Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Distro Hoppin`: A Quick Look at Lubuntu 11.10 Beta 1

While Mandriva decided to simplify their offering by keeping only the KDE version alive in the latest release, the Ubuntu family has officialy grown yet again. LXDE - Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment - is here to rescue old computers through Lubuntu. My aging Evo n800c Compaq laptop was craving for some attention and what better way to make its wish come true other than starring it in a Distro Hoppin` episode?

So I got the 642 MBs ISO, burnt it to a CD (actually a leftover mini DVD-RW from my camera) and booted right off it! As I didn't want to stress poor old Evo too much, I decided to head straight for the installation, especially since I didn't have anything to lose. I had three options: Install alongside unknown Linux distribution (it was Puppy), Replace unknown Linux distributions and manual partitioning. Hmmm, does the second option mean Ubuntu is now finally able to install itself over existing Linux partitions without the need to manually set it to do so? Well, let me me pop the DVD inside the main machine and see what my options are. BRB! Aaand I'm back! Did you miss me? Do NOT say yes, cause then you will have to kiss me. Sadly, on this machine, the second option was to erase the entire disk. O well. Moving on.

The installation didn't take too long, around 15 minutes and not a single error was given, which is quite a feat in my experience. I've rarely had the pleasure to install a pre-release of *buntu without hitting a bunch of roadblocks on the way.

I rebooted the machine, removed the DVD and 45 seconds later Lubuntu was fully loaded and ready to go. If you're used to Ubuntu's Unity, Lubuntu's look will certainly shock you with its simplicity and minimalistic profile. Only one slim panel at the bottom - and the rest is yours to fill.

Isn't she a beauty?

The elegant blue wallpaper provides a soothing sight for sore eyes, which is fortunate, as it's the only one available by default.

The menu can be activated either by clicking on it or by pressing the "Windows" key. Next to it, shortcuts to home folder and Chromium web browser are followed by "iconify all windows" (same functionality as "show desktop" from GNOME plus an option to shade them - roll them up) and workspace switcher. On the far right, volume, battery indicator, network manager, clock and shutdown buttons.

Overall, a clean, simple and efficient desktop.

Now let's talk applications!

The Accessories tab is filled with basic, but useful, tools: calculator, character map, text editor, image viewer, terminal, etc.

You're listening to PCMan FM on 0.9.9... oh wait

The Games category seemed surprisingly big at first, but it's comprised of various small "office" card games, that look the same: horrible. I know, I know, it's not about the looks, but they ruin the otherwise modern design of Lubuntu. Oh, if you notice the lack of a screenshot-taking app, don't worry, just press Print Screen and the image will be saved directly into the home folder.

Aren't I a gamer?

The Graphics section comes with a document viewer (mainly for .pdf files), mtPaint graphic editor (looks quite dated as well) and Simple Scan. The Internet goodies are: Chromium Web Browser (doesn't come with Flash loaded, you will have to install it yourself from Synaptic), Pidgin Internet Messenger (thank God!), Sylpheed email client and Transmission for torrenting. A decent selection right there.

I heard you like ITLure so I put ITLure inside ITLure so you can read ITLure while you read ITLure

As it aims to be as lightweight as possible, you can't expect Lubuntu to ship with LibreOffice. Abiword and Gnumeric do a great job replacing the big daddy of office software. Osmo is also there to keep track of your busy busy schedule and also show the current moon phase. I'm keeping an eye on you, Moon!

Oh, man, what a busy day at the office...

Sound & Video is backed up by Audacious, a lovely little audio player, GNOME MPlayer (we all know it can play a bunch of video formats), gucview for when you want to make funny faces in front of the webcam and Xfburn for CD/DVD creation.

Multiple media

As you would expect, the default collection of programs can be enhanced by firing up the Synaptic Package Manager (sadly, there's no Software Center available). There is though a separate "Update Manager" so it's easy to keep your system secure and, well, up to date.

LXDE is quite flexible when it comes to customizing its appearance. There are a lot of themes available but if you still can't find one to your liking, you can always create a color scheme from scratch. You can even change the icons, the mouse cursor, window border, fonts, icon sizes and so on.

The functionality of the window manager can be tweaked by opening the "Openbox Configuration Manager". You can make the focus follow the mouse, set margins (which will not be overlapped by maximized windows) or modify how switching workspaces can be done.

The Evo

Internet connectivity is a sensible area for Evo... It never had wireless capabilities and its ethernet port died a couple of years ago. With only one USB port still alive and thanks to the tethering capabilities of my Samsung Galaxy Mini, I managed to hook Evo to my router and experience decent speeds and a stable connection.

Lubuntu and Evo sitting in a tree...

Yep, they really seem to be getting along. Lubuntu runs just fine and dandy on my old laptop and it's definitely worthy of being under Canonical's umbrella. But you don't have to have an aging machine to enjoy this OS. If you're tired of the bells and whistles that are oh-so-present in today's desktop environments, you might fall in love with Lubuntu. Still, you should wait for the final release to hit the servers next month before using it on your main machine. 

Download Lubuntu 11.10 Beta 1 for 32- and 64-bit architectures and have an excellent day!

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