back to article Five lightweight Linux desktop worlds for extreme open-sourcers

Linux long ago reached parity with Windows and OS X. That's great for the average user looking to make the switch from either platform to Linux. Indeed distros like Ubuntu, with its Unity desktop, make switching relatively painless. All of the common tools most users want in Windows are also available in Unity, GNOME and other …

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Smed Malak

Really It's so helpful article for Linux Desktop User. Thanks for sharing with us.

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Bad marketing El Reg

<rant coming up, you are warned>

Please, please, please will everyone trying to push linux stop displaying "empty desktops" or worse still stop display Sysinfo......

If you want to push an OS at least show it doing things that people are familiar with or are likely to do.... Word Processing, a Browser pointing at a common site, contemporary games ( why not steam), Facebook, Twitter whatever the social media buzzthing is..

Honestly no-one is doing any favors advertising like this, it is a compelte turnoff... Ok as IT people we dont care about the bells and whistles as much as some of the other nitty gritty stuff but Joe Public needs to see and find what he cares about and none of what was portryed in this article filled in that job....

If the linux crowd want Linux to be more readilly adopted stop behaving as though everyone comes from the IT world...and I say that as someone that has been in IT for more than 25 years.... Stop pushing linux to people that already know what it is and already use it.....

</Rant over>

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Bad marketing El Reg

But "ManagementMemo.doc open in Abiword" looks pretty much the same in all desktops, and he's trying to show they differ from one another. If you don't like Linux, don't read articles like this. The title gave you plenty of warning. It's not trying to advertise to anybody, but convey useful information to the already-convinced.

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Re: Bad marketing El Reg

>>If the linux crowd want Linux to be more readilly adopted

While I can't speak for the crowd, though I am part of it, I don't want it more readily adopted. It has managed fine all these years without being readily adopted, and it'll continue.

My beef with the article is the same as with all these articles, why in the fuck would you keep treating a whole distro as if it was the user interface? The article even mentions that you can just install whatever WM or DE you want on any distro, and while the dependencies won't run into "Ooo thousands of packages scary", there might be some packages, and that's what dependency calculation is all about, has been all about! That's why it was created OVER A DECADE AGO.

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Re: Bad marketing El Reg

@Anon Coward,

First please do not surmise about me disliking for linux, I am currently running 4 desktops and 2 raspis.

>But "ManagementMemo.doc open in Abiword" looks pretty much the same in all desktops

Be carefull with what you are saying here. It actually negates what you are bout to say in th next line

>, and he's trying to show they differ from one another

Ok please explain whats different about these distros and I mean honestly different.. apart from the fact that "ManagementMemo.doc open in Abiword" will look the same in them all. Themes do not count as differences....

>"It's not trying to advertise to anybody"

If that's not advertising then what do you call it, it certaintely wasn't an in-depth review of the differences between extfs and fat32...

>but convey useful information to the already-convinced.

WTF is the point of relaying information to those that are already convinced... It's not liekk linux users do not know how to get to distrowatch.com

And you were warned that I was going to rant so why bother reading my comment.

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I'm with you

and could I add "It's using X amount of RAM" is NOT going to sway my opinion either.

I have loads of the stuff, it's coming out of my ears - exactly what demographic are we targeting who has 2 gigs of RAM, and wishes to deal with Linux?

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Re: I'm with you

2 gigs of RAM - looked at a chromebook recently? Loads of us out here using chromebooks with 2 or 4 gigs of ram and very little storage - but with a Linux installed one way or another rather than using the ChromeOS directly.

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Holmes

Re: Bad marketing El Reg

Erm, It was an article about the desktops. There were even some helpful clues to this in the title:

Five lightweight Linux desktop worlds for extreme open-sourcers

Need a slim-line work environment? We recommend the best

If you want to look at pictures of wordprocessors or mackerel or whatever then perhaps you should look for them somewhere appropriate? Perhaps Inshore Anglers' Monthly has an article to interest you?

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Re: Bad marketing El Reg

I very much doubt that "extreme open sourcers" would ever come here to read such an article... this article if anything is for newcomers. I believe that there are far more dedicated and "enlightened" sites than this one. .

