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wattOS R6 Review – Go green with Linux

by Rob Zwetsloot

An Ubuntu based distro, wattOS uses Openbox and is optimised to be lightweight, low-power, and able to run on older machines

As a Linux distro configured to run on less-powerful machines than their modern counterparts, wattOS is hardly unique. There are plenty of distros that go further with that, such as Puppu or Tiny Core, however wattOS takes an up to date distro and makes it usable on machines ten years old or more. R6 is finally out, and is now based on the current Ubuntu LTS, 12.04.

The last time we reviewed wattOS, we were concerned over its selection of default apps, such as Midori replacing Chromium, SMPlayer instead of VLC, and a lack of an email client. While at the time SMPlayer may have been more advanced than VLC, and Midori was and still is more lightweight than Chromium, both applications have become so ubiquitous that it seems odd not to include them. Especially as they aren’t exactly resource hogs to begin with. Of course, you could have always installed them anyway.

Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin LXDE Openbox
The DM requires manual entry of your username

This has changed again in R6, with Chromium and VLC back as default software. They join lightweight audio player Audacious and office programs Abiword/Gnumeric to round out what’s available from the get go. It still, however, does not include an email client. Sure, a lot of people are now invested fully in web based email like Gmail, but most businesses still like to keep it on clients. You can always install one from the repos though, and while wattOS prefers lightweight software, you’re definitely not restricted to it.

While wattOS is based on Ubuntu, it does not contain it’s full list of packages. Instead of using the Software Centre, Synaptic is the default package manager, and as standard only contains about half of what’s available in Ubuntu. While that’s still over 30,000 packages, it may be missing one or two you’d desperately need.

Installation of the distro is quick and straightforward, using the Ubuntu installer directly from the Live environment. Unlike some other Ubuntu based distros, wattOS replaces all the branding, and just does away with the information panes that scroll in the Ubuntu installer after username and time zone are sorted out. As we said, it’s very quick, and well within half an hour we were able to restart and get into the distro. The display manager is the kind that requires you to enter your username, rather than GDM or LDM which allows you to click on a username. While that’s a minor concern, it seems like an archaic practice for fully graphical distros.

Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin Openbox LXDE
Synaptic replaces the Software Centre as the main package manager

The display manager indicates that modified KDE and GNOMEs are available, but these do not work to begin with. However, that is not a problem, as the default LXDE/Openbox combo works perfectly well, and is extremely fast. Boot time is quite short, and instantly after logging in you’re able to start whatever task you want to get on with – a refreshing change from waiting a few moments for everything to appear. This carries on through normal use, with general day to day computing happening at lightning speed on a modern, decently powered machine.

In general, we’re pleased with the changes they’ve made to R6. With updated and very smart power management tools, it’s also still very green, without sacrificing much usability compared to the full-fat distros. It still lacks an email client as default, but at this point that is pretty much our only complaint with wattOS. The switch to the stable LTS Ubuntu has done well for them.



Small, lightweight, fast, and power conservative, wattOS R6 meets all its goals while still remaining a user friendly distro. While we’re still a little miffed that they continue to not include a mail client, the rest of the default software is a great mixture of low-resource use yet powerful applications to get you started

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    • It´s seem very nice distro, and more if it can save some watts…. I am going to try it asap. Thanks for sharing. Excellent review

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    • jymm

      I have WattsOS on an old XP computer from 2001. I have it in my guest room for any guest that want to access the Internet while staying with me. It is really lightweight and I appreciate the choice of applications to keep it that way. If you have a more powerful computer you can always install more memory/cpu using hardware. I would recommend Watts for keeping an older computer alive.

    • Bob in Toronto

      It would have been interesting to find out the specs of the machine that was used for this review.

      I often find that reviews of lightweight Linux distros are either done on relatively new hardware in virtual machines or on machines that aren’t all that old.

      For instance I’m running Voyager Linux (a Xubuntu re-spin) on a 2005 vintage Athlon 3200 with 2 GB of RAM after seeing a review on the “Linux Action Show” podcast.. Voyager Linux is screaming fast on this box.

      OTOH I have a Bodhi Linux box at work that powers an electronic sign using an old 1999 vintage PIII 1.0 box.

    • Atheologian

      A display manager that requires entry of the username increases system security, which can only be a good thing. Installations that either encourage automatic login, or whose login managers list the username go against good security practice.

