Five Brilliant Ubuntu-based Distros You Never Knew Existed

The major derivatives of Ubuntu are well known, but what about the others? Just because they aren't as popular doesn't mean they don't have something to offer! We introduce five of the least known, yet simply outstanding distributions.


How can we forget about netbooks in this day and age? Apple’s new iPad doesn’t look set to destroy them any time soon and Linux is gaining ground in the commercial space with Moblin, Ubuntu and Android. Previously, we also looked at xPUD, a cloud focused Linux distribution. Still, that doesn’t mean that all users will find comfort there!

Meet Jolicloud, yet another distribution for your netbook. If you think that there’s no more room for Linux on the netbook space, just try Jolicloud and you just might change your mind. Jolicloud is a highly optimised operating system which supports a staggering number of netbooks.

The sleek interface is somewhere between Moblin and Netbook Remix.

Jolicloud netbook desktop
Jolicloud netbook desktop

The distribution has a built in cloud service, where users can backup to and store their data online. While this is a strong aspect of Jolicloud, it also comes with the usual applications expected on a desktop machine. In a sense, it’s a good balance between the two worlds.

Jolicloud cloud service
Jolicloud cloud service

The default Jolicloud installer is actually a Windows executable which re-partitions the user’s drive and installs Linux in a dualboot configuration. One of the primary goals of Jolicloud is extreme simplicity. As such, the installer is just three steps and takes about 15 minutes. It’s worth noting however, that there is also an advanced installer available for the more technologically minded and Linux savvy.

For a distribution yet to release their final stable version (currently at beta stage) Jolicloud is one polished, sleek distribution. If you have been disappointed by existing custom Linux distributions for your netbook, take a quick look at Jolicloud and you might just find what you’ve been looking for. Seriously.


You would be forgiven for thinking that there are just two environments for the Linux desktop, but of course there are dozens. While a select few enjoy most of the spotlight, one very special window manager has been plodding away for over a decade. It is called Enlightenment.

Enlightenment (known simply as “E”) is more than just a window manager, it is in fact a complete suite of graphical libraries. It can be used on its own as a complete desktop environment, or in conjunction with another. The current development tree (E17) has been a work in progress since December 2000 and is a complete rewrite of the current stable release, E16. Although not yet finalised, E17 is extremely usable and as such various new distributions have been making it available.

One such distro is moonOS, an operating system originating in Cambodia and created by artist Chanrithy Thim. As such, the distribution features some amazing original artwork. E17 is not included in the official Ubuntu repositories and so moonOS is unique in that it offers this environment as well as one based on Xfce4. The distro is able to run GTK applications and comes with a carefully chosen selection of programs for every day work, such as Firefox, OpenOffice.org, Exaile music player, GIMP and Pidgin chat program.

moonOS E17 desktop and artwork
moonOS E17 desktop and artwork

moonOS show cases the outstanding work done on E17, coupled with amazing original artwork. It’s a great distribution to download and show to friends.


Things are certainly changing in the computer industry these days. Focus has shifted from power hungry super charged CPUs to highly efficient, low power systems. While the Linux kernel has excellent power management and there are several excellent applications such as PowerTop for managing power hungry systems, how about a distribution dedicated entirely to power efficiency?

Meet wattOS. What OS? No, wattOS. A 32bit distribution devoted to being a super fast, light weight, power efficient operating system. Once again, this distribution comes with a different desktop environment, namely Openbox. Openbox is a very lightweight, highly customisable desktop environment, well suited to older machines (and therefore lower power consumption in faster processors).

It comes with the latest software from Ubuntu, but also includes various power management tools to help monitor and tweak the system’s power usage. The interface is simple to use and can be modified to suit various tastes. Extra applications are of course available, meaning wattOS can be used as great base distro to build upon.

wattOS LXDE desktop
wattOS LXDE desktop

wattOS is a great alternative to others minimal distributions such as Damn Small Linux and Tiny Core, especially for older recycled computers. Its small memory footprint for the desktop environment mean that it can run nice and lean, while still providing added flexibility of installing standard Ubuntu packages.

Open your mind

It’s easy to think that one size fits all, but that’s simply not true. The excellent base of Ubuntu, inherited from Debian, has spawned a great number of derived distributions, some generic, some highly niche.

These distributions above have all popped up in the last year or so and are true gems. They show how wide and varied the motivation for building a new distro can be, from forensics and digital media to specific desktop environments, netbooks and energy efficiency. The results speak for themselves and testifies to the flexible nature of Linux. Sometimes it pays to keep an eye out on what’s new, because you might just find the perfect little gem you’ve been longing for.

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