antiX: A Featureful Lightweight Linux

Reviewed by Howard Fosdick © 2024, originally posted at, under open license CC BY-ND 4.0.

Have an older desktop? An underpowered laptop? antiX might just be your ticket to turn that aging machine into a useful rig.

As a lightweight Linux, antiX is also useful for rolling your own distro, building a dedicated server, or creating a bootable live USB.

I've found it handy as a portable tool I carry about on its own USB memory stick. antiX is so small it leaves plenty of room for user data on the stick. Yet it includes all the apps you need for typical laptop or desktop work.

The antiX home page defines the product as:

"... a fast, lightweight and easy to install systemd-free linux live CD distribution based on Debian Stable for Intel-AMD x86 compatible systems.

antiX offers users the “antiX Magic” in an environment suitable for old and new computers. So don’t throw away that old computer yet!"

Let's boot it up and take a quick look at what it offers.

Default Desktop
The Default Desktop


This article is written specifically for antiX version 23, but it largely applies to slightly older and newer releases as well.

antiX is available in four different downloads:

Edition: Download Size:
  (for 64 bit)

antiX-full  1.9 gig Full version
antiX-base  1.2 gig For older computers with very limited memory (less than 1 or 2 gig)

Also useful as a base you build up and tailor to suit yourself
antiX-core  640 meg Minimal, no X interface, includes software for wireless
antiX-net  250 meg Minimal, no X interface, includes software for wired connection only

(Note: 32-bit downloads are about the same sizes as their 64-bit counterparts)

antiX-full is what you'd download for typical use. It includes four windows managers and both current and legacy kernels. As with all the antiX downloads, it's available in either 64- or 32- bit versions.

The other antiX editions are for stripped-down systems, very old computers, low-power machines, or for building up your own customized distro from a minimal base.

antiX-full installs into a 10 gigabyte partition very comfortably. It leaves plenty of room to install additional apps. You could even squeeze it into a smaller partition if necessary.

Within that minimal space, antiX-full packs an amazingly complete set of applications. The distro bundles apps for graphics, multimedia, networking, the internet, managing your personal life, office work, games, and utilities. In short, everything the typical laptop or desktop user needs.

All the apps are selected for their light resource requirements, which is one reason antiX runs so well on minimal equipment. Yet they're user-friendly enough that most computer users won't have any difficulty using them.

antiX is based on Debian. So any program you wish to add, you can easily download from the massive Debian repositories. You can install apps with easy GUI tools like antiX's own Package Installer or the Synaptic Package Manager. Or, use the apt install line command.

The User Interface

One distinguishing antiX feature is its desktop. Most mainstream distros present full desktop environments or DEs. antiX instead offers a window manager, or WM, in conjunction with a file manager.

You're undoubtedly familiar with popular DEs from mainstream Linux distros. They include GNOME, KDE, Cinnamon, Mate, Unity, Xfce, and LXQt.

antiX presents an alternative in its bundled window managers: IceWM (default), fluxbox, jwm, and herbstluftwm. These can be paired in various combinations with file managers like ROX-Filer and zzzFM (an updated version of SpaceFM). Together, they comprise the antiX desktop.

The big advantage to this kind of desktop is that it uses less computer resources -- both CPU and memory. This is why antiX runs much faster than bulky mainstream distros on aging equipment.

antiX can make an old PC feel downright snappy. I've found it quite responsive even on old dual core computers. Couple antiX's speed with a solid state disk or a live USB boot and you'll find that you can use even a 10 to 20 year old computer for all kinds of applications.

The downside to WMs is that they are less user-friendly than DEs. For example, you can't just right-click on the desktop or taskbar to add a program launcher or folder. Drag-and-drop desktop operations are somewhat limited.

With this in mind, the antiX team has invented tools to make their fast WM interface more user-friendly. For example, you can switch between the various window / file manager combinations with just a single mouse click:

Selecting a Desktop
Just Select an Option to Change Your Desktop.

Another example is the unique app to manage program launchers on the taskbar. The IceWM Toolbar Icon Manager helps you add, move, or delete taskbar icons. And then there's the menu option "Add Menu Item" that lets you add program launchers to the desktop and menu.

Lastly, the newly-expanded Control Centre brings all configuration functions together in one central location.

Look at the tabbed menu down the left side of this screenshot. You'll see that you can accomplish all customization and maintenance using this graphical interface:

The Control Centre
The Control Centre

Should you have a really limited computer, antiX accommodates you with its own text menu alternatives to its GUI tools. Text apps, of course, use less memory and CPU. Examples of these tools are antiX-cli-cc, which provides a text-menu alternative to the GUI Control Centre, and cli-aptiX, an alternative to the menu-driven package installer.

Power users will find antiX easy to use. They'll like its quick response and its configurability.

Less experienced users might need someone else to install and configure antiX for them. They'll also need a brief introduction on how to use the desktop. After that, I've found them able to work on their own with antiX.

The benefit to all this is that antiX helps you keep older equipment in service with a fully functional, up-to-date operating system.

MX Linux

antiX boasts a bigger sibling. MX Linux is currently one of the most popular Linux distributions, according to Distrowatch statistics. MX includes some of the same tools as antiX. For example, it features the same installer, USB features, some common utilities, and more.

