Ubuntu Linux has millions of fans. What’s not to like? A
free operating system with ten thousand free applications, websites covering everything you might
ever want to know, tutorials, active forums, and more. Yet for all these benefits, situations pop up when you want a
faster, lighter operating system. Perhaps
you have an older computer, or maybe a netbook or
a mobile device. Wouldn’t it be great
to have a lightweight Ubuntu?
That day has finally arrived. Lubuntu offers a way to stay in the Ubuntu family — with a product that performs better and uses
fewer resources.This article details how Lubuntu differs from Ubuntu. It also compares
Lubuntu to other lightweight Linuxes. It focuses on Lubuntu 10.04,
which is based on Ubuntu’s 10.04 Long Term Support release.
(Lubuntu 10.10 is the latest release, with 11.04 due out
at the end of April.) Sample screenshots
follow the article.
Before we start, here’s where I’m coming from. As per previous articles
in this series at OS News, my interest in lightweight operating systems
stems from my activity in refurbishing computers for charity. The best
software for this purpose is:
- Resource light — charitable donations are between five and ten years old
- Easy to use — recipients use donations with little or no training
- Easy to install and configure — volunteer labor doesn’t like complexity or wasting time
- Free — charities don’t have money to buy software
- Open source — commercial licensing agreements unduely restrict install and distribution procedures
- Good support — this is why I favor the LTS (Long Term Support) releases in the Ubuntu family
How Lubuntu Differs From Ubuntu
Lubuntu changes Ubuntu in three major respects to become a faster,
2. Default daemons and services are paired down to the minimum
3. Faster, lighter default applications replace Ubuntu’s default applications
Let’s discuss each of these techniques.
LXDE — The graphical user
interface or GUI is the most resource-intense component of consumer
operating systems. Lubuntu tackles this challenge head-on by using as
its default the Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment or LXDE. LXDE replaces
Ubuntu’s easy to use but resource-hungry GNOME.
LXDE uses less memory than GNOME for typical workloads. Its twenty or
so components are loosely integrated, so they can run independent of
one another, saving resources. The Openbox window manager
is especially important from the resource standpoint. This
of popular window managers shows that Openbox yields a full range
of features at a very modest resource cost.
From the usability standpoint, LXDE is less sophisticated than
Ubuntu’s GNOME desktop. But it’s nearly as easy to use. You can
still add desktop icons, panels, panel applets, and the like.
And you can quickly customize your desktop. The first time I used Lubuntu, it only took me a few
minutes to alter its default interface to my preferred style.
Minimal Daemons — You can
configure either Lubuntu or Ubuntu to start up whatever daemons or
you prefer. By default, Lubuntu starts many fewer than Ubuntu.
You can view the Lubuntu startup applications by entering:
Session Settings -> Automatically Started Applications (Tab)
The equivalent under Ubuntu is:
Applications -> Startup Programs (Tab)
In older Ubuntu releases you can also look under the “Services” panel:
By pairing down Ubuntu’s default startup programs, Lubuntu boots
lean and mean. You can always add additional services if you need them
by navigating to the panels referenced here.
Lighter Applications —
While Lubuntu uses less memory than Ubuntu at idle, where you really
its utility is when you open many applications concurrently. Since the
apps require less memory than their Ubuntu equivalents, the cumulative
effect is a faster, more performant system.
I especially like the file manager, PCMan, an LXDE
component. I’ve found it
visibly faster than Ubuntu’s Nautilus on older computers, with their
limited memory and slow PATA/IDE hard drives.
replaces Ubuntu’s OpenOffice, so Lubuntu comes with
AbiWord and Gnumeric, instead of OpenOffice Writer and Calc. Lubuntu
bundles no equivalent to Ubuntu’s presentation tool, OpenOffice
Impress. Lubuntu also includes the handy Osmo
personal organizer and calendar.
The theme of lighter apps runs throughout Lubuntu — Leafpad replaces
Ubuntu’s Gedit, LXTerminal is included instead of GNOME Terminal,
email instead of Evolution, and the Xfce4 Taskmanager tracks
performance instead of
In a move that has inspired controversy in web forums, Lubuntu uses Chromium
as its default browser instead of Firefox. To me Chromium seems a
bit faster than Firefox on low-end computers. Its clean,
simple, intuitive interface certainly fits the Lubuntu emphasis on ease of use.
