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Lubuntu 11.04 review – If it’s good enough for Mark Shuttleworth…

by Koen Vervloesem

This lightweight distro could be the perfect match for your netbook or for that old computer you’ve refurbished. Find out why Mark Shuttleworth has seen fit to welcome Lubuntu into the official Ubuntu family…

Pros: Lubuntu 11.04 is a mature Ubuntu derivative featuring the LXDE desktop environment and lightweight applications
Cons: Some software choices are odd, and Lubuntu lacks the Ubuntu Software Center. i586 processors aren’t supported any more

When installing Lubuntu 11.04, the differences with its official Ubuntu cousin are negligible. It shows the same boot menu and the same installer, just with a different background colour. However, from the moment you start working with the desktop in the live environment or the installed version, the difference is immediately clear: this is not a fully fledged GNOME or Unity desktop with bells and whistles, but a classic, lightweight desktop.

The use of LXDE is not the only cause either. Lubuntu also starts less daemons and services than Ubuntu by default, as you can see in the process list as well as in the menu (Preferences>Desktop Session Settings -> Automatically Started Applications). For instance, Bluetooth Manager, Network Manager, the print queue applet and disk notifications are all disabled by default in your user session.

Lubuntu 11.04 review - If it's good enough for Mark Shuttleworth...
LXDE’s appearance and the behaviour of the Openbox window manager are customisable

The Lubuntu developers have also carefully chosen default applications with your precious hardware resources in mind, meaning no or LibreOffice. Instead, you get AbiWord as the default word processor and Gnumeric for spreadsheets, as well as the lightweight mtPaint in place of GIMP for image editing.

The default music player is Audacious, while GNOME MPlayer plays all your video files. Furthermore, there’s the Sylpheed email client, Pidgin for instant messaging, XChat for IRC, Transmission for BitTorrent, and the Evince PDF viewer. Of course, many other applications are inherited from the LXDE desktop environment, such as the Leafpad text editor, the GPicView image viewer, the LXTerminal terminal emulator, the PCManFM file manager and not forgetting Openbox window manager.

Lubuntu 11.04 review - If it's good enough for Mark Shuttleworth...
Lubuntu ships lightweight applications, such as the Audacious music player

Some of the software choices are rather odd, however. For instance, Chromium is the default web browser, which is a sensible move for a distro aimed at low-end computers, but the developers also ship Firefox, so Lubuntu shows both web browsers in the Internet menu. Also, the default screenshot program is scrot, but this is a command-line program and it is not shown in the Accessories menu, so not everyone will find it.

Another odd choice is that you install your applications with Synaptic: by default Lubuntu doesn’t have the Ubuntu Software Center, which has been the preferred software installation program in Ubuntu for a good few releases now. These are just minor inconveniences, though, since you get access to the full Ubuntu software repositories, meaning you can install your favourite applications in a blink of the eye.

Lubuntu 11.04 review - If it's good enough for Mark Shuttleworth...
Chromium is the default web browser in Lubuntu, but Firefox is also installed

One problem with the Ubuntu base is that Ubuntu 10.10 dropped support for i586 processors, including the VIA C3, AMD K6, National Semiconductor and AMD Geode CPUs. The same holds for Lubuntu, so if you want to revive an old computer with one of these processors, you’ll have to make do with Lubuntu 10.04. Although this is not an officially supported LTS version (like Ubuntu 10.04), the Lubuntu developers have dedicated themselves to extend the support of this release until April 2013, as if it were an official Ubuntu LTS. But even on newer computers, hardware support isn’t perfect: while the minimum memory requirement for running Lubuntu 11.04 is 128MB RAM, we didn’t succeed in installing the distro on an Acer Aspire One with 512MB RAM due to persistent installer crashes.

That said, it’s clear that Lubuntu is already quite mature. The developers have been working on it for two-and-a-half years now and they have been trying to achieve endorsement as an official derivative of Ubuntu. For the last two versions they even managed to release Lubuntu on the same day as the corresponding Ubuntu release. Mark Shuttleworth has praised the Lubuntu developers upon their latest release, and with the other desktop environments demanding more resources, he sees a role for LXDE and Lubuntu. At the recent Ubuntu Developer Summit in Budapest, the developers finally announced that Lubuntu 11.10 will be the first official Ubuntu derivative. Knowing that on Distrowatch, Lubuntu is already more popular than Kubuntu, this only seems fair.

Verdict: 4/5
If you have a first-generation netbook or an old computer that you want to revive, chances are that Ubuntu will be very slow (if it works at all). Lubuntu offers a lightweight alternative for these situations, with the LXDE desktop environment and appropriately resource-light applications. For i586 processors, however, you will have to stay with the 10.04 version – which, to be fair, is still supported until April 2013.

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    • istok

      white pants are also good enough for mark shuttleworth.
      get serious.
      if you want to “revive”… whatever, do a minimal install and slap openbox on top of it and if you must add some lxde-or whatever else programs.
      but beware lxde “components” tend to be buggy as hell, or just

    • istok

      … have poor features, like that pcmanfm file manager… :D

    • MacLone

      Since the first Lubuntu i had no major problems. For me is the best LXDE distro out there. Is not the fastest but is good enough.

    • If you really want to get away from all the bloat of Ubuntu, but still want something easy to use, I absolutely think this is a very good distro to use.

    • Marie

      I don’t know about it being “the first Ubuntu derivative.” I think you mean the first version of Lubuntu to become an official derivative. Keep in mind Xubuntu, for example has been official for years and is another great option.