I read a comment recently, that Trevor Potts wrote, about the current ( new/newish) El Reg readers and I am now beginning to grasp what he meant...

I'll leave it to the "extreme open sourcers " wget/pipe/grep afficianados to find the article hidden amongst the latest copy of Inshore Anglers Monthly or alternatively to look back a few days on the El Reg site using their new Lightweight Desktop Power User Open Sourced Environment Browsing Application...

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Anonymous Coward

exactly what demographic?

People with otherwise useless dual core machines that came with Vista, which is crap to begin with and which will be in EoL before long. There are plenty of Dell and HP lower-range Turion64 X2 laptops from ~8 years ago that can never hold more than 2x1GB, and I can still use one of them-- comfortably.

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@goldcd Re: I'm with you

"... exactly what demographic are we targeting who has 2 gigs of RAM, and wishes to deal with Linux?"

My 10 year old Acer Travelmate 8000 has a 1.8GHz Pentium-M with 1.5 GB of RAM. I've had it running Mint-13 with the LXDE desktop for just over two years and it's just fine. (Currently using 427MB of RAM and over half of that is Firefox with a shedload of plug-ins.) It's what I use the most for websurfing and "wordprocessing" because it has a 15" 4:3 matte screen. It does run MATE quite well but is a bit sluggish doing that and LXDE is more than good enough for what I want to do.

There are lots of people out there who have an old laptop who might want to know that. I wish I'd known that four years ago when I bought a new 16:9 glossy screen laptop with 4GB of RAM, and quad core i5 running Win7. I don't use it much nowadays because I' ve put Mint-13+MATE on my old desktop (with two 17" 4:3 matte monitors).

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Re: I'm with you

> I have loads of the stuff, it's coming out of my ears

Can you tell me where I can find your ears, so I can place a collecting basket under them?

I have a bunch of perfectly good laptops that were top of the range 10 years ago. A couple of project students every year, but no budget. They basically need a terminal (in the old days, we called it a thin client): something that runs xterms to ssh into a remote server, and an X server to look at remote graphics. Doesn't hurt if they can collect data in a spreadsheet and a write it up locally. Should I spend 500 quid that I don't have on each of them, so they can have translucent windows and the ads in their browser move more smoothly?

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Re: I'm with you

My home 'emergency fallback' PC is a refurbished one. A very old one that I bought years ago, and until recently was still using as the PC in my bedroom. It has a wopping 1GB of RAM, and something like a 1 or 1.5GHz CPU. And with Linux Mint 17 and an Xfce desktop, it's still absolutely grand for emailing, browsing the web, watching videos. It's likely to end up being donated to someone needier than I.

Poor people who can't afford shiny new PCs - those wanting/needing an inexpensive fallback PC - they're the demographic.

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Re: Bad marketing El Reg

Erm... but I didn't think the Reg was indulging in any kind of 'advertising ', and as far as communication with Joe Public, do you really think there are many non-geeks reading a fairly focused web-site's extremely focused article on the minutiae of the smallest usable Linux?

(End of *my* rant... sorry...)

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Re: I'm with you

My P.C is coming up to its 10 year anniversary:

AMD X4200 (64bit, 2 x core)

1GB RAM

Parallel ATA 80GB hard drive (Mint Mate)

SATA 80GB (Win XP)

2 x Nvidia 6600 GT in SLI config

I've just upgraded from Mint Mate 17.1 to 17.2 and it flies along on bootup (grub menu to logon screen in 2/3 the time of my XP installation installed on a separate SATA drive). Running Compiz etc. presents no problems, overall really slick for everything other than gaming.

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Re: Bad marketing El Reg

>do you really think there are many non-geeks reading a fairly focused web-site's extremely focused article on the minutiae of the smallest usable Linux?

As I mentioned above, people that already know linux don't come to El Reg for anything Linux related there are far too many dedicated forums for that.

>article on the minutiae of the smallest usable Linux?

This was certainely not an article about the smallest usable Linux. If you know Linux you would know fine well that Puppy, DSL etc are 50mb distributions that will run with an "extremely" small footprint and still provide a GUI.

Again as I mentioned above Trevor wrote a comment recently about how the level of El Regs readers has really fallen and that there appear to be more and more numpties that have spent their lives being spoonfed rather than actually learning anything about their trade... That appears to be the demographic here, the spoonfed X,Y,Z generations...

