OS review: Lubuntu 12.10

I previously wrote a little piece on the latest as-of-writing version of Lubuntu, but I thought I’d flesh it out here as that post was a little narrowly talking about performance on one machine. And there aren’t too many reviews of 12.10, though this won’t be comprehensive.

I’ve been using Ubuntu for a number of years now. I briefly dual-booted it (v5.10) with Windows XP on my main desktop and then bought a netbook a few years ago preloaded with 8.04. I’m not a disgruntled Windows user (hey, I own a Windows Phone!) but I liked the chance to try something different without paying a premium (*cough* Apple), and Ubuntu, being an easy mainstream distro of Linux, played nicely with me.
I upgraded that netbook to 10.04 successfully and then had to say sayonara when I went over to 12.04. Not that I didn’t like the new Unity interface; sure it’s a bit rough still, but it gives Ubuntu a distinctive identity (I.e Windows is/was bottom menu bar, Mac is top menu bar and dock) and is productive enough to use if you have the horsepower, which my netbook hasn’t.

I went distro (distribution) hopping but couldn’t find anything as polished as Ubuntu, but fortunately they have some official derivatives. I could’ve just installed another desktop environment from within Ubuntu but I wanted to play with the alternatives from a fresh base.

The only two feasible choices for my Toshiba NB100 (post-BIOS upgrade) were Xubuntu and Lubuntu. Xubuntu seems to be slightly more attractive but at the cost of more resource hogging. It uses the Xfce environment. I liked the look of it and it didn’t use too much RAM, but I found it very processor demanding.
Lubuntu, however, is very efficient with CPU usage, so while boot and logout times were equal with Xubuntu, it was the more comfortable OS to use due to its lightweight LXDE interface. Being ultra-lightweight doesn’t mean that LXDE is ugly though. In fact it’s best to call it stylish minimalist. The default theme also reminds me of spearmint chewing gum; and it feels like you can breathe easy with this on your machine.

The look is sort of Windows 95 so it’s familiar to use and the default application selection is fine, though I dumped AbiWord and Gnumeric for LibreOffice almost immediately. There are a few bugs though; the hardware profiler app shows 2/3 blank boxes that you need to close before you can use the app, but the team are aware of this and there should be a fix soon. Also, I can’t call up the power menu on pressing the power button; again it’s no big deal as you can just use the mouse and also set the power button to just turn off without presenting a menu.

I like the inclusion of Lubuntu’s own software centre as Xubuntu and Ubuntu’s was a hog on my machine. However, I don’t know how to uninstall software from it; I select programs and mark them for uninstallation but that’s about it. Fortunately, I know how to use the older included Synaptic, and can even master uninstalling by the command line.

So, there are a few little niggles, but I appreciated the overall design and performance to want to keep Lubuntu on my machine. I think if you have a netbook you can’t rely on vanilla Ubuntu any more, which is gunning for placement on newer hardware. You should try out Xubuntu and Lubuntu installed rather than off the live CD to get a good feel for speed. I think Lubuntu is the perfect choice for Intel Atom processors even if you have about 2GB RAM, and it should get a few more years out of my machine. The arrival of laptop/tablet hybrids will probably make owning a netbook untenable for anything beyond that.

There are more get-your-hands-dirty-distros, but I just want to use my netbook rather than tinker with it; though I don’t criticise their existence as any kids that tinker with those today will probably be designing an OS that I may choose to use in future.

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