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Lightweight Linux Review

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When you hear of Linux, most people think of Gnome and KDE and the graphical environments, and they are normally the default environments for probably about 90% of all Linux distros out theres a bit of a hefty price for some, the installs usually take up a few gigabytes in this time and age.


This can be a real problem for users that is making use of old hardware that may be sitting in the closet, or for those that cant afford a new system, and is using 10 year old system, more or less. Thankfully, some distros have started showing up over the last few years for those that have low system specs.


I decided to install three of the more popular lightweight Linux distros for a test. Each test was done in a specific amount of time, three hours per distro. The machine that they were tested on is, by todays standards, an old machine.


The hardware specs are as follows:

2Ghz Intel Celeron processor

1GB of DDR ram

8GB Hard drive

Ati Radeon 9550 video

Integrated audio


So as you can see, more likely the most powerful part on the machine is the ATI Radeon videocard. I specifically lowered the amount of RAM and a very old 8 GB hard drive was installed on purpose, for very low disk space, by todays standards.


The three distros that was tried were Puppy Linux4 , PCLinux LXDE edition, and Mint Linux XFCE Community Edition.


The first distro that was tried was Puppy Linux. While after the boot there were some terminal biased questions that you needed to answer, such as keyboard type, time zone, and to choose between xorg or xvesa video server, it was noting to hard to do. Just reading the description was generally enough to help you make an informed decision.


Puppy Linux booted very fast after the questions, and the desktop system was very nice and pleasing to see, no garish colors, everything has a bit of an easy to get along with cartoonish feeling, the over all desktop theme was very nice. The desktop has a very lightweight feel to it, and application response time was very quick and stable.


The first thing that I have to set up with every Linux is my Broadcom 43xx wireless card. To my surprise, I did not have to load any drivers at all, Puppy;s wireless config system saw the card, found my network, and connected to it. I was very impressed with this.


Puppy has a mini Synaptic type system that comes with it, it loaded up much faster then synaptic would have done, and it had all of the major desktop application genres listed on the side. Installing a package was very simple, the hardest decision that you will face is where to download the requested .pet package from, as how the application offers you a variety of choices so that you can choose the most local one to you, for the fastest speed.


Sadly, there is not that many packages in the repositories, but in the community support board, you can find a lot of packages that people have made and set up for download.


Installing the Os to my hard drive took a bit of work, I found out the hard way that it was best if you manually launched Gparted and pre-made your partitions, and then you needed to go ahead and mount the Live CD, as how the installer would ask you for it's mounted location. I will admit that it took all of 3 minutes for the full OS to be installed, after I had set up the needed partitions, it was very fast indeed!


I looked around on the board for an XFCE package, as how that is my favorite desktop environment. I saw where some had been able to install XFCE and had hosted installer packages, but I could never get the package to install correctly.


Overall, I would give Puppy Linux 4 a good, solid 4 out of 5 for overall usage.


The next Os that was chosen and tested was PCLinux LXDE edition. A lot of people on the Internet will argue that this is one of the faster lightweight Linux distros, and I had the feeling that it was. The overall look of the desktop reminded me of a very much KDE type theme, but seeing as how PCLinuxOS is primarily a KDE distro, it only made sense that the look of the LXDE edition would share that look.


I was very much surprised and happy with the Control Center, it was very nice and easy to use, however, I was never able to get my Broadcom 43xx wireless card to work under PCLinuxOS. I did not have the needed drivers for this OS on my flash drive, so I was without Internet while I was in this OS.


Sadly, things did not fare very well with this version of PCLinuxOS. The installer for the hard drive kept on receiving an error, so I tried manually partitioning, and that did nothing to help the problem. Finally, after three hours of trying to just install this OS, I finally gave up on it, and went on to the next Linux distro.


PCLinuxPS LXDE receives a 2 out of five. It was my fault for not having the needed wireless drivers, and that I can understand, but for the installer to continuously break over and over is something that needs to be addressed.


The final lightweight Linux distro that was tested was Mint Linux XFCE CE (Community Edition). As a general rule, if you have ever installed a version of Ubuntu, then you pretty much know what your in for in the Live mode and the Installer system. Visually, Mint XFCE was appealing, with the mint green and dark colors for the windowing system, but not everything felt just right, not like how Puppy felt so graphically easy and almost perfect.


Mint Linux XFCE has a few extra apps with it that is only found in a Mint Linux distro. mint Install was very nice, but on first loading, it downloads screen shots of a lot of apps, and that took up the most time. Running mint Install a second time proved to me that this was a one time only event, more or less, until a screen shot gets added or updated, so if you can stand waiting for almost 5-10 minutes for all of the screen shots to load, then after that you will be fine.


Mint Linux XFCE CE is biased on Ubuntu 9.04, so it is not the latest, as where Ubuntu is currently on 10.04 testing right now. I should mention that I had to install my Broadcom 43xx drivers, but I have those stored on my thumb drive, so it was a simple click, enter password, let the installer do it's thing, and I was up and connected to my network in less than 5 minutes total time. I did not even have to reboot for the drivers to be recognized, it all just worked.


Overall, MintLinux gets a good 3.9 out of 5, the only reason that it did not make a 4 was due to the artwork not seeming to “flow” as good as how Puppy Linux did.


So if you have an older machine on your desk, or in your closet, and want to make use of it as an Internet machine, or just a desktop machine in general for common, everyday usage, then I suggest choosing either Puppy or Mint Linux.


Please note that Puppy uses very small and lightweight apps, and you may not be to familiar with them, while Mint makes use of commonly used and found Linux apps, such as Open Office, the Gimp, etc.


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