A minimum of 2 Gigs to run linux, FFS, only the Ubuntu/Neophyte crowd would believe that. But then again they also believe Unity = Linux...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Bad marketing El Reg

The 2GB is needed to run Firefox. Regardless of desktop/WM/OS...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I'm with you

Well some of us still have perfectly adequate desktops (for Win98SE, that is) with 512K RAM and motherboards that will accept no more, nor disks bigger than 60GB (large enough for ALL your storage needs said Compaq when new). Faced with nerds who consider anything less than a squillion is smelly and just dropped off their shoe and therefore should not be catered for, is it any surprise that Win98SE still has its followers?

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Re: Bad marketing El Reg

"The 2GB is needed to run Firefox. Regardless of desktop/WM/OS..."

That's total borax. Although this laptop has 8GB, my other machines have 2GB and indeed one is a 1.4GHz Celeron with 1GB. All of them run the latest Firefox on top of a full-fat OpenSUSE 13.1/2 KDE desktop. All run Firefox well. Currently this laptop is using 380MB for Firefox with 9 tabs open - the highest I've ever seen is ~800MB.

I can see that you'd need to be anonymous BTW

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Re: I'm with you

I am running Ubuntu 12.04 LXDE via crouton on an old Samsung S5 Chromebook with an Atom processor and — GASP — 2 Gb of memory, which is the maximum supported by that processor. This setup uses a minimal amount of storage and RAM, and performs very nicely on this low-spec hardware.

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Re: I'm with you

I have for many years, and still do, run linux on 1Gb or even less.

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Re: Bad marketing El Reg

I'm one of those "extreme open sourcers", I guess, and I'm here. Ok, I admit I just skimmed the article, and I ditched my bare bones Debian+Openbox setup for Mint 17.1 (thanks for the tip, El Reg) because Linux in general is going downhill rapidly and I just want something that works ok with no major changes until it becomes practical to use a much simpler OS.

Openbox is decent - I might go back to it at some point - but it's a bit bloaty for a "minimal wm", and that XML config file, deahhh gahhhd....

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Bad marketing El Reg

It wasn't about smallest but lightweight environment, which some needs or like for example me :-). openbox, tint2 on debian unstable is great for me and I use it on 10" netbook with 512MB as well as on 16GB Macbook pro. I don't want to waste my memory for things I don't use and save it for programs I need.

To author: Thanks for the article.

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Re: Bad marketing El Reg

I read a comment recently, that Trevor Potts wrote

I think I've spotted your problem.

The man is stuck so far up his own arse he'd make ouroboros jealous.

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Re: I'm with you

Who uses small machines these days? Other than the Raspberry Pi hobbyists, it's people using virtual machines. I'd really rather not have to burn 8GB of disk on a vanilla Ubuntu for each VM, on a server where I'm using a large pile of them, and I'd rather not use as much RAM as Ubuntu needs if I'm running a Linux VM on my Windows desktop.

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Boffin

Re: Bad marketing El Reg @Khaptain

Wow. I haven't see a firestorm like this in a long time.

I have to agree with you. I am thinking about moving over to Linux and I can't say that this article helped me at all.

Preaching to the Choir is not very useful.

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Re: Bad marketing El Reg

"The 2GB is needed to run Firefox"

You'll excuse my doubts, given that I'm posting this from Iceweasel (aka Firefox) on a Raspberry Pi 2 (1GB RAM).

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Re: Bad marketing El Reg @Khaptain

"I am thinking about moving over to Linux and I can't say that this article helped me at all."

My advice for what it's worth - get a few Live-CD/pen-drive distro - try them out (without needing to install) to check the hardware and UI. They'll run slowly but that's not the point at this stage.

For example http://software.opensuse.org/132/en and chose "Click here to display alternative versions" to get live-cd of KDE or Gnome versions

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Re: I'm with you

Poor people who can't afford shiny new PCs - those wanting/needing an inexpensive fallback PC - they're the demographic.

There are also some of us rich people who don't feel like throwing away perfectly good machines, or have better things to spend money on.

