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Review/Overview of Lightweight Linux Distros

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the stacking-them-up dept.

Linux 96

pcause writes "Here is a review of various lightweight Linux distros. Not sure I agree with the conclusions, since I am a PuppyLinux user, but it is a nice overview of some current options." Reviewed are: Arch 2007.08-2, Damn Small Linux 4.2.5, Puppy 4.0, TinyMe Test7-KD, Xubuntu 8.04, and Zenwalk 5.0.

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More RAM, Batman. (2, Informative)

twitter (104583) | more than 6 years ago | (#23559619)

CPU: Pentium 3 â" 600 MHz, Memory: 256 MB. That's a reasonable computer and he should have been able to run regular Debian on it. Etch and Lenny boot quickly these days. If you plan to use the laptop for years and want maximum package flexibility, Debian is a good bet. If you are looking for something quick and dirty for web browsing, these other distributions can save you some install time and might run a little faster. If things seem a little slow especially for multitasking, more RAM might help.

Re:More RAM, Batman. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23560261)

I still run Windows 2000 on a PII 350MHz with 384MB of RAM. I'd consider that a lot better than what you're running. And it probably boots and runs a heck of a lot faster. For starters, I can probably kiss any sort of accelerated video goodbye on that kind of rig. 'nv' FTW.

Re:More RAM, Batman. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23560443)

LUXURY!

Re:More RAM, Batman. (3, Interesting)

hey! (33014) | more than 6 years ago | (#23560727)

Well, I run Xubuntu on a laptop with 2GB of RAM....

The reason is that I do almost all my work these days on virtual machines. There are all kinds of benfits from working mainly in virtual machines that I won't go into here, but the reason I use Xubuntu over Ubuntu is that it uses slightly less memory. Most of the time the performance of the virtual machines is not noticeably sluggish, but every so often you run into memory limitations. Using less in the first place means that it happens less often and recovers faster.

Probably I should consider using a distro designed for some resource constrained machine, like DSL. However my current setup works well enough that I haven't been motivated to try DSL or some other minidistro. I'd be interested if others have.

Re:More RAM, Batman. (2, Informative)

just_another_sean (919159) | more than 6 years ago | (#23561713)

I do the same with mine. I run a vm for a test web server, a vm with windows XP and a vm that acts as a gateway/dhcp/dns server for the other virtual machines. All of this is designed to mimic various aspects of the company's real network.

For the host machine I use Debian Etch. I installed from a netinst disk and chose no mirrors during install so it was quite bare when installation completed. At that point I used apt to install icewm, xorg, gvim, iceweasel, pcmanfm, vlc and a few other things. Then I grabbed build-essentials and kernel headers so I could get VMWare installed and running.

That's pretty much it. The host is fast, light and still has enough of what I need to use it effectively. I edit all my web server's scripts in gvim (w/ perl-soupport of course), surf, play tunes using vlc, etc. As someone who gets to write perl and c programs all day for a living my OS requirements aren't that big. For everything else there is VMWare.

Xubuntu (1)

Confused (34234) | more than 6 years ago | (#23567805)

Same here, I also run Xubuntu on a quite nice Laptop with 2 GB. Why? Because at the time when I started out with Ubuntu it felt a little sluggish from time to time and Xubuntu didn't. I also realised that I don't care about Nautilus and those other fancy desktop thingies Gnome offers and XFCE pretty much does what I need without getting in my way. Most of my work is either in the mail client, the web browser (like now) or in a ssh session to a VM anyway.

For some time I considered looking for a distro better fitting my profile, but as I'm quite happy with the selection of packages and updates offered by Ubuntu, switching doesn't seem to promise too much benefit for the effort.

Somehow XUbuntu feels like a natural Upgrade from Windows 95. Unspectacular, but it doesn't get in your way and my grandmother doesn't get confused by it.

Re:More RAM, Batman. (1)

jshackney (99735) | more than 6 years ago | (#23561089)

I'm not familiar with the Armada E500, but my laptop maxes out at 192 MB of RAM. And that's what I have installed. So, for some of us, more RAM is not an option.

Why not Debian? (4, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 6 years ago | (#23559655)

IMO, the best light weight distribution is Debian. A net installation leaves you with nothing but a console. You can apt-get anything you need, and only what you need. Why do you need a specific distribution for this? What does the Debian based Damn Small Linux offer me that plain Debian doesn't?

Re:Why not Debian? (3, Insightful)

jonnythan (79727) | more than 6 years ago | (#23559767)

The fact that you don't have to install to a console-only and not apt-get every package that you want.

Re:Why not Debian? (3, Interesting)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 6 years ago | (#23559775)

This should be true of any distro with a sufficiently advanced package manager and repository system.

Gentoo starts out the simplest, with nothing more than a livecd -- you have to format yourself, unpack a tarball, chroot, and do the bootstrapping, pretty much all by yourself.

Ubuntu has a variant which installs something about as minimal as Debian. You can always install everything else you need -- the bigger variants are as simple as "apt-get install ubuntu-desktop" and such.

Those are the ones I've used extensively. My guess is that the review is about how it all comes together for a specific lightweight UI and such, but I haven't read TFA yet.

Re:Why not Debian? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23560313)

The problem with gentoo is that compiling on a low-spec pc is a complete PITA, if not outright impossible. Yes, it's not just about time, compiling requires a lot of RAM.

DistCC Anyone? (1)

armanox (826486) | more than 6 years ago | (#23560797)

anyone?

Re:DistCC Anyone? (1)

tsalaroth (798327) | more than 6 years ago | (#23561711)

Whenever I did bootstrap builds on Gentoo, I'd always boot every other machine that was setup for dual-boot in the house to help with the compiling. Never had a problem, and it exponentially reduced the compile/link time.

slowest link... (1)

emj (15659) | more than 6 years ago | (#23563491)

Sadly if you are running make on a 500KB/s hardrive and a 10 Mbps ethernet card you are going to be limited by that.

Re:Why not Debian? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 6 years ago | (#23565253)

Look, crappy machines are why we have distcc. If you don't have enough ram to build the gnu toolchain (probably the most demanding part of the whole process) then gentoo is not for you (since without the compiling aspect it's just silly.) But I used to have a K6/2-433 with IIRC 192 MB RAM, and a 20GB disk, and I ran gentoo. With a K6 you really need a specific build (K6 is a brilliant processor standing on its own, but horrible at playing i386) and gentoo is how you get that build.

