Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Linux Mint Redesigns GNOME 3

I may get my partly-fried desktop back in a while, so I may be aggressively trying out lightweight distributions again in the near future.

Meanwhile, on an off-topic note, I really admire what the Linux Mint team plans to do with GNOME 3 in Linux Mint 12. Here's a screenshot of their GNOME 3 design, posted on The Linux Mint Blog:

GNOME 3 with MGSE in Linux Mint 12

The major innovation is the introduction of Mint GNOME Shell Extensions (MGSE), a series of desktop add-ons that can be enabled or disabled to suit the user's comfort level with standard GNOME 3. With all MGSE features enabled, Mint 12 looks like the kind of GNOME 3 desktop I can live with. My single biggest complaint about GNOME 3 when I recently tried it in Sabayon 7 was the lack of a window list. It was really annoying to have to click the Activities button in the top left corner to switch between open windows. If you can create desktop or panel shortcuts in the MGSE-modified desktop, I may really enjoy Linux Mint 12.

My only real problem with GNOME 3/MGSE is the two-panel configuration that I used to always eliminate in GNOME 2 whenever a distro used it. Vertical space is at a premium on my laptop.

Though I've been using Linux Mint Debian Edition on the laptop for a while, I may have to check out the Linux Mint 12 main edition when it comes out.

The Linux Mint Blog » Blog Archive » Linux Mint 12 Preview:

'via Blog this'

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Taking User-Friendliness Lessons From Microsoft

When I first heard about the new graphic interface for Windows 8, I thought Microsoft was making the same mistake  the Ubuntu and GNOME developers have recently made: putting a touchscreen interface on an OS that will also run on non-touchscreen devices. However, according to Jeff Hoogland, it looks like Microsoft is at least making it easy to go back to a standard desktop interface.

Thoughts on Technology: Something Gnome3 and Unity Could Stand to Learn From Windows 8

I never thought I'd see the day when Linux desktops are being schooled on usability by Microsoft.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Lubuntu 11.10 Software Center

According to Softpedia, the next version of Lubuntu, the LXDE-based variant of Ubuntu, will feature the Lubuntu Software Center, a user-friendly package management tool modeled after the one in the main edition of Ubuntu. The link below includes instructions for how to install the Lubuntu Software Center from the Lubuntu Desktop PPA, if you are inclined to test beta software.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Distro Release: Linux Mint 11 LXDE

According to DistroWatch, the Linux Mint team has released the LXDE edition of Linux Mint 11. It looks like the major changes are to the appearance of a lot of applications, particularly the Software Manager. According to Linux Mint project leader Clement Lefebvre:
The Software Manager - many improvements were made to its graphical interface, and the Software Manager now looks much more polished. Application screens were visually improved, not only in the way they look but also in their layout and the information they show.
I'm surprised we're actually seeing this particular edition of Mint. I thought they were converting all their non-GNOME editions to rolling releases with a Debian code base.

Distribution Release: Linux Mint 11 "LXDE" (DistroWatch.com News)

DistroWatch Weekly No. 418 Highligts

It's that time of week again (though I've missed the last couple of issues). The highligts of this weeks DistroWatch Weekly for for fans of lightweight distributions include:

  • Toorox "Xfce" and "Lite" versions. Apparently, Toorox is a Gentoo-based distro. Despite the naming, both of these versions have Xfce as the default desktop. However, the Lite version swaps out several resource-hungry applications for lighter alternatives.
  • ConnochaetOS. This is a superlight distro intended to run on old computers (as little as 64 MB of RAM on a Pentium I processor).
  • Puppy Linux 5.1.3 "Wary." The Wary version of Puppy Linux is also supposed to be optimized for very old computers.
  • WattOS R4. I had already spotted this one and written a brief post about it. However, DistroWatch Weekly thoughtfully included a screenshot of the default desktop. Insectophobes beware. 

DistroWatch Weekly No. 418.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Distro Release: WattOS R4

WattOS is one of my favorite lightweight distributions, despite a few minor quibbles about configuration options. Yesterday, the newest version, wattOS R4, was released. Among the changes are a "control panel user interface for simple configuration of your system in a familiar format" and a couple of changes to lighter software defaults, most notably switching from Firefox to Chromium as the default browser. 

I also like the new logo wattOS has adopted. It goes better with the default color scheme (assuming the default theme is still green-based) and may not look quite as awkward as part of the menu button.

PlanetWatt - wattOS R4

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Distro Release: Tiny Core Linux 3.8

A new version of Tiny Core Linux has been released. It looks like most of the changes in version 3.8 are stability fixes and alterations to make the graphic interface more efficient.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Shot Heard Round the World

Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux kernel, has switched from GNOME to Xfce following the release of GNOME 3. At first glance, this looks like a major endorsement for Xfce. However, I'm not sure how much effect this will have on everyday Linux users, since Torvalds's reasons for leaving GNOME are pretty geeky:

Here's an example of "the crazy": you want a new terminal window. So you go to "activities" and press the "terminal" thing that you've made part of your normal desktop thing (but why can't I just have it on the desktop, instead of in that insane "activities" mode?). What happens? Nothing. It brings your existing terminal to the forefront.
That's just crazy crap. Now I need to use Shift-Control-N in an old terminal to bring up a new one. Yeah, that's a real user experience improvement. Sure.

Linus Torvalds Ditches GNOME For Xfce

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Distro Release: Zorin OS 5 Lite

Ubuntu Look has announced the release of Zorin OS 5 Lite. From what I could gather from a brief look around the Zorin OS site, it looks like Zorin OS is a derivative of Ubuntu that uses a more Windows-like desktop configuration and some unique features like a "Look Changer," and also includes proprietary media codecs.