Of course, if you prefer Firefox or any other application that is not bundled with Lubuntu, you can easily
install it. Lubuntu uses the same Synaptic Package Manager and accesses
all the same software repositories as Ubuntu. So you could start out
by installing Lubuntu as a small, efficient operating
system, then cherry-pick critical Ubuntu apps you
the shared repositories. You’ll get the quick system you want without the
overhead of the applications and daemons you don’t need.
Lubuntu’s goal is efficient resource use. So let’s measure it.
Lubuntu bundles the Xfce4 Taskmanager
for measuring resource use, instead of Ubuntu’s System Monitor. Linux
line commands like free, top, vmstat, and
df can also be handy.
Let’s look at some numbers:
|3 – 5 g
|110 – 250 m
|1 – 2 g
|60 – 130 m
|500 – 1000 m *
|30 – 120 m
Small Linux 4.4.10
|200 – 300 m *
|25 – 100 m
* For a “full install.” A “frugal install”
requires about the same space as the download. All measurements are by the author.
The size of the disk install will vary, depending on the apps you add
the base system. In rough terms
it’s fair to say that an Lubuntu
install consumes one-third to one-half of the disk space used by
Ubuntu. Want an exact number?
It varies by user, product release, and
what you add to the base install. The only way to get exact
numbers is to measure disk footprints for your own systems.
Lubuntu generally uses about half the
Ubuntu. But be careful again:
memory measurements vary because we’re talking the size of the
operating system plus loaded apps (we exclude the buffers or cache used
by the OS). Obviously this number could be all over the map depending on
the applications you start. And, how you use them. The numbers I list above reflect my
own typical use of these systems. Your numbers will vary depending on
your use of your computer.
If you collect your own measurements, you’ll immediately find
that certain apps eat up way more memory than others. For example,
browsers are famously ram-hungry. The more tabs you open, the more ram they eat. So if you compare memory use between
Linux distributions, open functionally-equivalent apps (and the same
number of tabs in the
browser) from a cold startup.
In my experience the upper
range of real memory used by Lubuntu corresponds to the lower end of
what Ubuntu consumes. Almost anyone
will find that Lubuntu uses
less memory than
I added Puppy 5 to the chart as a directly competing product from
the Ubuntu family. I found Lubuntu’s memory use to be roughly similar to Puppy’s,
though Puppy uses less at initial load and at idle. Puppy has a much
smaller download file and installed disk
I also added Damn Small Linux to the chart to bracket the numbers on
the low end in the same way that Ubuntu brackets them on the high end.
Comparing Lubuntu to DSL is really like comparing apples to oranges.
DSL uses way fewer resources. But it bundles fewer apps and doesn’t
offer anywhere near the same ease of use as Lubuntu. DSL is a great
tool for hobbyists and IT professionals, but it isn’t suitable for untutored computer users like Lubuntu.
I’ve had Ubuntu 8.x and 9.x running on five P-III’s and four P-IV’s
since those releases came out. Ubuntu
10.04 disappointed me on this older equipment. Due
to video issues it
install, out of the box, on any
of the five P-III’s. It installed
successfully on all the P-IV’s but one, a Gateway Profile 4 All-In-One
PC. I eventually got Ubuntu 10.04 to run on all these computers but
it took some geeky tweaks. OS News readers could certainly implement these
techniques. But they are probably beyond skill of the average
Lubuntu 10.04 installed right out-of-the-box on the three P-III’s I
still had access to. No tweaking required. It also ran immediately on
all of the P-IV’s, including the Gateway Profile 4.
I conclude that while Ubuntu runs great on P-IV’s, with
version 10.04, it finally leaves
behind. This makes sense because P-IV’s have been out since 2000
and P-III’s stopped production in 2003. Lubuntu appears to
up the slack for P-III’s and may be a good alternative. Lubuntu will
run on systems with down to 128M of memory, but to install
it from Live CD you need at least 160M. (See the system requirements for details.)
I’ve really been impressed by Lubuntu’s snappy responsiveness on older
computers. The contrast to Ubuntu is noticeable. The personal rule of
thumb I’ve developed about when to use
Lubuntu versus Ubuntu is this:
- For P-IV’s or better with 512 M or more of DDR-1 memory, go with
- For P-IV’s with lesser memory, and all P-III’s, go with Lubuntu
If you have an old machine in your attic or basement, Lubuntu is a
great tool to revive it and make it useful again.
