Testing Conclusion: Linux Mint 18 Xfce

So I have been testing out Linux Mint‘s latest “lightweight” Xfce edition for about 2 and a half months now. It’s truly a wonderful distro, great for Linux novices, and good on most hardware newer than 5-10 years old. I have modified only by adding some cool tools from my friend Ralphy’s treasure chest of awesomeness. My “findings” are unscientific as far as actual measurements of performance and features other than what is observable to a casual user. And here they are:

Linux Mint Xfce is packed with features and tools that keep it safe and fairly stable, but it has gradually slowed more and more over a period of weeks. To be fair, some of the slowness may be due to the major kernel updates that have come in rapid succession in order to patch the recently discovered Intel vulnerabilities. Even the creator of Linux, the venerable Linus Torvaldes, has called many of these security updates “junk,” unnecessary and burdensome. I remain unconvinced that this Intel vulnerability is serious enough to justify the cure, which seems to be worse than the disease.

While these security updates to the kernel (known to slow some machines by as much as 30 percent!) might help explain the recent slowdown, I still find Linux Mint’s most “lightweight” edition much more “bloated” with extra stuff that may or may not actually make it “better” – whether “better” for new Linux users or “better” in some other way I don’t really understand.

The old paradigm – that greater ease of use means greater loss of speed and efficiency – definitely holds true in this otherwise awesome distribution. That paradigm has become an axiom in the Linux world. But there is one exception that I have found and cannot explain. It’s Linux Lite! It is built on the same Ubuntu base as Linux Mint, yet suffers none of the loss-of-speed-in-exchange-for-user-friendliness issues that we all thought was “just the way it is, inevitably.” Even if the kernel updates account for a lot of this difference, it’s the highly-modified Xfce mixture in Linux Lite that accounts for this amazing exception to the rule. Too many Xfce distros aim at compositing window managers and unnecessary daemons running in the background. While Linux Lite has both compositing and background processes running, they are well-chosen and don’t demand the same resources as the most commonly found ones.

The only negative on the back burner is the Ubuntu base. Not that Ubuntu isn’t a great – maybe even the best – base to build a distro upon, but because the updates Ubuntu sends down the chute to it’s users (and all the Ubuntu-derived distros “downstream”) include Beta software and beta-quality software. Only Linux Mint has effectively addressed this hazard through the use of it’s wonderful Mint Updater. Fortunately, that superb safety net is also available to users of Linux Lite (at unlockforus.com), so you can have your cake and eat it too! Though I haven’t tried it, I suspect it might work just as well on any Ubuntu-derived distribution, from L/K/Xubuntu to Zorin, Bodhi, and Peppermint.

Were it not for the fact that I love restoring older computers and giving them new life using the most beginner-friendly distribution possible, I might not be a Linux Lite user because I remain always a bit leery and suspicious of Ubuntu and it’s inherent updating issues. But I use Linux Lite (modified with selected tools from Unlockforus, especially the Updater) to restore those old machines and introduce new users to the wonderful world of Linux. And I find that it’s easier to support these new users if I am a user myself.

Sticking With Salix!

Well this is certainly unexpected! The first time I tried Salix, it refused to boot after an update, and I was like, “I’m done. I thought ‘borked by an update’ was uniquely a Debian/Ubuntu phenomenon until now. Screw this.”

What an ignorant and impatient fool I was. When an update includes a kernel update, you also have to update your bootloader to load the new kernel. That’s what I did wrong, and it wasn’t anyone’s fault but my own, for not reading the instructions and assuming far too much. Typical, perhaps, of a technophobic user playing with a Slackware derivative for the first time after using almost exclusively Ubuntu-based distros previously. I was used to being spoon-fed and giving the operating system too much automation. Simplicity does not mean “everything happens automagically and you don’t have to do anything but click Okay.” The user is responsible for knowing what the heck he or she is doing!

Salix tells me what my choices might mean during installation and updates, and when it refused to boot after I made a stupid decision, I should have known. Silly spoon-fed Ubuntu user and Slackware rookie.

But y’know what? I think I’m just gonna leave Salix on my old ancient relic desktop computer for good. I’m probably all done messing around with other distros, at least on this particular computer. Here are my reasons:

It’s Slackware-based and fully compatible with it’s parent distro, unlike most of the other Slackware-based “lightweight” distros. This means it has Slackware’s legendary stability and reliability, and ultra-mega-super-duper-uber-long-term support.

It’s super simple! In keeping with the whole Slackware philosophy – and Linux philosophy, for that matter. One application per task. Do one thing and do it well. Stay the heck out of the user’s way.

It’s systemd-free.
I know, before you jump all over me about it, I’ve read all the debates and I think I’ve probably never personally had any issues with systemd, except that even my beloved Xubuntu began to slow down over time (almost like “Windows rot”) and had to be rebooted regularly just to refresh it and dump cache and stuff. It didn’t do that before Ubuntu (and thus Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Lubuntu, Mint, and all their derivatives and spin-offs and remixes) adopted systemd, so I wonder if that might be part of the reason. The “one ring to rule them all” feature of systemd is counter to the “do one thing and do it well” principle that has made Linux so awesome to begin with (until recently). I don’t reboot Salix. I don’t need to. Could systemd be the reason? I don’t know, but it sure is nice not to have the gradual loss of speed over time that I experienced with Xubu and other old favorites.

Yeah, he’s talking to systemd.

Salix doesn’t include kernel updates by default. Why should they? The installed kernel works fine, it’s secure, and my computer doesn’t need support for all kindsa features it doesn’t even have. It ain’t broke, no need to fix anything. The only thing I change is the wallpaper occasionally, or fonts and stuff. It’s perfectly boring, as it should be.

My distro-hopper-stopper is Salix.

I haven’t tried it on the laptop yet, but that’s another post for another day.