Lubuntu 18.10 - now with LXQtOn October 18th the Ubuntu distribution and related community projects released new versions. These new releases are short term releases, receiving just nine months of support. For the most part, I did not find many big, new features listed in the announcements, but one exception was the changing of Lubuntu's desktop environment:
Thanks to all the hard work from our contributors, Lubuntu 18.10 has been released. This is the first Lubuntu release with LXQt as the main desktop environment. The Lubuntu project, in 18.10 and successive releases, will no longer support the LXDE desktop environment or tools in the Ubuntu archive and will instead focus on the LXQt desktop environment.
The project has also reported that it plans to focus on being relatively light and modern, but will no longer focus on supporting older hardware.
A shift in desktop environments, even related ones like LXDE and LXQt, struck me as interesting and I was curious to see what practical effect, if any, this would have on Lubuntu's users. With that in mind, I would like to share some information on Lubuntu's final release featuring LXDE (version 18.04) and then talk about Lubuntu 18.10 with the LXQt desktop.
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Lubuntu 18.04 with LXDE
Let's quickly talk about some of the characteristics of Lubuntu 18.04 with the LXDE desktop. Lubuntu 18.04 was provided as a 1GB ISO file. The distribution was installed with the Ubiquity installer and a fresh copy of the operating system used up 3.6GB of disk space. The LXDE desktop on Lubuntu used about 180MB of RAM and was wonderfully light and responsive in my test environments.
Lubuntu 18.04 featured a theme that used a lot of light grey backgrounds and black text. Most applications were members of the GTK+ family of programs. Software in the default install included Firefox, Pidgin, Transmission, AbiWord, Gnumeric, MPV and Audacious. Settings were managed through modules found in the application menu, and I do not recall there being a central settings panel.
For software management, Lubuntu 18.04 used GNOME Software to handle desktop applications. People who wanted to deal with lower level packages could run the Synaptic package manager. there was a third tool to manage package updates.
On the whole, I would say that Lubuntu 18.04 was a solid, long-term support release. There were not a lot of standout features, and I questioned the practicality of using AbiWord and Gnumeric over the more popular LibreOffice suite, but on the whole I thought the distribution's final version with LXDE was a good, lightweight distribution.
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Lubuntu 18.10 with LXQt
The latest release if Lubuntu is provided as a 1.6GB download in both 32-bit and 64-bit builds. Booting from the live media loads the LXQt 0.13.0 desktop. The desktop's panel is still placed at the bottom of the display. The application menu is located in the bottom-left corner of the screen and the system tray is positioned in the bottom-right corner. The theme has been adjusted slightly, generally using white text on a black background for greater contrast. This darker look works pretty well except for a few corner cases such as the volume control in the system tray. It is presented as a dark grey icon on a grey background and is difficult to see.
The new version of Lubuntu uses the Calamares system installer, which replaces Ubiquity. This strikes me as an odd choice as most of the Calamares screens look the same as Ubiquity's and the steps are very similar. I think Calamares might offer a little more flexibility with disk partitioning, but otherwise the two installers are very similar, so I am curious about the change. The installer walks us through setting our time zone, selecting our keyboard's layout, setting up disk partitions and creating a user account. It then places its files on our hard drive and we can restart the computer to try out our new copy of Lubuntu.
Lubuntu boots to a colourful, graphical login screen where we can sign into either the LXQt desktop or the Openbox window manager. The LXQt desktop is pleasantly responsive and I like the new theme and colourful icons. The desktop seems set up to avoid distracting us; there are very few notifications and there were no indication of new software updates during my trial.
I experimented with Lubuntu 18.10 in a virtual machine and on a desktop computer. When running on the desktop computer, Lubuntu performed well. All my hardware was detected, the desktop was always responsive and Lubuntu was stable throughout my trial.
When running in VirtualBox, Lubuntu started off limiting my desktop resolution to 800x640 pixels. This could be adjusted in the display configuration module without requiring that I install any extra modules. After I sorted out my display's resolution, Lubuntu performed well in the virtual machine.
Lubuntu 18.10 required 280MB of memory when signed into LXQt, 55% more than the distribution needed to run LXDE. The new version of Lubuntu consumed 4.6GB of disk space with a fresh install, a full gigabyte more than the previous version.
Lubuntu 18.10 ships with software that is mostly part of the Qt family of applications. The application menu features the Firefox web browser, Qtransmission for downloading torrents, the Quassel IRC client and LibreOffice. The qpdfview PDF viewer is present along with the LXImage image viewer, and the FeatherPad text editor. We also find the K3b disc burning software, a calculator, archive manager and the oddly complicated QtPass password manager. Lubuntu ships with the qps process monitor and the PCmanFM-Qt file manager. Digging further we find the VLC multimedia player (I found no specific, dedicated music player). Like the previous version of Lubuntu, the distribution uses NetworkManager to set up network connections and features the systemd init software. Lubuntu 18.10 ships with version 4.18.0 of the Linux kernel.
Lubuntu 18.10 -- Browsing applications in the file manager (full image size: 249kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
I found the included programs generally worked well, were stable and did not offer any surprises. The exception was trying to play videos in VLC. Sometimes the player would crash trying to start a video, though other videos and music files played successfully.
