In my neck of the woods the Internet doesn’t get any faster, and my six year old dual-core AMD computer still holds up nicely. I don’t like Gnome 3 and I don’t care about Ubuntu’s run everywhere there is lots of memory vision. Linux is all about choice, and I do have plenty of them.
In this article I’ll take a look at Debian. Debian is one of the oldest distributions still in active development. It is a popular distribution for personal use among software developers, it is also the most popular Linux web server platform. Debian has a great community and the amount of software packaged far exceeds any other Linux disto out there.
As usual I’ll keep an eye on memory. I’ll start with a basic server install, I’ll add X Window followed by LXDE desktop environment. What I am after is a picture like this:
openSUSE 12.3 Desktops Memory (MB)
The numbers represent the memory consumed by the system immediately after it was started and the user logged in.
openSUSE is a great distribution with a great community. It is well known for its excellent Gnome and KDE support. As such, it is never described as a lightweight distribution.
In the latest versions, openSUSE installation media started to offer support for lighter desktop environments, such as LXDE and XFCE. These environments have almost the same application selection as the Gnome version, under a much lighter memory footprint.
If you are looking for a lightweight distro, this is not the time to give up on openSUSE, especially if this is your favorite OS. Try the LXDE/XFCE environments, as lightness goes they are definitely in the same league with Lubuntu/Xubuntu and Fedora LXDE/XFCE Spins. You can do even better, if you build your own desktop starting from a regular server install and adding only the necessary desktop components.
In this article I will describe how to build a light LXDE desktop on the latest openSUSE 12.3 release. I will start with a server install, and I will go trough the process of adding an X Window server and LXDE desktop environment. It is not difficult, and at the very least, it is an opportunity to learn more about a Linux system.
The same way can be done with any other window manager. The result will be different, as each WM/DE has its own memory footprint.
I think it would be interesting to share with you the click-trough stats for my WM/DE memory articles, as reported by wordpress.com. This is not a poll by any stretch of the imagination.
Last update: May 21, 2013
For my memory comparison of light Linux desktops I needed a tool that would allow me to install on my computer about 20 window managers/desktop environments. After looking at several common virtualization packages, I ended up using Linux containers and virtenv for the job.
LXC and virtenv
Probably the best way to describe virtenv is as a graphic interface for Linux containers utilities developed and distributed by LXC project. Linux containers is the virtualization technology build into Linux kernel, available in any kernel after 2.6.32.
The virtual machines (VM) are driven without any overhead by the kernel already running on the computer. You don’t need to run a different kernel in the virtual machine, run only the processes you need, without even going trough the regular SysV or Linux init. This all means that memory is used very conservatively. For example, on a 1GB RAM computer you can run easily 10 SSH/DHCP servers, or 10 different xorg/X11 servers with LXDE window managers on top.
In my previous article I’ve tried to investigate the RAM memory requirements for running some of the most common light window managers and desktop environments available in the Linux world. Prompted by a number of readers, I’ve decided to include also the big, well-known memory hogs that grab most of the Linux market, i.e. KDE, Unity and Gnome 3.
I am using the same setup, based on virtenv. It includes its own xserver (Xephyr) and a virtualization container (LXC). The computer is an older 64-bit machine, running Ubuntu 12.04 with LXDE as desktop environment.