A quick look at Linux Mint LXDE 11
The popular Linux Mint distribution has just released Linux Mint LXDE 11 RC. This article provides a quick look at this lightweight Linux distribution.
Linux Mint represented my return to Linux. It was the first distribution I tried that "just worked", and since that day I have not had Windows installed on any of my personal PCs. I have, however, jumped between a few different Linux distributions, and have recently settled on Fedora 15. I found myself installing Linux Mint once again while resurrecting some old Dell laptops. As it turns out, Fedora 15 has issues installing on PCs with 512MB or RAM or less. So I jumped on the Linux Mint website and saw that they had just make a release candidate of their LXDE 11 distribution available.
Some initial hickups
I downloaded the ISO and booted up the distribution. I was expecting to see a live desktop from which I could install the distribution to the local disk, but was instead dumped to a terminal. There was no mention of this issue in the release notes or on the Linux Mint website, but after some digging I found out that I needed to set the nomodeset option. With that option in place, Linux Mint LXDE 11 booted up just fine. I mention it here because the LXDE version of the distribution will often appeal to people running Linux on older hardware.
I also installed the distribution in VirtualBox for the purpose of grabbing the screenshots in the rest of this article.
The Live CD Environment
The Linux Mint 11 LXDE ISO provides a live CD environemnt, where you can either install the operating system to the hard disk, or use it without making any permenent changes. The default range of applications is quite comprehensive, including Firefox (with the Flash plugin), media players (with all the codes you are likely to need), GIMP for image editing, and the usual assortment of general utilities such as text editors. By including all the plugins and codecs that most distributions force you to install manually, Linux Mint LXDE 11 is actually one of the most useful live CD environments I have used. I could get onto Youtube and listen to streaming internet radio without having to configure any additional packages. The only thing missing is an office suite like Libre/Open Office, although AbiWord and Gnumeric are available.
The Installation Process
Anyone who has installed Ubuntu or Linux Mint before will find the installation process quite straight forward. You partition your disk, select your timezone, select a keyboard layout and setup an initial user. Linux Mint 11 LXDE will start copying files to the hard disk once the partitions have been defined, which saves some time by performing the install as you select the other options.
The Desktop Experience
I do have to say that Linux Mint LXDE makes the lightweight desktop look sexy. The green and grey theme works really well, and the Linux Mint team have obviously taken some time to make sure that their applications have great icons and an overall appealing style. I know that you can't judge a book by its cover, but aesthetics do go a long way.
Linux Mint LXDE is also fast. This has always been one of the advantages of lightweight desktops like Xfce and LXDE, but even I was surprised at how quickly an old Dell Latitude D600 could boot. It certainly blows Windows XP out of the water, although that could be due to the additional antivirus software that is mandatory on Windows operating systems. Other than that, the Linux Mint LXDE 11 desktop experience is pretty much what you expect from the Mint guys: things just work. All the hardware was detected, all the plugins and codecs I needed were installed by default, and from the very first boot my laptop was functional and usable.
I did notice some small issues with the release candidate though. First, the lxdm login manager uses white text on a light grey background. This is hard to read, and should probably be replaced with black text in the final release.
Also, the user settings provide an option to disable the login manager from prompting for a password. This doesn't actually work. To enable automatic logins you need to edit the /etc/lxdm/default.conf file, and change the autologin option from mint to your username.
Linux Mint LXDE 11 provides a fast, gorgeous operating system that works the way you work (because, lets face it, the first thing most of us install after we install a new Linux distribution is Flash, MP3 codecs, Java etc). As more Linux distributions move towards Unity or Gnome 3, it's nice to see such high quality offerings for older hardware. I would have preferred to see LibreOffice installed by default, but I can understand why the Mint team went with the lighter AbiWord and Gnumenric offerings instead, and installing LibreOffice involves only a few clicks anyway through the custom Software Manager. Overall, an excellent distro that only needs one or two small bugs fixed before the final release.