LXLE Gives New Zest to Old Machines

Just when you think you have found the sweet spot with an ideal Linux desktop distro, along comes yet another version to tug at your computing heart strings. In this case, it is LXLE.Lubuntu eXtra Life Extension, aka LXLE, is based on Lubuntu, a version of Ubuntu running LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment). Trust me on this, you will not recognize many Ubuntu traces topside. If you have yet to experience the LXDE desktop, prepare yourself for a wonderfully smooth computing experience.

LXLE is an ideal distro for aging computers. It also is a no-sweat transitional OS from Microsoft Windows XP. It uses an optimized LXDE user interface.

Chances are excellent that you will not want to move on to — or return to — any other Linux distro once you try it. LXLE has a comfortable look and feel with plenty of system settings to tailor its performance your way.

Getting It

I could not be happier with the performance in the most current version. This is the recently issued Release Candidate version 12.04.4 Beta.

The RC version, just like the previous release, is available in 32-bit and 64-bit architecture. The ISO file comes directly from the developer’s website and takes only a few minutes to download and burn onto a DVD.

The installation is straightforward, especially on older computers. I had no difficulties. On new computers with Windows 8 or 8.1 installed, I had to go into the BIOS settings to disable Secure Boot and Legacy boot.

This is now a fairly standard routine for installing any Linux OS on a system with EFI hardware settings. The process involves disabling QuickBoot/FastBoot and the Intel Smart Response Technology. Also disable the Fast Startup option in Windows 8 if installed on the computer already.

Atom-Driven Option

LXLE runs great on older PCs and Atom-based netbooks. It is no slouch on newer, more powerful computers either.

I have relied on SolydX and a USB-booted Puppy Linux for my netbook and a small-screened older laptop. Most every other Linux distro I tried on them failed to adjust resolutions and menus proportionately enough to use without big annoyances.

LXLE trumps both of these favorites of mine. In fact, it has all of the speed and sophistication of the XFCE desktop SolydX uses. Nothing seems lightweight with the LXLE implementation of the LXDE environment. It has the configurability and feel of a more traditional full-weight system.

Heavy Duty Packages

The LXLE distro offers an impressive mix of features. For a lightweight distro, it packs a hefty list of included applications.

This included list of software is almost a contradiction in terms. Typically, lightweight Linux distros scale down the volume of software that tends to be resource demanding. usually, users get light duty apps such as Abiword instead of LibreOffice, for instance.

LXLE comes with included applications that match what I usually add to other desktop distros that are not so lightweight. They include GIMP, Shotwell, LibreOffice and a lot more.

Games and accessory applications are often lacking in even the hardiest and most bloated Linux distros. Not so with LXLE. Twenty-eight game titles stuff the menu.

The accessories menu includes 20 standards. Many of these I routinely install in whichever distro I install. It certainly was convenient not having to install favorites such as ClamTK virus scanner, gEdit text editor and Galculator (basic calculator), among other standards.

Management Issues

The primary package management chores are provided through the Lubuntu Software Center. Its plain and simple appearance is a refreshing break from the what you get with Ubuntu and Kubuntu versions.

A much fuller complement of software is available through the Synaptic Package Manager. The gDebi Package installer is also preloaded.

The System Tools menu similarly is filled with almost a solid three dozen titles that make managing and configuring LXLE so much simpler than having to add the tools manually.

Do not overlook the YPPA Manager (Personal Package Archives) to easily handle the default software repositories you want the Software Center to recognize. It automates the process of adding PPAs to the resident software management system.

Another management extra that comes in mighty handy if you use LXLE in a business setting on multiple workstations is Alternatives Configurator. This tool helps the administrator select which programs provide specific services for the user by default.

Specialty Features

LXLE comes with the same access to the Ubuntu One cloud services as standard Ubuntu distros maintained by Ubuntu’s parent company, Canonical. If you decide to install the Ubuntu One direct access, find the installer in the Preferences menu.

I usually like working with favorite add-on launchers as a way of creating a common program-loading strategy on multiple computer running various Linux distros. That process could not be easier in LXLE. The Quick Launch tool is one click away on the panel or accessible with the Alt + Z keyboard shortcut.

Quick Launch works much like a new feature in Windows 8.1. Activate the applet. A window pops onto the screen with the reminder to “type something.” There is no search box to move a mouse pointer toward. Just type part of a file name or program to launch it. This is a really nice feature already part of the interface.

Desktop Highlights

It is easy to see why LXLE is a handy migration distro for Microsoft Windows users. Its user interface can have the look and feel of the Windows XP desktop or a more traditional Linux setting.

For example, the panel is anchored at the bottom of the screen and can be hidden until called or left visible. Menu icons, minimized windows and system icons line up where they would be in windows XP. Right-clicking on a menu item lets you create a desktop icon. Move the cursor to the left edge of the screen to pop out the favorites panel.

Right-click anywhere on the desktop to open a system menu. Click the mouse wheel or middle button to pop up a window list of all open items on the virtual desktops.

Even in the DVD live session mode, LXLE comes complete with more than a dozen gorgeous, colorful desktop images. A random view icon on the panel cycles through the collection repeatedly in full desktop view — or you can select one image to display as background.

Missing Eye Candy

A few missing interface features belie the true lightweight status of the LXLE desktop environment. The desktop display lacks the pleasing bells and whistles that come in other lightweight environments.

For example, LXLE’s treatment is bereft of scale and exp displays, as well as desktop effects that add visual displays when switching virtual desktops and opening or closing windows. However, those missing features do not detract from the solid performance of the LXDE environment or LXLE’s implementation of it.

Bottom Line

LXLE is an easy-to-use lightweight desktop Linux distribution.

If you want a fast, low maintenance Linux distro that will run well on any level of hardware, you cannot go wrong with LXLE.

An added nice touch is the ability to set the interface theme from the log-in box to select from five style paradigms: G2, Netbook, OSX, Unity and XP.

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 email your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

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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