so today, I want to introduce you to antiX - a lightweight Distribution, based on Debian.
It also has a side-project, called MX where they created a XFCE-spin with the help of the MEPIS community. Take a look at it HERE
I will link the review to that, as soon as one of the moderators has done one about it.Keep in mind, that English is NOT my first language, so there might be a lot grammar/spelling mistakes. Feel free though to drag my attention to it so I can correct it
In case I forgot to mention anything or if you want me to explain/talk about something specific, just let me know and I'll get to it.
What is antiX and why would I use it?
antiX is a fast, snappy and lightweight Distribution based on Debian (officially on the Testing-branch) that comes with 4 different Desktops pre-configured. Its aim is to deliver the user with a ressource-friendly easy-to-use Desktop, build on top of a popular and well supported Base. In fact, antiX is so lightweight, that you can even run it on extremely limited hardware with only 128MB of RAM. It also makes an awesome live- or portable (on an USB) system, that can run on almost any device.
However that does not mean that you cannot run it on your high-end gaming machine: If you are into lightweightness like I am, and you love simple and clean Desktops, then antiX might give you all you could ask for.
What is special about antiX?
What surprised me most about antiX already stood out in the installer. You can decide whether its repositories should point to Debian Stable, Testing or Unstable. Of course this can always be changed later on again, but the fact that this feature exists, was very refreshing.
Another really cool thing is the choice of desktops you have in antiX. While logging into your desktop, you can chose from 4 different sessions:
- Fluxbox with ROX
- Fluxbox with SpaceFM
- IceWM with ROX
- IceWM with SpaceFM
Later in this review, I will explain each session in detail. Just for your notes though: All of those are very basic and by default not pretty to look at.
Which Debian-Branch should I pick?
Well, this completely depends on your personal preference, the intentions you have with your antiX-install and of course your experience-level with Debian and Linux as a whole.
Usually the stable branch of Debian is completely sufficient for most users. As the name might already tell, it aims to be a very stable base that won’t get any updates other than security related ones. It will give you old (partially ancient) software, that is fully tested and proven to not cause any serious issues. If you are a linux-novice, then going with this branch might be the best decision for you. You don’t have to re-install your system, when there is a new version out, but there will be a huge update for you.
Most people however would prefer the Debian Testing branch, that has updates available quite often and is a rolling-release. This means that updates (and also kernels) will come regularly and you never have to re-install your system or do huge chunks of updates. The downside is, that a rolling-release means a bit more of maintenance work for the user. You should do regular updates (at least once every 3 weeks) to make sure that nothing causes issues or breakages. As long as you do that, your system will be quite stable and really up-to-date. (Keep in mind, that Ubuntu is based on the Debian-Testing branch, so your packages will be about as new as those of the newest Ubuntu-Release).
For very advanced and curious users that can handle breakages and eliminate issues on their own, the unstable branch might be interesting. Just like Debian-Testing, it is a rolling-release. However, updates will be even more frequent and you should probably do them once per week. Unstable is Debian’s first of three stages, new packages go through. In each stage, packages will be tested and bug-fixes will be made. As Unstable is the first of those, there will be issues and interferences every now and then, you might have to deal with. The good thing is, that you’ll have the newest software with the coolest features available.
Which Session is the best?
As mentioned earlier already, antiX comes with 4 different sessions pre-installed: 2 different Window Managers with 2 different File Managers. Everyone of those has different advantages and disadvantages.
IceWM delivers you with a very classic looking UI that reminds a bit of Windows ME. You have a classic bar on the bottom with a Start-button to the left, some launcher-icons, a Desktop-switcher, a taskbar, a system-tray and a clock. On the right side, there is a conky, displaying basic system-information. You do not have to use the start-button to access your programs and settings though: Just like in Openbox/Fluxbox, you can simply click anywhere on your desktop to bring up the menu.
Fluxbox is a bit different and not as classic as IceWM is. Your bottom panel gives you a desktop-switcher on the left, a taskbar, a system-tray and a clock. What’s missing is the start-button. However, you can simply click anywhere on the desktop to bring up your menu. Other than that, both Window Managers are pretty similar in the way they behave.
Both are very basic, but functional. However, Fluxbox gives you a bit more opportunities and functions to work with. For example the fake-transparency, that makes menu’s and windows appear transparent, although you do not have compositing enabled. The ability to name workspaces, to remember size and positions of windows is another great feature.
Personally, I find the ROX-filemanager way too basic, yes even disgusting to work with. That’s why I prefer the SpaceFM sessions. It still is really basic, but is at least workable with.
What is bad about antiX?
To be honest: I appreciate that there is artwork in the Grub-menu, the plymouth bootsplash, the login-screen and the wallpaper...
But why on earth do they have to be so extremely ugly?! Surely, it aims to be for legacy and limited hardware, but this doesn’t mean that there have to be so unattractive themes, does it?
This Distribution certainly needs a lot of customizing until it looks appealing to the user’s eye.
Another bad thing might be the choices of FileManagers. While I understand that they try to keep space and resource consumption low, I really wished, that they had chosen pcmanFM rather than ROX.
What is good about antiX?
antiX certainly shines, when you start to look at the resources it runs at. Depending on which Session you use, you will see a RAM-usage of 50-70 MB. That alone is really impressive to me and the major reason I like antiX.
The other cool features you’ll have using antiX are the tools it comes with. The developers created a system-settings-GUI where you can edit and customize your OS. They also implemented a custom Kernel, so even when you chose to go with the Debian-Testing branch, you won’t be sitting on an ancient Kernel.
Can this Distribution look any good?
As I’m not a fan of IceWM, I only used the Fluxbox-Session. Here, however I can say: YES! Fluxbox is very themable and in my opinion is an improved version of Openbox. As you can see, I got kinda inspired by the default Crunchbang theme and went with a similar style here. You can also add Compton to enable compositing and true transparency and maybe even drop-shadows/glowing.
I added Thunar, as I could not stand the default File Managers.
antiX Fluxbox-Session with dark theming and the Thunar file manager.
While being ugly by default, antiX certainly isn’t a bad Distribution. It in fact is very good and pretty impressive as far as lightweightness goes. The custom Kernel and the option to chose the Release-branch is another cool thing that sadly isn’t very common in most distributions.
If you are not sure yet which branch to follow and which Desktop to pick, antiX certainly is a good starting point.
Surely, there are alternatives to antiX that are comparatively good, such as:
So if I succeeded in making you curious about it, make sure to check this distribution out on their Website
BTW: In case you didn't get the reference in the headline, make sure to read the kid's fairy tale: The Ugly Duckling.