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When you’re searching for a lightweight Linux desktop environment to speed up your PC, one name is beginning to pop up more often. LXQt is the spiritual successor to LXDE, an interface using so few resources it makes a Raspberry Pi feel like a full-featured PC. What is LXQt, and what makes it different?
What Is LXQt? A Linux Desktop Environment
A desktop environment is what you see on your screen. It’s the panel across the bottom. It’s what arranges your apps into windows and lets you move them around.
Windows and macOS each come with one desktop environment. On Linux, there are many. You can completely alter how your desktop looks and feels while still using the same apps, the same background libraries, and the same Linux kernel underneath.
Most Linux-based operating systems choose a desktop environment to use by default (some let you pick your favorite, while others don’t come with one at all). There’s a variant of Ubuntu, the most popular version of desktop Linux, called Lubuntu that provides LXQt. There’s also a LXQt edition of Fedora.
If you use a different Linux-based OS, you will likely have to install LXQt yourself. Instructions are available on the LXQt website.
To understand the difference between LXDE and LXQt, we must first talk about toolkits. Toolkits provide a way to draw app interfaces in a consistent way. Without toolkits, developers would have to design and program toolbar buttons and drop-down menus from scratch for each app. In Linux, two toolkits dominate the landscape: GTK+ and Qt.
LXDE uses GTK+ 2, which is very old code. GTK+ 3 has been around since 2011. LXDE maintainer Hong Jen Yee took issue with some of the changes in GTK+ 3, so he released a port based on Qt in 2013. Shortly after, the Qt version of LXDE and a separate desktop interface known as Razor-qt merged to form LXQt. Hong Jen Yee planned to eventually focus his efforts on LXQt going forward. Since then, LXQt has formally become a separate project.
How LXQt Works
LXQt defaults to a layout familiar to anyone who has used Windows. An app launcher sits in the bottom left. A system tray sits in the bottom right. Open windows appear in a row between the two.
The app launcher contains the essentials and nothing more. Categories containing your installed apps appear at the top, then you have system preferences, user session controls, and a search bar.
The interface is highly configurable. You can change desktop, app, and icon themes. The panel can go to any side of the screen, and you can rearrange the elements however you like. There’s no reason to keep a Windows-like layout if that’s not your cup of sea.
LXQt refers to every component of the panel as a widget. Default widgets provide the ability to save favorite apps to the panel, switch between multiple workspaces, and hide windows to show the desktop. A few additional widgets come included, such as a CPU monitor and a color picker.
Part of LXQt’s appeal is the lack of dependencies (background services that must be installed for a program to run) and the use of interchangeable components. For example, LXQt uses the Openbox window manager. You can use any Openbox-compatible themes to change the look of your window titlebars. You can also tweak the order of buttons in the titlebar and which buttons appear.
In a way, LXQt takes its role as a desktop environment very literally. It manages the desktop. It is not trying to control the entirety of the experience from boot up to shut down. Linux is modular, and LXQt embraces this.
Downsides to LXQt
LXQt lacks some features you may expect from a modern desktop. By default, LXQt does not draw shadows around windows, nor are there animations for opening or maximizing windows. The animation for minimizing a window is present but somewhat choppy. You can change this by enabling or installing a separate compositor. Lubuntu provides one by default known as Compton X.
Recall the search bar in the app launcher? It’s very basic. You must search for an app’s exact name, not what it does. Don’t expect to find files and folders unless you install additional software, because such features can slow a desktop down.
LXQt also does very little hand holding. You are expected to know the names of apps and what they do. If you don’t, you will need to learn. The app launcher doesn’t tell you what is the preinstalled text editor, image viewer, or web browser. You will have to figure this out on your own.
That’s not to say that LXQt is hard to use. I don’t think so. But I also have a certain familiarity with how Linux desktops tend to work. If you know your way around Xfce or MATE, LXQt will take you only a few moments to figure out. Most things are where you expect them to be. The implementation is just different.
Who Should Use LXQt?
There are a few main reasons to consider LXQt:
- LXQt is lightweight. If you want a simple desktop interface that uses relatively few system resources, put LXQt on your list.
- LXQt is based on Qt. Frankly, there are aren’t that many desktop environments based on Qt compared to GTK+. If you prefer Qt apps but aren’t a fan of the KDE Plasma Desktop, LXQt is one of your few alternatives.
- LXQt is modular. If you don’t want a desktop environment that tries to do all the things, then LXQt may make you smile.
LXQt doesn’t get as much attention as other desktop environments. That doesn’t mean it isn’t just as good. But if you want to get an idea what other options are available to you, here are over a dozen of the most lightweight Linux distributions you can find.