MX Linux

Distro Walk – MX Linux

© Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

© Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Article from Issue 271/2023

A look at the user-friendly, vertically integrated community distro.

Since 2019, MX Linux has had the most page views on DistroWatch. The reason is not hard to find. A collaboration between developers of the defunct MEPIS Linux and the minimalist antiX, MX Linux is an example of a vertically integrated distribution, meaning a one-stop solution for an installation, including hardware, support, and cloud services. In fact, it appears to be the first vertically integrated community distro, most of the other examples being corporate retailers of original software such as Purism, Slimbook, System76, and TUXEDO Computers. Moreover, MX Linux appears to be an effort to recapture the user-friendliness of MEPIS in the first 13 years of the millennium. From either perspective, MX Linux largely succeeds, although not without raising a question or two.

Veteran users may recall MEPIS as one of a handful of distributions such as Corel, Progeny, and Stormix that were designed to make Debian easier to use. Founded by Warren Woodford, MEPIS was particularly noted for its installer in the years before the first version of the current Debian installer was released in 2005. For many, it was their first introduction to Debian. As a complement to its installer, MEPIS also included proprietary codecs, as well as an array of desktop utilities and tools. Originally, antiX was a derivative of MEPIS, although currently, like MEPIS did, it now uses Debian Stable. Like MEPIS, antiX is also known for its unique desktop tools. The partnership behind MX Linux is a natural one, with the founding distros matching well.

Installation and Resources

Before installing, you should examine MX Linux's vertical integration. The project's website displays four tabs:

Download offers three desktops: the lightweight Fluxbox, the middleweight Xfce, and the heavyweight KDE Plasma. All three install with two accounts, root and demo, each with a password of the same name as the account. These passwords are not prominently displayed, but are needed for using the Live image [1].

Hardware links to StarLab Systems [2], a seller of laptops that can come with MX Linux or five other distributions, all of which are suitable to new users. All StarLab machines feature updatable firmware, disabled Intel Management Engine, and coreboot. Keyboards are also available. Prices are slightly higher than from some comparable sellers of Linux machines, but the hardware is high-end.

Documentation includes links about MX and Debian, as well as the available desktop environments, and hints about how to research on the web [3].

Cloud links to Shells, an MX partner of personal clouds [4].

The advantage of this information is that users can find all they need on a single site, which is still an unusual experience for buyers of Linux systems.

Installation can use a standard disk image, or one designed for virtual systems such as VirtualBox or Gnome Boxes. Before installation of either begins, MX offers a tour of the distribution, along with other documentation. The installer itself has a documentation pane, which not only explains installation choices, but also many of the basics of Linux and its structure and the history of Debian and Unix (Figure 1). The emphasis during installation is on choice. For example, users have a choice of whether to user proprietary codecs, and of which services to run at boot. Although this approach means that an MX installation may take longer than that of many distributions, it also means that fewer assumptions are made.

Figure 1: MX's installer includes extensive embedded help.

Curated Software

The Xfce version of MX Linux includes a Conky dock (Figure 2). Much of the customization of the distro lies in its selection of software. Some of the selection includes standard options such as LibreOffice, Firefox, and Thunderbird, or Xfce standards such as the Thunar file manager and the Orage calendar. However, much more third-party software is less usual, such as AdBlock and the FeatherPad text editor. Depending on your preference, you might also want to note that MX ships with systemd, but it must be enabled from the Advanced Options for login [5]. By default, though, it uses SysVinit.

Figure 2: The Xfce version of MX Linux complete with a Conky dock.

Other software originates with the collaborating distros. From antiX, MX inherits Live USB and Snapshot tools. MEPIS's contributions are more extensive, with 26 apps whose names are prefaced with MX, although a few of them are from antiX (Figure 3). Of the rest, some are unexceptional, with similar tools being available in most desktop environments. For instance, MX Viewer, like Plasma's Gwenview or Okular, is a standard tool for viewing common file formats, while MX Tweak is a rebranding of a standard Linux tool, although it is supplemented by MX Cleanup. Nor is there anything unique about MX User Manager, no doubt because there is only so much to be managed in user accounts. However, among the MX tools are more outstanding utilities. For instance, MX iDevice Mounter opens files from macOS. Administrative tasks are also made easier with the self-explanatory MX Boot Options, as well as MX Fix GPG Keys, which helps to simplify the use of encryption keys, and MX Repo Manager, which, among others, incorporates a popular Debian script to find the fastest repository to use for package installation. Such apps are welcome enhancements, and for veteran users perhaps the main appeal of the distribution.

Figure 3: MX Linux features numerous unique tools and utilities.

Is MX Linux Relevant Today?

In many ways, MX Linux is a modern successor to MEPIS and antiX, combining the best of both, and continuing their tradition of choice, explanation, and education. You can easily imagine how welcome MX Linux might be to new Linux users. However, Linux has moved on since the heyday of MEPHIS, and the major distributions today have much the same advantages. In particular, I have to wonder if MX needs many of its custom tools when its desktop environments supply many of them with a very similar layout. Similarly, while the vertical integration is convenient, today there is no shortage of available hardware and service resources for Linux that are easy to find.

Perhaps more importantly, you have only to compare the distros supported by StarLab, such as elementary and Zorin, to notice that MX looks like a relic of the years when Linux was still trying to match other operating systems and function was more important than appearance. Its default wallpaper, for instance, is among the most ugly available, with a line of abstract symbols that at first glance looks like another dock. Nor does the design of the custom tools show much consistency.

Of course, such cosmetic deficiencies can be overcome by customization. Moreover, the appeal of MX Linux is more than nostalgia. The excellence of its documentation, for instance, is matched by few distributions. If MX Linux is an indicator of how far the Linux desktop has come, it remains a highly usable distribution. In the end, nothing more is needed to explain its continued popularity.

The Author

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist and a freelance writer and editor specializing in free and open source software. In addition to his writing projects, he also teaches live and e-learning courses. In his spare time, Bruce writes about Northwest Coast art ( He is also cofounder of Prentice Pieces, a blog about writing and fantasy at

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