It looks like the most significant difference between Zorin OS and Linux Mint is that Zorin OS comes in multiple free and paid versions. The free versions are Core, Lite, and Educational. The paid versions are optimized for purposes like business and gaming.

The Lite version uses Lubuntu as its base and features the LXDE desktop. On the one hand, I'm tempted to try this distribution. On the other hand, there are things about their marketing approach that annoy me. For example, their download page urges users to download the live disc using Firefox because "other browsers may corrupt the file and may cause errors." Since I've downloaded multiple distros in Chromium and Iron, I'm skeptical of that claim. This one's going to the bottom of my review queue, meaning I may get around to it after I've finished my current project and have reviewed every other distro I find remotely interesting.

Ubuntu Look » Zorin OS 5 Lite is now available

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

DistroWatch Weekly No. 414

The biggest news about lightweight distributions in this week's DistroWatch Weekly is the release of several versions of Sabayon Linux 6 featuring lightweight desktops:
Fabio Erculiani has announced the availability of three new Sabayon Linux 6 spins, featuring the Enlightenment 17, LXDE and Xfce desktops....
Apparently, the LXDE version is supposed to be for older computers, the Xfce version for users seeking an alternative to GNOME 3 and Unity, and the Enlightenment version for adventurous users.

Aptosid is another lightweight distro released last week. It's based on Debian unstable and features the KDE and Xfce desktops.

Finally, PagugLinux 11.1, a "minimalist, Gentoo-based live CD featuring the Fluxbox window manager," was released.

DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 414, 18 July 2011

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Distro Review: Debian With Xfce

This review will be shorter than most and won't have any screenshots. That's because my troubles installing certain spins of PCLinux OS (which will be detailed in an upcoming review, along with that distro's positve features) forced me to wipe Debian from my desktop's hard drive. However, I did use Debian with Xfce long enough to notice a few things about it.


Installing Debian is easy and painless. The only minor inconvenience is that you can't install Debian from a live CD like you can Ubuntu and other distributions.


Speed. Debian with Xfce runs much smoother and faster than Xubuntu. In fact, it feels a lot like Crunchbang. This isn't surprising, since Crunchbang's developer has said that its Xfce version is little more than Debian with the Xfce desktop and a few custom packages installed.

Fonts. I'm not sure why, but Debian with Xfce seems to display fonts slightly better than Crunchbang. Neither displays fonts as smoothly as Ubuntu, but Debian seems to avoid some of the ugliest font rendering bugs of Crunchbang, especially in the Chromium browser.


Old Software. If you use the stable version of Debian, your software will become outdated (if it isn't already) unless you add third-party repositories to keep your favorite programs current. The most egregious example of this flaw is Debian stable's version of Chromium (still at 6 when Google just released version 12).

This problem can be reduced by installing Debian's testing or unstable versions. However, those versions, as their names imply, are less stable than the main version. My experience with distros based on Debian testing indicates that it's pretty stable, but your mileage may vary.

Dropbox. I was unable to install Dropbox on Debian with Xfce because of unsatisfiable dependencies. This is a huge difference with Crunchbang Xfce, which installed Dropbox with no problems. It's possible that you might be able to work around this problem by installing the main GNOME-based Debian Live CD and leaving GNOME dependencies installed after installing Xfce. However, this strategy risks losing some of Xfce's speed. Given Dropbox's recent security problems, some users may not object to this problem.

Overall Impression

Debian with Xfce is a fast, smooth combination. However, you may have problems installing some software. If you don't mind jagged font displays, you might find Crunchbang a better fit, as it seems to have fewer of these problems.

Monday, July 4, 2011

DistroWatch Weekly #412

There are two lightweight distribution highlights in this issue of Distrowatch Weekly:

  • Lightweight Portable Security (LPS) 1.2.1. This is supposed to be a secure live CD that allows military members and others concerned about privacy and security (it's available to the public for download) to surf the web and work on confidential documents without worrying about compromising vital information. Ironically, LPS automatically logs its user in as root.
  • Bodhi Linux for ARM processors. Jeff Hoogland has announced an alpha release of a version of Bodhi Linux for touchscreen devices running ARM processors. Unlike the standard version of Bodhi, this spin is based on Debian, not Ubuntu.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Peppermint OS Review in Linux Journal

Michael Reed of Linux Journal has written a review of Peppermint OS Two. His conclusion:

In summary, Peppermint Two is a respin of Lubuntu 11.04 with the addition of cloud application integration features. The default application set is biased towards software which is lightweight and fast.

When setting up the distribution up for personal use, its success probably depends on the preferred working style of the user. A user who makes a lot of use of web-based applications might appreciate being able to give them greater parity with traditional applications. An administrator might appreciate the ability to offer users a lightweight desktop with the addition of cloud applications in a consistent and easy to explain overall package.
The full review goes into some detail about the system for setting up web applications on Peppermint's desktop. Personally, I'm still not sure if the ability to open a Chromium window dedicated to Gmail is better than just opening the browser and going to Gmail, especially if you have a webmail notifier extension.

Peppermint OS: Cloud Oriented Desktop Distro | Linux Journal

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Distro Release: Tiny Core Linux 3.7

It seems like only yesterday (though it was actually last month) that I wrote a brief post about the release of Tiny Core Linux 3.6. Today, version 3.7 came out. It looks like this distribution has grown in the last month. Several of the new features in this point release make it a lot easier to dual boot with Windows on a desktop. Specifically, there seem to be a couple of packages that allow read and write access to NTFS (Windows Vista/7 file format) partitions. Apparently, Tiny Core Linux is no longer just for running from live media.

