LXDE exam: light as a feather

When it comes to the look and feel of a Linux distro, there is a huge amount of choice available. You can choose office environments (DE) focused on aesthetics or those focused on absolute efficiency. For those looking for the ultimate in efficiency, LXDE is for you. In this LXDE review, we’ll cover the basics of LXDE, how to use it, what it looks like and some recommendations on LXDE.

First impressions LXDE

LXDE is made up of many separate components, many of which are interchangeable. As such, it may seem a bit disjointed. However, there is one very important part of LXDE that I want to take home: it’s so quick. Even in a virtual machine, I feel like I’m using a bare metal system. There are so many LXDE distributions that target older machines that it makes perfect sense to know why they are capable of doing so. Plus, a lot of LXDE distros look pretty good, which can really revitalize an older system.

Lxde Peppermint login screen
Lxde Peppermint DeskLxde Peppermint Desk
Lxde Peppermint Lock ScreenLxde Peppermint Lock Screen

LXDE user experience

The user experience of LXDE can vary widely. However, many follow a very traditional desktop paradigm with a hierarchical app menu and 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 a lot like Cinnamon, while LXLE keeps things a bit more GNOME 2. This is a testament to LXDE’s modular nature that both distributions can do such a good job with a lightweight DE.

Lxde Lxle login screenLxde Lxle login screen
Lxde Lxle DesktopOffice Lxde Lxle
Lxde Lxle lock screenLxde Lxle lock screen

Modularity

One of the advantages of LXDE is its modular nature. Linux is all about tinkering and choosing exactly what you want, so that only makes sense. Window managers are a good example – the default is Open box, but you can also use Fluxbox, IceWMand Xfwm if you wish.

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This is where a user more familiar with Linux with specific needs can thrive, as it’s easy enough to tailor your experience to what you want. All parts of LXDE are separate and not dependent on each other, so you can make choices on what you specifically want. You can see from the examples above that the desks don’t look the same, but they are both LXDE, just with different parts.

Simplicity

This is arguably the best part of LXDE. It’s not about what amazing new features are out there, it’s not about what crazy apps are installed with it, it’s just about the simplicity. No extra bells and whistles, just something light and minimal to support the workflow you already have. This is what LXDE stands for. You can, of course, add a bunch to it, but that defeats the purpose. It is elegant in its simplicity. For users who feel like they are struggling with their system to make it work for them, LXDE is a great place to start.

Performance

This is one of the areas where LXDE really shines. Rebooting LXLE in a virtual machine generates just over 250MB of RAM, with an average CPU usage of 0.7%. This fits in perfectly with what many LXDE distributions proclaim as their primary goal, which is to revitalize underpowered and / or old computers. LXLE, one of the distros tested for this review, has this as its main brand on its website. Plus, even in a VM, things are incredibly vivid. I feel like I’m working with a full desktop environment like KDE, but the system tax is so minimal I could run it on any hardware I wanted.

Lxde Lxle HtopLxde Lxle Htop

The disadvantages of LXDE

As with all software, LXDE is not perfect. For users looking for something specifically aesthetically appealing, LXDE often doesn’t provide. There are additional tools you can add to make it more traditionally good looking, but all of them add weight, and with the weight, the flexibility of the material is reduced. There are other systems designed for ultra-old hardware that look better, much like Elive.

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In addition, with modularity comes fragmentation. Personally, I love when my office environment looks and feels cohesive, and that cohesion 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 personalized and disjointed that it may look like Xfce here and more like MATE here. For those looking for ultimate utility and functionality, it might not matter to you, but it’s hard for me to sort out.

Where to discover LXDE

There are two main contenders for the best places to experience LXDE. The first is Pepper mint. Peppermint is a great choice for those looking for a more feature-rich LXDE desktop. It looks a lot like a combination of Xfce and Cinnamon, but is lighter than either, and the Peppermint project has made a few changes to the system that make it a lot nicer to use, like the settings panel of Peppermint to bring all the settings to one place.

Lxde Peppermint NeofetchLxde Peppermint Neofetch
Lxde Peppermint Settings PanelLxde Peppermint Settings Panel

The other place to discover LXDE is LXLE. As noted above, it’s a more GNOME 2 / MATE style interface, but one of the biggest parts of LXLE is that it maximizes the sense of minimalism that LXDE is all about. The goal is still to keep things thin, but it adds several really aesthetic changes, like an elementaryOS icon theme that significantly updates the look of things.

Lxde Lxle NeofetchLxde Lxle Neofetch

Who should use LXDE

Anyone looking for a no-frills office environment that is highly adaptable to your preferences and needs should give LXDE a look. It’s a cut above a tiled window manager in terms of user-friendly features and weight, but not by much, and it gives you enormous flexibility.

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Additionally, anyone with particularly old hardware will benefit from LXDE as their desktop environment.

After reading this LXDE review, be sure to check out other desktop environments, such as GNOME, KDE, and Pantheon, and learn a few ways to customize LXDE like app launchers and themes.

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John perkins
John perkins

John is a young technical professional passionate about educating users on the best ways to use their technology. He holds technical certifications covering subjects ranging from computer hardware to cybersecurity to Linux system administration.

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