MX Linux is a Debian-based Linux distribution which grew out of a cooperative venture between the antiX and former MEPIS Linux communities. The MX distribution strives to provide a fast, friendly desktop environment on the solid base provided by Debian's Stable branch. The distribution includes several utilities to make administering the operating system easier and its installation media is available in 32-bit and 64-bit builds.
I downloaded the project's 64-bit build which is 1.1GB in size. Booting from the distribution's media brings up the Xfce desktop environment. There is an icon for launching the project's system installer on the desktop. The desktop panel is placed vertically down the left side of the screen with the application menu and system tray located at the bottom. The desktop background shows off a pleasant ocean-side view.
Shortly after the desktop environment loads, a welcome window appears. This window provides us with links to the project's on-line forum, documentation and a local copy of the user manual. The manual contains, among other things, the default passwords for the live environment. There are also launchers on the welcome screen which provide access to the MX tools, an application manager and system settings. I will talk about the various MX tools and configuration options later.
MX Linux 16 -- The welcome window (full image size: 1.1MB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
MX uses a graphical system installer that begins by showing us a brief description of the distribution and its licensing information. The second screen of the installer asks us which local disk will be used to hold our installation of MX. Once we have picked a disk we can optionally click a button to launch the GParted partition manager. GParted will then help us arrange our disk partitions. Closing GParted and returning to the installer, we can choose to let MX take over our entire hard drive or we can manually select how our partitions will be matched with mount points. The following screen gets us to select which disk partition will be used for the root file system and for swap space. We have the option of setting aside a separate partition for users' home directories or placing home folders on the root partition.
We are then asked if we would like to install the GRUB boot loader and, if so, where. We are asked to provide our computer with a name and given the option of enabling Samba shares. The installer then asks us to select our keyboard's layout and locale from long, cryptic lists of language options. We are then given the chance to select whether to display time in 12 hour or 24 hour clock styles as well as set our time zone. The installer gives us a chance to enable/disable background services such as OpenSSH, Cron, CUPS and Bluetooth. Finally, the installer asks us to create a user account for ourselves and create a password for the administrator's account. The installer has several screens and takes a while to get through, but I feel the prompts are well organized and clear in their meaning. I also like that MX's installer asks before performing any destructive actions.
I tried running MX Linux in two test environments, a physical desktop computer and in VirtualBox. When running on the desktop computer, MX Linux booted quickly, the desktop was responsive and programs opened quickly. All my hardware was detected and properly utilized. Things went similarly well when running MX inside VirtualBox. The distribution automatically integrates with VirtualBox and can display the Xfce desktop using the host computer's full screen resolution. The distribution worked quickly in the virtual environment and was pleasantly stable in both test environments. MX used about 4.4GB of hard drive space and, when first logging into the Xfce desktop, required about 240MB of RAM.
MX Linux 16 -- The MX application menu, moved to the top of the display (full image size: 1.3MB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
The freshly installed MX distribution boots to a graphical login screen. From there we can sign into our account which launches the Xfce desktop. When we sign in the first time we are greeted by the welcome window we saw in the live environment.
When I first signed into my account I noticed a green box icon in the system tray which indicated there were software updates available. Clicking this icon brought up a window which listed the available updates and gave me the option of running apt-get's dist-upgrade or upgrade commands. The first time I tried to run the upgrade command the process failed, saying files on the remote server could not be found. I re-ran the update application and clicked a button to refresh my local software repository information. Then I ran the upgrade process again and, this time, the update manager installed the waiting packages. There were eight upgrades available on my first day with MX, totalling 58MB in size. Over the week a few more upgrades tickled in, each of them fairly small.
Apart from the welcome window and the subtle update indicator, the MX distribution largely stays out of the way. I was not distracted by notifications and I found the Xfce environment to be very responsive. This made for a snappy, clutter-free desktop experience.
MX ships with a fairly standard set of popular open source applications. We are given the Firefox web browser with Flash support. The Filezilla file transfer application is included along with the Thunderbird e-mail client and the Transmission bittorrent software. Network Manager and the GNOME PPP dial-up client are included to help us get on-line. The LibreOffice (version 5) productivity suite is featured along with a dictionary and the FBReader e-book reader. The Orage calendar application and a PDF viewer are included. MX ships with several multimedia applications, including the VLC media player, the Clementine audio player, the Xfburn disc burner and the Asunder audio disc ripper. The distribution features a collection of media codecs, enabling us to play most media formats out of the box. MX provides users with a few games, the Mirage image viewer, the GNU Image Manipulation Program and the Shotwell image manager. The luckyBackup utility is available to help us make archives of our files. MX ships with Java and the GNU Compiler Collection. In the background, MX runs on version 4.7 of the Linux kernel.
MX Linux 16 -- Watching YouTube videos using SMPlayer (full image size: 958kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
MX runs the SysV init software by default. However, the systemd init software is also installed by default. If we run "man init" to learn about the init service, the manual page for systemd is displayed. The systemctl service manager is present too, but fails to work properly due to a missing dependency.
Apart from the systemd service manager, I found the software which shipped with MX worked well. I like that the application menu has a search box we can use to hunt for applications. Finding the correct desktop application is made even easier as the menu displays a brief description of each application along with the program's name and icon.
