Enlightenment Desktop Review: A Beautiful, Lightweight but Different Desktop Manager

Enlightenment Feature

Continuing with our series of Desktop Environment Reviews, today is a choice that definitely has a specific purpose. Enlightenment is an extremely lightweight window manager that has a huge amount of utility baked into it. It’s a really specific choice that you either like or dislike. In this Enlightenment review,we will cover its user experience, notable features, performance, and recommendations as to who should use it and where to experience Enlightenment.

Enlightenment First Impressions

The thing that strikes me first is the extremely unique interface. There is a zooming dock built in, a huge 4×3 virtual desktop grid in the top-right corner, and a relatively modern and competent icon theme. The icons are also animated, and the background rotates a few times each minute. I’ve never used anything quite like Enlightenment.

Enlightenment Login Screen
Enlightenment Desktop
Enlightenment Lock Screen

User Experience

The user experience reminds me of early versions of Mac OS X. The zooming dock and the nature / cosmic backgrounds that the system cycles through really bring me right back to the late 2000s. There’s a dock at the bottom, and the only system tray that’s available is by clicking on the Wi-Fi icon in the bottom right. The workspace grid in the upper right is interesting, as I’ve never seen a Desktop Environment have both vertical and horizontal workspaces right out of the box. They’re navigated by CtrlAlt + UpDownLeft, and Right.

Window Buttons

This is one of the first things that jumps out at me. On most windows, there are 4 window buttons. We’re used to maximize, minimize, and close, but with Enlightenment, there’s a fourth option: fullscreen. For anyone who’s ever used macOS, it’s the same fullscreen function. It effectively undecorates the window and leaves you with just content. For those who are working with limited screen real estate or who want to leave documents or images fullscreen on a workspace, this is a great feature.

Keyboard Shortcuts

The sheer number of keyboard shortcuts in Enlightenment is staggering. There’s a PDF document available in the dock that contains many of the most useful shortcuts. This is a huge boon for those using Enlightenment on an older laptop that doesn’t have the best trackpad (or any trackpad at all).

You can manipulate the state of windows with Crtl + Alt + X to close, I to minimize, M to maximize, and F to toggle fullscreen mode. Switch between windows on the screen with Ctrl + Alt + Shift + Up or Down, and pull windows through your desktops with Super + Shift + PgUp or PgDwn. Snap windows to different resized positions with Super + Shift + Left,Right, Up, or Down. Roll windows up by double-clicking on the window bar at the top. Window management in general is made very simple on Enlightenment.

Enlightenment Keyboard Shortcut Doc

Terminology

One of the really cool things about Enlightenment is that it’s so lightweight that it will run on much older hardware. The Elive project website says that it will run on hardware from the mid-2000s. For those who have old hardware they’re trying to revamp for personal use, Enlightenment is a fantastic choice. Terminology, the default terminal that comes with Enlightenment, has an incredible retro feel to it. It also has all kinds of amazing features under the hood.

One of the most obvious is the tab/tile features. This happens in many terminal emulators, but one being built into such a lightweight Desktop Environment bears mentioning. With keyboard shortcuts, you can create tiles in your terminal, and each of those tiles can have multiple tabs. This is great if you’re using multiple top commands to watch various system resources, running multiple terminal programs, or running multiple SSH sessions to servers or other remote systems.

Enlightenment Terminology Tabs Tiles

Another cool feature is that you can configure OpenGL rendering, which is a feature most commonly limited to Alacritty. This way, using some of the built-in features, you can play videos and display all kinds of images while using hardware acceleration. Terminology will revolutionize your workflow. You can read more about it here.

Performance

This is one of the highlights of the Enlightenment window manager. At idle, the system uses just 168 MB RAM and about 1.5 percent CPU. The CPU usage is high, but that’s because I provisioned the virtual machine it’s running in to be very slim, with access to only 1 CPU core and 1 GB RAM. This window manager is incredibly lightweight, and if your system has little to no hardware acceleration, Enlightenment will still run. It doesn’t need any hardware acceleration to run well. It’s designed to be the lightest of the light, and it pulls it off with aplomb.

Enlightenment Htop

The Cons of Enlightenment

Though I love many features of Enlightenment, the default desktop click feature is quite irritating. Left-clicking on the desktop doesn’t just focus on the desktop – it brings up a context menu with an app launcher, prompt, screenshot options, and a bunch of other options that are normally contained in a right-click context menu. Right-clicking on the desktop opens a full, searchable menu with settings and application menus. I’m sure it’s easy enough to get used to, but as a user switching in, it makes me feel like I don’t know how to use a computer.

Enlightenment Left Click Desktop

Where to Experience Enlightenment

One of the best places I’ve found to experience Enlightenment is Elive. We’ve already written a review of Elive, a distro designed to be as lean as possible.

Enlightenment Screenfetch

Who Should Use Enlightenment

Anybody who’s looking to keep things lean and mean on their desktop should use Elive. Particularly, any users who have older computers that they’re looking to reinvigorate would heavily benefit from a distro like Elive using Enlightenment.

Other than this Enlightenment review, make sure to check out our other Desktop Environment reviews, including GNOME, KDE, XFCE, Cinnamon, MATE, Pantheon, LXDE, LXQt, Budgie, and Deepin.

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John Perkins John Perkins

John is a young technical professional with a passion for educating users on the best ways to use their technology. He holds technical certifications covering topics ranging from computer hardware to cybersecurity to Linux system administration.

4 comments

  1. That’s an ANCIENT version of eLive, Debian 7. Why would you suggest anyone run insecure, old software?

  2. It’s easy enough on Arch based distros, to just install enlightenment and select on display manager for a current version. You should probably install at least terminology and rage also to go with it.

  3. way too “comic book” looking. Cartoonish – at best. Prefer Mate or XFCE. If you need super light weight, Just install Peppermint.

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