MX Linux is a distribution I have heard many good things about for several months. It even ranks high on the arbitrary DistroWatch.com site (3rd as of late December 2018). Having had a fantastic experience with BunsenLabs Linux on old hardware, I wanted to give MX Linux a spin. The latest version, MX-18 has been released and can be downloaded from here. I downloaded both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions to see how they would perform on older hardware. I am a die-hard openSUSE fan and I was also curious to see how using MX compares to openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma. Additionally, it was also presented as a challenge from the BigDaddyLinux community.
So it is well understood, this is a biased review from an openSUSE Tumbleweed user. I prefer the KDE Plasma Desktop Environment as I believe it to be superior to anything else I have ever used. I will be looking at MX Linux from this perspective but I will be fair.
The MX Linux installer, although not the simplest installer I’ve ever used, is easy to navigate. The MX installer is straight forward and in my opinion easy enough for a new-to-Linux user to set up and get going with it.
From the initial machine startup, you are greeted with a pretty typical boot screen.
The only aspect of this I wish could change would be the option to directly install MX Linux to the drive instead of going through the Live Media portion. It should be noted, that MX boots pretty quickly, I didn’t time it but even when installing it on old 32-bit hardware, it was surprisingly fast.
The welcome window, the MX-18 Continuum, is a real nice touch. For a new user or one that is getting acquainted with a new environment, this is absolutely fantastic. I would describe this like a landing page to get you access to the important bits of the system or information. Importantly, the codecs installer as well as the Tweaks cab be accessed from here. More on the Tweaks later. Should you close this window and not be able to find it, just type “MX” in the menu search to see all the MX tools.
The installation of MX is a pleasant experience and to kick it off, the terms of service can be read in its entirety and in just a few seconds. I selected to auto-install using the entire disk. I am a one distro for one machine kind of guy so this is the way I like to roll. You will be asked for confirmation of the disk changes before it installed, so no need to worry about the installer doing anything without your explicit permission.
The machine then installs the operating system to your machine and while doing so gives you a series of “commercials” for the various features of MX. The feature I am particularly fascinated by is the ability to “repair your system”. I haven’t had a need for this in a long while but next time I should have a problem with a system, I intend on giving the MX repair tool a spin.
Upon the completion of the install, you will be asked your boot method. I have tended to go with the MBR on my legacy systems. Then you will enter your computer’s name, domain and Samba workgroup for Microsoft Windows style networking.
You’ll next set your localization defaults and your user name, password and root password. I didn’t see an option to add additional users but that is not a common feature I have seen from installers.
A really neat feature is the ability to save your changes to the desktop you made, presumably to the new user account you created. I didn’t test this feature but it sounds like a great idea and if you have been tweaking your system on the Live Media, it just might be very handy to pass those changes to your machine install.
MX Linux, like all distributions, will ask for your support in your time and talents. If you plan on spending time here, I would encourage you to do so. Once you hit finish, you are given another dialog box telling you that the installation is complete and whether or not you want to reboot immediately.
That’s it, nothing terribly complex, the installer walks you through step-by-step in a very clear and understandable method. One thing that I found it different, but not in a bad way, that the developers have chosen to install the system before you configure the user, computer name, domain and workgroup. I don’t see anything wrong with it, I just found it different.
Before the system reboots, you are instructed to remove the “disc” from the system. It gave me a moment of pause to think that I haven’t actually used optical media to install anything in quite sometime. Perhaps this should be reworded to be “Live Media” or “USB Drive” since that is probably more common these days.
The first thing I did when the system settled was to install updates. This distribution, too, requires you to enter root’s password. I am beginning to think that it is more common than not to require root password to do upgrades. I can’t help but to compare this to openSUSE Leap where it is not required to enter a password too do upgrades it is just click and go (Distribution upgrades are a different matter).
One area I will give high points with MX are the configuration tools. I do prefer KDE Plasma as my default desktop, being that it is very configurable, MX takes XFCE and give it almost as many customization options.
The MX Dark theme is pretty fantastic and, in my humble opinion should be the default theme. It just looks terrific and is very pleasant on the eyes.