Re:Why not Debian? (2, Interesting)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 6 years ago | (#23567259)

With a K6 you really need a specific build (K6 is a brilliant processor standing on its own, but horrible at playing i386) and gentoo is how you get that build.
Someone should build Debian for it, then.

That's the thing that I didn't like about Gentoo. I discovered that most of the flexibility advantage that I perceived over other distros boiled down to two things:

First, USE flags. Most of these are things like whether or not to compile Perl support for Vim, or gtk+ support for various packages, etc. I find that, for the most part, Debian-based distros solve this by splitting that functionality into separate packages -- often the extra functionality is in an optional library (plugin-like), which would be difficult to compile separately, so it's in the same Gentoo package -- but is fine for a binary distro.

Plus, I wasn't customizing them that much, other than turning them all on.

Second was, obviously, global optimizations. But the only safe global optimizations are things like -march=whatever. Ubuntu already optimizes for 686, and I have an amd64 -- there aren't going to be many optimizations I can turn on globally. The closest would be things like mplayer, which can autodetect my CPU at runtime anyway.

Most of the other advantages are completely negated by the nature of the beast. If there was a slight speed advantage, maybe -- but I pay for that by spending all those cycles compiling stuff, and besides, that speed advantage is mostly already had by using Ubuntu on amd64. Slight space advantage, maybe with -OS -- but I have to leave enough space to compile things (3 gigs for some things, like OpenOffice), and /usr/portage is bigger than it needs to be, even when I was on Reiser4.

There are things I miss about Gentoo, and I have a very long wish list for any package manager. I'm not saying this to bad-mouth Gentoo, just saying why I think a binary K6 would be useful -- especially when the machine is going to be slow enough that you don't want to be compiling all the time.

Re:Why not Debian? (1)

Workaphobia (931620) | more than 6 years ago | (#23561511)

I got hooked on Gentoo the moment I first emerged kde-base/kdebase-startkde and ended up with a blank, pristine desktop, without even a kicker.

Re:Why not Debian? (1)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 6 years ago | (#23567343)

I don't know what the equivalent would be, but I'm betting you didn't emerge something bigger, like "kde" or "kde-desktop".

And I never bothered to check, but I suspect that it's possible to do the same with Debian. I like kicker, though, so I haven't bothered.

emerge kde? You sadist. (1)

mckinleyn (1288586) | more than 6 years ago | (#23568599)

For my play-around-with machine, I run a desktop I built myself with scavenged parts. I'd consider it approximately equal to an average Windows 2000 machine, or a low, low, low end XP machine. I, too, am (or was) a gentoo user.

Do you KNOW how long emerge kde takes for my machine?

3 days. 72 hours. For the love of God, why is that OK?

Re:emerge kde? You sadist. (1)

Workaphobia (931620) | more than 6 years ago | (#23571867)

Sounds like you emerged the wrong package - kde-meta or whatever it's called, which contains everything under the sun. If you're going to pull in applications you don't want then Gentoo is not at all the right distro to do it in.

kde-base/kdebase-startkde is a minimalist package that only pulls in the core libraries and their dependencies. It basically takes your X server and just does enough to replace the ugly grey x-checkered pattern with a default background, without installing additional common components like kicker, konqueror, or konsole.

I installed this on an AMD Athlon XP / Sempron, 1.2 GHz, 512 MB; it does not take much longer than most other packages.

Re:emerge kde? You sadist. (1)

mckinleyn (1288586) | more than 6 years ago | (#23578771)

It's been a while since I moved away from gentoo, I'm sad to see I did so through my own ignorance. Thanks, I'll be moving back for 2008.0.

Assuming it's not out yet. Haven't been up on my distrowatch.com readings lately.

Re:emerge kde? You sadist. (1)

Workaphobia (931620) | more than 6 years ago | (#23580655)

Meh. They're releasing 2008.0 soon. Gentoo has been in decline for a while, but they got a great kick in the pants when they were shamed in January with the public news of their disencharterment with the state of New Mexico (which has recently been rectified). They've been improving for a while, but I write this just to warn you that it may not be exactly like you remember it.

I'm still sticking with it for my new box. Gotta love that startkde package.

Re:Why not Debian? (2, Interesting)

scipiodog (1265802) | more than 6 years ago | (#23559839)

IMO, the best light weight distribution is Debian. A net installation leaves you with nothing but a console. You can apt-get anything you need, and only what you need.

A similar argument could be made for other distros, including Ubuntu - ie. an install without a GUI.

Why do you need a specific distribution for this? What does the Debian based Damn Small Linux offer me that plain Debian doesn't?

A less resource-hungry GUI by default?

Re:Why not Debian? (0, Troll)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 6 years ago | (#23559975)

I'll see your Debian and raise you a copy of Linux from Scratch. Small, light, and does everything I need it to. :-)

Re:Why not Debian? (2, Insightful)

Orange Crush (934731) | more than 6 years ago | (#23560115)

I'll see your Debian and raise you a copy of Linux from Scratch. Small, light, and does everything I need it to. :-)

I'm unfamiliar with your needs, but if you want to rapidly deploy a reasonably feature complete lightweight OS to a menagerie of older donated/found/sitting in a closet gathering dust computers, it's easier to use a pre-made distro.

Re:Why not Debian? (4, Informative)

owlman17 (871857) | more than 6 years ago | (#23565537)

Why was parent modded troll? My own Linux From Scratch [linuxfromscratch.org] setup weighs in at a little over 100 mb and it includes gcc, perl, python, vim, php, mysql, gtk+, some games, etc.

From the website:

When you install a regular distribution, you often end up installing a lot of programs that you would probably never use. They're just sitting there taking up (precious) disk space. It's not hard to get an LFS system installed under 100 MB. Does that still sound like a lot? A few of us have been working on creating a very small embedded LFS system. We installed a system that was just enough to run the Apache web server; total disk space usage was approximately 8 MB. With further stripping, that can be brought down to 5 MB or less. Try that with a regular distribution.
I'm running mine on a Celeron 366 with 128 mb ram. It took about a full day to compile everything. (Would take far less on a modern machine). Ok, its not for everyone, but its perfect if space is at a premium.

