Lubuntu, the flavor of Ubuntu sporting the LXDE desktop environment. It is one of the newer kids on the block, and in some areas it shows. It does have the power of Ubuntu and its community behind it, and hence was our first selected distro for the Seven Day Lightweight Distro Challenge.

What do I think of it?

A little about this review.

Reviewing a lightweight and/or minimal Linux Distro is a bit of a challenge for me. I am used to using full featured operating systems that have a lot invested in a few key areas like:

  • User Interface – Ease of use, features etc.
    Many lightweight distros use minimal interfaces that are light on resources, it is often the interface or Desktop Environment that cause a lot of the “weight” of a distribution. Minimal desktop environments tend to be less mainstream, and also they tend to be light on features.
  • Productivity Tools – Picture Management, Office Tools etc.
    Gimp does not necessarily belong on a lightweight distribution, nor does OpenOffice. Some distros feature lightweight alternatives to common powertools in these areas, and these lightweight packages are often lacking in the features that are aimed at serious users.
  • Eye-candy touches.
    Okay, this is less useful, but to me important. My “office” needs to look nice. This is purely a matter of personal taste and preference, some of the most hard-core power users I know (like kdcoetzee) use very minimal desktop environments like Evil that they custom configure to the nines to fit a certain task set.

So, putting the lighter weight distributions through my normal 23 part tests would possibly portray them in an unfairly negative light. What do I use to rate them then? I would hate to be very subjective, because that is unfair. This seven day series then affords me the opportunity to “build” a lightweight distro review criteria, one that will give an idea as to the quality of the OS, and also give the reader an idea of “should I give it a try.”

One unique problem with lightweight distros is that they are often very specialized, whereas more mainstream distros are very desktop oriented and can usually be directly compared with each other.

With that kept in mind, on to the review!

First Impressions

The Ubuntu heritage is readily apparent when you fire it up for the first time. Little is done in the way of building a unique identity, and a lot is focused on presenting the LXDE brother of the Ubuntu family. The stated aim of the Lubuntu team is also to have it officially adopted as an Ubuntu distro like Xubuntu and Kubuntu.

Personally I think Kubuntu can be dropped and Lubuntu added, more on that later.

Lubuntu has an overwhelmingly blue theme, from the window borderst to the icon set and the desktop wallpaper.

The Elegant Lubuntu Desktop

The Elegant Lubuntu Desktop (Click to Enlarge)

It lends itself to a pretty and elegant working environment. There is little not to like about this lightweight distro at first glance.

Installation

Lubuntu leans heavily on the underlying Ubuntu feature set, and this is very apparent in the installation sequence. If you have ever installed Ubuntu, you will feel at home almost immediately.

One possible glitch which I am not too sure about – if you choose a weird keyboard format the installer often crashes. This was too intermittent for me to make a firm statement regarding that, suffice to say that by the fourth try I left the keyboard preferences to “US INTERNATIONAL” and the installation finished.

Desktop Readiness

Lubuntu has an advantage in being an Ubuntu flavor – you can be pretty sure that it will have hardware support for almost anything. If it works with Ubuntu, it will work with Lubuntu.

Another advantage is the large package repositories, you can easily use Lubuntu as a base and build yourself a full featured heavyweight with a lightweight desktop environment for those who are more about the tasks to be done and less about the experience of the OS.

You can quickly and easily add OpenOffice, Gimp and many other tools and utilities that are available to the higher end Desktop Linux brands out there.

Lubuntu is a good place to start in that regard.

There are a few problems though.

  1. You cannot change your keyboard preferences post install. LXDE does not seem to cater for that. A google search seems to confirm this. If you read through the various forum threads about this it seems to be a real issue, but it also looks like the Lubuntu guys are actively working on a solution.
  2. Setting the time in the panel clock is also impossible – at least as far as I have found. You set the time during install and that’s it.
  3. Flash support. Chromium, the browser included with Lubuntu in preference to Firefox, should have Flash already installed. It does not though. You have to install flash via the repositories to have it working in the browser. In my opinion flash should just be packaged with the browser by default and done with. Also, the way the problem is presented in the browser is confusing to the uninitiated user. You get a message that you need flash and then a link to where you can get it, but then the website where you are directed to informs you that your browser already has flash installed. A large confusilating issue right there methinks.

