6 Feb 2012

Debian LXDE Live – is it still Debian?

Last week I wrote about Fedora 16 LXDE. That post was intended to complete the cycle of reviews of different Fedora 16 spins.

Apart from Fedora, I had posted another “almost full” cycle, which missed only one element. Coincidentally, that missing element is also an LXDE system.

Today I will tell you about Debian LXDE Live, thus completing the Debian cycle. If you want to read about other versions of Debian Squeeze, please follow the links to reviews of GNOME, XFCE and KDE versions.

Debian LXDE Live, like any other part of Debian Live project, is distributed in two options: for CD/DVD and for USB drives. I downloaded the latter one, because the BIOS on my laptop Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Pi 1505 does not always like CD ISOs on USB. There are no torrent options, so I used one of the Debian mirrors for downloading.

The image size of Debian LXDE Live is 776 Mb, which is the smallest of all the parts of the Debian Live family.

When downloading was complete, I dd'ed the image onto my 8 Gb USB stick.

So, USB stick is in the port. Reboot. Choose to boot from USB. Let's go!

Welcome to Debian LXDE

Debian LXDE Live offers several options during the boot. This is a similar picture to that for the KDE and XFCE versions, which I spoke about earlier. Namely, some of these options are Debian Live, Debian Live 686, and those same two with Safe mode. Of course, my choice was for the normal Live 686 run.

The few seconds of boot time were not the fastest, but definitely quicker than many other Linux distributions I’ve seen so far.

At this point in time, I expected to see the standard Debian desktop wallpaper with a panel at the bottom. My expectations were only half-true. Yes, there is a panel at the bottom of the screen. But the default wallpaper in Debian LXDE Live is not the same as you see in GNOME, KDE or XFCE versions. It is not a space-themed image with Debian spiral. Instead, the wallpaper is in blue colours with the LXDE logo on it. If you don't like this wallpaper, you can change it... to the same in green and red colours. It is not the best selection, is it? Where are all the wallpapers available in other Debian versions? Where is the iconic space image with Debian galaxy?

The only item on the desktop of Debian LXDE Live is the Debian Installer icon. Otherwise the desktop is clean.

As I have already mentioned, the panel in Debian LXDE Live is in its usual place at the bottom of the screen. What do you have on it? The bottom-left corner of the screen takes, as usual, the menu button. This time round it has an icon with the LXDE logo, which is quite logical. Next to it sit three elements of the quick launch panel: PCManFM file manager, Iceweasel browser and Iconify (Show Desktop) button.

The switch between 2 default virtual desktop is placed next to the Iconify button.

The taskbar takes the largest part of the panel, and is at its centre.

The right part of the panel, which is often referred to as the notification area, is not so rich as in many other Linux distributions. Shutdown and Lock Screen are two buttons in the bottom-right corner. Next to them are clocks and the CPU usage monitor. That's all, there are no more elements in the notification area.


As you might already have noticed from the panel description above, there is no network status/management icon on the panel of the Debian LXDE Live.

That's why I started to search for it in the system menu. The result of this search was very disappointing. There was nothing like Network Manager, Wicd or anything resembling the network management tool.

It means that I was not able to configure my home wireless network.

As a side-effect, many other usual elements of my test were not possible: mounting of remote network partition, multimedia playback from remote drive, usage of flash on web sites and so on.

Your menu, Sir!

The Debian LXDE Live menu was “impressive” in the negative sense of this word. I have not seen anything like this before, if I do not count the mess I got in Linux Mint XFCE after some unfortunate update. But Linux Mint XFCE is a rolling release system based on the testing branch of Debian. I could expect something wrong to happen. As opposed to Mint, Debian LXDE is the rock-solid stable version.

To be fair, the menu in whole looks fine. You find usual sections there. Nothing to worry about until you start looking closely. And, like one spoon of tar can spoil a barrel of honey, only one section of the Debian LXDE menu can spoil whole impression.

So, what in particular was messy? The only section in the menu, called “Other”. From my perspective, it listed all the available applications in Debian LXDE Live. OpenOffice applications, Iceweasel, Terminal, XTerm and many-many-many others were all part of the flat list. Who did put this into the final release of respectable operating system?

Of course, this “Other” section is not the only part of the menu. Luckily, most of them are intact with the expectations most users have.

Let’s have a look what else is available.

The Internet section is represented by only one application: Iceweasel browser. It is version 3.5.16. You get no mail client and no instant messenger in the default Debian LXDE Live operating system. Probably, developers think you can install your favourites by yourself. More on that later.

The Sound & Video section of the menu is not rich in applications either. Music Player LXMusic 0.4.4 is the only element of this menu group. When I launched this player, I saw that Debian LXDE Live comes with one audio track in .ogg format, probably for test purposes. When I started this file, I could barely hear the music. The volume level was set to minimum. And... there are no volume control tools anywhere in the menu or on the panel! Ergh? How could this be?

Debian LXDE Live includes GIMP, OpenOffice Draw and XSane scanning tool in the Graphics section of the menu. No complaints here, because GIMP solves all the possible questions. Even the screenshot I show here was taken by GIMP.
Debian LXDE

Office tools, as you could already guess, are OpenOffice.Org applications. Debian LXDE Live includes the full set of OO.o, together with Base, Math and Draw. OpenOffice.Org is version 3.2.1.