Re:Why not Debian? (1)

KillerBob (217953) | more than 6 years ago | (#23559995)

DSL offers a live CD that's actually usable, supports network, and can be used to get used to the interface, etc.

Personally, I have Zenwalk on my computer. I've been using it for over a year, after switching from Slackware. I love it. :)

Re:Why not Debian? (1)

Orange Crush (934731) | more than 6 years ago | (#23560161)

^My favorite thing about DSL is that (with sufficient memory) it loads the whole shooting match into RAM, so it's quite snappy.

Re:Why not Debian? (1)

emj (15659) | more than 6 years ago | (#23563525)

It's snappy even if you don't load it to ram.. ;-) Sadly DSL is IMHO only useful in emergancies, since none of the included tools are very famliar to me.

I mean using scheme as an Excel replacement, is abit hardcore.

Re:Why not Debian? (1)

Orange Crush (934731) | more than 6 years ago | (#23565645)

I wouldn't use it as a primary general purpose O.S. but it's damn useful as a bag-o-tricks for odds and ends. It's a great little bootdisk with network support for remote drive imaging/restore, it's also great for re-purposing old "dead" PCs into random useful things. One of my more peculiar former bosses wouldn't touch a computer, didn't want to come in to the office, lest pissed investors locate him, and preferred to run the husk of what remained of his company from a speaker phone and fax machine. Anyhoo, I found some old P-IIs in a forgotten junk closet and threw together a DSL image to connect to the office via VPN and act as a print server and a listening VPN client so we could show him powerpoints and crap. As they died, reimage another old box and swap it out.

Re:Why not Debian? (1)

Workaphobia (931620) | more than 6 years ago | (#23561479)

I may give it another shot some time in the future, but the last time I tried a debian install (on my work machine, so I didn't really care as much) the installer didn't even give me the option to choose my desktop environment, sticking me with gnome when I wanted KDE. If there was a way to select individual packages, I didn't see it; instead I got questions like "What kind of machine do you want" with options for Desktop, Web Server, FTP Server, Samba Server, a billion other kinds of "servers", etc.

Of course, Ubuntu's installer is worse. I managed to resize the wrong partition thanks to its ambiguity, as did several of my friends. My point is that minimalist net installations are really the only way to not get screwed over.

Re:Why not Debian? (1)

WhyCause (179039) | more than 6 years ago | (#23562505)

I may give it another shot some time in the future, but the last time I tried a debian install (on my work machine, so I didn't really care as much) the installer didn't even give me the option to choose my desktop environment, sticking me with gnome when I wanted KDE.


There is a reason for that. KDE was (is still?) considered non-free because of its use of the Qt toolkit. Debian is 'pure' in its Freedom, thus you have to install KDE from a non-free repository.

Re:Why not Debian? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23565789)

Qt is licensed under the GPL, and it and KDE are available from the standard Debian repositories. It took me all of 15 seconds to find this information.

Re:Why not Debian? (4, Informative)

Workaphobia (931620) | more than 6 years ago | (#23567247)

Dude, no offense, but what year are you living in? Qt has been free software for a very long time now, even though it wasn't free originally. Gnome is less restrictive since it's licensed under the LGPL, but reciprocal GPL fans can't object to KDE anymore.

Re:Why not Debian? (1)

Sparr0 (451780) | more than 6 years ago | (#23562733)

Damn Small Linux packs a lot more usefulness into the same size as a minimal Debian installation.

Re:Why not Debian? (2, Funny)

mrmeval (662166) | more than 6 years ago | (#23563203)

Can it run on a Pentium 90 laptop with 32meg ram and a 340meg harddrive and be installed with only a couple floppies and wired network card?

Why not? (1)

mckinleyn (1288586) | more than 6 years ago | (#23568649)

Do you realize that there are half a dozen people here who don't see sarcasm? You can almost hear them running to linux from scratch to see how small an OS they can make for you. This is inevitably followed by several dozen other people leaving them comments on the LFS forums about how they would have done it differently. Ahh, /. Where every minor detail becomes a war for geek cred.

I can confirm (1)

DrYak (748999) | more than 6 years ago | (#23575343)

Debian running on a salvaged Dell Lattitude XPi
Pentium1 133Mhz and 24MiB.
Installation done using floppies (didn't manage to use the dock's SCSI) and a 10mpbs connection.

It works although it's a bit slow.
Graphic interface (using fluxbox as desktop environment) is a little bit sluggish (better not start firefox. Dillo can do the job instead).

You were trying to be funny, but some are actually doing it for real.

Re:I can confirm (1)

mrmeval (662166) | more than 6 years ago | (#23578277)

Actually I'm surprised at getting rated funny. I have a Stinkpad P90 that meets those specs but it's running a badly mauled RH 7.3 (botched 7.1 upgrade) and I don't trust it's security so don't let it play in the information freeway.

I was using it as a picture server with dyndns. It works fine. I was able to do an FTP install and will probably have to again with something that will work. I've just been to busy to muck with setting up something.

My current picture server is a rack mount Pentium with the F00F bug, 32 meg but a whole 4 GIG hard drive!!!

Re:Why not Debian? (1)

thatotherguy007 (1021257) | more than 6 years ago | (#23565691)

I must comment that, from what I understand, DSL does chop some code from the standard Debian binaries and compiles for small size.

DSL is ready to go, but I'm with you on Netinstall (1)

itomato (91092) | more than 6 years ago | (#23565815)

DSL has working X, a browser, and some other utilitarian-type apps. There's still a demand for a "ready-to-run", "load it and go" CD-based distro. I have to ask, "Why start with a bunch of junky software that's there just because it's small?"

I'm totally with you on the Netinstall Debian angle. Start small, and 'apt-get' what you need. I built a demo server today in under an hour using that concept. I don't know what the installed footprint is, but I'm betting it's under 500MB. The beauty of this approach lies in apt-get's dependency resolution. You begin with the /bare/ minumum, and apt-get the far-end of what you need, e.g. epiphany.. Apt-get will bring down Xorg, the req'd gtk libs, etc. Hardly more than you really need, and if so, there's always deborphan. The one thing that kept me from posting a fanboy-esque "Netinstall FTW" comment was the 158MB total download. The Business Card install, OTOH, is somewhere around 50!

