Linux Lite 5.0Linux Lite is an Ubuntu-based desktop distribution featuring the Xfce desktop. The project includes several "Lite"-branded tools to make system maintenance easier. The project also provides a good deal of documentation that covers how to perform common tasks and customizations.
The distribution's latest release, Linux Lite 5.0, is based on Ubuntu 20.04 which is a long-term support release. The project provides one 64-bit (x86_64) edition. The new version includes UEFI and Secure Boot support along with an automatic integrity check of the live media:
UEFI is now supported out of the box. It is recommended that you disable Secure Boot even though it will work, it's just a huge hassle to have it enabled. See the new inbuilt Help Manual for ways to do this on the Start page.
No hidden telemetry: Integrity Check during live boot (an Ubuntu implementation) Ctrl+C cancels check.
There are a few other changes in this release, including swapping out the GUFW firewall tool for FireWallD, which is reportedly disabled by default. We are also treated to a new software update notification system which can be configured to check for new packages at set intervals and will let us know when new software fixes become available.
GUFW has been replaced by the highly configurable FireWallD (disabled by default).
New Updater notifier: Enabled by default to check for updates twice per day, and only notify when there are updates.
Booting from the project's 1.3GB media brings up a menu which allows us to start a live desktop environment or immediately launch the system installer. Taking the live desktop option automatically starts an integrity check of the media, which we can skip. Then the distribution boots and launches the Xfce desktop. A welcome window appears on the desktop which features buttons we can click to open commonly used configuration tools. Most of these should only be used once the distribution has been installed so I will talk about them later. The welcome window also includes links to the distribution's on-line forum, manual, and information about working with UEFI & Secure Boot.
There was no button for launching the system installer in the welcome window, but there is an icon for the installer - along with the settings panel, documentation, and file manager - on the desktop. The Xfce panel is placed along the bottom of the screen with the application menu to the left and system tray on the right.
Linux Lite 5.0 -- The application menu (full image size: 95kB, resolution: 1360x768 pixels)
Linux Lite uses the Ubiquity system installer, a graphical program it inherits from Ubuntu. The installer begins by asking us to select our preferred language from a list and it offers to show us the project's release notes. The link to open the release notes was broken and did not display any information. The following screens offer to download software updates and third-party codecs & drivers. We are then asked if we would like to manually partition the disk or have the installer handle the disk layout. The two automated options are to use a LVM volume or a ZFS volume which will take over the entire disk. As I had tried the ZFS option when exploring Ubuntu a few months ago I decided to do the same again in order to better compare the two distributions. The manual partitioning option, should we wish to use it, is pleasantly friendly while still providing a good deal of flexibility in working with partitions and filesystem types. We are then asked to pick our time zone from a map of the world and make up a username and password combination for ourselves.
Once the installer is finished it offers to restart the computer. When I instead chose to return to the live desktop a pop-up appeared indicating there were software updates available to be installed. This would have installed them to the live environment which would not have been useful to me, so I ignored the offer and continued exploring the live desktop.
My fresh copy of Linux Lite booted to a graphical login screen where I could sign into the Xfce 4.14 desktop. Once I had signed in the welcome window returned. Earlier I mentioned the welcome application lists a number of common tasks we may wish to perform shortly after installing the distribution. The buttons on the welcome window invite us to install updates, check for new hardware drivers, create a restore point, add language support, and switch desktop themes.
Linux Lite 5.0 -- The distribution's documentation (full image size: 236kB, resolution: 1360x768 pixels)
The update button opens a minimal update tool which lets us know what software packages can be upgraded. This tool had very few features and worked well. Clicking the button for drivers opens the Software Sources tool to the Additional Drivers tab and offers to install third-party drivers if any are available for our hardware. In my case there were no alternative drivers offered and I moved on.
The button to create restore points opens the Timeshift application which can schedule backups of the operating system. Timeshift can make file copies using the rsync tool or Btrfs snapshots, if we have the advanced Btr filesystem installed. I had opted to use ZFS (instead of Btrfs) and, while ZFS also supports filesystem-level snapshots, Timeshift cannot work with ZFS at this time. As an alternative we can manually manage ZFS snapshots from the command line.
