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Lubuntu 11.10 review – a cure to Ubuntu’s Unity blues?

Could Lubuntu 11.10 prove to be the perfect cure Ubuntu’s Unity backlash? Russell Barnes tests the latest LXDE spin to see how it has progressed in the last six months…

Firstly, congratulations need to go to the Lubuntu project – it’s their first release as a fully subscribed member of the official Ubuntu family since Mark Shuttleworth welcomed the project to its ranks around the release of 11.04. It joins Xubuntu and Kubuntu among others, and slots rather neatly into the pack, each member bringing a slightly different slant to our beloved Linux desktop while staying true to the mainline software on offer from the core Ubuntu repositories.

As stated on the project’s homepage, the core objective of Lubuntu is to create a lighter, less resource-hungry and more energy-aware desktop distribution. It achieves this first and foremost by utilising LXDE (the Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment), but also backs it up with a number of popular applications and utilities, each picked for their frugal use of resources.

As we’ve said in the past, LXDE is a great alternative to KDE and the GNOME 2.x desktop environments in that aesthetic appeal and functionality is minimally compromised in its effort to be as sleek and light as possible. Since it’s targeted at the ‘normal’ tower and laptop user, its low system requirements are put to great work ensuring legacy hardware gets a new lease of life while modern systems run with real zip and zeal.

The requirements are low enough that a system as old as a Pentium II (or Celeron) with just 128MB of memory will boot. The end-user experience is unlikely to be optimal (for example, you can’t use the graphical installer without 256MB of RAM), but the ability to raise a pulse from a system so advanced in its years is an incredible achievement, not least from a fully-fledged and high-functioning desktop distribution such as this.

Considering all the fuss and bluster surrounding Unity and GNOME Shell, the cynic in us wonders if Mark Shuttleworth might have employed a certain amount of foresight in the enrolment of Lubuntu. Such a sizeable change in user experience was always going to upset the apple cart – having an array of official derivatives with a classical approach certainly implies a degree of damage control.

That’s enough cynicism for today, though – let’s take a quick look at what’s new. Since most components of LXDE have had official releases, you could argue that there’s little that hasn’t been updated. LXDM is an excellent lightweight display manager and PCManFM might be quite a young offering, but it’s fast and relatively easy to manipulate. Elsewhere Lubuntu 11.10 makes the switch to xfce4-power-manager for power management and there’s a even a new theme by Rafael Laguna to enjoy.

The now trademark pale blue of the desktop is almost hypnotic. It’s incredibly clean, clear and logically laid out – a user experience a million miles away from that of Ubuntu 11.10’s Unity or GNOME Shell counterparts. In comparison there’s an almost cleansing nature about its simplicity. If you’d like to keep your up-to-date Ubuntu back-end, but forgo the move to Unity, Lubuntu is certainly an excellent choice, though those of you with allegiances to KDE or Xfce might still prefer Kubuntu and Xubuntu respectively.

Verdict: 4/5
Lubuntu 11.10 certainly proves its worth as a full member of the Ubuntu family of Linux distributions and makes us wonder why we were so worried about losing GNOME 2.x. While it’s not as flexible or pretty as its defunct counterpart, Lubuntu 11.10 has certainly got everything you need to keep your computer happy and your desktop clean and clutter-free.