You can easily install 'live-helper' and roll your own using the same approach if it's a live-cd that you're after..

Arch Linux for me (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23559799)

Arch is a great distro. Sure, you have to do a lot yourself, but that's the point. By making you look over your /etc files at install, you get a good sense about what your system is actually loading during boot.

Re:Arch Linux for me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23568443)

I love Arch. I installed it for the first time in 05 and its been my distro of choice since.

Gentoo User (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23559831)

Did anyone else loose confidence in the writer once he said he was a gentoo user who noticed a big difference in compiling every application...?

Re:Gentoo User (2, Insightful)

Orange Crush (934731) | more than 6 years ago | (#23560291)

No. When you compile every application and dependancy, you tend to skip anything you're not going to use. The pre-made distros load all sorts of processes that a particular user may never touch. Knock those out, and you get noticeable performance gains from freed memory and clock cycles as well as faster boot and shutdown. Just because it's Gentoo and they're compiling their own binaries, doesn't mean they're ricers who think every little compiler flag is going to be some huge performance booster.

Re:Gentoo User (2, Funny)

chunk08 (1229574) | more than 6 years ago | (#23560539)

Did anyone else loose confidence
No, I keep mine chained to the fenceposts at all times.

2 things needed in lightweight linux (2, Interesting)

torpor (458) | more than 6 years ago | (#23559833)


1: Complete Development Toolkit

Yes, thats right, I want a full compiler and development environment, first and foremost .. gcc, gdb, as, ld, cscope, vim, grep, python .. *minimum* ..

2: FULL SOURCE ONBOARD .. and then I want the full source for the complete system onboard as well, so that I can run 'cscope -R -b' on /usr/src and have a fully working, 100% open source system, with its source on board, on a USB stick. Everything configured already so that 'make install' goes to my working image, etc.

No, don't bother arguing with me .. I'm already working on it ..

Re:2 things needed in lightweight linux (2, Funny)

Gazzonyx (982402) | more than 6 years ago | (#23559967)

You mean, you're remaking Slackware? *ducks*

Re:2 things needed in lightweight linux (2, Funny)

chunk08 (1229574) | more than 6 years ago | (#23560489)

Why are there always these offtopic references to "ducks" at the end of otherwise humorous posts?

Re:2 things needed in lightweight linux (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23560753)

Are you seriously asking or just pretending to not know?

Re:2 things needed in lightweight linux (3, Funny)

rts008 (812749) | more than 6 years ago | (#23561649)

Because ducks are funny. It's like putting icing on the cake, or something.
It also encourages the continuation of funny ducks.
Where would we be without Donald Duck, Daffy Duck, or Howard the Duck?

*ducks*

Re:2 things needed in lightweight linux (1)

fwarren (579763) | more than 6 years ago | (#23562871)

Because most slashdotters cant spell mallard.

Re:2 things needed in lightweight linux (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23566477)

Just in case you want a serious answer: after making a bad joke (in poor taste, or just plain poor), a standup comedian might have to duck his head down to avoid getting hit by the rotten tomatoes...

Re:2 things needed in lightweight linux (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23567111)

So the comedian is supposed to put a duck on his head? Fascinating.

Re:2 things needed in lightweight linux (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23567933)

Yggdrasil! Bring back Yggdrasil!

Re:2 things needed in lightweight linux (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23560011)

How is what you describe different from Gentoo? Everything is built from source so the build chain and the source are all there already

Re:2 things needed in lightweight linux (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 6 years ago | (#23560419)

that won't be lightweight, will be hundreds of megabytes.

Re:2 things needed in lightweight linux (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23560837)

Slackware is the best out there because it doesn't separate documentation and development libs from their package.
Debian like distributions makes me feel like crying a little because say, you want to develop software for kde, you'll have to get kdebase, kdebase-dev, kdebase-doc and so on. Slackware packages are all in one. You install a .tgz, it has the doc, it has what it needs if you want to link to it and it has the software.

Re:2 things needed in lightweight linux (1)

AmonEzhno (1276076) | more than 6 years ago | (#23561593)

Please, a lot of major distros don't have that. Ubuntu doesn't even have gcc by default!

First hand review (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23568977)

I came through this problem when I bought ThinkPad 560X. With 32 mb and no internet connection, I was so badly stuck, since half of these live cds won't even boot. I should add that with so many multitude of problems, I wanted to see which distro lets me get through with least of problems. Here is what I found:

Damn Small Linux: really small, but I was unable to get gcc working. Comes with many bells and whistles.

DSL-N           : Same problems. Runs like molasses on a slow computer.

Debian woody    : I installed it, but without internet connection, the installation sucks.

Debian sarge    : Couldn't boot it. Suffers from same problem.

Ubuntu/Mandriva : Memory too low.

Gentoo          : No thanks.

Slackware 11.0  : Downloaded the dvd - comes with precompiled packages and source-code. Works flawlessly. I installed from a floppy. You can install basic packages + whole development packages + a lot of bells and whistles within 400 mb.

Slackware 12.1  : No floppy installation, otherwise almost same as 11.0.

My advice? Get Slackware 11.0 if you are stuck with Floppy - otherwise get Slackware 12.0 - and nothing requires internet connection.

DSL may be ugly, but it gets the job done (2, Interesting)

langelgjm (860756) | more than 6 years ago | (#23559911)

I agree with his statement that DSL can be pretty ugly, but it's very lightweight. I studied abroad for a semester and didn't bring a computer with me, but found an ancient Pentium-1 era machine that was being thrown out. It had Windows 95 on it, which would have been utterly useless; with DSL, I was able to plug a USB wifi dongle in it and get it working with ndiswrapper. Plus, if I remember correctly, DSL is based on Debian, so you can easily install the stuff it doesn't have (movie player, etc) with apt-get.

Re:DSL may be ugly, but it gets the job done (2, Insightful)

thsths (31372) | more than 6 years ago | (#23560229)

> I agree with his statement that DSL can be pretty ugly, but it's very lightweight. I studied abroad for a semester and didn't bring a computer with me, but found an ancient Pentium-1 era machine that was being thrown out.

