Sunday, August 4, 2013

Lubuntu: One Honkin Fast Lean Mean Distro

by Dietrich Schmitz

You know, when you look in the Linux parts bin, you see bolt-on guis like KDE, Unity (only Ubuntu), Xfce, LXDE, Enlightenment, Gnome3. And you see a division of packaged Distributions along Gentoo's Emerge, Arch Linux Pacman, Red Hat RPM, and Debian deb package systems (those are the major players).  Everything else at Distrowatch is combinations and permutations of the aforementioned parts with different philosophies regarding File Hierarchical Structure, and release management strategies combined with various community governance models.

That's fine and once you've sorted that out, you'll realize there is a lot of chaff.  To varying degrees, you'll find some Distros are good and some less so and only a few with real good support behind them.

I've told you about which Distros will be around in five years and so the base Distros are most likely to be left standing while the others will have end of life'd officially or simply will lose support by attrition and die off due to lack of maintenance.

The other day I switched from Netrunner Enigma to Lubuntu 13.04.  Let me tell you, my opinion of Lubuntu has risen significantly since my last experience a few years ago.  Lubuntu is an Ubuntu derivative, of course, but based on the LXDE desktop gui.

In it's out of the box form, Lubuntu isn't super sexy but it really is a pleasure to use and has 'the basics' in place.  The memory footprint is small enough that any machine running Windows XP (due to expire in 2014) will be an excellent candidate for Lubuntu.  With less than 4GB disk space needed and a ram footprint of about 170MB ram, Lubuntu will reanimate any machine older than 5 (even 10) years and save you from the needed hardware upgrade you may have thought would be necessary.

I am using Lubuntu on my Acer Aspire One D260 with 2GB ram and the only thing I did post install was to add GIMP, preload, zRAM, glances, Chrome and Guake.  (zRAM will be present in the Lubuntu 13.10 edition by default.)  That's it.  My needs are covered.


  • Based on the lightweight LXDE desktop environment.
  • Pcmanfm, a fast and lightweight files manager using gio/gvfs.
  • Openbox, the fast and extensible, default windows-manager of LXDE.
  • Lightdm, using the simple GTK greeter
  • Chromium, the open-source version of Google Chrome.
  • ... and, of course, based on Ubuntu 13.04.
See the complete list of applications on

Lubuntu 13.04 (Raring Ringtail) Desktop

The main advantage to using Lubuntu is that it benefits from having the Ubuntu repository.  If you were wondering which repo between RPM vs DEB is best, DEB wins hands down on total packaged apps.  Personally, I miss YUM but it's a trade-off and DEB simply tips the scale.

[ Edit: 8/5/2013 9:00am GMT-5 I am inserting information about Compton from Lubuntu's blog site (directly below).  It's almost an oversight not to mention it.  Compton is easy to install and puts LXDE on equal footing with Xfce's compositing capability. ]

Compton Shadow Effects (and more)

From the Lubuntu blog howto on Compton:

Compton is a standalone lightweight compositor for X (the graphic server on Linux systems). It provides 2D graphical acceleretaion and this allow us to drop shadows under the windows, make elements fade as they (dis)appear, draw (semi)transparent menús and notifications, etc.

Follow the how-to's instructions and you'll have compositing in a jiffy.

Lubuntu with Compton compositing effects installed

So, if you are like me and looking for a Distro that will be supported in five years and will keep your aging PC going, then please have a look at Lubuntu.  It gets the job done and is deceptively quick.

I would add that it's speed approaches that of CrunchBang.  It's that quick, which I was happy to find.

Also, and just as an aside, the LXDE upstream developer team are now actively working on a port of GTk-based LXDE to Qt, named LXDE-Qt.  Joining them and merging their project is Razor-Qt, so I expect to see good things in the near future from LXDE and naturally downstream Lubuntu will benefit greatly.

Anyhow, check out Lubuntu.  It's a true sleeper and a gem.

-- Dietrich
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