One big difference between the two products is that MX Linux moves you up to a full desktop environment. You can install versions with Xfce or KDE (but a lighter version, using the Fluxbox Window Manager is also available).

How do you choose between the antiX and MX Linux? If it's simply a matter of computer resources, antiX should be the choice only for very low end computers. Those with old dual or single core processors and two gigabytes or less of memory are its target audience.

MX Linux better suits Intel i-series processors and computers with four gigabytes or more of memory. Any general-purpose computer made within the past 10 to 15 years should run MX just fine.

Of course, your experience could differ from these recommendations -- it all depends on the uses to which you put your computer.

Take web surfing, for example. Websites have become hugely bloated with trackers, advertisements, autorun, and all sorts of overhead. You can access them for quick lookup with, say, a 15 or 20 year old computer. But web surfing might not feel fast enough for most people with that old hardware -- regardless of which operating system they install.

Yet that same old PC running a lightweight distro works great for dedicated purposes. I have friends who have taken vintage machines and configured them for useful roles as a retro-gaming box, a novelist's workstation, a video storage server, and a design workstation for complex spreadsheets.

antiX for Older Computers

If you have an old computer wasting away in your garage or attic, antiX enables you to make use of it again.

The antiX download is small and requires little disk space. It supplies a fast WM interface and a suite of lightweight apps.

But there's more to running a modern operating system on aging equipment than fitting the resources required to those available.

You need to be concerned with hardware that can't run current kernels, systems that may not handle large GPT or SSD disks, CPUs that don't include functions like PAE and SSE3 or can't address 64 bits, old BIOS firmware that doesn't support modern devices, legacy devices, and more.

antiX is specifically designed to handle these issues. Its comprehensive boot menus ensure you can start up the product on nearly any computer. For example, the boot process lets you opt for legacy or current kernels, change kernel and antiX boot parameters, select video modes, disable device drivers, choose the desktop program and persistence options, and more. If you're not sure what to do, just try the simple failsafe boot option.

Running a Linux distro on aging equipment is challenging because technology changes so fast. Most distros don't care -- if you try to run current software on older equipment, the burden is all on you. antiX is tailored for the task and helps as much as possible.

Older equipment may also mean that you need to keep track of the use of system resources like CPU, memory, and swap space. To facilitate this, antiX-full places the Conky resource manager on the desktop. If you don't need it, you can disappear it with a single mouse click.

Flexibility and Features

You can start up antiX from any bootable device: USB, SSD or HDD disk, or DVD. With its persistence feature, you can store your system's state across boots to any writeable device.

The product boots with either legacy or current kernels, with any start-up parameters you require. It works with UEFI and BIOS firmware, GPT and MBR disks, SSD and HDD disks, 32- and 64- bit addressing, and almost any hardware combination you can throw at it.

antiX's ISO snapshot feature allows you to save the current state of your running system into bootable form. Use it to create your own tailored distro to run on other computers, to live boot, or distribute however you like. I created a LiveUSB so that I have my own preconfigured portable system that I can run on computers anywhere.

Creating a Bootable Image via Snapshot
Making an ISO Snapshot

Given its fast boot, many run antiX solely as live Linux from a USB memory stick. They never install it anywhere. This can be useful for running with complete privacy on public computers, for example, at a cafe or library.

You can alternatively install antiX to disk. The options include a frugal install, whereby the ISO files are copied to your boot medium. The advantage here is that you can place the antiX install files into their own partition, any other Linux partition, or even a Windows partition. Plus a frugal install requires only about 25% of the space of a traditional install.

antiX can load itself into memory and then run entirely from memory, via its toram boot parameter. This means it can run fast, even on computers with slow hard disk or DVD access. The cost is a slightly longer boot time. (And of course, you have to have sufficient memory available.) This feature frees up your boot device for other uses.

For added security, antiX bundles Firejail. Firejail lets you specify that certain apps run inside their own restricted sandboxes. So if someone hacks those apps, your system is still protected. For example, you could run your email client inside Firejail to prevent system damage from malware payloads. Or, you could firejail torrent downloads or PDF viewing. Here's how I firejailed Firefox:

Firejailing an App

To back up your data, antiX offers a simple tool called LuckyBackup. Sometimes backing up can get complicated so you may appreciate this app's simplicity. This example backs up a user's home directory:

Backing Up the System
Backups Made Easy


antiX addresses important niches that many popular Linux distros leave behind. It allows you to restore older computers to complete functionality with a modern, fully supported operating system. It adds many useful features into the bargain as well, with its flexibility in booting, persistence, remastering, firejailing, running from memory, and more.

antiX is also well-suited for rolling your own distro, building a dedicated server, or creating a bootable live USB.

I've used antiX for a decade, off and on, and I love that it's rock solid and easy to use. That's exactly what I want when installing Linux on aging laptops and desktops. No muss, no fuss... it just works.

For more information, visit the antiX website, read the FAQs, or watch the videos. You can ask any questions you may have at the antiX forum.

The author thanks members of the antiX community who reviewed and helped improve this article.

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