LXDE: Smaller, Faster than KDE or GNOME: Page 2

Posted February 23, 2010

Bruce Byfield

Bruce Byfield

(Page 2 of 2)

The main trouble with such software is that it sits strangely beside the popular applications like OpenOffice.org, Mozilla, or The GIMP, all of which are included on the Live CD. Next to GPicView or PCMan, such applications appear overblown and wasteful. At the very least, they belong to a different school of thought about desktops -- so much so that I suspect that they are only included because users expect them.

Selective Configuration

Another area in which LXDE's minimalist tradition seems strained is in configuration. On the one hand, free and open source software users expect to a high degree of configurability. On the other hand, how can an interface meet such expectations while eliminating anything not strictly necessary?

As with applications in general, part of LXDE's answer to this design question is to avoid duplication. Instead of providing its own desktop customization dialogs, the Live CD simply provides Openbox's. In the dialog for desktop preferences, you can even opt to see Openbox's context menus when you click on the desktop instead of LXDE's.

Another part of the answer is ensuring that customization interfaces have as little eye-candy as possible. Open the dialog for panel applications, and you find only a list of choices, with no icons or even detailed descriptions of what each choice does. Nor are applets like GNOME's Tomboy or KDE's Blackboard part of the selection: the choices are functional ones, such as a menu, or a notification tray or a clock.

Mostly, however, LXDE balances its design philosophy and user expectations by providing a careful, but not thorough selection of customization options.

This balance is especially obvious in PCMan's preferences dialog. On the first tab of the dialog, you can selection icon sizes for the desktop, and the size of the files to display as thumbnails. On the second, you can set PCMan to manage the desktop, and select the desktop wallpaper. On the third, you can set the locale for file names and set the default terminal.

If you compare these choices with GNOME's Nautilus, they seem sparse and hardly adequate. But, when you start to examine them, not only are more advanced options on a separate tab, but the ones provided are ones that most affect the look and feel of the desktop.

Besides, if you really want a complete set of customization options, you can always find them in the Openbox Configuration Manager. There, you can choose themes, and set the behavior of windows and the mouse in as much detail as in KDE or GNOME. In fact, you can even find some unusual features, such as desktop margins and a windows dock that many other desktops lack.

At times, LXDE's configuration interfaces are not as complete as they could be. In particular, if you prefer clicking icons on the desktop to using the menu, you will probably find that copying the icon to the Desktop folder inconvenient. Yet, for the most part, LXDE usually manages to satisfy the expectation of customizing by offering a careful selection of options that should be just enough for most people.

LXLauncher for Netbooks

Most of LXDE's design is not specifically useful for desktops. Its desktop is a standard design for workstations, and its small footprints matters less now that many netbooks ship with two megabytes of RAM.

LXDE desktop

LXDE launcher

However, in LXLauncher, LXDE has what may be the simplest netbook interface yet. Started from the menu, LXLauncher is a translation of the menu into a series of tabs that occupy the entire screen. From left to right, these tabs are Internet, Work, Learn, Play, and Preferences. On each tab, you can customize each icon.

Unfortunately, neither the tabs nor the icons can be moved about or added to from the desktop. Yet, overall, the interface is reminiscent of KDE's Plasma Netbook interface, only more so. In general, LXLauncher is ideal for both the limited screens of the typical netbook, as well as for children or anyone with limited eyesight.

State of the Interface

In many ways, LXDE is where Xfce was a couple of release ago: polished in some places and rough in a couple of obvious ones. It could use another few months of development before it is as user-friendly as it could be.

Meanwhile, LXDE is ideal for intermediate users who prefer a graphical interface, but do not object to some simple one-time configuration at the command line. Appealing to both old-time users and the users of modern hardware alike, it provides a unique bridge between free software's past and present -- and possibly its future as well.

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Tags: Linux desktop, Linux downloads, Gnome, KDE, LXDE

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