something new and fun. More than worth testing. There you go.