In my tests Lubuntu provided a
nice, responsive system on all the old computers listed below. Machines
like these have little to no resale value and you can often pick up them up for free from friends, family, co-workers, Freecycle, or Craigslist. Pretty
amazing that Lubuntu makes them all useful, when you think about it!
|512 m (PC-100)
|20 g (PATA/IDE)
|256 m (PC-133)
|40 g (PATA/IDE)
|512 m (PC-133)
|40 g (PATA/IDE)
|768 m (DDR-1)
|160 g (PATA/IDE)
|1 g (DDR-1)
|120 g (PATA/IDE)
From the standpoint of charitable work, machines like these are valuable to
those who have no computer otherwise. (One
in four Americans do not own a computer.) They also make good secondary
machines for large families that have more kids than computers. I
know IT professionals who keep their old P-IV around as an
emergency backup if their current computer fails.
fulfills an important role in the PC ecosystem. While these computers have virtually no resale value they still
provide value if placed and used appropriately. If you have
computer up to ten years old you don’t use, please donate it
to a charity like FreeGeek that will reuse it. Recyclers will only destroy it, then recycle the raw materials.
Comparison to other Lightweight Linuxes
Some web sites promote Xubuntu as a light alternative to Ubuntu. Xubuntu uses the XFCE interface
instead of GNOME and it bundles lighter apps than Ubuntu.
8.x and 9.x releases I ran several benchmarks pitting Xubuntu against
Ubuntu. While Xubuntu generally used less memory than Ubuntu I wouldn’t
characterize the difference as significant. Xubuntu’s memory advantage
was small enough
— usually 0 to 20 m — that I wrote off Xubuntu as a tool to revive
older systems with too little memory to run Ubuntu.
This Linux Magazine article comparing Lubuntu,
Xubuntu, and Ubuntu reached the same conclusion. The Wikipedia article
on Xubuntu summarizes the situation by stating that “Testing has
concluded that Xubuntu 9.10 beta’s RAM usage actually is greater than
Ubuntu’s 9.10 beta with GNOME.” So
while Xubuntu is an excellent system, it didn’t contribute towards my goal
of making computers useful that are too resource-limited to run
U-lite is another possibility.
Like Lubuntu, U-lite is based on Ubuntu. It employs LXDE and bundles lightweight applications
into the base system. I didn’t test U-lite mainly because there
appears little possibility that it will become an official member of
the Ubuntu family. The project was originally called “Ubuntulite” but
changed its name following a communication
from Canonical Ltd. that the name violated Ubuntu trademarks. In
contrast, Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical’s founder, personally invited the Lubuntu
project to start up. The prospects appear
excellent for Lubuntu to become an official member of the
Ubuntu family soon.
(For example, you can already mark your question as pertaining to
Lubuntu in the official Ubuntu forum.) U-lite may be an excellent distro but it fell out of scope for this project.
is an innovative light distro that consistently places among the top dozen
distros according to the popularity rankings at Distrowatch. Puppy
automatically loads completely into memory, and runs solely from there,
on any computer having 256 M or more. This eliminates slow disk and
CD/DVD access and speeds system performance.
Puppy’s resource consumption is less than or equal to Lubuntu’s, as shown in the chart. Puppy
achieves all this with ease of use I’ve found sufficient
for end users (as long as the system has been installed and configured
for them). I’ll review Puppy next month.
From the perspective of computer refurbishing, both Lubuntu and Puppy
are great candidates. It’s nice to have choices!
One question I have about Lubuntu is whether it will run on computers
under 500 mhz that still meet its system requirements. This encompasses
Pentium II’s, early Celerons, and even some Pentium I’s.
distros take specific measures to support these older machines that Lubuntu
does not. For example, Puppy supports a “retro kernel” release in
parallel for each new version. You can run Puppy with either the retro
kernel or a current kernel. Damn Small Linux still uses the 2.4
kernel and offers the SYSLINUX boot loader for systems that can not
the worse case, if the current release of Puppy or
DSL won’t boot
on your old computer, you can go back and try older releases
five or six years of product evolution. I’ve sometimes
had to resort to this to pick up support for older devices. You can’t
with Lubuntu. It’s new and was first released in 2010. To my
knowledge, it’s not specifically tested on old computers that it could,
theoretically, run on from the standpoint of system requirements.
