Back to article
LXDE, the New Lightweight Linux Desktop
April 14, 2010
LXDE (the Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment) is new to the Linux desktop scene, having been launched in 2006. It aims to provide a fully-functional desktop environment whilst being as lightweight as possible, to both speed up your desktop and reduce its environmental impact (by using less CPU and RAM). A quick-and-dirty benchmark courtesy of the LXDE edition of Linux Mint indicates that it measures up pretty well on speed and RAM usage. In the third of my series on desktop alternatives, I took a look at it to see how it shapes up from the user's point of view.
Please also see Xfce Desktop: Less Lard, Less Bling, More Usability, and Window Maker Desktop: Lightweight Linux Minimalism
To get LXDE, install the lxde package on Debian or Ubuntu, (it's also available via the package manager on Fedora). On first logging into it, it started up noticably faster than Xfce, and I liked the default graphics. There's a single menu bar, at the bottom, with a menu, a couple of default application buttons (file manager, terminal window, web browser), and a neat button which either iconifies all the windows (left-click) or collapses them into their top bars (middle-click). On the right-hand side of the bar, LXDE shows off its energy-saving credentials with a CPU monitor alongside screen lock, powerdown button, and clock.
Strictly speaking LXDE isn't a window manager but a desktop environment, using Openbox as a window manager (alternatively you can swap in other window managers). Openbox allows you to show the LXDE desktop menu on right-click (right-click on the desktop to edit this option). Unfortunately, once I turned this on, I couldn't find an option in the Openbox configuration editor to turn it back off! Still, it's a useful enough menu. It would be more useful, though, if it were easier to add applications to the Applications sub-menu. It seems that the only way to do this is either to edit /usr/share/lxde/openbox/menu.xml, or to copy that file somewhere in your home directory, edit it there, and change the reference in ~/.config/openbox/lxde-rc.xml. This isn't that hard for experienced Linux users, but it's not exactly user-friendly, and still less so as I had to dig around to find that out.
Checking out the default apps on the bottom bar, I found that the file browser, PCMan, started up fast, and has a useful left-hand pane showing the filesystem. Note that, like the other components of LXDE (e.g. Openbox and LXTerminal), PCMan is independent of the environment, so you can run it as part of another desktop environment if you like it. Curiously, the default terminal that opens from the bottom bar is Gnome Terminal, rather than LXTerminal, although it's possible that this is a Debianism.
The default web browser button launches Epiphany – another fast piece of software but again part of the Gnome project rather than LXDE. Irritatingly, I couldn't find any way to edit what is run by any of the buttons; you have to remove them and add another one (right-click on the application button area of the panel and choose "Application Launch Bar Settings") if you want to change an application. The interface for doing this is however straightforward and intuitive.
I also had a quick look at the ultra-lightweight Leafpad text editor, also part of the LXDE project. It has a basic autoindent facility, spellchecking, and so on, but if you want anything more than ultra-minimal, you're going to want to switch to a proper editor.