MX Linux ships with two package managers. The first is a custom package manager called Popular Apps. The Popular Apps program displays a window with a tree view of programs, grouped by category. Each category has just a few popular open source applications inside it. Each application entry includes a brief description explaining what the application does. We can select an item from the list and install it with a click.
While the Popular Apps software manager gives us quick and easy access to some of open source's greatest hits, it does not provide access to a large pool of software. The Synaptic package manager provides us with full access to the software available to MX, including low-level packages. Synaptic shows us a list of categories and filters down the left side of the window and an alphabetical list of packages down the right side. We can check boxes next to the items we want to install or remove and Synaptic will work on the selected packages in batches. MX pulls in software from its own repositories as well as the antiX repositories, Debian's repositories and a VirtualBox repository. This gives us access to Debian's massive collection of packages, plus a handful of convenient add-ons and more modern versions of packages.
One thing that stood out early in my time with MX was that the distribution uses an unusual command line prompt. The prompt in virtual terminals is displayed with multiple colours and is spread across two lines. I find this combination jarring, but it can be adjusted by editing the prompt variable in the user's .bashrc file in their home directory.
MX Linux 16 -- Creating backups with luckyBackup (full image size: 133kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
One tool I appreciated having was luckyBackup. This utility helps us set up backup procedures, with multiple backup jobs per user if we want. luckyBackup will synchronize or archive files and place them in the directory of our choosing. The backup utility has many options, but they are presented in a fairly straight forward manner and I like the utility's flexibility.
There are two launchers in the application menu which relate to printers. The first opens Firefox and displays the local CUPS web admin panel. The second printer menu entry launches the CUPS configuration application. Using the latter I was able to successfully detect and connect to my wireless HP printer.
One of the strengths of MX Linux, and what sets the distribution apart from its Debian base, is the collection of MX utilities. The MX administration tools can be found in the desktop's application menu and through the MX Tools control panel. Each tool typically does one specific task. For example, there is one MX utility which just installs NVIDIA drivers and another which installs AMD/ATI drivers. Another tool helps us enable or disable login/logout event sounds and another tool exists to help us create and work with user accounts. One MX tool manages software repositories while two others install packages from a Testing repository and a Backports repository. One MX utility installs media support, including DVD playback support, and another manages the system's Adobe Flash packages. These tools may not be necessary for more experienced users who know how to handle separate repositories and hunt down codecs, but for less experienced users these MX-brand tools can be big time savers.
MX Linux 16 -- The MX Tools panel (full image size: 842kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
One of MX's configuration utilities assists the user in changing the location of the desktop panel, with options basically being the bottom of the screen or the left side of the display. This tool also lets us change the colour theme of the desktop. Changing the colour theme from dark to light, or light to dark, causes a pop-up to appear letting us know we may need to restart Firefox in order for the change to take effect. This seems odd as the theme updates immediately and the Firefox browser was not running while I was changing the theme.
Another aspect of the distribution I found odd was there were three different configuration tools for changing the position of the desktop panel: Panel, MX Default Look and Panel Orientation. Each of these utilities has different restrictions on where the panel goes -- one lets us switch between the bottom of the screen or left side, another switches between the top of the screen and the left side. There are also multiple tools for changing the look of the desktop, including Desktop Settings, Appearance and MX Default Look. When we factor in the two CUPS menu entries, four package managers (Popular Apps, Synaptic, MX Test Repo Installer and Debian Backports Installer) and two repository managers, we begin to see a pattern of duplication. Some people may look at these tools and think it is good the distribution provides multiple paths to perform similar tasks. Personally, I found the duplication cluttered up the menus a bit without much benefit to me.
On the topic of duplication, there is some additional overlap with adjusting settings. Apart from the panel which gives us quick access to the MX collection of configuration tools, there is also a settings panel for the Xfce desktop. This second settings panel gives us quick access to modules which will help us to configure the screen saver, set up the firewall, create Samba network shares and change the behaviour of the file manager, along with a few other tweaks to the desktop environment.
Taken as a whole, I like MX Linux 16. The distribution is fairly lightweight by modern standards and the project provides both 32-bit and 64-bit support, a characteristic which is increasingly rare. The desktop is light and responsive, but still provides a nice, modern look.
I like that while MX is light on resources, it provides a lot of popular software for us to use. We are treated to good multimedia support, a full featured productivity suite and web browser. The software included in MX is more modern than Debian Stable and we have access to a Backports repository if we want to access up to date applications.
I ran into just a few rough edges, like the theme changer asking me to restart Firefox and the update manager not refreshing its package information before downloading new updates. Earlier I mentioned some frustration with the many overlapping configuration tools, but I acknowledge what I see as clutter could be another person's convenience.
All in all, MX Linux provided me with a good experience. The distribution walks a fine line between providing conveniences (like the welcome window and update notification) and staying out of the way. I think the developers have struck a good balance and I definitely see MX as a good option, especially for people running older computers. I'm not sure I would recommend MX Linux to first time Linux users, MX does expect more technical knowledge than some more mainstream distributions, but I think MX would make a fine second distribution for someone comfortable with Linux concepts, but who also wants performance and convenience.
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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: