Five lightweight Linux desktops
There are many different desktop environments for Linux, but not all of them work with older or less powerful hardware. Fortunately, there are also plenty of lightweight desktop environments for Linux. The Register has a helpful roundup of the top five lightweight desktop distributions.
Scott Gilbertson reports for The Register:
...if you've got older hardware or are running a server, or don't need all the "features" in today's desktop environments, projects like Unity or GNOME Shell are overkill. Worse, all those features could render your older hardware nearly unusable.
Luckily, there's a whole other world of Linux. There are dozens of smaller distros that specialize in lightweight desktops that do the basics – manage windows, and offer file browsers, launchers and sometimes a menu bar of some sort – but otherwise stay out of the way. The point, after all, is the applications. Why waste RAM running a fancy desktop when all you want to do in interact with the apps you're running? If you have the RAM to spare, well, sure, why not? But not all of us do.
I became interested in lightweight desktops when I got an EeePC that, while quite capable (I wrote this article on it) has just 2GB of RAM. Install Ubuntu with Unity on the EeePC, and you'll be using 770MB of RAM just idling. That's well over a third of the available RAM before you so much as open a file browser.
3. SparkyLinux (with Openbox)
4. DIY Debian/Arch
5. LXDE-based distros
Ars Technica reviews Linux Mint 17.2
Speaking of Linux desktops, Ars has a full review of Linux Mint 17.2 and finds it to be well worth an upgrade.
Scott Gilbertson reports for Ars Technica:
The Mint project recently released Mint 17.2, a significant upgrade for the Ubuntu-based distro that has become one of Linux's most popular. And while Mint overall manages to be among the last holdouts of the traditional desktop computing paradigm, this iteration manages to feel both familiar and modern at the same time.
...Mint is also notable because of its dual homegrown desktops, Cinnamon and MATE. Both are the rare desktops that both offer task bars, system trays, docks, and other familiar metaphors for interacting with and managing your applications and files. And while Linux Mint 17.2 does have that of-note Cinnamon offering we mentioned, those looking for alternatives to Unity and GNOME 3 will continue to find everything they love about Ubuntu without the Unity Desktop.
Mint 17.2 is well worth the upgrade, though much of what you want from it might be easier to get by just upgrading Cinnamon or MATE on their own. The Mint Linux upgrade guide tends to emphasize the wisdom on the old saying, "if it ain't broke..." Those are good words to live by, but that said, I had no trouble at all upgrading from Mint 17.1. All you need to do is open Update Manager and head to the Edit menu, where you should see an option to "Upgrade to Linux Mint 17.2 Rafaela."
Linux Mint 17.2 is an LTS release and will receive security updates until 2019. And until 2016, all Mint releases will continue to use the same base package system (Ubuntu 14.04). Maintaining desktop familiarity may never be easier.
DistroWatch reviews Semplice Linux 7
Semplice Linux 7 is a Debian-based distribution that offers a unique desktop environment called "vera." The desktop is a plugin-oriented GTK+3 environment.
Jesse Smith reports for DistroWatch:
Most of what I experienced during my time with Semplice was positive. I certainly enjoyed Semplice's unique desktop (vera) and its control centre. The distribution worked well in both of my test environments and offers cutting edge packages. I personally am not a huge fan of toolkit purity, that is sticking with applications which use a specific toolkit (GTK in this instance). I prefer finding the best tool for a specific task, regardless of how the tool was made. This sometimes put me at odds with Semplice, which is closely aligned with GTK. However, the applications I wanted were available through the project's package manager so adjusting the distribution to my preferences required that I simply install some extra applications.
My one serious problem with Semplice was the upgrade process. Using Synaptic to upgrade the distribution effectively killed the graphical user interface. Upgrading software from the command line worked better, but I still had to wade through several layers of errors before all my software was up to date and working properly. This is what one gets from running a distribution on a base that is explicitly named Unstable.
Regarding vera, I found the desktop environment worked well. I'm not sure if vera solves any problems. I missed having a button to open the application menu and the search feature really only works when the desktop is mostly empty. On the other hand, the application menu and search features work, so while these features did not improve my work flow, they did not significantly hamper my efforts either.
On the whole I liked Semplice. I might prefer the distribution be based on a more conservative foundation, but otherwise I like what the developers are doing. I especially appreciate the mini-tutorial vera offers to new users. I think Semplice is a good match for people who want to try Debian as a rolling release distribution.
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