I procrastinate a lot (good to know I’m a pro at something), but after a couple of weeks of pondering, here I am, trying to recall and report my recent adventures in Linuxland.

PREAMBLE

For some reason (partly due to a version of Buridan’s ass syndrome, partly due to the ever-changing [lack of] quality and choice in Linux distros), I couldn’t commit yet to a distro to be used for at least a couple of years, so I decided to extend the trial of the following distros, installed on really fast USB flash drives (see §2 here), so that I could use them on several computers without touching their internal drives:

  • Lubuntu 20.10, on a Samsung Fit Plus 64 GB
  • Fedora 35 XFCE, on an Intenso Speed Line 64 GB
  • Manjaro XFCE, on an Intenso Speed Line 128 GB

§1. Lubuntu 20.10, because I can

As previously stated, Lubuntu 20.10 seems pretty decent, and it’s the only distro in which LXQt looks professional. It’s also the only LXQt-based distro in which the brightness keys of my 5-y.o. Acer worked out of the box (note that LXDE simply doesn’t have any built-in support for adjusting the brightness, while LXQt even has an lxqt-config-brightness config panel). This being said, and not entering into “but it’s Ubuntu, hence buggy,” and also staying aside from its other limitations inherited from Ubuntu (no updating of any version of anything throughout a release’s lifetime, despite the obsolescence or the security issues of some such packages, as it was the case with Thunar not updated to 4.6.8 in Ubuntu 21.04, and present as 4.6.8 instead of 4.6.10 in Ubuntu 21.10), let’s list its other good parts:

  • Lightweight and not bloated.
  • Great choice of default applications, e.g. qpdfview is the fastest PDF viewer in the known Universe.
  • Good documentation, should anyone feel like reading it.
  • Despite being configured around LXQt, it can be configured to use the Linux Mint Tools (there is a PPA for Ubuntu 21.10), so people can use e.g. xed and Warpinator.

👉 But I was bothered from the beginning by a theming bug, to the effect that GTK3 (the Thunar window) has abysmal contrast when compared to GTK2 and Qt:

Well, the bug is actually… another one, and here it is: the GTK3 Theme selected by default (Arc-Darker) is never applied until the user selects another theme, applies it, then switches back to the default theme (the change through the other theme was necessary for the change to be detected and for the Apply button being enabled upon switching back) and really applies it!

Let’s see it step by step. The initial theming, in which Arc-Darker is not actually used in GTK3:

After having changed to Arc-Dark:

Changing back to Arc-Darker:

The quick fix to this? Use another GTK theme, one that has similar GTK2 and GTK3 colors, such as NumixBlue (numix-blue-gtk-theme):

Not perfect, but decent enough.

👉 The second problem I found in Lubuntu 21.10 was suggested to me by this forum topic: An issue of screen display with 21.10. I even wanted to comment on it, but I simply couldn't activate my Lubuntu account, because the confirmation mail never came, no matter how many times I tried! Oh well, this way I can rest assured I won't have any interaction with them (no more community experiments), but it is frustrating. I can't even suggest them to change the GTK theme!

Well, this second bug doesn't only happen with PCManFM-Qt. No, no, no! It happens, now and then, with no matter what window of no matter what app, because it's a general matter of X11 artifacts with Intel graphics, which on my Acer laptop only happens with Lubuntu 21.10 and sometimes with... Win7!

I made sure Lubuntu doesn't use xserver-xorg-video-intel, but modesetting instead, and I disabled the Window Effects in the Configuration Center, to no avail. Apparently, this tearing issue cannot be solved in the Intel driver, but in the Window manager, which in Lubuntu's case is Openbox, so there is very little I can do:

The tearing problem is supposed to be handled by your window manager. Doing it in the driver slows everything down, so it's off by default on intel and non-existent on modesetting.

I have actually tried various /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/ patches meant to prevent tearing on Intel via the driver (not in the window manager), but absolutely nothing worked!

Now, most of the time the screen tearing is infrequent and minimal, and it can't be captured by a screenshot (which simply redraws the screen before taking the shot!), but in the most extreme cases, it can be this bad:

This in itself represents a good reason for me to drop Lubuntu altogether...

