antiX Linux: A Lightweight Speedster
antiX (pronounced “antics” not “anti-X”) is a lightweight Linux distro designed to run on minimal PC hardware, or “live” on a stick disk, similar to LXLE, Lubuntu, Linux Lite and others. AntiX Linux is based on Debian but proudly describes itself as free of systemd — a newer and widely used system startup environment that some Linux gurus dislike.
Two things immediately caught my attention about this distro. Despite being lightweight, it includes major software such as LibreOffice and Firefox. It uses the snappy IceWM as its default windows manager along with the Rox file manager. I’ve always liked IceWM so I decided to give antiX a whirl on my sandbox computer: an older Lenovo Thinkpad laptop with Intel i3 processor, 4GB memory, and 400GB HD — not exactly minimal, but not particularly fast either.
Installation is easy. The installation process has a somewhat different look and feel compared to Ubuntu-derived distros but it asks most of the same questions.
During installation it prompts for two different passwords, the user password and the root password. It’s possible to create a user with no password at all, which may be convenient for some users. I chose to create a user password to keep it in line with my Ubuntu and Mac systems.
Once installed, antiX presents an attractive IceWM environment with a bold wallpaper and an app called Conky that displays a number of runtime stats including current time, uptime, CPU, disk, and connection usage. Conky can be switched off via the Desktop menu if you find it distracting.
The IceWM menu is invoked from the start button in the lower-left hand corner of the screen, à la Windows, but it can also be invoked from anywhere on the desktop with a right-click of the mouse. IceWM has dozens of contributed schemes you can try out to subtly alter the appearance of the desktop environment. I particularly liked the metal 2 look.
The only app I found wanting in the initial setup is Rox file manager. Finding it too primitive for my taste, I installed PCmanFM ($ sudo apt install pcmanfm) and added it to the menu’s Personal tab for quick access.
The default terminal app is Roxterm. It seemed quite decent but it crashed on me when I moved my .profile file to .bashrc. It was also not exporting my customized $PATH statement. So I installed LXTerminal ($ sudo apt install lxterminal), which is also lightweight and fast, and configured it to be my preferred terminal application. LXTerminal interpreted my .bashrc file perfectly.
Next up was Dropbox, which I use to share my writing and scripting files across my computers. It requires installing the Dropbox daemon via the Synaptic package manager, a simple task. You choose Nautilus-Dropbox from Synaptic. Rest assured it doesn’t install Nautilus dependencies.
All my writing is done in Markdown plain-text format so I installed Ghostwriter, a dedicated Markdown editor. In line with Markdown, I installed Pandoc for converting Markdown files to other file formats. I use TeX/LaTeX for typesetting which required the installation of Texlive and, in my case, LyX, a graphical document editor to accompany LaTeX.
Likewise, I installed Sigil, an Epub creator and editor for producing nice-looking ebooks, and, not finding Gimp on the system, I installed that too.
One thing that never works well for me in Linux is a laptop’s trackpad. Unlike the slick trackpad drivers on a MacBook, Linux trackpadding ends up shooting me all over the screen so I end up typing things in the wrong paragraph — not something that makes a writer happy. To fix this problem I prefer to switch off the trackpad entirely and use a wireless USB mouse instead.
There is no simple way to do this in antiX. You have to issue the command synclient TouchpadOff=1 to switch the trackpad off. Because I usually forget how to invoke this command I created two .bashrc aliases:
alias padoff='synclient TouchpadOff=1'
alias padon='synclient TouchpadOff=0'
allowing me to switch off the trackpad by typing padoff, a command I can remember, at a terminal prompt.
The antiX Control Panel offers no visual support for a laptop’s power management. An Internet search tipped me off that some antiX users install xfce4-power-manager to set power levels for both plugged-in and battery options. It brings in very little of the xfce4 environment, keeping the distribution light. Using XFCE Power Manager I was able to easily adjust my Thinkpad to switch off the screen when the lid is closed, and to go to sleep after a certain timeout. This greatly improved the Thinkpad’s battery life.
Okay, But What is This?
I’m impressed at the way antiX Linux adds new programs to the IceWM menu. Painless. Except for one weird exception.
I’ve lately been using an open-source, Markdown-based note-taking app called Joplin across all my computing platforms — MacOS, iOS, and, of course, Linux. I hoped that I could type $ sudo apt install joplin, but this wasn’t in the repositories for antiX.
This took me to the Joplin site where I downloaded the Linux file Joplin-2.5.10.appimage. Neither antiX nor I had ever seen this file extension before. An Internet query explained that it was a self-contained Linux program (“container?”) with all the dependencies included. After setting the permissions of an AppImage file to execute, you can double click the app in a file manager to launch it. AntiX certainly had no built-in way to deal with an AppImage package, nor any way to add it to the menus.
To make it simpler for me to use, I placed the Joplin AppImage file in my $HOME/bin directory and created a symbolic link to it called joplin. Since I nearly always have a terminal open, this allowed me to launch the program simply by typing “$ joplin &”.
To be honest, antiX Linux made my day. It’s not often I find myself highly attracted to a new distro, but I enjoy antiX so much I’m going to keep it as the default Linux on my Thinkpad laptop. Due to its speed and lightweight interface, it’s easily one of the top distributions to consider for aging computers. In fact, my Thinkpad has never run better. It’s made a believer of me.
Gene Wilburn is a tech writer and essayist with more curiosity than time.