Hands-on: Lumina Desktop 1.0.0

The first official release of the Lumina desktop environment is now available. Here are the results of my trying it out on a few common Linux distributions, including Manjaro, Debian, PCLinuxOS, and openSuSE Leap.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

I saw a release announcement for the first official release (1.0.0) of the Lumina Desktop Environment recently. I am always looking for interesting new developments like this, and the announcement said that Lumina could be easily installed on a variety of Linux distributions, many of which I have installed, so I decided to give it a whirl.


Lumina Desktop 1.0.0- Manjaro 16.06.1

Image: J.A. Watson

To put first things first here, what is Lumina? It is a compact, lightweight, graphical desktop environment. It has been developed from scratch, not as a fork of any of the other currently available 'lightweight' desktops. It was originally conceived and developed for the BSD family of operating systems (such as FreeBSD and TrueOS), but as it gained interest and popularity, it was adapted to Linux systems as well.

To put second things second, what is this post? I only intend to write a 'first look' overview of the Lumina Desktop at this time. I have just started installing it on several different computers, and on several different Linux distributions. I don't have nearly enough information or experience with it to write much technical detail, so I am just going to give an overview of my experience with it so far.

For those who want more detailed information, there is a very good Lumina handbook available which covers everything from the original concept and design goals through to installation, configuration, using plugins, and utilities. The first section, introduction to Lumina, contains a feature list if you just what to see what it should be able to do for you.

With those guidelines in place, let's get started. The first step is figuring out how to install Lumina on one of my laptops. The Get Lumina page on its website lists the distributions on which Lumina can be easily installed (that is, without having to compile the sources yourself), and gives brief instructions on how to install it on each of those distributions.

Manjaro caught my eye in this list, because I use it quite a lot, and I had a brief hope that there might be a Manjaro Community Edition focused on Lumina, but unfortunately there is not. Not to worry, though, installing Lumina on a running Manjaro system (either Xfce or KDE) is as simple as pacman -S lumina-desktop.

Installing on PCLinuxOS was just as easy: apt-get update; apt-get install lumina-desktop.

Debian (either Jessie/stable or Stretch/testing) was a bit more difficult, because you have to add the Lumina repository first. The detailed instructions are on the Get Lumina webpage, and they worked just fine for me.

Installing on openSuSE Leap was done via the openSuSE Build Service, but was not significantly more difficult than any of the others.

Fedora was the only distribution where I had trouble installing Lumina, and that was because the system I wanted to install on was running Fedora 24, and the Get Lumina instructions describe Fedora 22 and 23. I was not able to figure out how to change the instructions for Fedora 23 so they would work for Fedora 24 -- but I didn't try all that hard, either. By this time I had it installed on three or four other systems, so I just called it enough for now.

Once I had Lumina installed, all I had to do was logout, and then before or during logging in again, I chose Lumina from the Session drop-down list in the login screen. The first thing I noticed was the difference in speed -- in particular because the first system I tried was Manjaro KDE. If you have watched the recent KDE Plasma 5 login sequence, you probably know that it is slow. Really slow.

Lumina is fast. Really fast.

Just to give you an approximation, when I login to KDE Plasma on either Manjaro or openSuSE, I usually go to get a cup of coffee while the desktop starts up. This time I didn't even have time to pick up my coffee cup before Lumina was up and running, ready to use. Honestly, of all the distributions and desktops I have installed, the only one I have seen that was faster than this was the i3 window manager.

Lumina actually builds the desktop and its application menus dynamically the first time you login, so you will see a few status messages flash by as it does that. It found Steam installed, so it automatically added a desktop quick-launch icon for that.

The default Lumina desktop has a bottom panel, with a Start menu button at the left end, a task manager, and a system tray containing status and control icons at the right end. This is very similar to a number of other desktops such as KDE, Xfce, Cinnamon, and MATE. The location of the panel can be changed (top, bottom, left, right), and on some of the distributions I tried it was pre-configured at the top rather than the bottom.


Lumina 1.0.0 - openSuSE Leap 42.1

Image: J.A. Watson

The Lumina menu (Start menu) as shown in this screenshot contains a search bar, a Favorites section, buttons to access commonly used directories, browser applications, and files, and a Preferences utility. At the bottom of the menu there is a Leave button, which will take you to Logout, Reboot, and Shutdown, and a Lock button which activates Xscreensaver.