...although for the time being I'll keep testing it on different hardware, including my wife's PC (using nouveau):

HINT: To enable the CTRL+ALT+Backspace combo, I had to

sudo featherpad /etc/default/keyboard 

and to add:

XKBOPTIONS="terminate:ctrl_alt_bksp"

§2. Fedora 35 XFCE, because I want it

No surprise here. I had mostly positive experiences with Fedora XFCE since June, with version 34, then I switched to Fedora 35 Branched Composes, going through the Release Candidate and the delayed release of Fedora 35, whose ISOs are identical to the composes of 2021-10-26 (at least, for the XFCE Spin).

Let's refresh the D/L pointers:

👉 Let's also note that my original plan was to avoid RPM Fusion and only add UnitedRPMs. Yeah, I'm typically the one who swims against the current. I'm not sure I will be able to stick to my decision though, as e.g. ffmpeg is at version 4.4.1 in RPM Fusion and 4.3.2 in UnitedRPMs (it could have been worse: version 3.3.6 in RPM Sphere). And chromium-freeworld is only available in RPM Fusion (I'm not sure that I need it, but hey, what if I do?).

👉 I also have to decide whether to continue trying to use yumex-dnf (which exists for F35 too). I'll have to check that my Epson EcoTank ET-M2170 keeps working without issues (how about in other distros?). I should also keep in mind that I always forget to add to /etc/dnf/dnf.conf the optimizations they didn't want to add themselves:

echo 'fastestmirror=1' | sudo tee -a /etc/dnf/dnf.conf
echo 'max_parallel_downloads=10' | sudo tee -a /etc/dnf/dnf.conf
echo 'deltarpm=true' | sudo tee -a /etc/dnf/dnf.conf
echo 'defaultyes=true' | sudo tee -a /etc/dnf/dnf.conf

👉 Oh, wait! Also, in /etc/fstab, to add noatime where appropriate!

This being said, Fedora 35 XFCE has all the chances to satisfy me, once the initial shock of its ugly as shit default wallpaper passed:

Daytime and nighttime monstrosity

Maybe Máirín Duffy, senior principal interaction designer at Red Hat and the team lead for Fedora’s community design team, should get herself involved more with such issues (she did in the past), rather than censoring comments! This really is the most atrocious wallpaper Fedora Linux ever had!

Slightly better:

On the older laptop
On the newer PC

...and I plan to test it on another new PC pretty soon.

👉 I'll also have to pay attention, on all the computers, whether WirePlumber: the new PipeWire session manager, works with everything (Bluetooth, etc.). That is, beyond the possible quick fix (as a regular user!):

systemctl –user enable –now wireplumber

Further documentation on this new technology: PipeWire, the media service transforming the Linux multimedia landscape; WirePlumber, the PipeWire session manager.

So far, I had zero issues with it, as this F35 wasn't an upgrade from F34, but a continuous update from a Compose build that probably already used WirePlumber!

§3. Manjaro, because... dunno why!

First things first: I knew from Arch that they have a GTK3 build of LXDE (lxde-gtk3), with a couple of missing packages because of bugs. Then I learned that there are some LXDE / LXQt / Openbox Community ISOs (LXDE ISOs; LXQt ISOs), and that the Manjaro LXDE Community edition is using the GTK3 build of it! (There is also an lxde-gtk3 PPA for Ubuntu 20.04 LTS, should anyone be such foolhardy.)

