ExTiX-the ultimate Linux distribution?
1. Introduction and first impressions
What you're about to read is a short and pretty objective review of a lesser known Linux distribution: ExTiX. The logic why we do this from time to time is simple: so you can be empowered with knowledge about less popular distributions and maybe find the one that's right up your alley. Top distros have lots of reviews, lots of contributors, and so on. Speaking of contributing, please remember to contribute in any way you feel appropriate to ExTiX, if you deem it worthy of your time/skills/material benefits.
Upon first entering the site, one of the things that struck me as interesting was the fact that the distribution is only offered as a 64-bit download. After thinking things through, I realized there is some reason for this: the distro is offered as a live DVD, weighing around 1.4 GB, and usually 32-bit PCs don't have enough memory to run a live DVD smoothly. But, since the included software is worth it, I didn't bother with this and proceeded with downloading the disc for testing.
2. Getting and installing ExTiX
One thing I liked about the filenames convention used with ExTiX is the fact that it gives the user lots of information: for example, the last iso name is extix10-64bit-12.04-1380mb-120701.iso. So, version, architecture, version it's based on, size and build date. Yes, you guessed it, ExTiX 10 is based on Ubuntu 12.04. So, I got my image from the Sourceforge page and waited patiently for my download to finish. After all, as far as I read this far, my patience should pay off.
The front page says that ExTiX is stripped of Unity, the original UI of Ubuntu 12.04, and uses Gnome and Razor-Qt instead. Also, the kernel is not Ubuntu default, nor it is vanilla, but a special flavor created especially by the developer. Before we begin, please bear in mind the passwords for the live DVD: live/live and root/root, respectively. For your reading pleasure, we will test ExTiX as a live environment first, and as an installable OS afterwards. The boot screen reminds us a lot of Ubuntu's, in terms of color and content, and, after a short while, we are presented with a login screen that looks pretty.
The live DVD part I tested using KVM as a virtualization solution and with only 768 MB of RAM. I thought that I will notice sluggishness, but I didn't. This, on one hand, is good, because ExTiX looks like a complete yet responsive distro, but on the other hand it makes the 64-bit only excuse invalid. If you remember, we reviewed Razor-Qt and never noticed some huge memory consumption. Still, there are other huge applications that, once started, can bring a system short on RAM on its' knees. So I will leave this as a dilemma, and am waiting for your opinions in the usual place: our Linux Forums where we're ready to talk to you and answer any questions you might have.
While logging off, in order to see the other side of ExTiX, the Qt-based one, the screen became pitch black and all I could use was the cursor. I don't know if this is due to the fact I am using a VM, but I know something else: while Gnome has a certain Mac-ish look and feel, which for some people might be a nice thing, I couldn't help but notice some carelessness in the polish of the desktop. For example, the unaligned desktop icons or the non-centered clock leave the impression of lack of attention. Nonetheless, these are minor things, and all I am doing is performing my duty to inform you about the pluses and minuses of the distribution I am reviewing .
As you can see from the screenshot, the disappointment continues with Razor-Qt: at startup, I am greeted by the XScreensaver settings screen, an incomplete iconset at the launcher below and a poorly scaled wallpaper. Now, if this wasn't a desktop-oriented distribution, these small mistakes would have been easier to understand. But as it is, these might be just the motivation for a new user to walk away and never look back, especially since there are hundreds (literally!) of distributions that are based on Ubuntu and are offering more or less the same thing. Let's see how the installer works...
Well, folks, the installer link in the bootloader menu is not quite what you would expect, since what it really does is the same thing as the live environment link is doing, that is taking you to a display manager, and from there, to a desktop environment, be it Gnome or Razor-Qt. Gnome has indeed a link on the desktop that says "Install Ubuntu..." or the like, and the installer is the Ubuntu one, with no alterations whatsoever.
3. Opinions and installed software
Until now, you might have gotten the impression that all I am doing is bash the distribution and nothing more. Well, folks, I tell them as I see them, no more no less, and I want to give you a fair review. Speaking of fairness, I don't think that all is bad and carelessly put together in ExTiX. This distribution addresses a problem many users have had with the latest versions of Ubuntu: Unity. Of course, one can always install another desktop environment, but there are users who want it all there when they install their OS, with no fuss and arcane command-line options. The other good side of this is that you can "try before you buy". although there is no actual buying, of course. So all in all, I might say that ExTiX, despite some shortcomings, can be a valuable option for people that decided they absolutely despise Unity. Let's see how we can support this opinion with some peaks inside the installed software list...
The first thing you might notice after installation, when you first boot your system, is that the users are the same as they are on the live medium. So if you felt that something is amiss when going through the installer, you were right: what's missing is the user creation menu. Whether this is a good or a bad thing, I will let you decide. But let's concentrate on the installed software: total occupied space is 5.0 GB, which means that there are plenty of programs installed. As terminal emulator, we have LXTerminal, a lightweight terminal application borrowed from the LXDE project. As an e-mail client you get Thunderbird which is a hefty program, as a web browser there is Firefox, who isn't known to be that lightweight as well, for graphics editing there is GIMP, for multimedia there's VLC, there's Libreoffice for document editing stuff, but you also get alternatives, so you have better chances to find your favorite. So you get Sylpheed as an alternative e-mail client, Abiword as an alternative to Libreoffice writer and so on. Looking through the menus, there was one thing that struck me: ExTiX has done a good job creating a Gnome2-like desktop environment from Gnome3 (gnome-shell), so those of you who remember the old days with fondness should feel right at home. Docky also brings a note of classiness to the overall aspect, so all in all, despite some initial drawbacks, I can say that this distribution managed to win me over. In the end, I will recommend the complete list of installed software as a reference, to check if it fits your needs or not.
It's obvious that the ExTiX developer needs to work some more on the final touches of the two desktop environments he is offering on the live DVD. The Grub menu installer thing also needs to start the installer directly, as Ubuntu's does, not replicate the live DVD behaviour. Besides those, I see ExTiX as an interesting distribution with lots of potential and, since I like Gnome 2 and Razor-Qt, the distribution kinda managed to make me like it. That, plus the smart choice of software included on the live disc, gains some points in my book. I would suggest a 32-bit edition, perhaps with less software installed, but this is a subjective opinion. All I can say is you should give ExTiX a try and see if you like it.