Yes, I used DSL for similar situations, too. However, I have a spare Athlon XP plus board, a spare Nvidia 5200, and I am sure there should be a memory bar with 256 MB somewhere. You can put these in any ATX case, and make a damn fine Linux installation with the distribution of your choice. So for me, the days of messing about with DSL are over.

I could not live without LyX and LaTeX anyway. Sure, back in the days I did LaTeX on a 386SX with 2 MB of RAM and a dos extender. And you can still edit using LyX (or XEmacs) on a pretty small machine. But running LaTeX and acroread without a good amount of memory is just painful.

Re:DSL may be ugly, but it gets the job done (1)

Awptimus Prime (695459) | more than 6 years ago | (#23560393)

Good luck decoding and playing back video in mplayer on a pentium1. Mine had trouble with mp3 files. The stock distribution of debian should have worked fine, so getting DSL seems kind of an odd choice here.

It's probably wise to ditch any P1 era machine unless it's absolutely needed and there's no other hardware to run. Those systems drink a lot of electricity for the amount of work they get done.

Re:DSL may be ugly, but it gets the job done (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 6 years ago | (#23561661)

A P1 will do just fine for some tasks even now. A firewall, maybe a NAS. I would tend to stick to at least a PII.
As to the power for watts. Remember most PCs today spend a large amount of their time waiting. Only renderfarms and HPC worry about peak MIPS per watt.

Re:DSL may be ugly, but it gets the job done (1)

Awptimus Prime (695459) | more than 6 years ago | (#23565711)

I'd prefer at least a P3 for firewalls (way more efficient). a P1 would be able to handle a fairly small ruleset but if you want to do anything slightly more advanced, like running snort, it's not doing to keep up with much more than a home broadband connection. Your consumption vs what you are getting done would make just running Linux on a WRT54G router, or similar equipment, much more feasible.

Beyond the processor, the rest of the old equipment associated are the power suckers.

Re:DSL may be ugly, but it gets the job done (1)

jvin248 (1147821) | more than 6 years ago | (#23638447)

Most P1's don't have the "energy star" ratings... and can be problematic to idle HDDs or go into standby. The PIIs and newer will generally be better about this (I swapped out a P1 motherboard for a PII because the NAS software at the time couldn't spin down the HDD's with the P1).

However, if you build a NAS (like FreeNAS.org) or router (pfsense/monowall) on a stripped out computer it will use something like 32watts or less running (I just finished a pfsense AP on a PII-300Mhz and this was a real reading using a Kill-a-watt unit), and with idle I've had thin clients (LTSP.org) down to 15watts in sleep mode. A dedicated newly purchased router might only be 12-15watts (but that assumes you "recycled" the old unit and spent how much energy manufacturing and shipping the new router?).

The new pc builders also demand 400-500Watt power supplies as "you have to have that much for peak performance" - then they laugh at anyone trying to use a 200Watt ps with modern power hungry CPU's, but 200watt is what was in the P1's and PII's.

Re:DSL may be ugly, but it gets the job done (1)

snarfies (115214) | more than 6 years ago | (#23560415)

What are you talking about, it would have been useless? In 1995 I didn't have a dual-core powerhouse - I didn't even have a Pentium I, I was just out of high school and broke. I used Windows 95 on a 486 DX4/100, and you know what? It worked pretty well.

Re:DSL may be ugly, but it gets the job done (1)

langelgjm (860756) | more than 6 years ago | (#23561211)

This was Fall 2006. Sure, back in 1996, I was using Windows 95 on a 486 too. My point was that Windows 95 on today's internet is pretty much useless. There wouldn't have even been drivers for the WiFi dongle I had. Installing DSL not only saved me some space on the tiny 4 GB HDD, it also allowed me to connect to a wireless network with a modern dongle.

Re:DSL may be ugly, but it gets the job done (2, Interesting)

Richard Steiner (1585) | more than 6 years ago | (#23561551)

I built my main desktop box in November 1996 (Micron Millenia Pro2 Plus, a PPro/200 w/64MB since expanded to 192MB).

It runs Firefox 1.5.0.12 under Warp 4 FP15 just fine, and dual-boots to Win95 OSR2 which also runs Firefox 1.5.0.12 just fine. Multitasking under Warp is much snoother, of course, but both platforms are able to play music, handle javascript, handle most Firefox plugins, run Java programs, and even do Flash stuff as long as it isn't too CPU-intensive (YouTube is not an option, sadly). Thunderbird 1.5.0.xx also runs just fine, albeit a little slowly at startup time.

Such hardware is also easily to run lightweight Linux distros like Puppy 2/3/4, DSL, Austrami, Feather Linux, and others. Remember that Mandake 8.2 running KDE 2.2 was designed to run on such boxes, and it was hardly a light distro at the time.

The internet, useless on such hardware? Not really, as long as you don't do video. :-)

Usability Issues - Hardware, Bloatware (1)

billstewart (78916) | more than 6 years ago | (#23576737)

There are really two separate issues for usability - does the machine and OS support the hardware you need, and does it support the software applications you need or want with acceptable performance?


For hardware, if the machine's got an Ethernet card and you're satisfied with the graphics resolution, and have enough disk space, you're fine. You won't be adding wireless cards that didn't have drivers back in the day, and lack of USB can be annoying (and my old P133 laptop has pre-Cardbus PCMCIA slots, so those are pretty much ruled out as well), and if you don't have enough RAM it's probably cheaper to buy a new motherboard than a lot of older-format RAM. But the machine was blazingly fast back when you bought it... even if it can't play MPEGs today.


Bloated software's a somewhat different issue - I won't say that Netscape 2.0 was a great system, but it could do basic web browsing back then and still can. You'll have trouble with Flash-heavy web pages, and maybe some Javascript, and you won't be able to open 50 tabs in the background of your browser unless you find an older version of Opera which will have no trouble (remember when Opera fit on half a floppy disk?) And CSS probably won't work, so web sites won't come out with the exact same font size that the web designer wanted, but they were never supposed to.


