First I have to say that I am a PCLinuxOS user, and that has always been great. Every so often, I try out another Linux on a spare partition, and sometimes I can’t even work out how to install it! Other times, I can install it, but something about it turns me off, almost instantly. There are others, where I can play with it, in parallel with my PCLinuxOS partition, and think, I could get used to this, then a month or so down the line, something happens, reality hits home, and it has to go. The last time that happened, was several months back when I tried Debian.
Strangely enough, I found MX Linux when I was trying out AntiX Linux (the two are closely related) among a few distros to put a lightweight OS on an old laptop for someone. It claimed to be lightweight enough for older systems, and feature-rich enough for the latest hardware. Most of the problems I’d had with Debian arose from using essential but non-free software, and MX Linux is based on Debian, but takes care of all that stuff, with custom apps. Too good to be true? Let’s see.
There is a Manual you should consult. Maybe it’s a bit too long because it tries to cover every option, but get to know what sort of system you want, and a bit about your hardware, and you can skip the bits you don’t need to know.
When comparing with installing PCLinuxOS, it’s very different, but no easier or harder. The tough bit is deciding how you’re going to partition your hard drive in both distros. I would normally go for 16Gb for the base system partition “/” (as it allows for large temporary files, much of the time the amount used would be less than a half of that). Swap partition is 2×RAM, up to a maximum of 8Gb RAM. 8-16Gb RAM, use 16Gb swap, then above that 1×RAM. The rest of the available hard disk space can be used for the “/home” partition. Consider reserving space for more base systems, you can have lots of fun. I’ve got 6 16Gb system partitions! Installation is very fast indeed. Unlike PCLOS, where you set up your main user and root password on the first run, with MX you do it at the end of the installation.
So, more to the point, how good is it, and how much snagging is there to do?
Booting into a newly installed system, you get a system that works, pretty much straight away. I have a few bits of hardware that require special attention, and a few software requirements that need a little extra work, but it should be fine for most people.
Hardware Snag List
To be fair, it’s likely that many Linux distributions would have the same issues, and if you don’t have the same hardware as I do, this will be of no interest. I have to say that the problems have been fewer on MX than a number of others I have tried so this is in no way negative criticism.
Brother Printer/Scanner: One of the contributors, called fehlix, has created a script that you can save and run in a terminal. It will download and install Brother Printer and (if appropriate) Scanner drivers. Don’t be put off that you have to agree to licenses 4 times, that’s just because the Brother web site enforces this separately for each of 4 packages! He suggests that you save the script in a text file called “brinstaller.sh” and once done, you need to right click on its file in a Root File Manager, select Properties, and on the Permissions tab, check the box that enables you to make it executable. The script is here.
This script will enable the Printer and the Scanner, but if, in addition, you want the soft scanning buttons on the front of the unit to work, I’ve set out how to do it here.
Huion 610 Graphics Tablet: Instructions here. Not too difficult.
Asus H110i Plus Motherboard:
1 – If you want to use a monitoring program, and include the Fan Speeds in the readouts, you’ll need to add these lines to the file /etc/modules:
# Chip drivers coretemp nct6775
The second of these is not added by “sensors-detect” but gets you access to fan speeds.
2 – I found that the chipset for the ethernet on my motherboard is unreliable using the kernel driver, but that’s also the case in another Linux and in Windows. I bought a cheap Ralink 5370 USB wireless dongle, which is tiny, but given the close proximity to the modem, it works just fine. It’s a solid alternative and cost me £6 (British).
Software Snag List
These problems are a matter of taste, as to what programs you want. I should reassure you that nearly all programs you want will be in the repository, because Debian’s repositories are included and that has probably the most packages there are! However, they contain no stuff that is not 100% free under a GNU-compatible license. MX has its own repositories, but not everything missing from Debian’s is there. And as both are based on “stable” versions, the standard version may not be up to date.
Sync’ing Orage with Google Calendar
This is not really a snag as such, because you’d have this problem with just about any version of Linux, and it’s a bit harder with Distros based on Debian Stable because they avoid latest versions of software which may make your computer unreliable. However there is always help to be had at the excellent MX Linux forum and some more bleeding edge versions of applications are available through the MX Installer (which I’ll come to soon).