      When I regularly hear about people losing their laptop/netbook that contains ALL their personal data, important photographs, etc., I can feel reassured that by having an encrypted and password-protected installation, and all my valuable data backed-up in triplicate on encrypted external hard-drives (and nothing of great importance or value on my netbook’s hard-drive), my data is fairly safe.

      Of course, I could encrypt each folder and file, as well.

    • Errol

      I have tried wattos 6 and i like it, the only problem i have with it is that i cannot get to download the wireless drivers.
      Each time i try to download the Broadcom STA drivers i get this message Sorry, installation for this driver failed.
      Please have a look at the lof file for details: /var/log/jockey.log.

      I have Ubuntu 12,04 insatlled on my dell Mini 910 and that is faily fast, but watt on usb is super fast, i would love to install this on my machine if only they would sort out the wirelss driver issues.

    • humpty

      I just installed WattOS and then the Lubuntu Software Center from Synaptic. WOW!!! Both Chromium and Lubuntu Software Center work even better than in Lubuntu! I wish I had installed WattOS earlier instead of fiddling with Linux Mint for so long. WattOS gets 5 stars from me!

    • Stefan

      Just the fact that it lacks a mailclient is a big plus. Using Gmail and other webmail only it only gets in the way and what is not installed does not need to be removed eather. Fullblown Ubuntu always starts complaining that not all dependencies are met anymore, which applies to meta-package Ubuntu-Desktop, while other packages that have become unneccesary are not removed.

      It is a muck better approach to start with a minimal setup and add what is needed. In the time i still used a mailclient it used to be Thunderbird and I also used Firefox (i guess 1.5, maybe 1.0) and it annoyed me terrible that each time Thunderbird had updates it required me to also restart Firefox and as there was no crash- or session-management, not even with an add-on, it would typically imply losing about open 60 tabs that i had planned to read. This made me temporarily switch to Evolution (which was not as mature and stable as the Linux-version) and was one of the main reasons for fully moving to webmail afterwards.

      As I do not use instant messaging or twitter i also have no use for these clients either and the smaller the footprint of the OS and its applications, the better it can be run from old Hard-disks (e.g. 20Gb), USB-sticks or even SD-cards.

      It is that i have a feeling i’m missing certain things in LXDE that it is not my favourite DE (apart from it’s weight (to much already in 2008) it would probably have been Gnome 2.x, or nowadays MATE) but WattOS certainly is one of the most snappy and still complete ubuntu-based distro’s.

    • mike@beach

      I’ve been putting off trying WattOS for quite some time. Last week I finally installed R6 on an old Dell Dimension 2300 with a 2.4 GHz P-4 and 1 GB of RAM, and I am VERY impressed! At idle, CPU usage is 1-2% and RAM usage is 85 MB (according to LXTask).

      I also tried Debian-based Minino 2.0 (LXDE) on this same machine, and it ran very similar to WattOS-R6. Either distro is a good choice for my old Dell, but I like the fact that WattOS-R6 is based on 12.04 LTS. I guess that’s because I’m used to a rolling release, and I don’t cherish re-installing every year or so.

      Prior to trying WattOS and Minino, I’d been running PCLinuxOS-LXDE mini on this machine for a couple of years. While PCLOS-LXDE is still my favorite distro, it didn’t play nice with the old Dell: at idle CPU was approx 14-25% (mostly due to Xorg) and RAM would slowly creep from 140 to 250 MB overnight.

      Not sure what caused this; I also have PCLOS-LXDE installed on an Asus Eee PC 1000H netbook, and it does not experience the same CPU and RAM usage issues.

      Bottom line: I REALLY, REALLY like WattOS-R6 and wish I hadn’t waited so long to try it.

    • ew-linux

      WattOS is nice with old hardware, but boot is surprisingly slow compared to a comparable distro like Peppermint. Once WattOS is up and running, it is fast and resposive, but the slow boot puzzles me. Is it because of the loading indicator on the splash page, or is it something else? I will try WattOS 7 when it comes out any day now, perhaps it boots faster than 6…

    • andrewandrax

      I have a problem with ubuntu and all its derivatives (lubuntu, xubuntu, voyager, etc) including linux mint….be it debian or whatever…they all have a problem with wireless card drivers..especially broadcom drivers. I just wish for once I could just install an ubuntu derivative without having to spend about half an hour trying to purge and reinstall the wireless drivers….I will try it again once they get this fixed otherwise…fuduntu is what I will live with for now