2010-10-10

Preview: Debian 6 "Squeeze" (Part 3: LXDE and Xfce)

LXDE Main Screen
Each review done individually would be rather short, so I'm combining reviews of these two DEs into one post. It shouldn't turn out to be too long. The other thing is that I didn't test the installation procedure in either because I suspect it's the exact same as in GNOME and KDE (and because this current virtual hard drive is messed up GRUB-wise).
LXDE seems to be the new hot thing; to cater to users who need a lightweight distribution either out of necessity (older hardware, need to allocate as much memory as possible to applications without giving up a usable DE) or out of preference, pretty much every major distribution has begun to offer an LXDE edition. It's user-friendly but light on resources; it's well-built yet very modular. It just seems like the place to be.
Xfce Main Screen
On the other hand, Xfce, previously the DE of choice for lightweight DE enthusiasts, has been the source of these new LXDE users. What do I mean? While some people still do swear by Xfce, it's quickly losing more and more users, and distributions are shifting their development resources away from Xfce (and usually towards LXDE). Why is this? Unlike LXDE, which is consistently getting better with each release, Xfce hasn't really changed in quite a few releases — it has become a sort of static DE. Plus, it just doesn't look as fresh and cutting-edge as the other DEs. (Full disclosure: The only experience I've had with Xfce is with Linux Mint 7 "Gloria" Xfce, and as Ubuntu does to Xubuntu, Linux Mint makes the Xfce version behave a lot more like the GNOME version (as opposed to leaving it with the default Xfce look).) Even looking at DistroWatch statistics (which are alternatively called accurate and inaccurate), Lubuntu has overtaken Xubuntu and even Kubuntu in popularity.
Follow the jump to see how each DE fares, as implemented in Debian 6 "Squeeze".

LXDE

Iceweasel
The boot and startup time is quite fast, as usual. I think this process is identical across all versions of Debian 6 "Squeeze". The desktop is a default (but still slick-looking) implementation of LXDE. I tried to find out what the idle memory usage was like, but I couldn't find any menu items (more on that part later) relating to this, and when I tried clicking on the system monitor on the panel, I accidentally clicked the "Lock Screen" button, requiring me to manually power down and restart the guest OS in VirtualBox. That's annoying. All I can say is that qualitatively, LXDE feels quite agile.
As expected, Iceweasel is included, and Gnash is the Adobe Flash substitute (and works as it did in the GNOME desktop — that is to say, exhibiting lots of latency and choppiness). OpenOffice.org is included, which could be a first for an LXDE distribution; interestingly enough, unlike the more "heavyweight" GNOME edition, the LXDE edition does not include AbiWord and Gnumeric.
OpenOffice.org and LXDE Main Menu
I mentioned earlier something about the menus. The LXDE main menu has an "Other" entry. I wanted to start OpenOffice.org so I tried hovering over "Office" but accidentally hovered for a moment over "Other". That submenu is ridiculously large. It seems like every item in the LXDE main menu is duplicated in this "Other" menu. This needs some serious work; it's just annoying, and it slows the system down loading all those menu entries. It seems like Debian just loves duplication and redundancy, now doesn't it?
Well, the LXDE edition works like normal Debian, but lighter, I guess. It could appeal to someone who wants the lightweight nature of the GNOME version but with a more modern style and more modular applications.

Xfce

Iceweasel + Thunar
This could sound like a near-carbon-copy (wow, what are those?) of the LXDE review, but that's just because there aren't a whole lot of differences. To that end I'll just make note of what differences there are. Of course, Xfwm is the window manager instead of Openbox. Thunar is present instead of PCManFM, for obvious reasons. Xfce desktop configuration tools are present (instead of LX-tools).
The default desktop looks like a vanilla implementation of Xfce; it definitely looks dated, but it doesn't seem offensive. At idle (and thankfully I was able to measure this), Xfce uses 120 MB of RAM, which is only 10 or so MB less than the GNOME live DVD. Xfce has a similar menu clutter issue as LXDE, though thankfully to a lesser extent. Like LXDE, Xfce includes OpenOffice.org but neither AbiWord nor Gnumeric.

OpenOffice.org and Xfce Main Menu
Overall, I would go with LXDE over Xfce, simply because it looks and feels like a more modern, customizable, and well-built system; of course, this is rather superficial, as there aren't any underlying differences that could be show-stoppers. Of all of them, however, I would go with GNOME, because that's where the majority of Debian's development efforts go. What do you think?

8 comments:

  1. You ought to try the newest Peppermint Ice (based on Ubuntu 10.04). It's really lean and mean.

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  2. @Barista Uno: Thanks for the tip. I've heard a lot of good things about it, so I hope to try it soon!

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  3. Give the LinuxMint LXDE version a try, you'll be impressed with the DE.

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  4. @Anonymous: I may try that soon as well, though it may have to wait until version 10 "Julia". Thanks for the tip!

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  5. Debian 6 LXDE memory usage is in Menu ==> System Tools ==> Task Manager (mine is in Catalan but it should be something like that in English). In my WMware Player it showed consistently 20-30 MB less RAM usage than Debian 6 Gnome (60-90 in LXDE to 90-120 in Gnome, in 512 MB guest virtual machine). Interesting LXDE. Also interesting how low on RAM this Gnome runs.

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  6. @Anonymous: Thanks for the tip!

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  7. VirtualBox alters the RAM use of my debian guest while on a debian host. I dont know if VMware Player has a similar effect, but be aware that you may get different numbers natively than the VirtualMachine version.

    BTW, I love LXDE with SLiM. I can have a polished UI working under 90 MB RAM of my laptop!

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  8. @Anonymous: I've heard of this before, but from my experiences, the numbers have been close enough that the differences are insignificant. Thanks for the comment!

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