Monday, October 14, 2013

Notable Ubuntu Derivatives

by Dietrich Schmitz

So, you may or may not know that I am not a fan of Ubuntu. Let's leave the reasons out. It has become tedious and the topic of why is painfully boring at this stage of the game.

But despite what is or isn't happening with Ubuntu, depending on your point of view, much is happening elsewhere and that is fortunately a 'good thing' for the prospective Linux user.

I have spent much time discussing how I feel about the plethora of choices in the Linux ecosystem which is to the point of creating confusion and many inconsistencies across the spectrum.

But that doesn't keep me from seeing value in a narrower segment and if we look at core Distributions close to the base Distros, there is good work being put forth by Developers which in the case of Ubuntu is fostering a thriving Derivative environment.

Those who seek value know that anchoring to the Ubuntu application repository is perhaps their highest criterion for choosing one Distro over another.  On the other hand, those who are avoiding Ubuntu, are likely motivated to find an alternative GUI which let's them feel most comfortable in terms of usability and provides the best balance of functionality.

Let's look at some of what I see as being notable Ubuntu core derivative Distros:


Now, I list Lubuntu first, not by accident.  It is truly as lean a Distribution as one can get yet still enjoy a good GUI feature set on top of the Ubuntu repo system.  It also happens to be the Distro of my choice.  I stray from it sampling others but keep returning to it.  But my preferences are subjective, since I am using a Netbook.  Yours will likely differ.  If you want a clean and spartan Desktop, which is straight forward and gets out of your way so you can do work, then Lubuntu succeeds.  I've made only minor tweaks turning off the power saver deamon and update notifier and arrive at the Desktop after login with about 130mb ram footprint.  And by virtue of the fact that LXDE in this implementation is using OpenBox as its window (stacking) manager, it is perhaps the fastest Desktop.  (CrunchBangers hold your fire -- this is strictly Ubuntu Derivatives being discussed).

Bodhi Linux

This is perhaps one of the most minimal (ram usage) yet nicest in terms of compositing Distros that I've come across.  Bodhi Linux uses Enlightenment E17 as its GUI.  I am amazed at how much breadth and depth there is to its configurability, yet it weighs in at a mere 70 MB ram footprint.  If you are in love with E17, then this Distro is for you.  This is a capable, nimble derivative, offers much eye candy, yet keeps you in the Ubuntu repo.


If it weren't for Lubuntu with the OpenBox window manager, I think I'd be using Xubuntu.  Really, the polish of Xfce is a cut above LXDE, and yet, isn't greedy in ram use.  It has its own compositor, the system is spritely and will satisfy by getting the job done with little fanfare.  It and LXDE 'side-step' the XMir/Mir kerfuffle, both using Gtk2/3 and so give that Gnome 'feel' yet are less demanding of the cpu.  As Wayland approaches a stable plateau, expect to see both Lubuntu and Xubuntu transition from to Wayland.  For now, continues to be supported, which is 'peace of mind' for many.


Many Windows users will find Kubuntu's similarities most to their liking.  Kubuntu uses KDE, of course, and is considered 'Top Dog' to which others Desktop GUIs are compared.  The KDE team fully intend to support going forward and will offer an on-ramp to Wayland in future releases.  You can expect that your 'Apple cart won't be upset' using the strategy of employing a KDE-based Distro.  And, given that Kubuntu is an Ubuntu derivative with commercial support, places you strategically 'in the game' and makes it a safe bet.  The plethora of feature options boggles the mind, but most users will be satisfied with how Kubuntu works out of the box.  While demands placed on ram requirements is a bit higher, one can easily trim away some of the fancier features such as compositing with one setting change to reclaim ram and some additional speed on older PCs or Netbooks.  Kubuntu's aesthetics please and reliability gets the job done -- overall, a nice implementation.


In July 2013, I wrote that Netrunner-OS offers the best out of the box KDE experience of all Linux Distributions.  The Distro coincidentally is produced by Blue Systems whose team is also directly responsible for doing key development for KDE.  Blue Systems contributes also to Kubuntu and Linux Mint KDE edition.

Peppermint OS

Just this weekend, I was spurred by a story about Peppermint OS that wrote how this Distro was a Lubuntu derivative.  It turns out, that is not exactly true -- while it does use LXDE components, it uses the Xfwm4 window manager and many of its supporting components.  So while it sports an lxpanel, I would qualify this as weighted to the Xfce side of things.  Still, I found the implementation to be spritely, clean, professional in its presentation and as good as Xubuntu in terms of overall characteristics and performance.  This is somewhat hybrid but it works well.  Kudos to the Peppermint OS team for a good job and offering real value.


When thinking about notable Ubuntu derivatives, I considered whether or not to include Mint.  I think to include Mint would be wrong.

Mint is in its own league and, as such, given top ranking at Distrowatch (#1), and not what I would qualify as an Ubuntu derivative.

To some extent, it can be argued that their package management system is different, including service packs.  I haven't really heard complaints about Mint.  Most everybody likes it.  But that's why I chose not to list it.  They are a cut above Ubuntu.  So really, that's a hat tip to the Mint Developer Team.

Well, there it is -- a few notable Ubuntu derivatives.  It's hard to get me to say nice things about Linux Distros and when I do, you know it's sincere.  These are good alternatives for you to try.

-- Dietrich

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