Lubuntu: here comes the official Ubuntu mini-distro
Early in 2009, Mark 'Space' Shuttleworth gave the nod to an Ubuntu project that would create a lightweight variant of the world's favourite distro. Based around LXDE, Lubuntu was on its way. And it still is. Well, getting a new distro sorted out takes more than a few months, so we shouldn't be too harsh.
It's also worth noting that at the time of writing, the current release was still an alpha version, so we're giving it extra latitude.
As with most of the other distributions here, the install media runs as a live CD first, which is a useful way to check that the system is going to work with your hardware before you go to the trouble of installing it. If you imagine that Lubuntu is going to look anything like Ubuntu, that idea will be destroyed the minute the desktop loads.
Lubuntu has more in common with the other LXDE distributions, with the LXPanel running at the bottom of the screen and a more KDE 3.x look to things rather than Gnome. The chosen apps aren't quite the usual – Firefox, AbiWord and Gnumeric are among those included, which seems to suggest that not everything in this distro is going to be pared to the bone.
Of course, the main selling point of this distro is that it will have access to the Ubuntu repositories for easy upgrades and plenty of extra packages to install if you need them.
We did have a couple of problems installing this to disk, so the figures in the table on page 35 that compare memory usage and disk space aren't that reliable. However, since this is still an alpha release, you couldn't really rely on them anyway.
Lubuntu is definitely one to watch for the future. With the backing of Canonical, it'll have the developer resources to make the other lite distro projects rather jealous.
Version: Lucid Alpha 2
Although it looks nothing like Ubuntu, this is one to keep an eye on as it moves towards a stable release
Puppy Linux: is that a puppy in your pocket?
This sounds as though it ought to be based on Yellow Dog, but in fact, Puppy is a built-from-the-base-up independent distribution from down under. This is a middleweight offering – not as stripped back as some of the distros, but not bloated out to a full CD either.
Memory usage is low to average and a recent kernel gives a good chance of hardware support, although it'll run on i386 hardware. It runs direct from RAM on the initial boot and reveals a packed desktop with some thoughtfully selected apps scattered about.
There are loads of helpful scripts to guide you through things such as setting up display preferences and installing to disk, but you still need to perform some stages manually. As is so often the case, less bloat means less complete and helpful apps that do everything for you, so you will need to put a little bit of effort in.
Puppy manages to pack a lot of programs in to a small space. For graphics, there's a lite version of Inkscape, a few camera tools, MTPaint and Gxine. Browsing and mail is taken care of by a full version of SeaMonkey rather than separate apps, while Gnumeric and AbiWord should suffice for most office purposes.
Packages available for additional install include IceWM and Openbox if you don't like the default window manager, plus a selection of other tools. Of course, the distribution also has GCC, so you can build your own software – which may be necessary since the repositories only hold a few dozen extra apps.
While it may be restrictive in the number of programs available, there's still a lot to recommend Puppy – it runs like a solid, modern distro but in a fraction of the space. However, if you have specific application needs, it may be easier to look elsewhere.
Verdict: Puppy Linux
A solid and dependable offering, but limited software available