Those issues knock it in the desktop readiness stakes. It would have rated higher if it were not for these two, hence for desktop readiness I give it a 3/5. I am very confident that this will improve as the issues are addressed in future releases.

Lubuntu scores 3/5

User Friendliness

Lubuntu is much less intimidating than some other bare bones distros are. It features the synaptic package management system to, erm, manage your packages, a clean and uncluttered desktop interface and a nice default selection of software.

One example is the choice of installing the Gnome Network Manager Applet to get the job of managing connectivity done. This, and other choices are little things that make using the distro on a daily basis very easy. Compared to say Puppy Linux the network management is much simpler for instance.

Before any of you cry foul, puppy has a much different target audience than Lubuntu, and is a much more powerful and flexible distro.

Also a minor annoyance was the disappearance of the window borders once or twice. I managed to snap the screenie below right after installing flash from the command line:

Borderless Lubuntu

The Window Decorations Went AWOL (Click To Enlarge)

For user friendliness I give Lubuntu a 4/5 – right-click does what it is supposed to (the XFCE right click menu can become a zoo very quickly) and most things are where you expect them to be.

Lubuntu Scores 4/5

Q-Rating

I am writing this on my wife’s old pentium M laptop. Lubuntu has server her well, and I like it. Personally I think there are some minor things lacking here and there, and the question is if they are in the scope of this distro to include.

A direct competitor is Linux Mint’s LXDE edition. I have been playing with it a little and I believe it the better option. It will be the next candidate in our Lightweight Distro Roundup, and will have a review featuring it soon.

My Q-rating is highly subjective as always, and thus I reserve the right to my opinion. I give Lubuntu a 3/5 for a few reasons:

PRO’s

  • Less of a zoo to configure than other lightweight distros.
  • Has the feel of a larger distro as opposed to a community project.
  • Is very stable and extendable.

Cons

  • LXDE has some limitations like the clock and keyboard preferences that cannot be changed.
  • Flash not included when it should be.
  • It is very bare bones – good for a lightweight distro, but Linux Mint LXDE shows how it should be done.

3/5 it is then.

Lubuntu q-rating 3/5

Summary

Lubuntu has been given the day one test today of our Lightweight Distro Roundup – Read about it HERE.

It is… okay. It is a good option for those with older hardware that wants to have Ubuntu-Like functionality. Are there better options out there? Linux Mint LXDE is one, but Lubuntu is better than Xubuntu, and quite a bit faster.

Remember that I said Kubuntu should be dropped in favor of Lubuntu? Allow me to explain: Ubuntu with Gnome fills the shoes of the flagship model of the Ubuntu family. Kubuntu is aimed at being another flagship but with a KDE jacket on. It fails. Kubuntu just does not cut it in the company of Mandriva KDE or Mint 9 KDE and if you move a step up in the power user stakes openSUSE 11.3 KDE. It should be renegated to a community project in my opinion.

Xubuntu has matured nicely, and is the mid-range model. It is becoming a bit to “heavy” for really slow computers, but it is good as a lightweight alternative to Ubuntu on new hardware, or for hardware that is three to five years old.

Lubuntu is the compact car of the three – right now it is installed on a nine year old laptop and running nicely. I doubt XFCE would be able to do that – we shall find out later in the week when it is Xubuntu’s turn in our roundup. Lubuntu would round out the $buntu family nicely.

A final note on the Lightweight Distro Tests

I am looking for a list of criteria that I can use to review older distros, things that I can weight and score them as a separate category similar to the tests I give the full-fledged distros.

Things that come to mind are RAM usage and System load at idle. Are there any other suggestions from the readers what I could include that are lightweight OS specific that would lead to a scoring system for Lightweight Distros?

Please let me know in the comments!

Related posts:

  1. Lightweight Distro Roundup – The verdict
  2. Lightweight Distro Roundup: Day 11 – PCLinuxOS LXDE
  3. Lightweight Distro Roundup: Day 8 – Puppy 5.10 (WOW)
  4. Lightweight Distro Roundup: Day 5 – Dreamlinux
  5. Lightweight Distro Roundup: Day 2 Linux Mint LXDE