When it comes to the look and feel of a Linux distro, there is a huge amount of choice available. You can choose Desktop Environments (DE) that focus on aesthetics or those that focus on utter efficiency. For those looking for the ultimate in efficiency, LXDE is the one for you. In this LXDE review, we’ll cover the basics of LXDE, how to use it, what it feels like, and some recommendations about LXDE.
LXDE First Impressions
LXDE is made up of a lot of separate components, and many of those are interchangeable. As such, it can feel a little disjointed. However, there’s a really important part about LXDE that I want to drive home: it’s so fast. Even in a virtual machine it feels like I’m using a bare metal system. There are so many LXDE distros that aim toward older machines that it makes total sense why they’re able to do that. Additionally, many LXDE distros are quite beautiful, which can really revitalize an older system.
LXDE User Experience
The user experience of LXDE can vary wildly. However, many follow a very traditional desktop paradigm with a hierarchical application menu and a search function. There’s also a system tray with networking, sound, and notifications, but that’s where the similarities end. Peppermint Linux configures LXDE to look and feel a lot like Cinnamon, whereas LXLE keeps things a little more GNOME 2. It speaks to the modular nature of LXDE that both distros can do such good work with a lightweight DE.
One of the things that is so great about LXDE is the modular nature of it. Linux is all about tinkering and choosing exactly what you want, so it only makes sense. A great example is Window Managers – the default is Openbox, but you can also use Fluxbox, IceWM, and Xfwm if you want.
This is where a user more familiar with Linux with specific needs may thrive, as it’s quite easy to tailor your experience to suit whatever you may want. All parts of LXDE are separate and don’t depend on each other, so you can make choices about what you want specifically. You can see in the examples above that the desktops don’t look anything alike, but they’re both LXDE, just with different parts.
This is arguably the best part about LXDE. It’s not about what amazing new features exist, it’s not about what crazy applications are installed with it, it’s just about simplicity. No extra bells and whistles, just something light and minimal to support the workflow you already have. That’s what LXDE embodies. You can, of course, add a bunch to it, but that defeats the purpose. It’s elegant in its simplicity. For those users who feel like they fight their system to make it work for them, LXDE is a great place to start.
This is one of the areas where LXDE really shines. A fresh boot of LXLE in a virtual machine yields just over 250MB RAM usage, with an average CPU usage of 0.7%. This slides right in line with what many LXDE distros proclaim as a primary purpose, which is to revitalize underpowered and/or old computers. LXLE, one of the distros tested for this review, has that as their main branding on their website. Moreover, even in a VM, things are incredibly snappy. I feel like I’m working with a full-fat desktop environment like KDE, but the taxation on the system is so minimal that I could run it on any hardware I wanted.
The Cons of LXDE
As is the case with all software, LXDE isn’t perfect. For those users looking for something specifically aesthetically appealing, LXDE often doesn’t deliver. There are extra tools you can add to make it more traditionally beautiful, but those all add weight, and with weight comes reduced flexibility in the hardware. There are other systems designed for ultra-old hardware that are more beautiful, much like Elive.
Additionally, with the modularity comes fragmentation. I personally like when my desktop environment looks and feels cohesive, and that cohesiveness is recognizable. I know when I’m using GNOME or Pantheon, but it’s hard to recognize when I’m on LXDE. Things are so heavily customized and disjointed that it may feel like Xfce over here and more like MATE over here. For those going for ultimate utility and functionality, then this may not matter to you, but it’s hard to settle into for me.
Where to Experience LXDE
There are two main contestants for the best places to experience LXDE. The first is Peppermint. Peppermint is an excellent choice for those who are looking for a more feature-rich LXDE desktop. It looks and feels a lot like a combination of Xfce and Cinnamon but is lighter than either of them, and the Peppermint project has made some modifications to the system that make it much nicer to use, like the Peppermint Settings Panel to bring all the settings to one spot.
The other place to experience LXDE is LXLE. As stated above, it’s a more GNOME 2/MATE-style interface, but one of the greatest parts about LXLE is that it maximizes the feeling of minimalism that LXDE is all about. The focus remains on keeping things lean, but it adds several really aesthetically-pleasing changes, like an elementaryOS icon theme that updates the way things look considerably.
Who Should Use LXDE
Additionally, anybody who has some particularly old hardware will benefit from LXDE as their desktop environment.