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linuxnoob67 10-16-2012 05:35 PM

What makes a lightweight linux distro lightweight?
I'm still using windows, I know, I know, shameful. But my desktop is getting old so I'm leaning heavily towards linux. I need a lightweight distro because gnome and kde would pull from my resources too much. I just wanted to know what made a distro lightweight? Is it the Desktop Environment, or something else. I know websites tell you lightweight distros but I was thinking of using debian XFCE as a lightweight distro.

Linux Noob

WooHoo first post!

snowpine 10-16-2012 05:39 PM

Welcome to the forums! What are the specs of your hardware? That will help us make a good recommendation to you.

Debian Xfce is a wonderful choice, and you can read about its hardware requirements here:

linuxnoob67 10-16-2012 06:00 PM

Well to be honest I dont know. I was really just wondering in general what is the biggest factor in a lightweight distro. Is it the desktop environment?

snowpine 10-16-2012 06:37 PM

"Lightweight" is a subjective term that doesn't have a strict definition. For some people, it might mean "a minimalist base system without a lot of preinstalled applications." For others it might mean "designed to run on older computers without much RAM or CPU power." Still others might measure "lightweight" by the size of the installer .iso CD image. What does "lightweight" mean to you?

For example:

Arch is lightweight because its install process allows you to be very selective what goes on your system.
Tinycore Linux is lightweight because the .iso download is only 12mb.
Puppy is lightweight because it includes drivers for a wide variety of older hardware.
Xubuntu is lightweight because it is an Xfce alternative to Ubuntu.
Slackware is lightweight because it does not add a lot of unnecessary complexity.

^---- all the above are true statements.

TobiSGD 10-16-2012 07:05 PM

If people speak of lightweight distributions for older hardware they mean usually distributions that come with a lightweight desktop environment or a window manager only, but also with software that is in general low on resources.
For example, lightweight distributions usually don't come with Firefox as browser, since Firefox is simply a resource hog. They rather use browsers like Midori or other browsers that have a small footprint.
Or they replace OpenOffice/LibreOffice with the combination of Abiword and Gnumeric.

Good lightweight distributions are:
Ubuntu based: Lubuntu (LXDE desktop), Bodhi (Enlightenment window manager)
Debian based: antiX (IceWM window manager)
Slackware based: Vector Lite (JWM or Fluxbox window manager), Salix (several versions with different DEs/WMs)

Of course you can also just turn any of the general purpose distros (Debian, Slackware, Ubuntu, Red Hat and derivates) into a lightweight system.

linuxnoob67 10-16-2012 07:19 PM

Wow thanks for all the help :). What do you mean by making distros lightweight? Im liking puppy linux so far even thug jwm is kinda boring.

bryanl 10-16-2012 07:24 PM

Way back in the dimdarks, you'd have to compile the kernel yourself. There was a 'make config' where you selected the target hardware and other kernal things to customize the kernel to your particular hardware and needs. Then you did your own selection of services and applications for your system after you got the kernel going.

That is pretty much what a lightweight distribution does for you. It has been put together with a lot of basic system customizing for a particular environment and includes just those services and applications that target a particular need. That serves two purposes. One is that it keeps the system small so can run better in a constrained memory and storage environment as well as provide a complete installable solution that is reasonably small. The other is that it tends to be more efficient at doing what it is designed to do as it doesn't include a lot of other stuff not needed for its goals.

Ubuntu, for instance, might be called a middleweight system as its goal has been to provide a generic utility system that will fit on one CD. It includes the drivers to run on very many processors and hardware environments and the services and applications that most folks find useful. By that scale, some of the distributions that need a DVD might be called heavyweight ...

The advent of package systems, such as deb and rpm, and the I'net for easy access to repositories has made it very easy to start with a lightweight system and enhance as you need. The key to keep in mind is that using such a system for general purpose needs might mean having to do some hardware configuration and application and service adding that larger systems help users avoid.

linuxnoob67 10-16-2012 07:29 PM

Well, windows is driving me crazy on my old desktop its so darn slow. What would you recommend for a lightweightdistro for a beginner? And shoo you have any tips for the transition

snowpine 10-16-2012 08:07 PM


Originally Posted by linuxnoob67 (Post 4807679)
Well, windows is driving me crazy on my old desktop its so darn slow. What would you recommend for a lightweightdistro for a beginner? And shoo you have any tips for the transition

First, the easiest way to make your old computer faster is to upgrade your hardware. This will make your computing experience faster whether you are using Windows *or* Linux. Old computers can often be sped up by opening them up and cleaning out the dust bunnies, max'ing out the RAM, replacing a failing hard drive, installing a decent video card, etc. Or just recycle it and replace every few years; hardware improves exponentially (Moore's law) so it is past the point of diminishing returns to keep old hardware running past its expiration date.

Second, you mentioned Debian Xfce, and I think this is a great choice! You can test drive it today (no permanent changes to your current system) as a Live CD:

Third, you haven't told us your computer's specs/components, so I can't make a specific recommendation for your hardware.

Fourth, Windows does tend to get bogged down over time. There are ways to make it faster without doing something drastic like switching to Linux necessarily...

TobiSGD 10-16-2012 08:10 PM

Which distro I would recommend depends on the hardware that you have, mostly CPU, amount of RAM and videocard.
You can find the first two easily with making a right-click on the "My Computer" symbol and choosing Properties in the menu. The name of the video-card can be found with right-clicking on an empty place on your desktop, choosing properties and looking at the last tab in the dialog.
Alternatively you can use programs like Aida32 or something similar to get this information.

linuxnoob67 10-16-2012 08:21 PM

Well from the looks if it its a dual core cpu because it provides two clock speeds of about 2.66ghz and my ram is at 960 mb

snowpine 10-16-2012 08:25 PM


Originally Posted by linuxnoob67 (Post 4807710)
Well from the looks if it its a dual core cpu because it provides two clock speeds of about 2.66ghz and my ram is at 960 mb

As you can see from the link I posted in my post #2, your computer easily exceeds the hardware requirements for Debian.

linuxnoob67 10-16-2012 08:28 PM

Are there any other distros for a computer with my specs?

snowpine 10-16-2012 08:48 PM

Of course! You can discover more distros at and each distro should have hardware requirements listed on its homepage. Debian is what I use personally so that is my recommendation. :)

linuxnoob67 10-16-2012 08:51 PM

Could I use the gnome or kde versions and how do you like it?

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