After a sub-par 20.04 version, Lubuntu returns updated, upgraded, and all-around improved. What should you expect from it compared to other distributions or the other members of the Ubuntu family? Read on to find out.
Like many modern Linux distributions, Lubuntu boots into a live environmen, where you can both test it and start its actual installation on your computer.
Unlike vanilla Ubuntu, Lubuntu uses the Calamares installer. It’s somewhat different but not more complicated or hard to go through in any way. Still, it wasn’t all smooth sailing during testing, for we met a bug during the partitioning step.
We initially chose the “Erase disk” option, then switched to Manual partitioning. The installation crashed at the next step – not the most inspiring start. The next time we didn’t change options and went straight for the Erase disk choice. Everything after that went without a hitch.
The rest of the steps take the user through configuring the bare essentials:
- Location choice
- Keyboard language/setup
- User account setup
After everything is set up, Calamares presents a summary of your choices. If they’re good, two more clicks begin the installation.
Immediately after entering Lubuntu’s desktop, its Update Notifier greeted us with a list of available updates. They were important enough to be marked as an upgrade, but the process was painless. One single click (and root password entry) later, and we were all set.
The right-click menu offers access to the options expected in such a case from most modern desktops and a shortcut to Desktop Preferences. There you can change the desktop’s icon size, font, and spacing. Most will probably be more interested in changing their wallpaper from the same spot or tweaking how it appears on-screen.
Lubuntu comes with a default bottom panel working as its taskbar. Although it’s configurable, there’s not much to write about it. It works as every panel has since Windows 95’s taskbar became the norm. The closest equivalent as far as features and appearance go are XFCE’s panels. Still, Lubuntu’s take is even more restrained and closer to a classic taskbar. If it didn’t include a virtual desktop selector, you could mistake it for a skinned version of Windows XP’s taskbar.
Setting It Up
Despite forgoing the useless fluff, Lubuntu’s LXQt remains very customizable. By choosing “Preferences -> LXQt settings -> LXQt Configuration Center,” you can customize the system to look and work as you want.
You can change themes for the LXQt desktop, separately for Qt, GTK 2, and GTK 3, and choose between icon themes, fonts, and cursors. Lubuntu also relies on Openbox for window management, which comes with different themes of its own.
More mundane options, but more important for usability, allow you to:
- Set the Date and Time
- Change Timezone, choose the position and duration of desktop notifications
- Reassign File Associations
- Change how your mouse, touchpad, and keyboard work, and change keyboard layouts
- Swap the system’s Locale
- Change the screen’s resolution and set your primary display in multi-screen setups
- Choose what happens when your PC idles, is connected to a plug, runs on battery, or you close the lid
- Change LXQt Session Settings, like which apps will auto-start, the default terminal emulator and web browser, or the user’s directories.
- Assign shortcuts to launch apps or run commands
- Modify, create, or delete user and group accounts
- Configure a basic set of desktop effects (Shadow, Opacity, Fade) and choose the rendering backend (between X-Render and GLX)
- Install additional drivers (especially closed-source ones that weren’t auto-installed during the initial setup)
- Apply a full system upgrade (if available)
- Configure your printer (if available)
- Manage your software sources
We mention the Openbox Settings option separately because it has even more of an impact on the way the desktop behaves in daily use.
With Openbox being the actual window manager, that’s the spot from where, apart from choosing even more themes that affect the desktop’s looks, you can also:
- Configure borders, animations, and the order of buttons in Window Titles
- Change the fonts of windows, menus, and on-screen messages
- Define window placement
- Tweak how windows are moved and resized
- Configure how Windows Focusing (selection/activation) works
- Change the dock’s position.
Lubuntu comes with a little bit of everything for everyone as far as software goes.
- PCManFM-Qt File Manager
- 2048-Qt – although we never spend time with them, we’d appreciate the inclusion of one or two more casual titles.
- LibreOffice Draw
- ScreenGrab – is adequate for simple screenshots, but there are more feature-rich alternatives available
- BlueDevil Send File & Wizard – for Bluetooth device pairing and control
- Firefox Web Browser
- Quassel IRC
- Transmission (Qt)
- A second entry of Trojita and LibreOffice Draw
Sound & Video
- PulseAudio Volume Control
- VLC media player
- BlueDevil Send File & Wizard – repeat entry
- KDE Partition Manager
- Muon Package Manager
- QTerminal drop-down
- Startup Disk Creator
The Muon Package Manager is quick and easy to use but not as user-friendly as other alternatives. It prioritizes information and control over aesthetics, and this hurts its role as an essential desktop app. The alternatives on other distributions are admittedly a bit clunkier and slower. However, they can also turn searching for new software to install into a fun pastime. Muon performs excellently, but we believe that its design may scare Linux newcomers into learning how to use
apt in the terminal.
Strangely, we didn’t need to install much more to work comfortably with Lubuntu. Its approach with its desktop and configurability extended to its app selection: it looks basic but proves to be more than enough.
Simple is Good
Overall, Lubuntu looks and feels very basic. While it is a fully working desktop, it gives you a very barebones feel. This is not the desktop for people who want pixel-perfect control of every window’s position, impressive 3D effects, or panels filled with dozens of widgets.
Still, not everything needs to be rocket science, and not everyone needs to micro-manage how each app’s windows will pop on the screen. When the thousands of people who are still clinging to the old and unsupported Windows 7 and Windows XP decide that enough is enough, Lubuntu will be there for them, as it is today for Linux fans who want a light, simple, and fun-to-use desktop – even if it occasionally falters here or there.