Lubuntu: Floats Like a Butterfly, Stings Like a Bee

Some complain that there is simply too much choice in the free software world and far too many Linux distributions. Well, now there's another called Lubuntu. A derivative of Ubuntu with the LXDE desktop, it's super light and very fast. Finally, there's an Ubuntu perfectly suited to those older, low end machines!

It seems there’s a new Linux distribution every other second these days. Someone takes openSUSE, changes the wallpaper and we get a new distro. It’s ridiculous.

We have the official and non-official *buntus – Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Edubuntu (sort of), Gobuntu (R.I.P), Mythbuntu, Eeebuntu, Fluxbuntu and Xubuntu.

Not to mention Ubuntu Server Edition, Ubuntu MID Edition, Ubuntu Netbook Remix, Ubuntu JeOS, Ubuntu Studio, Ubuntu this and Ubuntu that.

It’s enough “buntu” to drive you mad and now we have Lubuntu. It’s Ubuntu with yet another desktop environment, LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment), which is in-turn based on Openbox.

Desktops and more desktops

How did all these different distros come about? Well, primarily it’s because of the way Ubuntu works – when you install Ubuntu you get the GNOME desktop by default – there’s no choice, unlike with most other distros. Now if a user wants KDE they are directed to download Kubuntu, which gives them an Ubuntu base system with the KDE desktop. Although not actually an official derivative, Xubuntu takes the base Ubuntu system and adds the Xfce desktop.

Most of these projects have been initially developed by the community and some later adopted as official derivatives. Do we really need so many different distros? Isn’t it confusing for the end users and a waste of effort duplicating all those install images? I mean, KDE and all those other desktops are (of course) already in the Ubuntu repositories, so couldn’t the Ubuntu installer just ask the user which desktop to install? It could even be a boot time option like Gobuntu has become.

This is the way most other distributions work. We don’t have KopenSUSE or Kandriva (although that does sounds pretty good). Most other distributions give the user the choice during the install process, where they can pick from any number of desktops. Even Debian does it. Ubuntu could do the same thing too, but it doesn’t.

If a user is running Xubuntu, are they still running Ubuntu or an entirely different operating system? Compare this to someone who uses Fedora. Whether they are using GNOME, KDE, Xfce or any other desktop they are still using Fedora. Perhaps it’s because Canonical doesn’t want to support multiple desktops and therefore have to spread their resources thin and would rather concentrate on only one, making it the best it can be? That’s probably fair enough, but it makes other desktops second rate citizens and that’s a shame. Then again, perhaps it’s what has contributed to Ubuntu’s success? Less choice.

Most of these custom projects grew up out of the community who wanted to see their favorite desktop supported well on their favorite distribution. In the case of Lubuntu, however it’s a little different. The developers of LXDE received an invitation from Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth earlier this year to create an official desktop alongside Ubuntu. This in turn would become an official derivative, à la Lubuntu.

Is there a need?

What’s the point of yet another desktop? Choice of course. Ubuntu is simply not designed for older, lower end computers. Its GNOME desktop and default applications use far too much memory for most old systems, but it would be a shame to waste those older machines. Linux is famous for being able to run on anything – but Ubuntu certainly doesn’t. Of course, by “Linux” we’re talking about specific custom distributions designed with small footprints, but there’s no reason Ubuntu couldn’t also fit the bill. Well, technically “Ubuntu” cannot because it means GNOME, but through an official derivative, *buntu could also support these older machines.

Before we get too ahead of ourselves however, doesn’t Xubuntu already achieve this? Well, sadly no. The Xfce desktop is very lightweight and well suited to machines with small amounts of memory and processing power, but Xubuntu’s implementation has essentially massacred it. They’ve taken the beautifully lightweight desktop and strangled it with various heavyweight components from GNOME. In all fairness to the project however, they do not claim that Xubuntu is designed for older machines – that’s just something the community has assumed on their own. It might be more lightweight than Ubuntu itself, but if so it’s not by much.

