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John Murray: Building The Lo-Fat Linux Desktop

Jan 03, 2002, 05:05 (16 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by John Murray)

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"So I set up my machine to dual-boot Win95 and Linux, and experimented with several different distros. Initially I was disappointed with the performance of Linux, and it took me a while to discover the performance gains made possible by running leaner software. The fact that most of the newbie-oriented documentation emphasised Gnome/KDE while ignoring everything else only made things harder. That's what this page is all about - a newbie's guide to good, lightweight software that runs well on boxes that are less than state-of-the-art. While a lot of us simply can't afford (or justify) the cost of current hardware, Windows 2000/XP's high hardware requirements could be a blessing for Linux users on a tight budget; there should be more secondhand machines becoming available as Windows users upgrade their hardware.

Gnome and KDE are good-looking, feature-packed environments that are as easy to use as the desktop on that other OS, but they aren't the best choice for an older machine. Later versions especially can actually be quite sluggish unless you have some fairly recent hardware to run them. That doesn't mean you're stuck with a text-only console though, as it's easy to set up a nice looking Linux desktop that has plenty of speed on something like an early Pentium with 32megs of RAM. And with RAM being so cheap at the moment, I'd go for 64megs if you can afford it.

So a speedy desktop is largely just a matter of using a window manager and applications that suits your hardware. And by the way, just because you don't use the KDE or Gnome desktop environments doesn't mean you shouldn't install them. KDE and Gnome apps will run quite well under a lightweight window manager, so if you have the disk space, I recommend installing both. Listed below are some suggestions for the type of apps. that most people use everyday, all of which work nicely on my 233/64 box (and most of this stuff should be fine with just 32megs of RAM). Keep in mind that these suggestions are only my own personal preferences; they certainly aren't the only way to do things."

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