The initial content of the Favorites area is created by Lumina the first time you login to it. After that, there are several ways to customize the Favorites, either adding new items that you frequently use, or removing things you don't. In this screenshot, I have added a terminal and the screenshot utility to the Favorites section.

It is also possible to add application launchers to the desktop (above I have added one for Firefox), and to add quicklaunch buttons to the panel (I have added one for the Konsole terminal emulator).

The Start menu Browse Applications gives you access to a list of registered applications. How that list is presented is determined by the Show Categories box at the top of the menu, which controls how the applications are presented -- and it is a rather cute three-position switch.


Lumina Browse Applications Menus

Image: J.A. Watson

When it is 'full-on', as shown on the left, it presents a simple category menu. Clicking on any of the categories produces a list of applications in that category.

When it is 'half-on', indicated by a diagonal half-fill of the box as shown in the center, it presents a categorized linear alphabetic list of applications (whew, that's a mouthful!). Each category is followed in this list by an alphabetic list of its applications.

When it is off, as shown on the right, it presents a simple alphabetic list of all applications with no category divisions.

Very clever.

Preferences takes you to another menu, where you can set the audio volume, select the Workspace, select the desktop font, to start the Lumina Configure Desktop utility.


Lumina 1.0.0 - Debian Stretch

Image: J.A. Watson

There is another way to access the menus: right-click anywhere on the desktop background. The Applications item leads to a cascading category menu of all applications. This is very similar to what LXDE/LXQt do, for example.

As you can see in this screenshot, the right-click menu includes the same Browse Files option as the Start menu has -- and it performs the same function, simply starting the Insight file manager in your home directory.

This menu also contains a Terminal option, which is the fastest way I have found to get to a terminal emulator, and a link to Preferences, which starts a GUI utility to edit the desktop configuration.


Finally, this menu also includes a Leave button, which takes you to a shutdown window. Again, this is the fastest way I have found to get to a single window which includes Logout, Restart, Shutdown, Suspend, and Lock.

The Lumina Desktop Environment also includes a group of utilities to perform some of the routine functions that are required of a modern desktop. Some are important, and have interesting or novel new features, and some are very ho-hum:

  • Insight
    - file manager. I have mentioned this a number of times already, but haven't shown a screenshot of it, so here it is. It has an interesting array of features -- perhaps two of the best are the ability to have multiple tabs open with different views, and to have bookmarks for easy access to common locations.
  • File Information
    - I'm not sure why this isn't just a special case of the file manager, but anyway, here it is. This screenshot shows one of the things that I find rather strange about this utility: if it recognizes the file as an image, and shows a preview of it, then why doesn't it give the dimensions and resolution of the image as well?
  • Lumina Open
    - Provides a GUI for the user when opening various kinds of files and directories, with a default application to open the file suggested, and a list of other possible applications. There are options to set the default application for a file type.
  • Lumina Information - This is the window that is brought up by the About Lumina item in the desktop Preferences menu.
  • Screenshot
    - This is probably my favorite of the Lumina utilities. It was obviously written by someone who actually has to use such a screenshot utility. When I first saw it I thought it was too simple-looking (or minimalistic) to be useful. But after I used it just a bit, I loved it. It's simple, clear, has all of the options and modes that I need, and works extremely well. It is bound to the keyboard PrtSc button by default.
  • Search
    - A combined search tool for applications and file and directory content. Unfortunately, you have to at least know which type you want to search.
  • Text Editor - Yet another text editor -- as if the world didn't have enough already. But this one has some Lumina-specific features or characteristics, I suppose. The chances of me actually using this are less than zero.
  • Xconfig - a GUI front-end to the xrandr command. So it is essentially a re-implementation of xrandr because... uh... well, I'm not sure why. But it's there.

There is certainly a lot more to the Lumina Desktop Environment that I have not yet explore. As I said at the beginning, the Lumina Handbook is very good, so be sure to read that if you want to learn more. Then try it -- installing is easy, and it doesn't disturb anything else on a running system, so there is no real danger involved.

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