Older machines tend to be slower in more ways than one. Sure their processors can’t crunch numbers as fast, but they also have less memory and slower hard drives. A system with a small amount of memory often runs out of RAM and has to swap out to disk. Swap usage is bad. A Linux box should never have to use its swap space. It’s there to save your system if you run out of memory, it’s not designed for every day use.

Swap out to a slow old disk and your system is now even slower then you can imagine. It’s all good to use an operating system which can boot within the limits of available RAM, but users have to also ensure that the applications they use will also fit within the smaller memory pool. If not, it doesn’t matter how lightweight your system is, once you start swapping to disk the system will come to a crawl.

Simple comparisons

So then, how does Lubuntu stack up to the current lightweight king of the Ubuntu world, Xubuntu? Due out next month, development versions have been hitting the mirrors so it’s not too hard to see where these systems are currently at, via a few simple tests. It’s important to remember that these are not the final images, but they should provide some insight all the same.

The first test is simply to check how much memory is used after a fresh boot of the respective live CDs, all the way into the default desktop.
Lubuntu: 57,908 KB
Xubuntu: 156,852 KB
Ubuntu: 153,840 KB

It’s clear here that Lubuntu is the outright winner using almost two thirds less memory than the others. Interestingly, Xubuntu is using slightly more memory than its big brother.

The second test compares the amount of memory used when opening every day applications on the live system. While not completely realistic, it shows how application choice can greatly affect the performance of a system.

Lubuntu with every day applications loaded, including a terminal (LXTerminal), file manager (PCMan), calculator (Galculator), image viewer (GPicView), text editor (Leafpad), archive manager (Xarchiver), web browser (Firefox), mail client (Claws), chat program (Pidgin), bittorrent client (Transmission), audio player (Aqualung), video player (MPlayer):
Usage: 162,272 KB

Xubuntu with every day applications loaded, including a terminal (Terminal), file manager (Thunar), calculator (Gcalctool), image viewer (Ristretto), text editor (Mousepad), archive manager (File-roller), web browser (Firefox), mail client (Thunderbird), chat program (Pidgin), bittorrent client (Transmission), audio player (Exaile), video player (Totem):
Usage: 311,560 KB

Ubuntu itself with every day applications loaded, including a terminal (GNOME Terminal), file manager (Nautilus), calculator (Gcalctool), image viewer (F-Spot), text editor (Gedit), archive manager (File-roller), web browser (Firefox), mail client (Evolution), chat program (Empathy), bittorrent client (Transmission), audio player (Rhythmbox), video player (Totem):
Usage: 289,744 KB

Once again this shows that Lubuntu, with its lightweight desktop and carefully chosen applications, is certainly the lightest of all by a reasonable margin. Xubuntu manages to use slightly more memory than Ubuntu and almost twice as much as Lubuntu. If you’ve got a system with 256MB of RAM or less, Lubuntu is the only way to go.

What is also interesting is that Ubuntu itself, even with is GNOME desktop and heavier applications such as Evolution and F-Spot, is actually using less memory than Xubuntu – the perceived lightweight option for the community. While a testament to the continued refinement of the desktop, it just doesn’t stack up for Xubuntu!

Finally, something for older machines

Although none of these version tested are the final releases, there is no doubt that Lubuntu is the new lightweight king of the Ubuntu world. It simply blows the others away.

Installing Lubuntu also doesn’t restrict the system as users still have the full range of Ubuntu packages at their disposal and can configure the system however they’d like. The default applications are just recommendations, selected for their small memory footprint, however any program can be installed.

Certainly Xfce is a nice lightweight desktop, but with the implementation in Xubuntu one has to wonder what future the project will have. One thing is certain, if they don’t want to be pushed aside then they are going to have to pick up their game. Even Ubuntu is beating it on memory usage.

If you use Ubuntu on old computers, the yet-to-be-released Lubuntu is the only sensible choice. In the meanwhile, you can get the same experience today by performing a “command-line system” install using the Ubuntu Alternate CD (press F4 at the boot menu) and then installing the “lxde” desktop package afterwards. Go ahead, your old machines will thank you for it.