Distribution Release: Tiny Core Linux 3.7 (DistroWatch.com News)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Bodhi Linux Review on Techworld

Rohan Pierce of TechWorld Australia has posted a review of Bodhi Linux. He's not impressed:
In the end we were somewhat underwhelmed by the end user experience
though. Bodhi can be very pretty to look at, and you can make it even
prettier if you take the time, but these days I find myself longing for
super-minimalist desktops with a focus on staying out of the way (of
course, Bodhi can be made to be this as well, if you are interested in
learning the ins and outs of Enlightenment). The simplicity of the
default installation is great — I don't like being overloaded with apps.
But there was just not enough there to hold my interest — I'd rather
install CrunchBang and customise Openbox.
It seems to me that Pierce didn't pay much attention to the instructions when installing Bodhi. When you are prompted to select your starting profile, one of the choices is a minimalistic setup even leaner than Crunchbang's default Openbox configuration. You can start with nothing but one gadget -- either a clock or system monitor; I can't remember which -- and build your desktop from scratch, with or without a single panel.

To be fair, Pierce does complain about a few egregious bugs and some problems with Bodhi's default laptop layout on a netbook. Most of these problems are probably hardware related, but a reviewer is limited by the hardware they have available for testing. But the main reason he lists for preferring Crunchbang (though it is an excellent distro) over Bodhi seem strange.

Bodhi Linux review - ubuntu, open source, Linux - Open Source - Techworld

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Distribution Release: AV Linux 5.0

From Distrowatch:
Glen MacArthur has announced the release of AV Linux 5.0, a Debian-based distribution with a collection of audio and video production software and running on the LXDE desktop: "After more than five months of daily development following the release of 4.2, AV Linux 5.0 is here. This release balances the rock-solid reliability of Debian's stable release and fortifies it with some carefully selected packages to make it a state-of-the-art multimedia content creation powerhouse...."
Obviously, this distro looks like it's using LXDE to leave room for resource hungry audio and video applications rather than to run the OS on older computers. Since multimedia editing isn't my thing, I won't be reviewing this one, ever. However, it may be of interest to some people who stumble on this blog.

AV Linux 5.0 Release Announcement on Distrowatch

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Distro Review: wattOS R3

WattOS is an Ubuntu-based distribution designed to run on old computers with limited memory and/or slow CPU speed. It's also designed to have a minimalist interface while minimizing the need to use the terminal. (Developer Ron Ropp, a.k.a. "Biff Baxter" on the WattOS website, describes the goals of WattOS in this Linux Journal interview.


WattOS uses a LiveCD, which allows you to try it before installing it on your system. It uses the Ubuntu installer, so it's painless to install the OS from the LiveCD. The only possible problem may be setting up a dual boot with Windows 7, which may require you to create a partition before installation using either Windows 7's partitioning tool or GParted (which is available on the LiveCD).


Fast bootup. WattOS is quick to start up, particularly after login. On my 1GB desktop, the complete LXDE interface appears almost instantaneously once I type my password and hit Enter. It only takes a split second for all the system tray icons to appear.

Simple default layout. WattOS's default layout looks similar to a Windows desktop with the taskbar on the bottom.

The WattOS default desktop
The word "Go" on the menu button is similar to Windows' "Start," and the launchers to its right look a lot like the Quick Start area from previous versions of Windows. Finally, the LXDE system tray sits exactly where the Windows system tray would be. The only difference is the Ubuntu-style shutdown button at the far right. This configuration is simple and easy for converted Windows XP users to grasp.


Puzzling default software. Most of WattOS's default software choices are sensible, like the standard inclusion of AbiWare and Gnumeric instead of OpenOffice or LibreOffice. However, GIMP also comes preinstalled even though wattOS also includes Fotoxx, a lightweight photo manager with the standard crop and scale functions.

No Openbox configuration manager. Though wattOS includes LXDE's "Customize Look and Feel" dialog box, the Openbox configuration manager doesn't come preinstalled. This means that you can change the desktops GTK widget theme but not the appearance of window borders, even to change the window title font. This problem is easily solved by downloading the obconf package in Synaptic or typing  sudo apt-get install obconf in the terminal. However, it seems like an odd exclusion for a distro that wants to minimize terminal use. Then again, Ropp might assume that the average user doesn't care about customizing the desktop as long as everything works.

No Automatic Updates. In wattOS, you must open Synaptic and click the Mark All Upgrades button to get updates for your installed software. Users who are used to Ubuntu and other distros that notify them of package upgrades may forget to do this, which could result in the inconvenience of outdated software and possibly security problems. However, if wattOS issues a new release with every new Ubuntu version, these problems can be minimized.

Overall Impression

While it has a few quirks that may annoy some users, wattOS is an excellent distro for machines with limited resources. For users who want a light, fast OS and who don't care much about customizing their desktop's appearance, it's the ideal OS.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Puppy Linux With Enlightenment

Macpup looks interesting: Puppy Linux 5.25 + the Enlightenment desktop + Firefox 4. Lucid Puppy had a pretty good-looking default desktop, and Enlightenment looks incredibly slick for a lightweight desktop, based on my experience with Bodhi Linux. Therefore this distro could combine performance with beauty in a way that only Bodhi has before.

Distribution Release: Macpup 525 (DistroWatch.com News)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Distribution Release: Peppermint OS Two (DistroWatch.com News)

Peppermint OS Two has been released. This is the second version of the cloud-centric, Ubuntu-based distribution. It looks like the new version is specifically based on Lubuntu but uses the Openbox window manager alone rather than the complete LXDE desktop.