For this task, I originally did a thread on the MX site to show how it can be done. But now I’ve updated it on this here site! >> Linux: Linking Orage (XFCE4 desktop) to your Google Calendar.
This is not in the repos because it is not Free software. It is however licensed as free for personal use only. You have to buy a license to use it in a company or commercially. It’s my favourite Photo viewing, cropping and resizing software. You can download it free from their web site.
Other Software Snags
When I first installed, there were one or two others, but by the time I had first published this, they had been fixed! Am I impressed? YES! I noticed that people had reported problems on the Forum similar to mine and they had been fixed in no time.
One word to the wise, if you install youtube-dl-gui don’t install youtube-dl as well. The GUI version actually downloads the very latest version of the backend from the program’s site on the fly, and installing the backend from Synaptic actually messes it up!
So how good is MX Linux?
It’s very good! The only software I couldn’t download, that I need, was XNviewMP, and that’s easy to download and install. There are plenty of alternatives to it though, one installed by default, others downloadable through the MX Package Installer.
It’s got lots of programs installed by default and available, to cover all your needs, and a great forum where you can get help to get your stuff done. There are a few extras designed for MX Linux, which help you set the computer up, design your desktop, and do your administrative tasks. The first time you boot, you get a useful Welcome page. It gives you quick access to “MX Tweaks”, which enables you to change the orientation of the panel if you prefer it somewhere other than down the left. I prefer it at the bottom, for example. It enables you to set up some compositing effects, too! The Settings Manager (an extended version of XFCE settings manager), and MX Tools help you to set up personal and system defaults. The basic colours and fonts of the default layout, and its wallpaper, are very appealing. The Papyrus icon set is nice, too. XFCE as a desktop is quietly efficient, with plenty of room for power users to change stuff, its problem is that it looks nothing special. Until you see what the MX designers have done to it. They’ve turned it into a thing of beauty!
Package Installer and Packages from Testing
MX Linux can use Synaptic, which if you are coming from another deb-based distro, or from one that uses apt4rpm (e.g. PCLinuxOS) will be familiar, to install and update packages. There is also its own Package Installer. You can’t have both open at once, but you can install from either without any problems. The package installer has five tabs. The first lists the most popular packages for you to choose from. The second is for “all packages” which is more like using Synaptic, but without being informed of dependencies being pulled in. The third tab, gives you temporary access to the “MX Testing” repository so that you can install later versions individually, or programs that haven’t made it into “Stable” yet, without adding a load of other testing stuff. And the fourth tab gives you access to packages backported by the MX team from later versions of Debian. The final tab adds “flatpak” but I’m not convinced about the whole concept at this stage. A sixth tab pops up to give progress reports.
Conky is a program which enables the user to draw on the desktop, behind your programs, constantly updating info such as Temperature, Fan Speed, CPU usage, internet speed, and so on. It’s usually what you’d call a “nerd” thing, but MX Linux gives you a huge list of layouts to choose from, and a control centre for them, so you can have conky on your desktop with little or no Linux experience, and easy access to them so you can tweak the files. I’ve put the one that shows the time, through what appears to be a rip in the desktop, on my partner’s desktop. Conky for the masses, thank you MX Linux!
Snapshot and LiveUSB Maker
You can make backups of where your system is at, at any particular time, and set up the isos onto a USB stick. All from MX Tools.
Stable and Fast
I’m finding it to be stable, fast, and really easy to install and get up and running. Programs work and they don’t hang about! MX Linux doesn’t care whether you want the effects (compositing), the fancy desktop extras (Conky) or simply a system that gets out of the way and lets your programs run! It will run on fairly old hardware (there are 32 and 64 versions available), but it’s also featured enough to run on the latest.
It’s got to be 9/10. It’s added a “Wow” factor to the normally prosaic but efficient XFCE desktop. MX Linux has mastered XFCE in the same way that PCLinuxOS has mastered KDE5. The choice is yours. Or why not create those extra system partitions and have them both installed, like I do?