What this means is that there are really two kinds of lightweight Linux
distributions. Some specifically support older computers, while others
offer current software for reasonably current machines that just happen
to be resource-light. I suspect that Lubuntu fits into the latter category.
If any readers have tried Lubuntu on sub-500 mhz computers please
share your experiences with us by posting a comment. Did Lubuntu boot without tweaking? Did it recognize your old
devices? Please post experiences with Lubuntu on
netbooks, too. I had only a single netbook to try it on and it worked fine.
Thanks for your feedback.
Ubuntu Means “Change” in Bantu
Does “Ubuntu” mean “change” in Bantu? Well, actually no. Ubuntu is named for the south African concept of “humanity towards others.”
in terms of operating system compatibility, Ubuntu does mean Change.
One of the Ubuntu family’s big advantages is that it quickly
capitalizes on new
technology. These are fast-moving distros. The downsides are occasional
incompatibility or disruptive change across releases.
In the last two years, the Ubuntu family has moved from the GRUB boot loader to
GRUB 2, to continually changing networking management tools, to eliminating
the xorg.conf configuration file and moving to RandR for video. Lately I’ve heard they may replace GDM with LightDM, move to more regular updates, replace X.org with Wayland, switch the user interface
from GNOME to Unity, and replace OpenOffice with LibreOffice.
These are changes to Ubuntu, not
Lubuntu. But Lubuntu follows Ubuntu and this philosophy of rapid change is fundamental to the Ubuntu family.
So consider your needs carefully when evaluating Lubuntu. Do you need rapid updates and improvements? The
Ubuntu family does a superior job in providing them. Or do you crave
stability and backward compatibility? In this case you may find
Ubuntu’s constant push for new technology and features annoying or burdensome.
Lubuntu Is a Winner
Lubuntu successfully extends the Ubuntu family to limited-resource
computers. I love its responsiveness on five to ten year old machines! The Lubuntu
team has clearly done an excellent job in figuring out how to preconfigure a
leaner, meaner Ubuntu.
Lubuntu is a faster, lighter alternative to Ubuntu, you still
get all the important Ubuntu benefits — the thousands of downloadable
the forums, the helpful websites,
the wikis, and more. You can get the best of both worlds by installing
Lubuntu, then adding any extra applications you need from the
Ubuntu software repositories.
seek a resource-light, well-supported Linux, Lubuntu could be your solution.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Howard Fosdick (President, FCI) is an independent consultant who
databases and operating systems. His hobby is computer refurbishing as
a form of social work and environmental contribution. You can reach him
at contactfci at the domain
name of sbcglobal (period) net.
|How refurbishing defeats planned
“Recycled” Computers Are Not Recycled
|What really happens to many
|Overview of how to refurbish
|A step-by-step procedure to
Tune Up Windows
|How to tune Windows (any version)
|How Microsoft Missed The Next Big Thing
|How Microsoft missed the boat when it comes to the exploding popularity of small portable devices
|How to Run Multiple Operating Systems
|Describes and contrasts techniques to running multiple operating systems on a single computer
Lubuntu 10.04 Screenshots
The Basic Screen
The initial Lubuntu desktop has no icons. Like Windows, the system menu
starts from the lower left-hand corner of the screen. (With LXDE — unlike XFCE or JWM — you
can’t right-click anywhere you like to bring up the menu.) This
shows the Accessories bundled with Lubuntu:
Memory Use is Low
In this example I’ve opened mtPaint, AbiWord, Gnumeric, the Xfce4
Taskmanager, and the Chromium browser with three active tabs. Total
The File Manager
The PCMan file manager replaces Ubuntu’s Nautilus. I’ve found it runs visibly
faster on slow computers. PCMan is an LXDE component. By
default Lubuntu dynamically mounts all partitions on all disks. This is consistent with Lubuntu’s excellent ease of use.
Monitoring System Resources
The Xfce4 Taskmanager is a comprehensive but easy-to-use tool for
managing system resources on a low-end box. It replaces Ubuntu’s System
Synaptic Package Manager
Lubuntu uses the same Synaptic Package Manager as Ubuntu. Here I am
searching Synaptic while trying to figure out how to take screenshots
by looking for an
appropriate package to install, since none is bundled with Lubuntu.
Turns out I
didn’t need to download anything. Lubuntu has the scrot line command. I used this
command to take all the screenshots you see here, with a delay of 10
seconds and the top
100%: scrot -d 10 -q 100 -u