The language support button in the welcome window opened a tool which listed the languages installed on my system. A warning immediately popped-up and let me know language support was not properly installed for English and offered to correct this. Language packages were then downloaded onto my system.
The theme button in the welcome window simply allows us to toggle between Lite's dark and light themes. I did not notice much of a difference between the two options, other than the backgrounds of some windows switched between charcoal and white.
Some other features I noticed while poking around the desktop were that Xfce is set up to use two virtual workspaces by default. This can be useful for people who like to keep open many windows at a time, but I tend to find multiple workspaces confuse new users.
Linux Lite 5.0 -- The welcome window and Timeshift (full image size: 176kB, resolution: 1360x768 pixels)
Something else I've been noticing lately, and this is not specific to Linux Lite, is that Xfce has a crowded logout menu. Choosing to sign out gives us seven options: logout, restart, shutdown, suspend, switch user, hibernate, and hybrid sleep. While there is nothing wrong with these options, I've shown this screen to some less technical users and they generally report recognizing four or five options, but are not familiar with the differences between suspend, hibernate, and hybrid sleep. All of which makes me wonder if distributions might better serve their users by trimming this menu a bit.
Looking through the application menu I found most applications were listed with their icon and a brief description of the software. For example, Firefox is listed as Web Browser, Thunderbird as Mail Client, and the GNU Image Manipulation Program as Image Editor. However, not all programs are listed this way and a few show their official name in place of the description.
Digging through the menu I found LibreOffice, the Deja Dup backup utility, the Thunar file manager, and the Timeshift snapshot tool. The VLC media player was included along with codecs for playing popular audio and video formats. I also spotted an archive manager, text editor, and administration tools such as a firewall manager, package manager, and settings panel.
In the background we can find Java, the GNU Compiler Collection, and GNU command line tools. The systemd init software is installed for us. Version 5.4 of the Linux kernel made it all run from behind the scenes.
I found when working from the command line that if I typed the name of a program that was not yet installed, a message would appear in the terminal advising me of the APT command I could use to install the missing software. This happened fairly quickly and did not introduce much of a delay when running commands.
Earlier I mentioned the firewall service is disabled by default. What this means, from the user's point of view, is trying to open the firewall configuration tool pops up an error saying it cannot connect to the FireWallD service. There is no option to enable the firewall from within the graphical tool and, as far as I can tell, there is no service manager in the settings panel or in the application menu. This means to enable the firewall we need to make a trip to the command line to enable and start the firewall service using the systemctl utility. With that done, the graphical firewall tool can be launched and we can use it to configure the firewall.
Linux Lite 5.0 -- Configuring the firewall (full image size: 146kB, resolution: 1360x768 pixels)
Personally, I'm not a fan of the firewall utility. It is complex and intended, it seems, to be used in multiple environments (called zones). The user is invited to configure the firewall for different zones, using a combination of interfaces, ports, service names, and other rules. Which is flexible and probably useful to some administrators. However, for home users or people in simple office environments it feels much more complex and not much more useful than the previous GUFW tool Lite used in the past. Personally I find GUFW to be much more simple without sacrificing useful functionality.
I began by experimenting with Lite in a VirtualBox environment. The distribution ran fairly smoothly and I did not run into any serious problems. My one issue was that the desktop's resolution was limited to 800x600 pixels by default and would not dynamically resize with the VirtualBox window. I found Xfce's resolution could be adjusted through the settings panel.
Linux Lite 5.0 -- The settings panel (full image size: 125kB, resolution: 1360x768 pixels)
When I switched over to running Lite on a laptop I found performance was good, the desktop ran smoothly and used my screen's full resolution. Networking and audio worked perfectly on the laptop and the system was stable. I was able to confirm the distribution would boot in UEFI mode as advertised.
I found that Lite would sometimes boot slowly once it was installed. This appeared to be triggered when there was a delay in bringing the network interfaces on-line. Though I did not find a cure for this issue, it was a minor detail and only slowed down my boot times by around ten seconds or so.
