2.12.2012

Support LXDE now!

GNOME has always been my desktop of choice, despite even the recent shocking changes that it underwent. This preference, however, has just been toppled down. I've always favored the lighter applications, and I got to know LXDE while testing PeppermintOS. Back then, I thought of LXDE as nice, but lacking in features in comparison with GNOME - it left the impression that it was still unfinished. However, within a little less than a year of personal use, LXDE has finally overcome its last hurdle to become my standard, preferred desktop environment.

I've been using only LXDE for a week now, loving every bit of it. Before that, however, only one feature kept me using GNOME, and that was the use of multiple monitors. I found a fix online last week and then was amazed with how LXDE is truly powerful. Now, in case you don't know LXDE, allow me to point out a few key points in its respect:
  • It's probably the most recently released Desktop Environment, developed by a Taiwanese programmer in 2006.
  • LXDE's main components are pcmanfm (file manager), lxpanel (desktop panel), lxterminal (terminal emulator) and the Openbox window manager, though it comes with many other programs when bundled with a distribution. These are usually the lightest alternatives you can find.
  • Memory tests with several LiveCDs confirm that it has the lowest RAM consumption within any Desktop Environment.
  • Has been bundled with Ubuntu in the form of the Lubuntu distribution for a couple of years, but only recently (prior to 11.10) has gained official Canonical recognition as Ubuntu derivative.
  • Uses GTK+, so borrowing a few apps from GNOME won't cost you a performance hit - like happens when running KDE apps in GNOME.
I could go on forever with this list, LXDE is just that awesome. In fact, it even changed my opinion on what distribution beginners should go for. Why bother with clunky, slow GNOME Shell when you can be ultra fast with LXDE/Openbox? Fedora LXDE Spin, Lubuntu, Linux Mint LXDE, you name it...You would still have the full beginner-friendly background from the distribution, only faster and snappier. BAM!

Now, I can't just go on pretending that LXDE has no defects. As I stated before, I thought for a long time that it was unfinished, unpolished, and and that feeling still remains sometimes. There are many features that aren't present in LXDE, some for a reason and some with no good reason at all. Here are the few pet peeves that I had/have with LXDE, with their solutions and workarounds:
  • Visually, it's definitely less attractive than KDE or GNOME. This is reflected in the window manager's themes (though metacity also doesn't have great decorations either), absence of "desktop effects," and overall stale-looking panels (seems that other DEs' panels are more "alive," especially in KDE)
  • LXDE is slightly less noob-friendly, unless it comes by default. A vanilla installation of LXDE gives the user an lxpanel without any applets to control volume/networks/sleep features and will require a considerable amount of tweaking before full usability. Also, a few things done graphically in other DEs (such as changing keybindings) will require editing a few configuration files.
  • A few "special" keys like volume control won't be read by the window manager, requiring you to bind an "arbitrary" key, like F7 and F8 (Note: I'm pretty sure it can be fixed, but I didn't bother with it...)
The lacking visuals are a necessity to keep the consumption low. You can, however, install some minimal eye-candy like I did. There's, for example, a program called xcompmgr, that gives fading and shadow effects. Just keep in mind, however: the more you load the OS, the slower it gets.

So, what are you waiting for? Start supporting LXDE. Install it in your favorite distro, or get the latest release of Lubuntu now. We need to get stuff done and waste less energy, so you don't really have a choice here. And besides, in comparison, here is what LXDE and GNOME would look like:

If DEs were women...

February 2012 by K. Zimmermann
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