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Linux Lite Is Heavy on Features and Usability

Linux Lite Is Heavy on Features and Usability

My routine in checking out any unfamiliar Linux distro is to see how quickly the live session boots on my standard equipment. Usually, the first sign of duress is the lack of a wireless connection. The next stumbling block is usually one or more snags while installing the new distro to the test computers. Linux Lite impressed me from the start.

By Jack M. Germain
10/24/13 5:00 AM PT

In a computing world distracted by distro overload, Linux Lite is a lightweight Linux OS that has no trouble handling a heavy workload.

Long gone are the days when it took hours to install and set up Linux on a computer, but most Linux distros still need a bit of configuration to adjust the massive desktop options to your liking.

Linux Lite

Not so with Linux Lite. It is one of the few out-of-the-box experiences I have had in testing Linux distros that let me actually be up and working in under five minutes.

That is not to say I haven't spent time installing various preferred packages. That's the great beauty of using Linux. It gives users so much freedom to individualize the look and feel and choice of applications.

To its credit, Linux Lite does not install excessive numbers of programs to clutter up menus and home directories. Instead, it installs a collection of work and play packages to get you working and surfing. Rather than spend time removing or tolerating unwanted programs, users can simply add their preferred tools.

Testing That Testimony

My routine in checking out any unfamiliar Linux distro is to see how quickly the live session boots on my standard equipment. Usually, the first sign of duress is the lack of a wireless connection. The next stumbling block is usually one or more snags while installing the new distro to the test computers.

Linux Lite impressed me from the start. It loaded a live session in under 30 seconds with a prompt to enter my wireless connection credentials. I liked its speedy responsiveness when loading files from the DVD. I liked its fresh look and uncluttered design.

Linux Lite won me over when it installed on even my balkiest test computers without a single sign of trouble. That satisfaction continued as I performed my next critical step. Using nothing more than the installed set of packages, I attempt to use the distro to do actual work tasks for as long into my work day as I can tolerate.

I was pleasantly pleased not to have to make any settings changes or packages additions except one minor matter. Linux Lite defaults to two virtual workspaces. It only took a right click to change that setting to my standard four. The new setting was immediately activated in the workplace switcher app on the dock.

Look and Feel

Linux Lite uses the Xfce desktop environment. Not having any other choices is sometimes a good thing: It removes any quandaries about which optional offering would be better. Of course, if you prefer more memory-intensive flash-bang desktop effects, Xfce may not suit your comfort zone.

Xfce is fast and lightweight, but it is also very simple to use without compromising on performance. The Linux Lite developers did not make the mistake so many others make by embellishing or altering the integration of the desktop environment to make it more distro-unique.

I was able to easily change the default two-tone gray background with a right click on the desktop to select the Desktop Properties menu. Linux Lite offers a nice collection of colorful background images as part of the live session functionality. Often this personalizing option is not available with other Linux distros until you make a hard drive installation.

Working Desktop

The desktop screen is neat and simple, with easy navigation to the menu, system settings and configuration options. As I already mentioned, though, Linux Lite really needs no finessing to be truly usable from the start.

The menu is fairly standard yet simple and intuitive. For example, the folders are organized according to their categories. The slide-out menus are also well-categorized.

You can use the Run Program search box at the top of the menu to run a program rather than scroll through the standard menu -- but that only works if you actually know the name of what you want.

Another option is to use the Application Finder in the Accessory menu. Just select a category in the left column and click on the desired installed application in the right column.

Everything Just Works

Linux Lite has a lot going for it to make a very good first impression. With Linux Lite the basics work out-of-the-box.

For example, the only included browser is Firefox. I would have preferred the Chromium Browser, but Firefox was a reliable browser for me to start my work day rather than take time to install Chromium. Even Firefox's preinstalled state allowed me to play my online music collections and view YouTube videos without having to track down missing players and plug-ins.

When I needed to take that extra step to use some added third-party programs, relief was just a menu item away. The restricted extras package in the main system menu includes proprietary libraries and applications that enable the use of TrueType Fonts, Java, Flash and the ability to playback MP3s.

Strong System Support

Especially useful for configuring Linux Lite your way is the menu item to easily install special packages. The list includes a file and folder search tool and instant messaging. It also lets you add remote desktop, restricted extras, torrent software, video editing, VirtualBox, a weather monitor and/or Wine.

Linux Lite lacks its own community repository. The full range of package installation and software removal is done with the Synaptic Package Manager. A separate application in the main menu lets you install system updates.

The latest version of Linux Lite is "Amethyst," or version 1.0.6, released in June. The distro is based on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, which includes five years of system updates without worrying about having to upgrade.

If you are not a fan of Ubuntu Linux, do not let the family lineage deter you from trying Linux Lite. Other than the system underpinnings, you will not see any trappings from the Ubuntu desktop.

Bottom Line

Linux Lite is an ideal starter distro for those looking for an upgrade when Windows XP dies early next year. Yet this distro is not just an easy Linux intro for newcomers -- it is a suitable workhorse distro for seasoned Linux users as well.

Even without installing it to a hard drive, you can reliably use Linux Lite in a live session from the DVD or USB drive installation. The USB option does not let you save your settings and software changes, however -- it is not intended for true portable use with persistent memory. However, if you use it only in live session mode, you can save your personal files externally.

Linux Lite is fully featured with the preinstalled software to be usable right out of the box.

Want to Suggest a Linux Application for Review?

Is there a Linux software application you'd like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

Please send your ideas to me at jack.germain@newsroom.ectnews.com, and I'll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Talkback feature below to add your comments!


Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear.


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