Move Over Ubuntu, Here Comes Lightweight Linux


The article title is a oxymoron and it will become clear as you read the article. It is however accurate.

This article does not attempt to sell Linux in-lieu of Microsoft Windows. If you are victim of Microsoft Windows 10, you should consider moving to Linux anyway and stop being a lab-rat for Microsoft. As I read somewhere, freedom is a state of mind. Microsoft BASHing is at the bottom of the article (pun intended).

The Realization of Need:

A couple of my laptops were purchased without pre-loaded Microsoft Windows operating systems. I did not want to install unlicensed Microsoft Windows on them so I automatically chose to install the latest available version of Ubuntu Linux OS. Since I was going to use these machines for day-to-day desktop computing, I chose to download the Desktop edition of Ubuntu and since the computers had 4 GB RAM or more and Intel Core-i processors, I installed the 64-bit versions (AMD64) of the OS.

I also tried a few other versions of Linux such as Linux Mint, CentOS and Fedora. At end, nothing else worked like Ubuntu. There were persistent issues with RA-Link based Ethernet, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices. I also faced issues with RealTek based Ethernet, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices. More often than not, I ended up download Driver-source and tweaked compilation scripts to build new drivers. The new compiled drivers worked flawlessly.

It is when I tried to install Ubuntu Linux on the retired Desktop computers at work, that I faced show-stopping issues.

  • Many computers featuring Pentium / Celeron processors (prior to Dual Core processor series) have no support for 64-bit instruction set. I had to download the 32-bit version ISO images of Ubuntu Linux and try again.
  • Most Linux distributions have stopped issuing versions that are compatible with the original Pentium / Pentium MMX CPU based computers. So if you have a pre-2000 computer, you are probably out of luck with new versions of Ubuntu and you may have to settle for Puppy Linux or Ubuntu 8.x. Very soon, Linux builds for 32-bit CPUs are expected to be stopped too.
  • Ubuntu Linux now requires a healthy amount of RAM to install and run. Most old desktops have less than 1 GB RAM and this may result in Ubuntu refusing to load altogether. I had to scavenge parts from dead-computers to build a test computer with 1.5 GB RAM.
  • After successfully installing Ubuntu 16.04 Linux, I noticed that available RAM reported was quite low and the system was slower than expected. Though Ubuntu on the PC was still faster than the OEM version of Windows XP it came with, it was quite laggy when running multiple concurrent applications.

I realized that I would have to switch to a light-weight version of Ubuntu such as Xubuntu or Lubuntu. These versions don’t pack as many graphical bells and whistles as the Ubuntu with Unity Launcher does, but some of them have more modest RAM requirements of just 256 MB.

Through Google Uncle, I received information about light-weight Linux distributions such as Puppy Linux, Arch Linux, Peppermint Linux and Linux Lite. I used Oracle VirtualBox to create virtual instances of computers to try out as many versions as I could before making a recommendation to myself.

The Selection Criterion:

The selection / elimination criterion is very important when selecting your preferred Linux distribution. Unlike Microsoft Windows or Apple Mac OS, Linux can be built and shared by anyone and this has lead to a rise of hundreds of versions with significant disparity between them.

I chose to stick to Linux distributions that were based on Debian. In particular, distributions that followed the Ubuntu model were short-listed because following Ubuntu scheme and repositories would mean that the Linux installation would receive regular and steady stream of security and product updates.

Hence Puppy Linux and Arch Linux were eliminated leaving only Lubuntu, Peppermint Linux and Linux Lite in the fray.

Pre-Installation Check:

None of the distributions would start successfully in VirtualBox. Turns out, all the latest distributions require PAE/NX support in CPU and these distributions would just fail to install on computers (Physical and Virtual). Hence, I enabled the PAE/NX setting in VirtualBox to be able to test these versions.

Who Won?

I used the Virtual Machine based Linux installations for a few days to discard the distributions one-at-a-time till only one survivor remained.

  • Lubuntu was the first to be discarded. It neither had the visual panache of Peppermint Linux nor the comprehensive packaging for Linux Lite. Memory usage wise too, it was actually a little more than Linux Lite.
  • Peppermint Linux was the next to go. Its memory and disk consumption rose dramatically once I started installing the basic packages such as LibreOffice, GIMP, InkScape etc. The rather thick and italicized fonts also were less than optimal for daily usage. Driver support and performance of Wi-Fi networks was also better in Linux Lite.
  • Linux Lite won in the end because it simply outperformed all other distributions (event Ubuntu) in every department. User Interface, Application performance, Hardware performance – everything was great. There was one field where Ubuntu was superior: When playing Full-HD movies using VLC, there was a noticeable flicker (like slow refresh) in Linux Lite. The movie playback on Ubuntu on the other hand was quite smooth (though still not as smooth as Windows).

In the end, on computers without valid Windows OS license, I strongly recommend Linux Lite as ideal.

Microsoft Bashing:

Am I against Microsoft and a die-hard Linux evangelist? Certainly not.

  • I am an advocate of using the right tools for the job. If you need to work extensively with Images-Audio-Video, Windows is an ideal platform (Mac OS is an excellent platform too; it is based on Unix).
  • If you need to use software that is available on Windows only, then you should opt for Windows without further ado.
  • If you need to work esoteric hardware for which only Windows device drivers are available, then Windows is your only option.
  • Older versions of Windows (XP, 7) work very well without making a nuisance of themselves. Hopefully Microsoft will stop mucking around with Windows 10 and allow it to stabilize and be adopted by users.

IMHO, what Microsoft is doing wrong is spending huge amounts of time and money on incorporating features in their operating system which are mostly useless for it’s users. Clearly Microsoft product managers don’t use these features or else they would discover a very loud office with everyone talking to their computers incessantly and really dirty LCD displays with everyone touching their monitors all the time.

Microsoft is venting it’s frustration of it’s falling bottom-line by increasing prices of it’s OS in a world where no-one is charging for the OS anymore. Users are venting their frustration by moving away from Microsoft’s offerings in favour of other “less-capable” systems but less evil systems.

Conclusion:

If you are on the lookout for a less evil system, be sure to give Ubuntu and it’s derivative OSes a fair trial. The road might by rocky, but eventually you will figure it out.


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