Distribution Release: Peppermint OS Two (DistroWatch.com News)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

MSNBC.com Videos Don't Work on Unity

Doug Roberts of Linux Journal wrote a blog post about the inconveniences of the Ubuntu bug reporting system. What struck me, however, was the problem that drove him to Ubuntu's Launchpad site:

So I noticed a few days ago that videos on msnbc.com had stopped working. I’m running Ubuntu 11.04 and Unity.

This reminds me of the reason I first decided to stick with Xfce over GNOME. In my case, it was that YouTube videos played more smoothly, but Flash seems to have a lot of problems with GNOME-based desktops.

Ubuntu Bug Reporting (Again) | Linux Journal

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

New Built-in Screenshot Feature in Enlightenment Desktop

Jeff Hoogland blogs about a new tool in the Enlightenment desktop, the default graphic interface for Bodhi Linux. Enlightenment users no longer have to download a third-party application to take screenshots. Instead, they can install a simple tool, similar to the screenshot tool in desktops like GNOME, to get the job done. This feature will come in handy whenever I get around to my review of Bodhi Linux 1.1.0.

Thoughts on Technology: HOWTO: Easily Take Screenshots in the Enlightenment Desktop

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Greybird on Xfce-Look

If you like the look of the Xubuntu 11.04 default theme but don't want to actually run Xubuntu, you're in luck. Somebody posted the Greybird theme on Xfce-Look, making it available to Xfce users running faster distributions.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Xfce Theme: Pepperlake

Another complete Xfce theme has made its way to Xfce-Look. Pepperlake, according to its creator, is designed to "incorporate a dark style with light menus so items are clearly visible."  Here's a screenshot of the theme with the Elementary icon set and with the top panel's alpha level (level of opacity) set to 90%.

I set the top panel to be slightly transparent because the panel has the same gradient color as the window title bar. I found the effect visually jarring, and it disappears if you make the panel slightly transparent.

Pepperlake Xfce-Look.org 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Glow Pack: 3 Complete Xfce Themes

All three of these themes are dark with brightly glowing buttons. They look really slick but trigger the famous Open/LibreOffice dark themes bug. However, if you're using another word processor like AbiWord, this won't be a problem.

Glow Pack Xfce-Look.org

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bodhi Linux Introduces Windows-style "Service Packs"

Bodhi Linux lead developer Jeff Hoogland explains Bodhi's "Service Pack" system, which allows users to download kernel and distro updates and then install them offline without using a package manager. I'm not sure whether this is good or bad, since automatic package updating is one of the best features of Linux. Are there enough converted Windows users who are more comfortable with this arrangement?

Thoughts on Technology: Bodhi Linux Service Pack 1 Ready to Go

Monday, May 30, 2011

DistroWatch Weekly Highlights

Lightweight-distro related news from the new DistroWatch Weekly:

This issue also notes the release of Bodhi Linux 1.1.0, which I mentioned in a previous post, and points to the Mark Shuttleworth interview I talked about here.

DistroWatch Weekly Issue 407

Mark Shuttleworth's Column in Linux User #100

In the latest issue of the British magazine Linux User, the editors hand over their regular column on Ubuntu to Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of the Ubuntu project. Shuttleworth uses the column to explain the thinking behind the new Unity interface in Ubuntu 11.04. This little section caught my eye:

Touch and games are our inspiration. When we set about designing Unity, we drew inspiration from the world of consumer electronics. We wanted to produce something that felt more lightweight and easy to use than a traditional PC interface. We also wanted to take advantage of the incredible graphics technology that is found in every modern PC.
We studied game system interfaces, like the PlayStation and Xbox. We studied mobile products like the iPhone and looked for ways we could embrace ideas from those environments in the desktop. In particular, we took the view that touch-centric interfaces would come to the PC, and we made sure that key pieces of Unity are touch-friendly.

I had two reactions to these statements:

  1. Does anybody think Unity is lightweight? In my experience, Unity, being based on GNOME, has been about as unwieldy as GNOME. 
  2. Can an OS designed for tablets and mobile phones still be a good fit for traditional computers? If Unity trims its bloat and becomes a great OS for netbooks, tablets, and smartphones, will users of desktops and traditional laptops still be able to tolerate it? Can one OS really work on the variety of electronic devices available to the public? Or does Shuttleworth expect traditional computers to disappear entirely?

Linux User's Ubuntu Column #100, by Mark Shuttleworth

Shiki-Colors Light Menus Xfce-Look.org

Somebody on Xfce-look modified three of the famous Shiki-Colors themes to have lighter-colored menus. Here's a screenshot of Shiki-Brave Light Menus:

These themes come with window manager files for both Metacity and xfwm4, so Xfce users don't have to poke around for a window border that looks right.

Shiki-Colors Light Menus Xfce-Look.org

Friday, May 27, 2011

Distribution Release: Bodhi Linux 1.1.0 (DistroWatch.com News)

According to Distrowatch, Bodhi Linux 1.1.0 has been released. I enjoyed version 1.1.0, despite a few minor issues with the Enlightenment desktop, so 1.1.0 joins my ever-growing list of distros to review.

Distribution Release: Bodhi Linux 1.1.0 (DistroWatch.com News)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Dark Standards Xfce-Look.org

I just came on another Xfce theme, complete with xfwm4 theme. Dark Standards is supposed to be a combination of the default Xubuntu Studio theme and the standard Xubuntu theme.

Here's a screenshot of Dark Standards on my laptop. The icons are the default Xubuntu Elementary Dark. The wallpaper is Xubuntu Karmic wallpaper, which is available as an option in the Xubuntu 11.04 Desktop settings.