Well, their build of LXDE for GTK3 is a huge failure! Here's a comparison of the RAM usage, each time in a Live ISO just booted, with htop in the default terminal:

  • LXDE-GTK3 in Manjaro: ~1 GB (Unofficial Community Edition)
  • LXDE-GTK2 in Fedora: ~500 MB
  • LXQt in Lubuntu 20.10: ~460 MB
  • LXQt in Fedora 35: ~500 MB
  • XFCE in Fedora 35: ~630 MB
  • XFCE in Xubuntu 20.10: ~750 MB
  • Ubuntu MATE 20.10: ~790 MB
  • Cinnamon in Fedora 35: ~860 MB (Cinnamon 5.0.6)
  • Cinnamon in Mint Edge: ~830 MB (Cinnamon 5.0.4)
  • Ubuntu Cinnamon Remix: ~1.2 GB (Cinnamon 4.8.6)

Of course, there are worse losers out there:

  • LXQt-Openbox in EzArcher 2021.10.05: ~850 MB
  • XFCE in EzArcher 2021.10.05: ~900 MB
  • MATE in EzArcher 2021.10.05: ~950 MB
  • Cinnamon in EzArcher 2021.10.05: ~1.1 GB (Cinnamon 5.0.4)

Not being measured in an installed distro, these values have a questionable relevance, but still.

Either way, I gave up experimenting, and I installed Manjaro from manjaro-xfce-21.1.6-211017-linux513.iso.

👉 My main task with Manjaro is to determine how stable it is to use Chaotic-AUR for the packages that I need, but I refuse to build manually from AUR! Either way, nobody provides an Arch or Manjaro package for numix-blue-gtk-theme-bin, so I had to build one myself, using trizen!

👉 One funny thing with Manjaro is the way they don't fix the issues it has on some systems with NVMe, on which LightDM fails to start automatically, because... the NVMe was too fast: Lightdm fails to start automatically (second boot after 2021-10-08 stable update); and After Stable Update 2021-09-24 LightDM no longer automatically start:

Such things could happen on cold boots. In general it is a timing issue… so Manjaro boots that fast with your NVMe, so that the GPU cannot keep up (GPU modules normally load on request) and lightdm does not wait long enough.

Workaround is adding the driver to the initramfs for early loading.

And yet, this isn't a guaranteed fix:

However, from four reboots so far, only one was directly going into lightdm/XFCE while the other three failed (and I had to login into CLI and start lightdm myself).

I don't have any Manjaro XFCE installation on any NVMe, but this degree of chaos is disappointing.

👉 WAIT, IT'S ALREADY CRAPPY! Unlike all the other distros ever installed on USB Flash drives (that is, currently Lubuntu and Fedora, but in the past also ArcoLinux and Salient OS), this crap called Manjaro, having been installed using the NVIDIA-powered PC, only installed nouveau, and it's now unable to start X11 on my Intel-only laptop!

It might seem "unbloated" and clean, but it's also idiotic: most NVIDIA-powered computers also have an onboard Intel video that could be used, should anyone want so! WTF.

They might say it's a feature, not a bug, as an installed system "is not supposed" to be as portable as a LiveCD (Live ISO). And yet, as long as this is not only possible, but the default in other distros... WTF (again).

Maybe it's time to end my experiences in the Arch universe, Manjaro included. Too many things I don't like (and I still find pacman's flags totally illogical, confusing and dumb!).

CODA

What's left in store, beyond a fast 128 GB USB flash drive that's going to be repurposed? Mostly Fedora 35 XFCE. But I still want to try Lubuntu on a newer Intel video system; this Intel HD Graphics 5500 (i5-5200U) is crappy enough to have occasional tearing in Win7, despite working perfectly in Win10 (back when I tried it; I can't tell about newer versions of Win10).

Or maybe I should succumb to nostalgia one more time and spend (again!) some time with Ubuntu MATE? I hate them, and they hate me, but their Gordon Squash guy is a knowledgeable person (starting with the history of GTK), and he's currently into trying to fix an issue with using a kernel 5.15 to mount NTFS natively (i.e. not using ntfs-3g). Of course, it would be much easier to try a 5.15 kernel in Manjaro or some other Arch-based distro... (NTFS performance is of relevance to me, as I have lots of external backups on NTFS-formatted HDDs/SSDs).

LATE EDIT

So soon after I posted it, and already a necessary update: bad news! LXQt 1.0.0 has been released four days ago! That should be good news, right? Not in this case, because it won't be made available in Lubuntu 21.10, so I'd have to wait for Lubuntu 22.04 to be released!