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Re: I am thinking about moving over to Linux

It's not an introduction to Linux for the prospective new user, it's a brief survey of lightweight desktop environments for people who fancy extending their Linux experience to some of the crufty old hardware they have gathering cobwebs. I'm going to set up such a machine soon, mainly as a music player (for the room where I tinker with mechanical things) but with the occasional need to display a web page or PDF - this sort of setup sounds good for that.

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Anonymous Coward

correction

Late update to that: turns out they *can* go for 4GB, it's just that the particular modules you try might not work due to number of banks involved. Once upon a time I got a pair of G-Skill SODIMMs and they didn't work in a friend's AMD machine but they worked in another friend's Intel 945 notebook. So, somewhere along the line I started believing said Turions were limited that way. I'm adding this only because recently I tested some different RAM in two of the old machines because the manuf. specs for the one stated 4GB max, and both machines (same TL-56) rather liked these Samsung PC2-6400 2GB modules. Sorry for the fiction.

My own laptop doesn't seem much faster now with 4GB when booted to Linux, mostly because 2GB was already enough for most of the usual. Win7 seems to get by in 4GB just fine "for now" while using the former 2GB was like it had asthma and trying to do anything in the 1GB in some other laptops I've worked on was like they had carbon monoxide poisoning.

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Happy

Re: I'm with you

Erm, 2 gigs is not that old a requirement or rare for pensioners, dabblers, cheap kids laptops and all those other machines that get bought to shut up the relative at christmas? (Can we say Pentium chip)

Or anyone that currently has an old XP machine, someone that didn't jump into Windows 8, upgraded hardware to windows 7 and have been waiting for Windows 10. Then suddenly saw the train wreck that is windows 10. And might want to use that old machine for something useful.

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Happy

Mate is yur mate.

While not as lightweight as those mentioned, the Mate desktop is well worth a look. It's at best on top of Linux Mint, but can be installed many other distros. I've just updated my Raspberry Pi2 from Debian wheezy and XFCE to jessie and Mate, and while a fraction slower and a touch more memory hungry, the experience is far more polished, and the visuals are far more pleasing.

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and I'm sure you're right

but is this all driven from your requirement to *only* use a RaspberyPi, or merely your excitement that you can?

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Re: Mate is yur mate.

Oops, I was running LXDE not XFCE on wheezy, Mate compares even better against XFCE.

Yes; I was very pleased to run Mate on the Pi, and I gave the example as it is the lowest powered machine I'm currently using. Although I do have a couple of original EEEPC 701s under the sofa, which I always intended to put another distro on, just might get around to it now.

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Happy

Re: Mate is yur mate.

" Although I do have a couple of original EEEPC 701s under the sofa, which I always intended to put another distro on, just might get around to it now."

Yes do.

Crunchbang works well on a 701. I did upgrade to 1GB as I found 512MB made it a bit slow but otherwise it does all I ask of it. Which isn't a lot given the 7" screen but it's handy to take away on holiday.

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oops

Darn missed this post. Sorry to step on this obvious idea below.

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Windows

Tinker and tucker

@Khaptain: Upvoted for the quality of the rant.

My favoured light weight window manager is most unphotogenic. To (mis?)quote an American author, 'there is no there there'.

As others must use the testing laptop now and again, I compromise with an unsung workhorse: IceWM. Ugly as sin as installed, with a decent theme and some configuration you get a bare bones panel-at-the-bottom XP work alike. Throw in PCManFM as mentioned in the OA and the result is quite usable. No notifications, raging calm.

Google "Old-School Desktop" - my fixed gear bicycle for the mind.

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Great article

Thank you for the info, i soon try it on an old dell 755.

Perhaps there is even room for a follow up, for instance a list of 2000-2005 laptops where it will run on, i am sure these distros run fine on IBM Thinkpads and the likes with 1.6-2.4 GHz pentiums.

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Linux

Re: Great article (@ naive)

they do. I'm running mint 17 xfce on a thinkpad R60e and it runs like a cut cat - having an SSD does help, but spinning rust storage is also quite snappy. its my goto for windows upgrades for the great unwashed hordes - aka people who want their ancient windows machines updated / repaired - when windows is no longer an option

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Ah, memories

I started with Debian Minimal and grabbed the packages I needed for many years. Eventually I got tired of the headache and switched to Mint, but for older systems nothing beats the Debian Minimal approach. I used Fluxbox rather than Openbox though. They're pretty similar. At one point not so long ago I had a desktop running on a P2 system with 64MB of RAM. Granted it didn't do anything except browse the web and play music, and not even those at the same time, but still...