Dark Standards Xfce-Look.org

Distro Review: Xubuntu 11.04

Late last month, Canonical released the latest version of Ubuntu, which also entailed new versions of Ubuntu's many official derivatives. This is a review of the much-maligned Xubuntu, which uses the Xfce desktop environment.


Officially, Xubuntu is supposed to be a lighter, quicker version of Ubuntu. Critics claim that Xubuntu is far from a lightweight distribution. However, now that Unity is the default graphic interface for standard Ubuntu and GNOME 3 is radically different from its predecessors, Xubuntu may have found a new purpose in life. Since Xfce looks more like a standard Windows-style desktop than either Unity or Gnome Shell, Xubuntu may be poised to gain users who prefer a more familiar interface.


Xubuntu uses the same installer as Ubuntu, making installation an easy experience even for beginners. The whole process is seamless, and the installer will even import files from your Windows Documents, Pictures, Music, and Video folders.


Being based on Ubuntu gives any distro certain advantages. The most obvious of these is compatibility with more hardware immediately after installation. In fact, only Ubuntu-based distros will work with my laptop's built-in wireless chip.

Beyond the standard benefits shared by all Ubuntu-based distros, Xubuntu 11.04 has made several noticeable visual improvements over its predecessors. First, there is the new default desktop layout, pictured below both with and without compositing:
Xubuntu Default Desktop

Xubuntu Default Desktop with Compositing

Apparently inspired by Unity's panel + launcher configuration, the new Xubuntu includes a bottom panel that functions more like an application launcher (or Mac OS dock). Obviously, this is a boon for Mac users who try out Ubuntu. The bottom panel also autohides, so people who don't use it can ignore it.

Xubuntu 11.04 also includes a new GTK theme, Greybird, with a matching theme for the xfwm4 window manager. The new default icon set is based on Elementary. Overall, the new look is slicker than previous versions.

Another significant visual change is the default font. Instead of the large, clunky Deja Vu Sans which is used as he default font in most GNOME and Xfce-based distros, Xubuntu 11.04 switches to the more compact and elegant Droid Sans. This change saves me, at least, the trouble of changing the default font to something less sloppy.

Xubuntu also features Xfce 4.8, the newest version of the desktop. Any user who is unfamiliar with 4.8 should read the tour at the link because some of the best features of the new Xfce aren't obvious. For example, you can move the panel anywhere on the desktop, but you have to do it by dragging and dropping. The old, detailed location options under Panel Properties are gone. Here's a picture of my desktop, with the "launcher" panel on the side like Unity (though with autohide still on).

Xubuntu with Side Panel


Like Xubuntu 10.10, version 11.04 uses a different menu configuration than most Xfce-based distros. Instead of having fly-out menu options for every settings dialog, Xubuntu forces you to use the Xfce Settings Manager.

The Settings Manager isn't bad. It does give you the ability to switch back and forth between different dialogs without going back to the Menu button repeatedly. However, you also can't have, say, the Appearance and Window Manager dialogs open at the same time. It's also an unfamiliar setup for people who have used other Xfce-based distros.

And, of course, the big question about any new Xubuntu release is how slow and hungry it is. Xubuntu 11.04 seems to use a fair amount of system resources, especially if you open two Chromium windows at the same time. This may be due to my use of compositing, but I would still be wary of running Xubuntu on a truly resource-limited machine.

There are also a few resource-hungry applications installed by default on Xubuntu, most notably Gimp. Even some lightweight applications run exceptionally slow on this distro. For example, Thunar, the file manager, seems to take forever to load the first time I open it in a session. The scary thing is that this happens even though I'm running Xubuntu on a computer with a dual-core processor and four gigs of RAM.  I don't run Xfce on my laptop because I need to save resources; I do it just to get better Flash performance.

Overall Impression

Though Xfce functions well as a light, fast environment in some distros, Xubuntu doesn't function well as a lightweight distribution. It's better suited to people whose computers have plenty of resources, but who prefer a more traditional interface to the more "modern" GNOME 3 and Unity.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Another GTK Theme

This theme is perfect for Xfce users. Not only does the download include four different versions of the BSM Simple theme, but all the themes come with an xfwm window manager theme. The theme's authors were also thoughtful enough to include links to matching Google Chrome themes for Chromium users.

BSM Simple Xfce-Look.org

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Distribution Releases: SalineOS 1.4, 1.0 "Personal Server" (DistroWatch.com News)

DistroWatch reports the release of SalineOS, a Linux distro based on Debian stable and featuring Xfce as its desktop environment. In a way, it's like Crunchbang without the Openbox option.

One distinctive thing about SalineOS is that it also comes in a "Personal Server" edition aimed at users who want to set up network servers at home.

Distribution Releases: SalineOS 1.4, 1.0 "Personal Server" (DistroWatch.com News)

Field+Stream Xfce Theme

I found this over at Xfce-Look. This theme may not be to everybody's taste, given that it's olive green. However, one thing it has going for it is that it's one of few themes that comes packaged with an Openbox theme, making it convenient for Openbox and LXDE users.

Field+Stream Xfce-Look.org

Friday, May 6, 2011

Ubuntu 11.04, Unity Released to Mixed Reactions | Linux Journal

Linux Journal has a collection of reactions to Ubuntu's Unity interface. According to online polls, so far the most common reaction has been indifference.

The main relevance of this debate to lightweight desktop fans is that a widespread rejection of Unity, Gnome 3 and KDE 4 might make Xfce a more popular desktop even for non-lightweight distros.

Ubuntu 11.04, Unity Released to Mixed Reactions | Linux Journal

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Distribution Release: antiX M11 (DistroWatch.com News)

It looks like we have a new distro, based on MEPIS, with IceWM as the GUI. If antiX follows the MEPIS approach of providing a point-and-click way to do just about every task, it could be a godsend to people who have really old computers (with as little as 64 MB of RAM) but aren't into customization through the terminal and text file editing.

Distribution Release: antiX M11 (DistroWatch.com News)

Monday, May 2, 2011

DistroWatch Weekly: Lubuntu Closer to Becoming "Official"

The new issue of DistroWatch Weekly is out. It looks like the only lightweight-distro news that I haven't commented on already is that Lubuntu appears to be closer to becoming an official Ubuntu derivative.

DW Weekly quotes this Lubuntu developer blog post, which quotes the following comment by Mark Shuttleworth:

Thanks for the great work and progress of Lubuntu in the past 2 years. The fact that you are now 100% in the archive, and using PPA's and other tools effectively, makes it possible for us to consider recognising Lubuntu as an official part of the project. ... From my perspective, I see no problem in providing Lubuntu with the means to book sessions at UDS, and for us to call attention to Lubuntu in the project release notes. ... Our goal with Ubuntu is to ensure that the archive contains the full richness of free software. LXDE is definitely part of that, and with the other desktop environments making greater demands on PC resources, LXDE has a continued role to play.

DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 403, 2 May 2011

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Linux on a Fingernail | Linux Journal

This month's Linux Journal takes a look at utilities that make it easy to install various Linux distros on a USB drive.

Linux on a Fingernail | Linux Journal

Distribution Release: Tiny Core Linux 3.6 (DistroWatch.com News)

I have absolutely no need for a distro that runs entirely in RAM. However, if your resources are so limited that you do need such an OS, here it is:

Distribution Release: Tiny Core Linux 3.6 (DistroWatch.com News)

Friday, April 29, 2011

New Distro Releases

A lot has been going on in the Linux community while I was busy with school and other things. On Wednesday, the latest version of a distro called Absolute Linux came out. I'd like to try this one out, even though the last time I tried a Slackware-based distro, an error installing GRUB forced me to reformat my desktop's hard drive. However, I wouldn't mind trying out IceWM, Absolute Linux's default GUI. Messing around with OpenBox on Crunchbang has introduced me to the wonderful world of stand-alone window managers.

Meanwhile, the biggest Linux news of the week is the release of Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal). The new Ubuntu uses Unity (the Ubuntu Netbook interface) as its default GUI; and Unity seems to be no lighter than the standard GNOME desktop, based on my experiments with a beta version a few months back. However, a new Ubuntu release means new versions of a couple of lightweight Ubuntu derivatives:

  • Xubuntu, the official Xfce-based spin. While Xubuntu has been criticized as a not-really-lightweight distro -- to the point where some reviewers have condemned Xfce as a faux-lightweight desktop because of it -- I'm eager to run the new Xubuntu on my laptop. The most notable new feature in 11.04 is the new Xfce 4.8 desktop, which I will now be able to try for the first time.
  • Lubuntu, the not-yet-official LXDE-based spin. I'm looking forward to trying this one out on my desktop.
It looks like I've got a lot of reviews to do in the near future, and I still have a backlog of WattOS and CTKArch to catch up on.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Distro Review: Crunchbang 10 (Statler)

At long last, I finally found the time to review a Linux distribution. I'll start my online reviewing career with Crunchbang, one of my current favorites.


At first glance, Crunchbang seems to be targeted at people who want a lightweight distribution and don't mind occasionally using the terminal or editing text files. While the Crunchbang website's download page still contains the following disclaimer--

CrunchBang Linux is not recommended for anyone needing a stable system or anyone who is not comfortable running into occasional, even frequent breakage. CrunchBang Linux could possibly make your computer go CRUNCH! BANG! Therefore CrunchBang Linux comes with ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY, to the extent permitted by applicable law.

--this warning seems to be a leftover from previous, Ubuntu-based versions. With version 10 (codenamed Statler after the Muppet Show character), Crunchbang has switched to Debian stable as its default code base. This move makes Crunchbang a plausible option for users who do value stability.

However, all I can do is speculate about who might find Crunchbang useful, since the distro's developer has insisted in a blog post that "CrunchBang does not have a target audience."


Crunchbang 10 uses a fairly simple installer that goes through all the standard setup questions (time zone, keyboard layout, etc.) quickly. The only possible snag is that, unlike Ubuntu's installer, this one doesn't automatically detect other OS's on the machine. This omission may cause problems for users who aren't familiar with the nuances of GParted. Another minor issue is the inability to install from the LiveCD session. You have to reboot and select the install option from the LiveCD's menu to start the installation. This last point is only a slight inconvenience, though.


Welcome Script. The first time you boot Crunchbang up after installation, the terminal opens and offers you the chance to upgrade the package list and install several optional packages, such as CUPS, Java support, and Open Office. This is a convenient tool for users who always make these changes right after installing a new distro.

Chromium Out of the Box. Crunchbang comes with Chromium pre-installed. This is a huge convenience for people like me, who use Chromium as their default browser and always have to download it for every new distro.

Speed. Crunchbang comes in two versions: Openbox and Xfce (more on that later). Both are incredibly fast. In fact, I was surprised at how much faster than Xubuntu Crunchbang Xfce was.

Choice of Interfaces. Many lightweight distros come with only one GUI. Crunchbang allows you to download either an Openbox or Xfce version. Furthermore, the welcome script allows you to install support for multiple sessions, so you can choose to have the other interface available when you log in. Unlike some other distros, when you run the non-default interface, you get the full experience of that environment. You aren't left staring at a blank screen when you open up an OpenBox session in Crunchbang Xfce. This is a boon for users who want to experiment with an unfamiliar interface.


Unusual Default Layout. Crunchbang's default desktop configuration doesn't include a menu button, even in the Xfce version. I found this only a minor annoyance (and easily fixed in Xfce). However, someone less experienced with Xfce might not know how to fix it. Such a person also might not think to right-click on the desktop, which brings up the full Xfce menu.

Software Updates. Since Crunchbang is based on Debian stable, new versions of software will be slow to come. Right now, this problem isn't too noticeable, since Crunchbang 10 just released with Chromium 9 and fairly recent versions of other programs. However, many of these programs won't be updated to new versions until the next Debian stable is released in 1.5 to 2 years. This problem can be solved by switching to either the testing or unstable Debian channel.

Hardware Compatibility. Like any non-Ubuntu-based distro, Crunchbang 10 may have compatibility problems with a lot of hardware out of the box. For example, I had to give up on using Crunchbang with my laptop because I couldn't make it work with the wireless chip. To be fair, this particular chip seems to have massive problems with a lot of Linux distros, and Crunchbang works with every other piece of hardware on both my desktop and laptop. I've also heard that Crunchbang (and Debian Squeeze) support a lot of otherwise troublesome hardware, like Broadcom wireless chips. Really, this is just a general warning for anyone who has been spoiled by Ubuntu's incredibly broad hardware support and expects every Linux distro to plug and play with every bit of hardware.

OpenBox vs. Xfce

As I've mentioned, Crunchbang comes with either Openbox or Xfce as the default GUI. Each of these environments has its own advantages and disadvantages. Here are screenshots of both desktops' default configurations:

Crunchbang Openbox
Crunchbang Xfce

Both environments come with a system information panel in the upper right corner (courtesy of lightweight system monitor Conky) and a panel at the bottom with two workspaces. The Xfce version also features a second, auto-hiding panel that functions as a dock-like task launcher. I found this feature convenient and started adding it to other Xfce-based OS's I ran. Other people consider it an annoyance. To each his or her own.

Neither version has a menu button when first installed. This problem is easily fixed in the Configure Panel dialog in Xfce. There seems to be no easy way to  get a menu button in Openbox, but the lack of one doesn't cause as many problems in Openbox either. Right-clicking anywhere on the desktop or on the panel brings up the full menu, so you can always access the menu, even with a maximized window on screen. This is not true in Xfce.

The major difference between the two environments is how to customize the desktop. In Xfce, there are GUI dialog boxes for most common customization tasks. In Openbox, on the other hand, most configuration is done through text files. Fortunately, Crunchbang lists the major configuration files in the menu, saving you from having to know the exact name of each file to open it in gedit. Unfortunately, the text files  are often long and can be confusing to people who can't figure out the format or what the terms mean. Whether you are comfortable working with these text files should be the most important factor when choosing Openbox or Xfce as the default session.

Personally, I've found Crunchbang to be a good tool for exploring OpenBox. I downloaded the Xfce version because I'm more familiar with that environment, but I enabled multi-session support so I could play around with OpenBox when I felt like it.

Overall Impression

I wouldn't recommend Crunchbang to a novice. It's most fit for users who have some experience with either Linux or programming. However, it's a great distro for experienced users who want a light and fast OS, who want to learn more about the inner workings of Linux, or who want to experiment with unusual user interfaces.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Linux Mint Xfce Update

After downloading the new Debian-based Linux Mint Xfce and installing it on my laptop, I found out that this distro suffers from my laptop wireless bug. My 64-bit laptop has a Realtek wireless chip that refuses to work out of the box for any non-Ubuntu-based Linux distro. After much tinkering and searching online, I found that I can't fix this bug even with ndiswrapper. Because of this handicap, I didn't get a chance to test Linux Mint Xfce under real-world, constant-web-surfing conditions.

I will note that this version of mint comes with some unusual pre-installed software. For example, it ships with LibreOffice instead of the usual light-weight office choice of AbiWord + Gnumeric. I may have to download the 32-bit version for my desktop to see how choices like this affect performance.

DistroWatch Weekly's Crunchbang Review

The feature story in the latest DistroWatch Weely is a review of Crunchbang 10 by Jesse Smith (no relation). All in all, it wasn't a bad review, considering that the author only did surface-level research on the distro.

The most glaring error in the review is the Smith's puzzlement at the download page's declaration that "CrunchBang Linux could possibly make your computer go CRUNCH! BANG!" He correctly notes that it seems odd for a distro based on Debian stable to say such a thing about itself. Of course, it makes more sense if you know that previous editions were based on the less rock-solid Ubuntu. It's true that it's negligent to have that copy up on the download page, but Crunchbang is a one-man project, so a few slip-ups are understandable. To be fair, you can't expect a reviewer just coming to a product to know things like this off the bat, but would it have killed Smith to check the Crunchbang Wikipedia entry?

Smith does go on to list some of Crunchbang's best features, including the welcome script that gives new users the option to install several common software packages. He also (though possibly inadvertently) makes the point that the switch to a Debian stable base may confuse people about the distro's target audience. It appears to have been conceived as a distro for hardcore geeks who weren't afraid to risk wiping out all their data. Now it's just as usable to an average user who wants a stable, fast OS.