Does all of this mean that when my PII-233 had a big purple flash from the motherboard a few years ago and let the blue smoke escape, I went looking for another PII to replace it? No :-) - I bought a Celeron-2400 or something about like that, which was below average for new hardware at the time but has done just fine, with occasional upgrades to RAM and disk.

Re:DSL may be ugly, but it gets the job done (1)

Thelasko (1196535) | more than 6 years ago | (#23561587)

Wait a minute! A Pentium-1 machine with Windows 95 and USB? That is a pretty lucky find.

I remember upgrading my old P-1 to be USB capable and having to upgrade to Windows 98 because Windows 95 wasn't compatible without installing massive amounts of service packs. I figure your machine must have been a top of the line model of late 1996 or early 1997 because if it was earlier, USB [wikipedia.org] wouldn't be supported by Windows 95 [wikipedia.org] . Any later and it would have been a Pentium-2. [wikipedia.org]

Should have included FreeBSD. :) (4, Insightful)

argent (18001) | more than 6 years ago | (#23560043)

No, really, I'd like to see a comparison, because the basic FreeBSD install without Gnome or KDE is pretty small, and it's what I'm used to, so I'd like to see how he compared it to these supposedly small Linux distros, since I'm doing more Linux in my new job.

Re:Should have included FreeBSD. :) (1)

emj (15659) | more than 6 years ago | (#23560235)

FreeBSD doesn't fit the profile, but if you have anything based on FreeBSD that is specifically made for small computers and with a desktop. I think this is what makes all those small Linux dists special, they try really hard to fit alot of things into a small space.

QNX set the bar pretty high in this area with their browser+OS on a single floppy..

Re:Should have included FreeBSD. :) (1)

argent (18001) | more than 6 years ago | (#23560917)

Have you installed FreeBSD? The installer doesn't use X11, and you don't even need to install X11... most of my FreeBSD installs don't include X11... they're all servers. BSD is based around a core OS that's pretty much only what eny usable UNIX system is going to need, and everything else, including the desktop, is optional. I don't know if you can still build PicoBSD (a super-stripped derivitive of FreeBSD) on a 2.0 Mo floppy, and it's sure not QNX+Photon... you can't shrink X11 down as small as Photon... but it's pretty tight.

Which is why I think it does fit the profile, and why I'm interested. These distros seem to me to be more like BSD than the typical desktop Linux.

see other reply. (1)

emj (15659) | more than 6 years ago | (#23563445)

<-- batman provided links, So I'll comment there.

All that is true for most Linux distributions as well, but many servers can very well have use for X11 even though they are headless. Maybe you want to play XBattle with your friends.

Just thought I would give some refs, not sure why.. ;-) Debian boots easily with 30MB memory [coker.com.au] , and with LVM and module loading disabled it needs 13MB.

Re:see other reply. (1)

argent (18001) | more than 6 years ago | (#23568889)

So sad, how kernels have bloated. :)

The machine I used to put together 386BSD patchkit 23 had 4M RAM. And that felt like all the room in the world! At work we still had some multiuser development boxes with less than a megabyte at the time. I used it as a webserver on the Internet until 1999, when I discovered I would need a minimum of 5MB to install the new version of FreeBSD (though it would still run in less, it needed space for the compressed in-ram root partition). FIVE WHOLE MEGABYTES? INCONCEIVABLE!

(Don't talk to me about Vista)

Re:Should have included FreeBSD. :) (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 6 years ago | (#23561239)

FreeBSD doesn't fit the profile

Whatchoo' talkin' 'bout, Willis? Have you never heard of NanoBSD [freebsd.org] and TinyBSD [tinybsd.org] ?

Not to mention Damn Small BSD [damnsmallbsd.org] , M0n0wall [m0n0.ch] , and the FreeBSD LiveCD [sourceforge.net] . (Among others.)

BSD has had a history of focusing on compactness. Something which evolved on the Linux side out of necessity rather than as a stated goal. I don't know what the size of a fully modern FreeBSD installation is, but a basic install used to be as little as 60 megs. Heck, I remember running a fully-featured desktop system off of a 300MB drive. (With swap!) I imagine that if you install a basic BSD distribution and a lightweight desktop, you could easily reach a usable system for under 300 megs. You shouldn't even need the latest in hardware. :-)

FreeBSD is metal if Linux is hard core (1)

emj (15659) | more than 6 years ago | (#23563289)

I'll comment your response, since argent didn't include links.

FreeBSD have a lot of virtues, but you still haven't shown me anything that is even comparable to the small Linux distributions reviewed in this article. I see a lot of tools to make those Live CDs, but no effort to actually build a usable live CD for ordinary people. I might be wrong, please do prove me wrong.

<prejudice+experience> This is the saddest part of *BSD, there's so many cool things, but so little will to make it accessibly. *BSD is all about hand building everything, patching your SCSI drivers to get them working etc.</prejudice+experience> The Live CDs mentioned in the article are supposed to just work.

Everything can be made small, the first time I did a install of Linux on a machine I owned I had 80MB to play with, that worked very fine, I could even compile everything. If I wanted to compile the Linux kernel I had to do remove x11 and reinstall it afterwards, so it was tight. What I want to say is that everything is possible it's just a question about how much work you want to do, and reinstalling X everytime you want to recompile your kernel isn't that nice.

LiveCD is a bit of a red herring. (1)

argent (18001) | more than 6 years ago | (#23569089)

I see a lot of tools to make those Live CDs, but no effort to actually build a usable live CD for ordinary people.

The Fine Article isn't about LiveCD installs, so that's a bit of a red herring. CD drives have so much latency that about the only way I've found a LiveCD really usable as a desktop is if I'm running it in a VM from an ISO image on disk... and while some of these CDs are "liveCDs", they're not being used that way in the article.

So setting that aside, if you want a big old KDE desktop running FreeBSD, look at DesktopBSD.

If you want a small distro, then FreeBSD itself is a small distro. It's not ad friendly as Kubuntu, but if you read the article then neither are many of the tiny Linux distros reviewed... in fact some of them seem a good deal less friendly than FreeBSD which comes with a solid text-mode package manager by default.

That was my point. Going by the article itself, some of these distros seemed to be no-nonsense setups that put you in a decent small environment. That hasn't been my experience with popular Linux distros... they either are trying to be Windows, or they're trying to be Slackware 0.1.

