Product Reviews

MXLinux is the most downloaded Linux desktop distribution, and now I know why

Jack Wallen examines MXLinux to find out what makes it one of the more popular Linux distributions at the moment.

Image: Jack Wallen

MXLinux. Have you heard of it? If you’re an ardent supporter of Linux on the desktop, you probably have. Otherwise, chances are pretty slim you’ve never heard tell of this particular Linux distribution–there’s a reason for that. MXLinux isn’t Ubuntu, Mint or even Fedora (in a pinch). MXLinux doesn’t have the brand recognition the other popular takes on the Linux distributions.

It doesn’t have the cache of widespread familiarity. Then why is it the most downloaded Linux distribution on Distrowatch?

A bit of a sidebar: I realize that Distrowatch isn’t the bellwether of Linux popularity. For those of us who’ve been around the Linux block for a few decades, it’s an important indicator. When I see that MXLinux has the No. 1 download spot (over Manjaro, Linux Mint, Pop!_OS and Ubuntu), I take notice.

I downloaded the latest iteration of MXLinux and spun up a virtual machine to see what gives. I must say, I was not surprised by what greeted me.

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MXLinux features a clean desktop

If I had to describe MXLinux in a single word, that word would be “clean.” The default Xfce desktop is quite appealing (Figure A); with a perfect mixture of simplicity, ease of use and appeal to more seasoned users.

Figure A

mxlinuxa.jpg

The MXLinux default desktop is about as clean as you’ll find.

Although Xfce defaults to the panel being vertical on the side, the user is still instantly familiar with how the desktop works. Click the X button at the bottom to reveal a well-designed desktop menu that can be resized at will. You could even resize the Whisker menu so it fills the entire desktop (Figure B).

Figure B

mxlinuxb.jpg

A desktop-sized Whisker menu makes it easy to see every installed application.

Besides being a clean desktop, what is it about MXLinux that makes it so popular? 

A perfect ratio of user-friendliness and flexibility

Once upon a time, nearly every Linux desktop was pretty much whatever the user wanted to make of it. No matter the desktop you chose, you could tweak it until it was almost unrecognizable. Somewhere along the way, developers realized such levels of flexibility made the Linux desktop too much of a challenge for users. It was then that we started seeing the likes of GNOME Shell, where the user seemed almost locked in to what the developers deemed usable. 

All the while, desktops like Xfce continued delivering desktops that retained the level of flexibility Linux users had been accustomed to for years. On a rare occasion, a distribution would be released that offered the best of both worlds–one that was simple to use, but remarkably flexible. That’s exactly what MXLinux is: a Linux distribution that caters to every type of user. 

Even the versions they offer illustrate this. Users have the choice between three different Xfce versions (32 bit, 64 bit and a variant for advanced hardware support) and a KDE advanced hardware support release. If you’ll be using MXLinux on a newer machine, such as one that includes use AMD Ryzen, AMD Radeon RX graphics, or 9th/10th/11th generation Intel hardware, make sure to download the AHS version.

Once installed (and the installation is very simple), to say “everything just works” would be an understatement. It’s not just that everything works, everything works well and there’s zero learning curve. Any user, regardless of skill level, could log in to MXLinux and be instantly at home on the desktop. At the same time, any long-time Linux user could log in and immediately start tweaking the desktop to make it perfectly fit their typical workflow.

That’s what MXLinux is all about, and part of the reason why it’s become the most downloaded Linux distribution on Distrowatch.

It has the stability of Debian, the flexibility of Xfce (or the more modern take on the desktop, KDE), and familiarity that anyone could appreciate. I’d venture to say that most users wouldn’t change a thing from the out-of-the-box experience. That’s how well-designed this Linux distribution is. 

A bevy of apps

What do you get when you install MXLinux? A lot. The pre-installed app highlight reel looks something like this:

  • Firefox

  • Thunderbird

  • Catfish File Search

  • Bulk Rename

  • Conky

  • LuckyBackup

  • GIMP

  • LibreOffice

  • Clementine

  • VLC Media Player

  • PDF Arranger

  • antiX Advert Blocker

  • Asunder CD Ripper

  • Samba

So you won’t be missing out on much of anything. As for package management, MXLinux includes Synaptic Package Manager. The inclusion of Synaptic is one of the few dings on the user-friendliness scale to be found in MXLinux. Not that Synaptic is challenging to use, but it’s certainly not one of the more user-friendly tools to be found in Linux. When you compare Synaptic to, say, GNOME Software, Synaptic not only looks a bit antiquated, it’s not nearly as simple. Given that MXLinux seems to be centered on being a Linux distribution for everyone, the developers might want to consider including a more modern take on the app store. 

The Manual

Every Linux distribution could learn a thing or two from MXLinux on this front. With a default installation of this desktop distribution, you get some of the most extensive documentation to be found on any version of Linux. The developers have gone out of their way to make new users feel at home. 

In the Manual, which can be opened from the desktop icon, you’ll find information on  (Figure C):

  • Installation

  • Configuring peripherals

  • The MX Tools

  • Display configuration

  • Network setup

  • Sound management

  • Desktop customization

  • Software management

  • Usage

  • And much more

Figure C

mxlinuxd.jpg

The MXLinux Manual might come in hand for some users.

MX Tools

MXLinux includes a few very handy tools, aptly named MX Tools. These tools cover the following tasks:

  • Create system backup

  • Install drivers & codecs

  • Edit boot options & menu

  • System cleaning

  • Conky management

  • Bash configuration

  • Repository management

  • USB format

The MX Tools are all very user-friendly and work exactly as expected.

Put it all together

Take all of this together and you have a Linux distribution that transcends Linux to become a desktop operating system for everyone–that should be the goal of every Linux desktop developer.

If you’re looking for a distribution of Linux to install for new users, or you want one that brings serious flexibility back to the desktop for yourself, you can’t go wrong with MXLinux.

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