And there are improvements in so many updated components, most of which have for the first time reached version 1.0.0! Have some highlights of LXQt 1.0.0, then specifics for Pcmanfm-Qt 1.0.0, Lximage-Qt 1.0.0, Qterminal 1.0.0, Lxqt-Themes 1.0.0 (new themes!), Lxqt-Config 1.0.0, Lxqt-Panel 1.0.0.

As I'm writing this, LXQt 1.0.0 is only available (packages) in Arch and... PCLinuxOS. This being said, it's ridiculous not to have an LXQt-based lightweight distro (with a large availability of packages, though!) able to track such a small project as LXQt! At least some Arch derivative with an installable LiveISO, but not ArcoLinux! Although, someday they might release an updated edition of their LXQt ISO, so I could see how well it works without installing it. OK, Garuda Linux also has an LXQt-Kwin edition, horribly themed.

In brief:

  • arcolinuxb-lxqt-v21.09.11-x86_64.iso sucks because of Eric Dubois' preference for ugly round icon themes, stupid transparencies and other bad defaults.
  • community-pclinuxos64-lxqt-2021.10.iso is even uglier, I couldn't understand how could anyone use such an appalling distro.
  • garuda-lxqt-kwin-linux-zen-211028.iso too requires huge "un-customization" efforts to make it usable, so it's a no-go.
  • manjaro-lxqt-21.2.0-minimal-211003-linux54.iso presents the same screen tearing on Intel as Lubuntu 21.10, so it's a dead end.

Therefore, my LXQt adventure ends here.

ONE MORE UPDATE

Since I had one high-speed flash drive unused, I thought of trying MX-21_ahs_rc3_x64.iso. I'm not a fan of MX's default settings, especially the vertical panel and the horrendous wallpaper (not counting their hate of systemd), and being based on Debian stable, it has its limitations, however I discovered something worthwhile: their own repos add packages for some apps that are missing in Debian, and for which a Debian user would normally have needed to do one of the following things: manual build; manual installation from a package (if provided on app's site); manual installation from a Flatpak, Snap or AppImage; adding an extra repo, if available (unlike Ubuntu, Debian can't use PPAs). So MX really has some advantages over Debian, after all.

MX even has Mint's Warpinator! Unfortunately, it lacks Mint's xed, because they prefer Featherpad and Sublime Text. In MX, Featherpad is at version 1.0.0 (the latest version being 1.0.1; Debian and Fedora have 0.17.1, with 1.0.1 in Fedora Rawhide); unfortunately, they don't care about the simpler Mousepad, which is left at Debian's 0.5.2 (Fedora does have the latest 0.5.7).

To my surprise, on my Intel-video laptop, some screen tearing showed up, although subjectively less frequently than in Lubuntu. I found the fix in 15 things to do after installing MX Linux, namely to use MX Tweak to set in the Compositor (which is Xfwm in XFCE) the VBlank value to xpresent, whatever that shit means. I don't understand why a fucking simple painting of simple windows is such a fuckingly complex issue: 28 years ago, I never had any screen tearing in Windows 3.1, on the extremely basic hardware of the time!

Apparently, not only Debian XFCE (because that's what MX is allowing the user to fix), and then not only Lubuntu (using a different compositor), but even Xubuntu had such issues:

The MX Linux added this Compositor tab in MX Tweak because there is no (official) graphical configuration option where you can choose the method xfwm4 uses to do vertical sync. This being said, I got zero screen tearing afterwards, and the quick customization gave me a decent XFCE desktop:

NEW HARDWARE!

Finally, I've got the opportunity to test the three distros (with MX-21 XFCE AHS replacing Manjaro XFCE) on newer hardware, albeit minimalistic: the HP ProDesk 400 G6 Desktop Mini PC, in the 44G38ES configuration (Intel i5-10400T, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, Intel UHD Graphics 630, sold with FreeDOS).

👉 Lubuntu 20.10 had the exact same tearing as on the older Intel video chip. Boo!

👉 MX-21 AHS and Fedora didn't have any tearing (MX configured as above)!

👍 For what it's worth, the default XFCE session in Fedora seems more frugal in terms of RAM than MX's.