PS: 80MB? Luxury! When I installed my first BSD system of my own, my home server was a PC running System V, I had two 10 or 20 MB hard disks and I sacrificed one to the cause and put 386BSD on it. I couldn't build the whole system, so I went through and patched /usr/src until "make world" worked, and that became Patchkit 23 for 386BSD. :)

Xubuntu (4, Informative)

thsths (31372) | more than 6 years ago | (#23560069)

Xubuntu is quite ok as a small distribution, but I think you would reasonably want 256 MB for it. Firefox 3 certainly uses a lot less memory than firefox 2, and that is quite important for me. And of course you need Adblock, because there is just way too much resource consuming Javascript out there.

In general the start-up and shut-down process could be faster, though. I guess this is down to an the old laptop disk.

Xubuntu on a Celeron 466 w/ 256MB (3, Insightful)

the_rajah (749499) | more than 6 years ago | (#23560595)

I just installed Xubuntu 8.04 on that setup this weekend and it works OK. Hardly lightening fast feeling after coming off a c2d with 2 Gigs of RAM, but definitely usable. It's going into the guest room for, well, guests to use if they didn't bring a laptop of their own. Usually guests only need a browser, so it's perfect. If they need to print something, I've got networked printers.

Re:Xubuntu (1)

Jorophose (1062218) | more than 6 years ago | (#23565219)

I use Xubuntu 6.06 on a Celeron 500MHz, integrated intel video that seems to be dying, and 192MB of RAM...

Far from lightning fast; boot up is about a minute. It also takes a fair 7 seconds to have my desktop working, but GAIM & Opera 9.27 are autostarted, and I'm using a Murrine theme... If I had a video card and was running XFWM with compositing it'd be quicker... But no room for that in a silly Dell computer.

Overall it's very nice if you have enough RAM. Even though Xfce by itself uses 60MB according to Conky it can climb quickly enough. To be honest I never feel bottlenecked CPU-wise but occasionally I start to get quite near the 180MB level with a lot hitting swap, especially when trying to run those two apps & inkscape or firefox2 with some flash stuff...

Still planning to try out Debian though, because 6.06 is archaic and to be honest I don't have enough CDs to keep up with ubuntu's upgrade treadmill.

NetBSD (2, Insightful)

lgbr (700550) | more than 6 years ago | (#23560795)

I use this [imil.net] NetBSD distribution. The download is about 63 MBytes, and runs incredibly smoothly off of an old 128 MB flash drive that I have laying around. It comes with X and the Ion3 window manager. Of course since it's NetBSD, it runs on damn near anything. Even more impressive, it detects all of the hardware on my Thinkpad T41, even my wireless. Need a new package? Grab the tarball from the pkgsrc repository, drop it onto the usb stick, and it'll be loaded at next boot.

It's not easy to use for your typical windows user, but since there is no fluff, it comes naturally to any unix user. As another plus, it comes with links and ssh. Just enough for me to be productive, but not enough for me to get caught up in YouTube as I do so often at work.

Each distro reviewed has a nice niche (4, Insightful)

masinick (130975) | more than 6 years ago | (#23561409)

I think that DSL has a great niche working with really old hardware. The only distro I know of that is still actively being developed that is smaller than DSL is SliTaZ - very interesting, but very new.

DSL has an old 2.4 kernel, an old Firefox browser, but you can count on it to work with old stuff.

Puppy works with pretty old stuff, but really shines when you load it into RAM on equipment made within the past three years. Wireless support is something that Puppy handles better than DSL.

Zenwalk has a relatively unknown, but fast package manager called Netpkg and a snappy implementation of the XFCE desktop. Derived from an earlier implementation of Minislack, Zenwalk comes out of a stable Slackware heritage. With a fast package manager and a fast desktop implementation, Zenwalk carves a nice niche out of the Slackware landscape.

Arch Linux really is another distribution that once grew out of the Slackware space and has now come into its own with the pacman and AUR package management tools and the idea of giving you total and complete flexibility to build exactly and only what you want. It aims for simplicity rather than coddling the user with its own notion of ease of use. People really either love Arch Linux or avoid it for these very reasons.

Xubuntu is an easy to use system with very current software from the Hardy Heron Ubuntu project, replacing GNOME with XFCE on the desktop. Good solid stable software with excellent wireless network configuration.

TinyME is brand new, as far as a Version 1.0 implementation, but the project has been going on for a couple of years now as a community supported effort to provide lighter versions of the well regarded PCLinuxOS software. This one uses OpenBox instead of KDE. Like other PCLinuxOS systems, it really benefits from the good hardware detection algorithms from Mandriva and the solid packaging from "TexStar", expert RPM packager and founder of PCLinuxOS.

As you can see, each of the distributions mentions has a nice niche. They won't all be appealing to everyone, but each of them is solid in several respects - certainly a credit to the modularity of both Linux and GNU software.

What, no SLAX or NimbleX? (3, Insightful)

temcat (873475) | more than 6 years ago | (#23561469)

A pity that the author didn't review these two. Not only they are they compact and snappy, but they also include the full-featured KDE desktop environment. I couldn't believe how fast they are when I tried them as LiveCDs - and they can be installed on HD, too!

Build from source anyone? (1)

pravuil (975319) | more than 6 years ago | (#23561485)

Everybody has their own flavor for support but does anyone do this anymore besides LFS and the hardcore hackers?

Xubuntu Arch? (3, Insightful)

kevind23 (1296253) | more than 6 years ago | (#23561809)

Sorry, but Ubuntu or any of its derivatives do NOT qualify as "lightweight". I find it amusing that Arch was rated towards the end of the list, most likely because they couldn't figure out how to install it.

Archlinux (1)

ruinevil (852677) | more than 6 years ago | (#23562165)

I am an Archlinux user right now... but if you listed all these on the IQ test from yesterday, and asked me what doesn't belong in the group, I would right Archlinux. They compared X booting live-cd distributions to Archlinux. Maybe he should try FaunOS?

