Elive 3.8.34 is a thing of beauty that any old-school Linux user would love

If you long for the days of vintage Linux, but with the power and hardware support of a modern-day distribution, this Linux flavor might be just what you're looking for.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
The default Elive desktop.

Elive is as functional as it is beautiful.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

The Enlightenment desktop holds a special place in my heart. You see, back in my earlier days of starting out with Linux, Enlightenment was the window manager, compositor, and minimal desktop that helped me to transition from AfterStep into a more modern world of the open-source operating system. Although I truly enjoyed my time with AfterStep, it became clear it wasn't going to stand the test of time.


Enlightenment was a minimal desktop that offered maximum configurations and was lightweight enough that even slower machines seemed far faster than they really were.

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Sadly, over time, fewer and fewer Linux distributions offered Enlightenment as an option and even installing the desktop could get a bit tricky. There have been some distributions that clung to the idea of Enlightenment; for example, Bodhi Linux's Moksha desktop is based on Enlightenment. 

Other than Bodhi Linux, the number of Linux desktops that include Enlightenment can be counted with just a few fingers. One such distribution is Elive. I've been meaning to review this take on Linux for some time.

That time is now.

The latest beta of Elive (version 3.8.34) is now available for testing. I actually intended to install and test the Synthwave version but mistakenly downloaded the regular beta release. I wound up discovering that Enlightenment is just as beautiful now as it was back then. 

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It's also just as efficient a desktop as you'll ever find. And while it offers modern features like transparency, opacity, and other special effects, it also holds true to many of the old-school Linux tricks like placing a virtual desktop pager front and center on the desktop.

What is a pager?

Before I answer that, I have to explain the virtual desktop to those who aren't familiar. Linux has enjoyed this feature since the late 1990s. Effectively, virtual desktops give you multiple desktops you can use. For instance, you could use a desktop for productivity, one for entertainment, one for games, and one for shopping -- or however you want to break it down. 

Also: How to choose the right Linux desktop distribution for you

The pager makes it easy for you to click on one of your desktops to quickly switch between them. In fact, Elive ships configured with 12 total desktops, effectively giving you enough to open a single application on each desktop. You can even move applications from one virtual desktop to another by clicking the application's thumbnail and moving it to a different square in the pager.

The Elive pager hard at work.

As you can see, I have a number of applications, each open on a different desktop.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

And, of course, Elive retains a couple of my favorite Enlightenment features, namely window shading and the desktop mouse menu. Double-click any window title bar and the window will roll up until all you see is the title bar. This is a great way to get an application out of your way while retaining it on the desktop for easy access. 

A shaded window and the mouse menu in action on Elive.

I have the terminal window shaded and the desktop mouse menu open.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

The desktop mouse menu allows you to click any empty area of the desktop to reveal a full menu, where you can open any installed application, open preferences, restart, or log out. 

In other words, like Enlightenment, Elive is a desktop operating system geared for those who not only like to spend plenty of time tweaking the look and feel, but working as efficiently as possible. And because Elive is based on Debian, you know it's rock solid. That Debian base means you have access to the Apt package manager and can install Snap for even more installable applications. 

Also: Why Snap and Flatpak make Linux a better OS for the average user

That also highlights one of the only misses with this distribution, as it doesn't come with either Snap or Flatpak pre-installed. Fortunately, you can install either with the following commands:

sudo apt-get install snapd -y
sudo apt-get install flatpak -y

After installing Snap, I was then able to app third-party applications, such as Spotify and Slack. 

Speaking of applications, you'll find the likes of GIMP, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, Calibre, Rythmbox, VLC Media Player, and more installed by default. During the installation, you also can select which browser you want installed, from Firefox, Chrome, Opera, and more, as well as the choice to install third-party applications such as Dropbox, Skype, Steam, and Zoom.

Who is Elive for?

Just take one look at the default Elive desktop and you can probably guess this distribution is geared for those who already have a solid understanding of Linux. Casual users, coming from either Windows or MacOS, don't generally care to have a desktop widget that displays system resource usage. I would also venture a guess that most users who've never touched the Linux operating system might be put off by the pager. And even with the included default dock, average users might not quite get how the Enlightenment desktop works.

However, should those same users give Elive a few minutes of their time, they'll find it to actually be incredibly easy to use. Sure, there are quite a lot of configuration options available (that could alienate those users who aren't accustomed to having so much control over their desktop), but those options are, as you probably guessed, optional. Just use the Elive desktop as-is and it's a thing of simplistic beauty. Get tired of how it looks and you have a world of customizations at your fingertips.

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At its heart, Elive is a fun Linux desktop distribution that makes it possible to experience what it was that had us all enthralled with the operating system back in the early days, while also showing you how modern and effective it can be.

Download an ISO and give Elive a try. If you like it, consider donating to the developers so they can keep releasing this brilliant and beautiful operating system.

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