A fresh install of Linux Lite used about 3.5GB of disk space. When installed on ZFS the system used about 980MB of memory once I had signed into the Xfce desktop. When I was running on ext4 instead of ZFS the distribution consumed just 460MB of memory. The welcome window, which launched automatically when I first signed in, tended to use up an extra 60MB of memory, bringing the total RAM consumption up slightly.
People running Linux Lite have a few options for managing software packages. The Synaptic package manager, a classic, low-level package manager is included. It makes it possible to queue multiple packages to be installed, removed, or upgraded. Synaptic can also manage repositories. Synaptic's interface is geared toward lower level work rather than providing a friendly, modern application installer.
For people who want a more streamlined experience there is Lite Software. This program begins by asking if we would like to install or remove software. Taking the install option brings up a list of about 30 desktop applications we can install. These are mostly popular items like Redshift, Steam, and Skype. Each item is accompanied by a brief description. We can click one or more of these items to highlight them, then click a button to install the selected items. I found Lite Software, while it lists a small collection of packages, worked without any problems.
If we take the removal option when launching Lite Software then the program displays a list of applications it knows how to remove. It seems the software manager can only remove applications it also knows how to install. This means, for example, I could use Lite Software to remove the Steam package, but not LibreOffice.
There is an icon in the system tray which, when clicked, will give us the option of installing available software updates or changing the frequency in which we check for new updates. I like that Lite is flexible in how often these automated checks are performed. The update manager was a tool I used infrequently, but it worked each time without error.
One of the reasons I wanted to test Linux Lite 5.0 was to see how it would compare to Ubuntu 20.04. In particular I was curious to see if both distributions, installed with all the default settings (and on ZFS) would encounter similar problems or not. As it turned out, Lite ran smoothly and rarely gave me any issues, regardless of the test environment or filesystem being used.
In the past I have found Linux Lite to be a solid desktop distribution, the sort of project I tend to suggest Linux newcomers try, especially if they are on older hardware which might not be responsive when tasked to run the Cinnamon or GNOME desktops. The project's team does a nice job of communicating well and this tends to show itself in the documentation. There are often clear examples or screenshots in the project's release announcements and documentation. The welcome window presents common tasks we might want to use, and I feel the distribution does a fine job of walking the line between streamlining the user experience and providing enough options for more advanced users.
I like the distribution's hardware support, its documentation, its responsiveness, and its custom "Lite" tools. During my trial there was little for me to complain about as I was generally able to dive in and get work done with minimal fuss. I might prefer a friendly software manager with a wider range of applications, or a logout menu with fewer options, but these are tiny nit-picks.
Some of my few complaints or suggestions were with features which were mostly good, but could be improved just a little to make for a smoother user experience. For instance, the firewall service is disabled by default. This is certainly a valid default configuration for a lot of home users. However, when the user tries to launch the firewall tool, it exits with an error saying it cannot connect to the service. This seems like a great opportunity to give the user a choice - close the firewall tool or start the firewall service. This would save them a trip to the command line to enable and start the firewall, which is not something less experienced computer users will be comfortable doing.
Likewise, the Timeshift tool can be very useful, but it only works with rsync and Btrfs. It would be great to have this tool, or a similar one included, that would handle ZFS snapshots since ZFS is a new feature.
I'd like to note that I'm not necessarily suggesting the small Linux Lite team address these missing features, it's probably work that needs to be done upstream as the distribution's developer efforts are limited. In this case Lite is just the vehicle that displays these powerful tools and some areas where they could be improved. Still, I hope these are changes which will show up in a future version as little features like this can make the difference between a good user experience and a great one.
* * * * *
Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a de-branded HP laptop with the followingspecifications:
Processor: Intel i3 2.5GHz CPU
Display: Intel integrated video
Storage: Western Digital 700GB hard drive
Memory: 6GB of RAM
Wired network device: Realtek RTL8101E/RTL8102E PCI Express Fast