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6 of the Best Lean Linux Desktop Environments

6 of the Best Lean Linux Desktop Environments

Mainstream Linux distributions typically default to one of two desktop environments, KDE or GNOME. Both of these environments provide users with an intuitive and attractive desktop, as well as offering a large raft of multimedia software, games, administration programs, network tools, educational applications, utilities, artwork, web development tools and more. However, these two desktops focus more on providing users with a modern computing environment with all the bells and whistles featured in Windows Vista, rather than minimising the amount of system resources they need.

For users and developers who want to run an attractive Linux desktop on older hardware, netbooks, or mobile internet devices, neither KDE or GNOME may be a viable option, as they run too slowly on low spec machines (such as less than 256MB RAM and a 1 GHz processor). This article seeks to identify the best lean desktops for Linux, for users that have old or even ancient hardware.

First, let's clear up one area of frequent confusion; the difference between a desktop environment and a window manager. A desktop environment typically consists of icons, windows, toolbars, folders, wallpapers, and desktop widgets. They provide a collection of libraries and applications made to operate cohesively together. A desktop environment contains its own window manager, which is responsible for the placement and appearance of windows.

We have selected 6 of the best desktop environments that are good candidates for older hardware. These typically run well on a machine with a Pentium II 266MHz CPU and 128MB of RAM. All of the desktops are released under freely distributable licenses. If your Linux box is constantly swapping or feels sluggish in general use, try out one of the desktops featured below. It may just save you from discarding a perfectly good machine.

Now, let's explore the 6 desktops at hand. For each title we have compiled its own portal page, providing a screenshot of the software in action, a full description with an in-depth analysis of its features, together with links to relevant resources and reviews.

Lean Desktop Environments
Xfce Fast and lightweight, yet visually appealing and easy to use environment. It uses the same toolkit as GNOME, and is sometimes described as a 'scaled-down version of GNOME'.

Xfce is the default environment in a number of popular Linux distributions, including Xubuntu, dyne:bolic, Gentoo, and Mythbuntu.
ROX Desktop Based on the FOX-Filer file manager, it also uses the GTK+ toolkit, like GNOME and Xfce.

It is inspired by the user interface of RISC OS, a system developed by Acorn Computers Ltd, which was first released in 1988.
LXDE Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment where each component can be used independently from other components of LXDE.

Popular distros that provide packages for LXDE are Fedora, Mandriva, Zenwalk, and Ubuntulite.
FVWM-Crystal Easy to use, eye-candy but also powerful desktop based on the FVWM window manager.

It offers good performance,powerful menu system with extensive configurability, as well as strong integration with various music players.
EDE A small desktop environment that is meant to be simple and fast. EDE's window manager uses less memory than a standard xterm.

It is based on a modified version of FLTK called eFLTK.
Etoile Innovative GNUstep based user environment.

It is currently in an early stage of development.

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Last Updated Sunday, September 15 2013 @ 02:33 AM EDT


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