Comments on "Lubuntu: Floats Like a Butterfly, Stings Like a Bee"


While I\’ve long recognized that the Xubu install wasn\’t much lighter than Ubu itself, I\’m fairly astonished at those memory use numbers. I run Xubu on several small/underpowered machines (eee701, ancient fujitsu lifebook, among others) and it\’s been responsive — enough — but I have found myself wondering how I could trim their loads down (esp on the eee, where I\’m using almost 80% of my 4gb hard drive with the base install and a few extras). Does Lubu also offer a smaller base install? Are the installed apps ones I\’d be satisfied using or would I bork the concept by needing to grab bluefish and gimp and and and…?

Because it\’s all well and good to be small and light, but if one can\’t do what one needs on the machine(s), there\’s less point than ever in the wealth of distros.


Oh dear, yet another Linux distribution for poor old distrowatch to keep track of. I\’ve written a simple guide on how to choose a linux distribution based on a decade\’s experience. Take a looksie.


If for no other reason, Lubuntu delights me in that it is a move in the opposite direction of Window$ – which never seems to be satisfied in its hunger for resources.

Now – away from the preachy sounds of the preceding paragraph, I will note that I\’ve seen systems (sans monitor) for a little over US$100 with enough RAM to easily handle the big \”U\”, itself.


This is ridiculous. I just recently switch from running XP to Linux Mint (ubuntu with lots of goodies and proprietary codecs) and I love it. What took me so long to switch over was the fact that there were too many distro to choose from and I did not want to miss out on any of them. I think Ubuntu needs to rethink how to deploy distributions. Perhaps one DVD, with all flavours included, just different scripts for the install. Example: You boot up the DVD and choose EDUBuntu, Light, Server, Mint package, …

You almost need a phd to understand the differences between the distro\’s. Windows users are faced with 3 choices now Home, Pro, and Ultimate (even though it is the same software, different switches are turned on for different flavours). If we want the linux desktop to rule, we need to simplify what get\’s rolled out.

I love Linux Mint, but I cold live with a Ubunutu install that asks me \”Do you want to install all codecs needed to watch movies even if they are proprietary(not freeware).\” YES. Would you like the Video Producer\’s package (audio and video programs for editing movies).
Cad packages
Sound packages
Photo packages
Game packages
Security & Forensic Tools (if there is not enough room on DVD then \”requires internet acccess to install)
and so on…
Even options for vmware, google products like google earth, skype, sketch 3d (if they ever make a linux version)

Perhaps a screen on first boot with these options…
Of course for the advanced users, there would be an option to customize what you want installed!

If we could bring down every Distro to its roots with install packages


Would you believe a friend asked me to get their old laptop working for them just the other day, however, it only has 16MB RAM…. used to run windows 95 apparently! Will be interesting to see what I can do with that, but I guess Lubuntu won\’t do the trick for this one…


I agree with a number of comments above regarding having one cd to load/choose release from. The great thing about computing these days is the ability to truly work in the cloud, basics such as video/music/pics are a must but other than that it doesn\’t need to be local, and with the distro\’s out today all peripherals are picked up and can be utilized. With that said, having a fast base operating system is a must which Lubuntu is very exciting to hear about.

Any talk of a timeline on when it will be released?


gyffes: On any of the Ubuntu versions you can do a command line (base) install and then install only the packages you want. This means you can install a base Ubuntu, install Xfce and the programs you want and it will be lighter than Xubuntu because you aren\’t adding all those GNOME components.

smino: Due to the very nature of free software, there are always going to be lots of different versions. Choice is good thing because it helps foster innovation within the industry, plus you get to try lots of different things to see what suits you best. Imagine if there was only ONE desktop (like with Windows) – that would be horrible because it wouldn\’t suit everyone. Users could just use one of the big names like Ubuntu, Fedora, etc – they don\’t have to try everything. Once you get past the overwhelming amount of choice, you\’ll never want to go back to limited options.

webmanaus: No, I doubt it ;-) There are plenty which will though – Damn Small Linux, Puppy Linux, Tiny Core, etc.