    • Rob

      Using Lubuntu on old thinkpad with 512 mb. ram and 800 mhz processor .Runs great . Glad it will be official with next release

    • Chris

      The Mint version of LXDE is absolutely wonderful. Even on a more powerful computer it’s a great choice.

    • Jim

      Lubuntu is great for my 7″ eeePC. I’m keeping this until ChromeOS is more stable on that hardware.

    • MattE

      Happy Lubuntu 11.04 user with an EeePC. PCmanFM is slightly annoying in the fact it is unable to create links. It also seems unable to render thumbnails consistently, so I install Nautilus which is slower, but operates flawlessly. I still use PCmanFM 90% of the time.

    • Podsgrove

      I came to Lubuntu as a Unity refugee. I agree that the file manager isn’t as good as Nautilus but I can live with that. My only problem is that the blue buttons on the blue panel are a bit difficult for an old geezer like me to see. a bit more contrast would be nice.

    • Steven Lawson

      I’ve only completed my Lubuntu install this morning before leaving for work, so it’s very early days, but my first observations are: Install routine went flawlessly, detecting my two drives and setting up GRUB perfectly. Was pleasantly surprised to see that NVIDIA driver was already installed (I should have expected this, having ticked the box during the install to download updates etc) and when I used the NVIDIA X Settings tool to set up two screens, it worked first time, spreading the LX Panel across the two screens. My only immediate issue is that programs open slap-bang in the middle of the two screens ie. with a big gap down the middle, but it’s not a biggie and I’m sure I can fix it with some tweaking.
      My PC isn’t really an old one – maybe five years old – but Lubuntu flies on it.
      Generally I’m very, very impressed. Can’t wait to get home tonight to do some more exploring/experimenting.

    • Bob Collins

      “fewer” daemons

    • I refurbished 4 Pentium III Dell Optiplex computers for a local church. The machines were very modest with 550mhz processors, 256mbs of ram, and a 20 gig hard drive. I installed Lubuntu 10.04, Xiphos bible study, Open Office 3.2, Gimp 2.6, and GNUCash. The machines were stable and once I delivered them the pastor seemed very pleased. I also showed them the portable apps suite to help the church members be able to use their files on any machine that will accept their thumb drive.

    • Sixty-Four

      “…i586 processors aren’t supported any more…”
      Ya, and who really cares !? I mean that is not a “con” anymore. -lol

      More Importantly, When is a “64-bit” Lubuntu ever gonna be released ???
      lol, probably when we’re 64.

    • toph

      I am looking for a light OS to run a 24/7 webcam that will upload via ftp. I have an old laptop that currently runs XP. XP always seems to crash after a few days. I ran the lbunutu live CD and this was the first linux distro that would boot fully on this old thing. If I can find a webcam program that will run on lubuntu and can upload a webcam image every 10-15 seconds, I am sold. Any ideas on a webcam program that can fill my needs?

    • Tom

      I saw Lubuntu 11.10 is out – how about a review of that one? I tried the live CD of Lubuntu 11.10 on my old Thinkpad 600X (576 RAM, 450MHz P3 processor which I believe is a i686 not i586). It wouldn’t boot the Live CD. My BIOS has the latest version from 1999, which may be too old, so I switched to Linux Mint LXDE 11.

    • Tom – yes your P3 is a i686 with CMOV so Ubuntu 10.10 and newer should run (and Mint 10 and newer the same). Your BIOS is old though, the Linux kernel turns off ACPI in < 2000 BIOSes, so at boot prompt try adding acpi=force to the boot parameters when using the live CD. You can see if ACPI is on or not when booted run the command "dmesg | grep -i acpi". If that doesn't fix it, it's probably a graphics driver issue.

    • Dane

      I was disappointed with how slow Suse was on a Lenovo T42 I keep as a spare. I couldn’t even watch HULU videos at full screen size because they would buffer constantly. I installed Lubuntu over Suse, and have been happy with it for about a month now. It’s faster than Suse or the XP that was originally on it, the battery lasts longer than Suse and almost as long as XP and everything worked right out of the box. I can even print and scan with my HP 3050 printer wirelessly.

    • Phil E

      I was a dipped-in the cloth Microsoft Windows user, slowly refusing over the years to follow bloatware. Despite time with a Mac and Ubuntu/Fedora, there still seemed no escape. With Lubuntu on a Dual Core laptop, I happily run everything I need VERY fast. Load and login time is exceptional, VM performance (VirtualBox) is exceptional and the rendering engine for graphics is superb if simple. A little trickier to set up and configure than a standard distro but hey, if I could do it, so could most people.

      Literally happy for the first time in years with a skinny fast desktop. Data? Ah, in the cloud :-)

    • Hanu Kiran

      Using Lubuntu from two years, glad to hear that its official ubuntu derivative. On a Dual Core desktop, I happily run everything I need very fast. Load and login time is exceptional.I can even print and scan with my MFC Brother printer.

      Nautilus, Pidgin, Evolution, AWN works flawlessly in Lubuntu 12.04

    • ray

      i had some issues with ubuntu & unity running a bit slow even on a dual core desktop so after some research gave lubuntu a go. i love how fast it is and its still pretty customizable, you will need to install a few programs like vlc, gimp to make it feel more complete but overall i love it.
      if youre not fussy about eye candy effects and just want a fast system up & running then its definitely worth checking out.