Mabox Linux is a throwback to old school Linux with a new school look and feel

Mabox Linux is a throwback to old school Linux with a new school look and feel

Image: Getty Images/Maria Korneeva

I’ve run the gamut of Linux distros, from the incredibly simple to the overly complex, from modern frontends to old school throwbacks.

I have used Fvwm95, CDE, KDE, Xfce, AfterStep, Blackbox, Enlightenment, Cinnamon, Mate, GNOME and almost every desktop available for Linux. I have also used Ubuntu, Fedora, Arch and just about any distro based on almost any other distro. The combinations have been staggering over the years. Needless to say, I’ve been through it all since I started using Linux in 1997.

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Due to using so many Linux distros over the years, very little surprises me these days. But when I fired up a virtual instance of Mabox Linux, I couldn’t help but smile. Why? Because it reminded me of my early days with Linux, but with a modern, user-centric twist.

You see, in its early days, Linux was not so user-friendly. Quite the opposite, in fact. Linux was difficult in its early days. So when I see a Linux distro that reminds me of that era but manages to make it easier for users without years of experience under their belt, it reminds me of how far the open source operating system has come.

This is the case of Mabox Linux.

Now, I wouldn’t suggest anyone to download and use Mabox Linux. It’s not that Mabox doesn’t make Arch Linux easy… it does. But when you first log into the desktop, you’re greeted with something that most Linux users love to see, but can be a real turn off for new users. I’m talking about information… and a lot of information.

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You see, Mabox Linux puts four information-centric widgets front and center on the desktop, so you can see at a glance how the operating system is using your system resources and even two widgets that give you keyboard shortcuts for things like opening various applications, menus, and even window management controls.

The default Mabox Linux desktop.

Mabox Linux gives you a lot of information right on the desktop.

Image: Jack Wallen

Also on the OpenBox Window Manager desktop, you’ll find a single top panel that gives you quick access to all your installed apps, the Mabox Colorizer (more on that in a bit), and a system tray with plenty of controls.

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Click on the OpenBox menu and you will see all installed applications. This menu lacks an Office or Productivity entry. Take the tour and you will see that no office suite or email client is installed. Fortunately, these applications are easily added using the Add/Remove Software GUI tool. Do a quick search on LibreOffice and install it in a few clicks.

The default Mabox desktop menu.

The OpenBox menu is missing a desktop or productivity menu entry.

Image: Jack Wallen

Installation and performance

Like most Arch Linux spin-offs, Mabox Linux makes installation a breeze with a total point-and-click affair. There’s even a point in the installation where you can choose between open source or proprietary video drivers.

Installing Mabox Linux is as easy as any Linux distro you’ve ever tried, which is saying a lot considering how easy modern Linux is to get up and running. Once the distribution is installed, the big surprise comes from the performance. Mabox Linux is amazingly fast…like faster than most distros I’ve used. Much of this is due to the OpenBox window manager, which is very lightweight. Compared to my GNOME-based Linux desktop, Mabox is like driving a Lamborgini instead of a Prius. The difference is so obvious.

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The OpenBox window manager may be lightweight but not in customization. As I mentioned earlier, there is the Mabox Colorizer. Open the colorizer from the top bar and you can easily customize the color of your Mabox desktop, including theme, side panels, Conky (which creates desktop widgets), wallpaper, Tint2 panel and even the terminal theme. From the Colorizer, if you open the OBTheme menu, a sidebar will appear, where you can get even more details with your theme customizations.

The Mabox Linux colorizer.

Mabox Linux theming offers many options through the Colorizer.

Image: Jack Wallen

Who is Mabox for?

I’m not about to say that Mabox can be used by anyone. While I’m sure anyone could use this Linux distro, once you start digging into customizations, it’s probably best to have a bit more experience modding a Linux desktop. All in all, though, if you’re itching to try an Arch Linux distro and want something outside of the usual GNOME/KDE/Xfce desktop environments, Mabox Linux is an outstanding option that’s easy to use and fast as lightning.

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