The Accessories in Debian LXDE Live menu include LXTerminal, Leafpad text editor, PCManFM file manager, Xarchiver and Image Viewer GPicView. Not the largest selection, I would say.

There is nothing interesting in the System Tools part of the Debian LXDE Live. The most important tools here are the Debian Installer and Reportbug.

As you can see from the list above, the menu in Debian LXDE Live is more than basic. This operating system almost gives you nothing in terms of applications. Even the most needed ones are not included. What do I mean? A package management tool, Disk partitioning tool, Task Manager, Volume control and even Network Manager – where are they all? Most likely, you can install them one-by-one. But this needs an Internet connection, which is not possible because of the absence of a network management tool. Is it a vicious circle?


I could actually skip this part of my test too, as I have done with network-related activities. LXDE is not prepared for configuration of several keyboard layouts in graphical mode. I understood that after my reviews of Fedora and Knoppix. Debian LXDE Live gives you an even worse selection than these other operating systems.

To cut the story short, the keyboard layout could not be configured for the needs of a multi-language user with assistance of graphical tools.

I understand that this is most likely an “upstream” LXDE issue. But the issue still exists in Debian LXDE. So, if you’re a user with the requirement to use different layouts, please be prepared to do some manual editing of configuration files.

This time round I found how touchpad works in LXDE. At least, in Debian LXDE you can scroll by two fingers on any part of touchpad. I don't know if this configurable or not. Unfortunately, the issue of "clicks" on touchpad is still not resolved.

That was the end of my story with Debian LXDE Live.

What do I think of it now? If I knew the outcome of this test, I would not even have started it. In my own opinion, the LXDE version is the worst one in Debian family. This is not really Debian as you are used to seeing it: stable, Spartan, but still functional. This is an operating system packed with some enhanced applications but without essential elements. A colossus with feet of clay.

Yes, the XFCE version of Debian Live is also a light one. But it is not trimmed to the unusable state. You can plug a CD or USB with Debian XFCE Live into your computer and start your usual activities in seconds with full support of network, multimedia and so on. All this is gone in the LXDE version. It’s trimmed to the level where you need to spend a lot of time just to add vital components. It is not the way the operating system should work.


  1. "There was nothing like Network Manager, Wicd or anything resembling the network management tool.

    It means that I was not able to configure my home wireless network."

    Never heard of "apt-get"? Maybe you should stick to ubuntu derivatives.

    1. Without a network manager, it's really hard to setup a wireless network connection. thus make apt-get even harder.

      For for mobile device, not including a network manager on a DE is simply stupid.

    2. Agree. It's quite tricky to get network manager installed via apt-get without... network manager!

  2. LXDE upstream was dead, that's why all the LXDE looked like half functional.

    Stop using LXDE based distro, it's not a functional DE yet.

    1. I think I'll follow your advise. No more LXDE, unless LXDE is the only option.

  3. Yes, connecting to wireless network might as difficult as:
    # iwconfig wlan0 essid "MyEssid"
    # iwconfig wlan0
    # dhcpcd wlan0

  4. @Anonymous: it would be nice if you checked your suggestions before posting them. There is an error in the last command, to start with. Then, what is about wifi security?
    Why would anyone bother with CLI for such a complex configuration as wifi connection, if you have "DE" (in quotation marks this time) running, and there are enough good graphical tools to ease up the process?

  5. The answer is really simple: Use a system, that fit your needs. Probably lubuntu.

  6. I ran into the same problems. I was digging in needing to install some bios patches and found that I couldn't even expand a deb pkg because ar was missing. wtf? junk.

  7. Simply put, connect a your "wireless device," i.e. most likely a laptop or netbook, to damn LAN line, set eth0 as your internet connection through the terminal, then apt-get a wireless manager and your problem is solved you. I swear, is it that hard to think of? I've had to do this with plenty of operating systems made for bottom-feeding performance machines. I test these operating systems on a real low-performance machine, my Compaq Presario 1700 laptop. Look up the specs on that. What people consider low-performance today is laughable.

    1. Compaq Presario 1700 is a really old hardware, you're right.
      Although, I would expect the distro to be able to find a WiFi card without a necessary to drag it to the LAN cable. That is not always the option, you know. And well, Intel is not the most obscure hardware manufacturer in terms of open source drivers.

    2. I'm well aware that it is not always an option. I've worked on even older laptops then my personal antique. These laptops don't even have a LAN port, when they were made only with phone-line ports for dial-up. I just pcmia card to eth0 converter and used it that way. The converters were obviously made after the laptops though and were used to keep them usable. Nonetheless, there are ways to get done anything you set your mind to.

    3. pcmcia*. You should add an edit option to your blog comments. ;)

  8. What an absurd conversation this has become, really. DarkDuck, I totally agree with you, if you have a complete linux distro it should work out of the box living up to the needs of today's users meaning even if its lightweight it should have the basic usability including the possibility of using wifi without much of tinkering. Otherwise you can just get something like Arch and build it up from the scratch... I did it but I still don't remember how to start my wlan0 out of the top of my head. Then again I'm not an IT specialist but still a fairly advanced linux user.