Taking Lubuntu for a test drive

Lubuntu logo At the beginning of 2014, I told myself that I needed to 1) try to post more frequently in this space, and 2) take a few more Linux distros for a spin. In the words of Jules Winnifield, I’m tryin’ Ringo, I’m tryin’ real hard …

Which brings me to Lubuntu. It’s a lightweight distro based on Ubuntu, which uses a desktop environment called LXDE and a set of minimalist applications. While I’ve had my eye on Lubuntu for a while, I’ve never taken the plunge.

That changed recently, thanks to a friend, his four-and-a-half year old laptop, and a slow hard drive. The laptop in question ran one of those other operating systems (I think you can guess which one). And over the years, a lot of adware hammered the drive and slowed it down to a crawl. My friend, who’d been toying with the idea of moving to Linux, came to me for help.

He couldn’t afford a new laptop, but he could afford a new hard drive. So, we swapped out his old drive and after some research and suggestions from me, he decided to go with Lubuntu.

Here’s what happened.

Installing Lubuntu

I grabbed an ISO image from the Lubuntu website and made a bootable USB flash drive. From there, it was a matter of plugging it into my friend’s laptop and booting it up.

Before installing Lubuntu, we ran it as a live distro to make sure that everything worked out of the box. There was only one minor problem (more on this in a moment). But my friend waved it off, so I double clicked the Install icon.

Installation only took about 15 minutes. It probably would have gone faster, but I selected the option to install updates along with the operating system.

The Lubuntu desktop

Intial impressions

Even with a laptop packing a 1.6 GHz processor and four gigabytes of RAM, Lubuntu boots quickly and the desktop loads fast and seamlessly.

As I mentioned earlier, Lubuntu uses the LXDE desktop environment. It’s very light and very fast. It doesn’t look too bad, either, even with the default settings.

Speaking of software

Lubuntu’s stock software includes:

And a few other packages, too. The applications reflect Lubuntu’s feel and philosophy. What comes out of the box is enough to get you going.

Apps on the Lubuntu desktop

That said, if you need more software, you can install it using the Lubuntu Software Center.

The Lubuntu software center

It’s a lot like the Ubuntu Software Center. The biggest difference is Lubuntu’s Apps Basket. This allows you to install multiple apps at the same time. All you need to do is click Add to the Apps Basket on a program’s page. When you’re ready to go, click Apps Basket and then click Install Packages. The applications, along with any dependencies, are added to your system.

Items in the Apps Basket

You can also install software using the Synaptic Package Manager, apt-get at the command line, or by adding a PPA to your list of software sources.

Areas where Lubuntu fell a bit flat

In the time that I spent with it — helping my friend put Lubuntu through its paces on his laptop, running it as a live distro on my laptop, and in a virtual machine — I didn’t find much to complain about.

Lubuntu didn’t recognize the camera on my friend’s laptop. But I’m not sure whether that was a problem with the distro or with the camera. According to my friend, that wasn’t a deal breaker.

Compared to other desktops (like Xfce or GNOME), the LXDE desktop environment doesn’t have that wide an array of panel applets. I find them useful, but a lack of them hasn’t ruined my experience with Lubuntu.

Overall, though, Lubuntu does what it does very well. It’s up and running quite quickly, and it’s easy to add the software that you need. Best of all, it brought an older laptop back to life, saving a friend of mine quite a bit of money. And Lubuntu really flies on a newer laptop.

After spending time with this distro, I’m serious considering installing it on my laptop.

Update: I did install Lubuntu on my laptop. And it’s been great so far. The only problem I’ve had is that my scanning software doesn’t always recognizing my multifunction printer. A minor annoyance. Everything else, though, works like a charm.

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  • me

    Re: scanning problems, make sure you connect directly to the printer/scanner, don’t go through a usb hub.
    Might just cure it.

  • Scott Nesbitt

    Thanks for the comment. I was directly connected. That said, the problem seems to have sorted itself after HPLIP was updated although sometimes it takes Lubuntu a couple of tries to recognize the device when printing or scanning.

  • Pk

    I think you are saying 4gb of ram than 4mb..

  • Joseph Dickson

    I’ve been running Lubuntu since 12.10 on a Toshiba NB505 netbook that had been collecting dust in a closet.

    It sped the device up enough that I actually use it frequently whenever I don’t want to tote around my regular laptop.