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Linux

Only two "desktops" mentioned here

...are Openbox and LXDE (XFCE mentinoned very, very briefly). Author surely knows that, thus the term "5 desktop worlds" instead of "5 desktop environments" or "5 window managers". Not a single word about DWM, i3 (has much buzz in Arch community, aslo I heard Google uses it), xmonad or englightenment. As for Openbox, I use it as a window manager in XFCE, since, once you overcome a disguist related to need of editing XML files, it has great multi-monitor commands - while not being "tiled" WM. You can assign bindings to move window to next/prev montor, make it fill designated quarter or half of current monitor, etc. I can't imagine my 3-monitor setup in the office without it. Lack of panel, launcher and a bit of control panel - that's why I use it with XFCE. As for LXDE, I never seen LXQT option (QT-based, as you can guess), but Lubuntu team (I'm not sure that LXDE team, not Lubuntu team, should be credited for it) is very, very sane in term of keyboard shortcuts: any Windows convert will appreciate Win+<buttons> that do the same actions as in Windows, i.e. Win-E to launch file manager. Regarding both three, XFCE, OpenBox and LXDE: you should be warned that setting up multi-monitor, volume control (mute/volUp-Down/switch to HDMI when it is plugged) or multi-language is a pain for non-programmer. (Should be; can't insist on that, since I'm a programmer). Also XFCE, while calling itself "light", is short of one thing: keyboard support. I mean, XFCE panel is completely un-accessible with keyboard, it's a mouse-only thing (even Gnome 2, Gnome 3 to some degree have that, not mentioning Unity with first-class keyboard support). No workaround available to make keyboard work with XFCE panel, it is described as bug or feature for last 4 years in their tracker. Enlightenment is sexy, exotic and claims to be light on resources, but I never tried to use it longer than 2 hours, so can't tell much.

P.S. There are also several "boxes" which share same ancestor with OpenBox (fluxbox, blackbox, possible others), OpenSTEP, "pure X11 session", and several others I which don't rembemer.

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WTF?

Linux long ago reached parity with Windows and OS X.

What does that even mean?

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Re: Linux long ago reached parity with Windows and OS X.

I re-read this sentence twice and came to conclusion author means that for average, non-technical user who sits in the browser most of the time and using office programs not too deeply, top Linux distributions can provide experience not worse than one of Windows or MacOS. I have live example: my collegue replaced winXP of his wife laptop with Fedora, and never received complains from her. I'm not sure same can be done if you don't have a Linux-savvy spouse

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Linux long ago reached parity with Windows and OS X.

I tried that with my girlfriend's pc. Up until the point where she and her children need to use Microsoft Word (no substitutes), it worked fine. However, getting MS Word installed meant I had to re-install Windows 7.

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Re: Linux long ago reached parity with Windows and OS X.

Looked like this was going to be an interesting article till I read the first line. What total bollox - "chalk long ago reached parity with cheese"?

I've been using Unix, variants and descendants, for 30-odd years, and I use Linux day in and day out. In all that time the only half-usable "desktop world" that I've had, and that I would seriously consider as a replacement for a modern working Windows desktop, was Solaris. I've spent a year with Unity on my laptop and every time I turn it on I remember that I need to get on to the internet to figure out how to remove it. 'Parity' my ass. And I'm still waiting for a usable file explorer.

Linux is great for what it does, which is by no stretch of the imagination the same as what Windows does.

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Devil

Re: Linux long ago reached parity with Windows and OS X.

The only thing Windows has going for it, the only thing it really had going for it, is the fact that it is the monopoly legacy platform. This goes back to the days of DOS.

If you aren't fixated on some WinDOS only program, Windows itself is highly optional and very interchangeable. Even the example of "needing" msoffice is bogus for most people. Although the notion that you can't get away from it is a nice triump of the trolls.

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Boffin

Re: Linux long ago reached parity with Windows and OS X.

It means that all these operating systems are odd.

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