Another One in the list: Mandriva XfceLive (2, Informative)

imr (106517) | more than 6 years ago | (#23563781)

You can find its wiki page here (With the download links):
http://wiki.mandriva.com/en/XfceLive [mandriva.com]

Here is a review:
http://beranger.org/index.php?page=diary&2008/05/05/06/45/29-mandriva-linux-one-2008-spring-x [beranger.org]

It's a community version but its package selection is in the official Mandriva tool to build LiveCD ( http://wiki.mandriva.com/en/Draklive [mandriva.com] ) .

Old computer speed and path. (1)

NeoDot (639313) | more than 6 years ago | (#23572409)

The thing is, you can just about beg for a (free) faster system (hardware). Even though I hate software bloat, there's no substitute for a faster hard drive, more memory etc. Running Puppy for speed on a new(ish) system; not slow hardware, is interesting. Yet, it all comes back to what you want. All these package management choices, while freedom, do not measure up (for me) to the deb based ubuntu system and packages. I prefer Kubuntu but Gnome is fine too. I've done the Xubuntu thing and I have zero use for it compared to Kubuntu. You know, you can just use Konqueror as your browser to save memory. Konq shares with KDE, so it's more efficient. Currently, I'm optimizing Kubuntu. You see, what about dynamic progression? By the time I got DSL, Puppy, Absolute, AntiX (a good one) set up; the way I liked it, it was time to move on. None of these system are as easily upgradeable as *ubuntu. I think the best success I had slummin' on old boxes (A bad habit of mine indeed) was to install the *ubuntu base and add icewm and many other little things, in order to keep the speed up (avoid disk thrashing at all costs.) I have done GUI internet browsing with 24MB RAM! Now that's hard!!! Trust me, you'll probably like icewm and the SilverXP theme for your best light weight, GUI, window manager. If you go through it's easy text settings, you can make it look anyway you wish. You might find a pre-done settings file and pop that in First. In the end, you can have some speed on really old boxes but you will want more memory (if possible) and it will never win many converts compared to Kubuntu and at least 384MB RAM.

Addenum (1)

NeoDot (639313) | more than 6 years ago | (#23572797)

I also like the greater hardware compatibility with an *ubuntu base. Use the alternate CD. *ubuntu base plus icewm is the lowest and best solution for 32MB to 256MB RAM. Sorry Fluxbox lovers. Yes, Flux is good too, it's just more "different" to me. I know it's because I'm used to seeing things a certain way and I don't care. I think most new users will like icewm ONCE thy realize, they can edit the simple text file to move stuff around on the task bar (etc..) Yes, you will have to tweak it a little more than a live solution such as Puppy but you get a better system fit (for you and your hardware,) better upgrade ability and better compatibility. Yes, you can use a Debian base but the bottom line is, it's more work. So the real question is, how much geek work (time) do you want to spend on a box that while it can be made to get the job done (depending on the job you want done,) it will not be subjectively "better" than a newer system with Kubuntu. Step one, really improve the hardware, as much as possible. More RAM. Faster HD. Better (auto magic time saving) devices that are KNOWN to work. For example, I have two old USB Wifi units with decent antennas (on the end of the USB cable runs) that JUST WORK, only on *ubuntu and with Zero setup time! NDISwrapper is great and all, but it takes up time.

More (1)

NeoDot (639313) | more than 6 years ago | (#23573129)

Well, with 256MB I'd probably go ahead and do a custom tweaked Kubuntu. But before I'd do Xubuntu, I'd drop down to the *ubuntu base + icewm. For the pure speed of it. It can rival the speed of newly purchased systems! This is subjective but I'd further specify: less than 32MB I'd not bother (my choice). 32MB to 128MB icewm (on *ubuntu base) 128MB to 192MB icewm or maybe play with a Puppy live CD (but which one?) It would load into RAM! 256MB (maybe 192MB if shared video didn't eat it up) and up I'd make Kubuntu lean; if below the Kubuntu recommended min of 384MB. turn of unused services, etc. Of course, higher memory can play with a Puppy CD also. But my main production system would definitely be Kubuntu if RAM alowed. Notes: You can run more than one window or desktop manager but your upgrades may go more slowly. You can follow online guides to go back to pure Kubuntu(or others) and speed up those upgrades. Everyone (and their computer) is different so you get to decide what fits you best. I've had a fair an actual experience on many differing old laptops and desktops. I just want to save you some time. While you can make just about anything work, working fast is more challenging. All this and I didn't even get into dominate CLI use, There are non-gui uses for old boxes you MIGHT want to explore but I'm talking GUI here.

What's a recommendation for a web server distro? (1)

mjamil (318631) | more than 6 years ago | (#23578641)

What if I only want to run Apache (well, let's future-proof that statement and say a full LAMP stack)? Keeping in mind the need to patch regularly to avoid security problems (and thus having access to a yum or apt equivalent; not source code), what's a lightweight distro you folks would recommend? I would want to run this in a VM, but I don't think that imposes any additional requirements.

Re:What's a recommendation for a web server distro (1)

jvin248 (1147821) | more than 6 years ago | (#23638645)

Go with Ubuntu "server-install" - better updates to future-protect yourself. Hardcore-types might fiddle with Debian, FreeBSD, Gentoo, etc. But there is a growing userbase of the X/K/Ubuntu's that provide many hints and fixes and forums to get and keep you going.

Look for 'perfect server' setups on google. here's an older version of Ubuntu LAMP setup http://ubuntuguide.org/wiki/Ubuntu:Edgy/Servers [ubuntuguide.org]

WMs for light distros & their poor Menu update (1)

jvin248 (1147821) | more than 6 years ago | (#23638837)

One of the problems with many of the light distros is you load up a program and there isn't a quick nor obvious way to add the program to the "start menu"... Some do automatically, but most of the lighter ones you have to go searching... /bin..nope.. /sbin...nope...nope...not there... etc.

I did a Xubuntu install recently and then loaded up many of the lighter weight window managers via apt-get to try them out ( I was going to do another install so I wasn't worried about borking the system). Enlightenment, fluxbox, flwm, icewm, jwm, openbox, and saphire. Plan was to do a server install and an alternate WM.

A couple of them I liked, but I ended up back at Xfce on standard Xubuntu because it still had the best (of the lighter WMs) program finding menu without a bunch of internet searches to find the "tricks". Though Xfce is not as good for menus as KDE (so when recommending someone upgrade their old PC to try out Linux I have them start with Kubuntu).
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