We can access Lubuntu's settings through the application menu or through a settings panel. The panel is somewhat buried (it's three levels deep in the application menu), but it presents us with a fairly easy and familiar way to adjust the desktop. Most of the configuration modules work as we might expect, making it pretty straight forward to change the wallpaper, keyboard short-cuts and and notifications. There is also a handy tool for setting up printers.
There were two tools which stood out as being less user friendly. The Alternative Applications module shows application types and lists which application is being used. It seems like an overly complex way to explore this information and redundant since the settings panel also has a complex File Associations module. I call it complex as the File Associations module doesn't assign a group of file types (such as text or videos) to an application, instead it assigns individual file extensions to programs. This is very flexible, but may require changing dozens of entries to get all text or media files to open in the same program.
The user account manager was mostly a positive experience for me and I like how simple it is to use. However, the user manager shows two system accounts (systemd-coredump and nobody) mixed in with regular user accounts. I suspect this may confuse people and possibly result in these system accounts getting removed.
Lubuntu 18.10 ships with two software managers. The first is Discover, an application manager which shows links for available applications, installed items and settings down the left side of the window. On the right we see programs (or settings) in the selected section. When exploring available programs we can see a program's name and icon listed on the right side of the window and we can click an entry to see more information and a screenshot.
I ran into a few problems with Discover. While the software manager worked fairly smoothly on my desktop computer, it was terribly slow when running in a virtual machine. Scrolling through a list of applications could take over ten seconds to refresh the display and Discover would appear to lock-up when switching to a new screen or loading application information. At one point I installed the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) and later found there were two entries for GIMP in the Installed section. The two GIMP packages had different description pages. At first I thought one might be a portable package, but Flatpak was not enabled on my system and a check showed no Snap packages had been installed. The low level dpkg package manager showed only one copy of GIMP was installed, so I have no explanation for where the second copy of GIMP came from in Discover's listing.
The second software manager is the Muon package manager. Muon has a similar layout with two panes (categories on the left, programs on the right), but uses fewer visual elements and less space for entries. Muon focuses on low level packages and does not display as much information; its listings are more compact. Muon feels similar to Synaptic in its abilities and style, but with an interface that feels a bit more colourful and modern.
Both software managers offer to update packages, if new versions are available.
I have mixed feelings about this release of Lubuntu. On the one hand most of the features worked well. The distribution was easy to install, I liked the theme, and the operating system is pretty easy to use. There were a few aspects I didn't like, usually programs or settings modules I felt were overly complex or confusing compared to their counterparts on other distributions. For the most part though, Lubuntu does a nice job of being a capable, relatively lightweight distribution.
Lubuntu 18.10 does not exist in a vacuum and I am mostly interested in how the new version compares to Lubuntu 18.04 - what is better and what is worse? In my opinion, the new, higher contrast theme is nicer to look at. I enjoyed the look of LXQt more than the older LXDE. Performance was in the same range on my machines, though I think 18.04 booted a little faster.
Some of the different programs I liked and some I did not. I think replacing AbiWord and Gnumeric with LibreOffice is a practical move. The latter might be heavier, but I think more people will be familiar with it and enjoy the greater range of features. On the other hand, swapping out GNOME Software for Discover feels like a step backwards. The former is faster, has a nicer interface (in my opinion) and I did not run into duplicate entries in the GNOME Software tool. Discover feels like a poorer tool, introduced for toolkit purity rather than capability.
For the most part I felt the switch from GTK+ to Qt applications went smoothly. We end up with most of the same capabilities and sometimes, as with Transmission, the same underlying software exists in the background.
One concern I had was with the increase in resource requirements in Lubuntu 18.10. Whether this is a big deal or not will depend a lot on how you look at the numbers. Lubuntu 18.10 has an ISO that is 60% larger than the one for 18.04. This seems like a big increase, but unless the user is on a dial-up Internet connection the download is not going to make a big difference and it is something we only need to do once.
Once installed, Lubuntu 18.10 uses up a full gigabyte more disk space. That is a big jump, proportionately, but it is unlikely to negatively affect anyone with a computer made in the past 15 years. So it looks like a step in the wrong direction, but probably not a practical issue.
I feel the same way about memory consumption. The new version is 55% heavier than the previous release in RAM. This is not ideal, but memory usage was still only 280MB. So, relatively speaking, Lubuntu's memory usage ballooned remarkably from one release to the next.However, Lubuntu's expanded resource consumption still makes it lighter than most other desktop Linux distributions, and the difference is roughly the equivalent of opening a few extra browser tabs. In short, when it comes to resources, Lubuntu is using more than before, but still so little that no computer made in the past decade or more will be impacted by the difference.
On the whole, I think the transition from LXDE to LXQt has gone smoothly. There are a few choices I didn't like, and a few I did, but mostly the changes were minor. I think most people will be able to make the leap between the two desktops fairly easily. I think a few settings modules still need polish and I'd like to see Discover replaced with just about any other modern software manager, but otherwise this felt like a graceful (and mostly positive) move from 18.04 to 18.10 and from LXDE to LXQt.
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Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a desktop HP Pavilon p6 Series with the following specifications: