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.

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