Review: Linux Mint 11 "Katya" LXDE

Main Screen
This week, I again found myself in the position of not having much to write about here. Then, I saw that Linux Mint 11 "Katya" LXDE had been released, and considering that I had previously reviewed Debian-based Linux Mint Xfce, I thought that this would be a great opportunity to try Linux Mint's newest Ubuntu-based lightweight distribution.

Recently, the various editions of Linux Mint have undergone much flux. The only certainties are that there will be two GNOME editions, one Ubuntu-based and one Debian-based. I guess it's also pretty much certain at this point that the Xfce edition will stick with the Debian base. Outside of these things, for now, it seems like the LXDE edition, which I am reviewing today, will stick with the Ubuntu base, but that may or may not change after this; furthermore, the KDE and Fluxbox editions appear to have moved to the Debian base, but neither edition has seen release candidate ISO files released, meaning that there still seems to be a lot of work to be done on both. (As a side note, I will probably review the KDE edition once it is released.)

I tested this LXDE edition on a live USB made with MultiSystem. I did not test the installation. Follow the jump to see whether this really makes good on its promise to be a more lightweight version of Linux Mint.

After getting past the boot menu, I was greeted by a black screen for a boot splash, which was also true in Linux Mint 11 "Katya" GNOME. Again, while I understand the reasoning in that it ensures a consistent experience across all hardware, I think it's better to have a boot splash so that way users can see whether the boot process has been hung up or not. After that, I was taken to the desktop.

YouTube on Mozilla Firefox 5 + AbiWord
The LXDE desktop looks remarkably similar to the GNOME desktop, as implemented in Linux Mint. The wallpaper and GTK+ theme are all the same, as is the presence of the thin scrollbars. The panel layout is essentially identical, though there are a few subtle details that give away the identity of the LXDE edition right away: the menu button only has the icon without the word "Menu", the window switcher buttons look fatter, and the clock applet uses a bigger font. Of course, the main menu is a traditional LXDE menu as opposed to the Mint Menu, while the clock doesn't have all the same functionality as its counterpart in GNOME, but those are minor details. The only other major difference is the Openbox window border, which is dark and blocky and doesn't match up well with the default Linux Mint Metacity window border theme; this is strange because there is a light-colored Openbox theme that does match up much better, so I don't know why that wasn't made the default. Overall, I feel essentially the same about the look and feel of the LXDE Linux Mint desktop as I do about its GNOME counterpart.

Mozilla Firefox is the default browser at version 5; though version 6 was released yesterday, version 5 was the latest one available when Linux Mint 11 "Katya" LXDE was released. It comes with most multimedia codecs included, as is expected of Linux Mint. In addition, the volume control keyboard shortcuts worked, which was a nice surprise for the LXDE edition; speaking of volume, though, the only comprehensive volume control application available is the GNOME ALSA mixer, which I find to be quite confusing and, honestly, not really in the spirit of Linux Mint being easy to use.
PCManFM + Obconf + LXAppearance + Light Theme
AbiWord and Gnumeric make up the productivity software included, which makes sense regarding this LXDE edition's goals of being lightweight.
Other software present includes GIMP, Dropbox, Pidgin, Mozilla Thunderbird, Exaile, and VLC.
PCManFM is the default file manager, as expected. One nice touch which I haven't seen anywhere else is the presence of a sidebar shortcut to applications, which essentially lays out the main menu in the main pane of PCManFM. This functionality is present in Apple's Mac OS X, as far as I know, but I haven't seen it in any Linux distribution thus far, so that's really nice.

There are other good and bad things present in the LXDE edition that were also present in the main GNOME edition; for example, the Linux Mint Software Manager is present with the same odd-looking boot splash and Microsoft Office text art-style logo, while the Linux Mint Update Manager is not running in the live session because it wouldn't make sense to install updates within the live session. Also, the Linux Mint Welcome screen is present in the LXDE edition, though it doesn't immediately appear in the live session for good reason.

Linux Mint 11 "Katya" LXDE is supposed to be fast and lightweight, and it's supposed to be able to run on only 256 MB of RAM, so how did it do on that front? Disappointingly, it never felt noticeably faster than the main GNOME edition, and it used 320 MB of RAM at idle, which is considerably more than the recommended minimum and almost as much as what the main GNOME edition uses at idle. The system monitor wasn't particularly helpful either, because it showed 6 or 7 mysterious BASH processes using about 6 MB of RAM each, along with a few mysterious Python processes and applets using even more. I didn't want to kill any of those processes for fear of breaking the system, but that was quite unfortunate that the system used as much RAM at idle as it did.

Well, that's basically where my time with the LXDE edition ended. The complicated nature of the GNOME ALSA mixer, which could be an issue for users if their sound settings aren't properly configured out-of-the-box, would be more forgivable if the LXDE edition were really lightweight and fast, but that just isn't the case. Given that I didn't see any noticeable performance improvement in the Xfce edition over the Debian-based GNOME edition as well, as much as it pains me to say this, I think the Linux Mint developers should just stick to the GNOME and KDE editions. Granted, the Xfce edition was, according to the developers, not supposed to be lightweight any longer; in fact, I think it has been designed to be a drop-in replacement for the main GNOME edition if and when the developers can no longer use GNOME 2 and are forced to use the "unholy mess" (according to Linus Torvalds) that is GNOME 3, and this is borne out by the presence of things like the Linux Mint Menu in the Xfce edition. But this LXDE edition is supposed to be lightweight but still easy to use, yet I've found that it is both harder to use and just as heavy on resources as the main GNOME edition, so I see no reason to recommend it over the main GNOME edition.