jedduff: Actually the Ubuntu Network Installer disk _does_ give you the choice of which desktop you want, but few use it and even fewer know about it. Perhaps what we need is _yet another_ distro which is the \”Ubuntu Choice Edition\” ;-)



gyffes asked about the size of Lubuntu. I have not yet installed a Lubuntu variation, but I do seem to recall seeing either a note or a size of the proposed Lubuntu ISO image, and I do believe it was, unlike the other Ubuntu variations, smaller, not only in system usage requirements, but I believe the image itself was also smaller, on the order of 400 MB instead of the 600-700 MB found in other Ubuntu variations.

As noted, any Ubuntu installation can be reduced through judicious use of installation options, but if my memory is indeed accurate, even a default installation of Lubuntu would require fewer memory and disk resources than Xubuntu or Ubuntu.


I really do dislike the term \’light\’ to describe an OS. There are many possible dimensions to \’light\’…memory foot print is only one ( and actually tells you very little: static consumption of storage), others include execution time, resource management, communication overhead, etc. From my perspective, light should imply CPU utilization for a given task set…after all, it is the single most used resource in \’the computer.\’ \’Light\’ is an overloaded and misused term that is used to spin a claim about an OS.

The \’Ragu\’ version of distros (its all in there) or the \’Heinz 57 varieties\’ doesn\’t bother me to much except the lack of unanswered questions, usually on the distro website, make it difficult to choose which one of the 57 varities best maps to my current and future needs. Take *buntu for example, if I compare version A to B, I can glean from the website what A has and B does not, and visa-versa (more or less). There is no clue given to address expansion…e.g. I install A, in two months I discover I need something that B does, what is the upgrade path and is it possible? Specifically, I wanted to run a server, but, there are some times that I would need a X environment, what are the ramifications if I consider installing X on the server? or is it more prudent to run ubuntu and install a LAMP pacakge? Or, at a gross level…I run A for 6 months and then discover that B would better suit my needs….what is the best upgrade path to ensure my files and apps are intact in the upgrade? Can I simply install B over A?
It\’s answers to these sorts of questions that make evaluating and choosing a distro more difficult. Getting them takes time (either by diggin or experimentation) and I would think developers, who know this ahead of time, might better help the community in providing this info upfront.


    144Does your blog have a contact page? I’m having a tough time locating it but, I’d like to send you an e-mail. I’ve got some rendmmecoations for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great website and I look forward to seeing it develop over time.


Will we ever get true independence of desktop environments?

LXDE looks great, but why do we have to have a new distro variant for each desktop environment? Well, I know what the factors are, but there seems to be an inherent lack of flexibility in managing more than one desktop environment. But then, I think that one of the things I like about LXDE is that their design philosophy focuses on independence.


It seems there’s a new Linux distribution every other second these days. Someone takes openSUSE, changes the wallpaper and we get a new distro. It’s ridiculous.

STOP STOP STOP, if you have to attack someone you MUST ask about him, and his toughts. Right now I CREATED the openSUSE-LXDE version.
i just created a live cd with minimal X packages running LXDE on OUR openSUSE. you can have the same result, maybe better, installing openSUSE from DVD (minimal X) than add X11:lxde repo and tune your distro.

so please, delete you attack on openSUSE when you have no idea on what you write, I\’m here to reply on your questions/answers


anubisg1: I wasn\’t referring to anyone or any project in particular in that sentence. It was just a general comment used as an example of what people have done in the past. It has nothing to do with LXDE on openSUSE at all, or anything you or anyone else might have done.



I likely don\’t qualify as an actual \”Linux old-timer,\” but people have been worrying about this splitting thing since the days when I was running X11R5 on a MINIX partition on my Atari 1040STe. The cries of \”too many\” have only become more strident as time does what it always does.

The truth of the matter is simple:

Interested and interesting people are thinking and doing interesting things with Linux distributions, and that always serves to provide enough creative critical mass to drive _serious_ innovation. To wit, the Linux Desktop IS a reality.

Stop complaining about creativity and thinking, and start thinking and creating.