Initially, the customization, for me, fell apart a bit when it comes to panel positioning. I am not a fan of the side or top positions for the panel. I’ll take the side before the top but I would really prefer it to be on the bottom. I don’t like ANYTHING at the top of the screen. I personally dislike the global menu or anything of that nature lingering on the top of the screen. This particular requirement is especially important for the way I have my multiple displays arranged. It only makes sense for me to have my Panel on the bottom of the screen. Anything else would just look goofy and be cumbersome.
Thanks to the developer, Dolphin Oracle, he informed on how to move the panel to wherever I wanted. Under Tweaks there is a panel tab. My failure was that I clicked on a panel button. In that panel tab, you can adjust exactly where you want that panel to live.
The package manager is fantastic. It is simple and straight forward with no weird bits about it. I like that there is a Flatpak Tab where you could search for applications that are not in the regular repositories. I was able to install Telegram and Discord without issue.
Another great feature of the package manager is how verbose it is. It shows you exactly what is going on. I much prefer that to a bar going across the screen like some kind of dummy light.
I have not a single complaint about the package manager. It has some great usability features that I appreciate and exposes what is going on behind the shiny GUI to the user.
What I Like
There is a lot to like about MX-18. I installed MX18 32-bit on an old piece of hardware and I was VERY impressed by how it operated. I could very happily watch YouTube videos and Netflix was ALMOST watchable, all this on Firefox. For the time being, I have decided that I am going to leave MX on this old Optiplex GX620. I want to do more comparisons between MX and BunsenLabs on two different older machines.
MX looks great, especially with the MX Dark Theme with Breeze Icons (available by default). The menu, although, not able to be placed in the correct spot, looks good and is very usable. It has a system tray and the virtual desktop switcher (pager) works as one would expect.
The package manager works very well and is very straight forward. I like how the tabs are laid out so that you can choose where you are getting your software. This is very opposite to the approach you would see on many other distributions. I don’t know that this is better or worse but I can say that it is an approach I can appreciate.
Finally, I especially appreciate how little memory MX uses. When watching Netflix, with a paused YouTube video still used less than 1 GiB of RAM which seemed delightfully low. It should also be noted that even after running MX for a few days, there was no evidence of any kind of memory leaking or creeping.
What I Don’t Like
What I don’t like is a short list. For starters, there isn’t an option to go right into the system installation. You are forced to go into a live media mode and install after that initial boot. If I were to only be deploying this to one machine, this is not a big deal but any kind of large scale deployments would make this less enjoyable.
With as many customization options that exist in MX, I didn’t immediately see where the pick was to put the panel at the bottom of the screen. I am not sure that there is exactly a fix for that as it was more of a PEBKAC issue (Problem Exists Between the Keyboard And Chair). Any of the customization issues that do exist for me is likely an issue that would clear itself up with more time using.
It doesn’t use Zypper… I know, this is a Debian based distro, so of course it doesn’t use Zypper by default, I just happen to like Zypper better and I wanted a third thing I didn’t like about MX. Remember, I said I was biased.
MX Linux is a great distribution. Weather you have older hardware or the latest and greatest, MX will likely be a good fit. It does lack some features of which I am accustomed but if I was without my beloved openSUSE + KDE Plasma, MX could fill that space quite nicely. Where I do see me using MX is on older 32 bit hardware as it does run very well, it’s reliable and breaths new life into what should be long-retired hardware. This can take past end of life hardware chugging along quite nicely with a modern Linux kernel. When I weigh this distribution against BunsenLabs Linux, I would lean a bit heavier to MX over BunsenLabs, mostly based on the the MX configuration tools. As far as performance goes, MX and BunsenLabs seem to be on par with one another.
At the end of the day, I would not swap MX with openSUSE Tumbleweed + KDE Plasma. As nice as MX is and as much as I have enjoyed using it, I just happen to enjoy openSUSE a bit more. It should be noted once again. I am heavily, heavily biased in my evaluation but that doesn’t mean that MX is, in any way a distribution you should just pass by. Even if you are content with where you are, MX is worth a spin.