I like the fact that Smith tried to figure out what audience would like Crunchbang, rather than treating his own preferences as the gold standard. However, a little research in places like Wikipedia and the Crunchbang forums would have yielded a lot of useful information on that topic.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

New Distribution: Linux Mint Xfce

A short while ago, The Linux Mint Blog announced the release of Linux Mint Xfce. "But wait," you might say, "there's already a Linux Mint Xfce. And wasn't the next version supposed to be Version 10?" It turns out that this new Mint Xfce is a rolling release based on Debian Testing, like Linux Mint Debian Edition. Thus it gets a six-digit version number based on the year and month of its release. The Linux Mint devs explain the nuances of the version numbers in an FAQ:

1. Which editions are based on Ubuntu and which editions are based on Debian?
Frozen releases are based on Ubuntu. They carry a version number. For instance, Linux Mint 10 is based on Ubuntu 10.10. The next frozen release will be Linux Mint 11, based on Ubuntu 11.04.
Rolling editions do not carry version numbers. They follow the Debian Testing branch. Because of their rolling nature, they’re receiving continuous updates and their version number never changes (technically it’s always “1″ though we do not mention it since it’s not relevant). Note the absence of version number in “Linux Mint Xfce” for instance, indicating its rolling nature.
An important thing to notice is the fact that rolling editions are in constant evolution but that a particular ISO image is a snapshot of this edition at a particular time. So, though rolling editions do not get outdated, ISO images do. For this reason we use a timestamp for our ISO images, such as “Linux Mint Xfce (201104)”.

I'm downloading the 64-bit .iso now for my laptop. The biggest obstacle on this machine will be the stubborn Realtek wireless chip that refuses to work with any non-Ubuntu-based distro. I may end up having to download a Windows driver and try to use ndiswrapper. I'll also download the 32-bit version for my distro-hopping, dual-Linux-booting desktop. My experience with Crunchbang has shown me that Xfce is much faster and more responsive in Debian-based distros than in Ubuntu (though Xubuntu runs pretty well on my high-spec laptop).

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Couple of Links

Reading over the current DistroWatch Weekly, I came across a couple of interesting on-topic articles:

First up is an interview with Jeff Hoogland, the lead developer of Bodhi Linux, at TechRepublic.com. Bodhi, despite a few little kinks, is neck and neck with CrunchBang as my favorite lightweight distro of the moment. That's pretty impressive for an OS that just saw its first stable release within the last couple of weeks. The interview is a nice intro to the idea of Bodhi Linux for people who aren't familiar with it.

Second, Jos Poortvliet writes a review of the new Xfce 4.8 desktop for the official OpenSuse website. It looks like not much is new in 4.8 (except possibly the visual appearance of panels). The most noteworthy thing about the article was Poortvliet's observation about Xfce's performance, which matches up with my assessment:

XFCE saves you a little bit, although it won’t really save you in the face of modern, memory hungry applications like Chromium and LibreOffice. More noticeable are start up time and responsiveness of applications. XFCE apps start up instantaneously and feel very fast while you are using them.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Bodhi Linux's Special April 1 Announcement

I thought my first post to this blog would be a review of a distro, but this was too interesting to pass up.

Visitors to the Bodhi Linux homepage today were greeted with a new color scheme (blue instead of orange) and a stunning announcement:

Since I can't display the screenshot in its original size without messing up my blog layout, here's the text of the announcement for those who can't read tiny print:

Bodhi Linux 1.1.0 PRE RELEASE NEWS 1.1.0 JEFFS BIG PLAN REVEALED - Bodhi Goes Blue

We would like to take a moment to thank everyone that has helped Bodhi 1.0.0 become the success that it is today. With our dedicated development team and our ever growing community we would not be where we are today. Looking to the future, a Bodhi 1.1.0 release is on the horizon. This release will have two prominent features – first we will start shipping the 2.6.38 kernel with this release. Second, while we at Bodhi think Enlightenment makes a great desktop – after much discussion in closed door meetings – the Bodhi team and I have decided to make the move to using the KDE desktop with Enlightenment acting as strictly the Window manager for this next release. We feel this should improve Bodhi usability over all and give Bodhi a “fuller desktop feeling” as it will now require at least 1gig of RAM to fully utilizes it's KDE desktop.
proposed release date MAY 22 2011
Bodhi Linux 1.0.0 Stable released 26 March 2011.Find out more here Bodhi News Page.
They had me going for a little while. I was prepared to go to the forums and ask what the heck the developers were thinking, giving up the entire lightweight philosophy of their young distro in favor of one of the standard, bloated Linux desktop environments. Then I got to the bit about how 1.1.0 would have a "fuller desktop feeling" because it would use more resources, and I remembered what day it was. My hunch was confirmed by clicking on the link to the Bodhi news page. It turns out that this item was only on the main page and not on the news page (though the blue color scheme is site-wide). I must admit that I like the combined KDE-Enlightenment logo for some strange reason.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Lately, I've been trying out some lightweight Linux distros on my four-year-old desktop at home. The last couple of months, I've been trying out various distros with the Xfce and LXDE desktops. I also used the Openbox window manager for five minutes before becoming annoyed that I couldn't figure out how to customize it (apparently, it involves lots of text files). I've also noticed that, even on my higher-spec laptop, certain things (most notably Flash content) run much better on a lightweight desktop. This even applies to Xfce, which is often accused of not being truly lightweight.

I figured that my love of Linux and increasing aversion to feature-heavy desktops like GNOME formed a niche that was specific enough to be unusual, but also rich enough to generate a decent amount of blog content. Therefore, I decided to start a focused blog after a couple of years of blogging sporadically on various subjects in a rambling personal blog.

A word of caution: This blog only represents the experiences of one person, a person who is not the most hardcore Linux geek in the world. I don't know all the ins and outs of Linux, and my experiences reflect only the viewpoint of a modestly Linux-educated end user. Furthermore, I can only blog about what I experience on my computer. I have no idea how any software will run on your computer, or whether your particular hardware is compatible with a given distro. Like everything else on somebody's blog, everything written here is subjective.