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Looking Lean: Lightweight Linux Customization Options

written by: Maitraya K B•edited by: Eric Stallsworth•updated: 11/6/2011

Customization is at the heart of the Linux operating system and there are numerous projects out there which are dedicated towards providing a full-fledged desktop solution for old hardware, tablets, netbooks and other mobile devices. We list some of the best lightweight desktop environments here.

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    Lighter than Feather: Unity

    Lighter than Feather: Unity 

    Unity 2D is a stripped down version of Unity 3D meant for old hardware which does not support Compiz. It's much faster than Unity 3D and lighter too.

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    Dashing Dash

    Dashing Dash 

    Unity 2D has almost every feature that Unity 3d has. This includes the beautiful dash where you can search for applications, files and music (you can directly search the Ubuntu One music store for buying music). You can even narrow down your search results by using various filter options. Use the dash with the Faenza icon set: a treat for the eyes.

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    Awesome Ambiance

    Awesome Ambiance 

    Unity 2D uses a fantastic Ambiance theme by default which has been recently refined by the Canonical design team. The Ubuntu Software Center has also been given a major overhaul. In short, your old computer running on Unity 2D based Ubuntu just got a lot prettier.

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    Lovely Launcher

    Lovely Launcher 

    Gnome-pie is a small cyclic launcher that can make launching applications more fun. If you do not like the dash, you can always use this Open Source software which supports both keyboard and mouse navigation. The official PPA is available on Launchpad.

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    Sleek Sound Menu

    Sleek Sound Menu 

    This is nothing new if you have used Ubuntu before. The sound/volume indicator at the top panel also houses the sound menu which can be used to control Banshee (or any other player which supports it).

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    Light on Resources, Heavy on Features: XFCE

    Light on Resources, Heavy on Features: XFCE 

    This is the what you get after you install XFCE from the Software Center on Ubuntu 11.10. XFCE is a fork of the GNOME 2 project and it known primarily for its simplicity and light memory footprint. But don't let the simplicity fool you, this desktop is highly customizable.

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    Tweak Appearances Easily

    Tweak Appearances Easily 

    Changing the look and feel of the desktop is quite easy. By default, there are loads of customisation options available.

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    Right-click Menu Increases Productivity

    Right-click Menu Increases Productivity 

    The desktop itself is quite productive. Right-clicking on the desktop reveals the Applications menu. Also notice that the dock and the panel has been repositioned. The iconset in use is Faenza. XFCE, by default also comes with a collection of applications to fulfill your daily needs (some extra applications seen above is due to the inclusion of some GNOME applications).

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    Give Your Old Desktop a Facelift

    Give Your Old Desktop a Facelift 

    Customizations like these certainly give your old computer a facelift. Tweaking the desktop to suit your everyday needs can make life a lot easier.

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    XFCE: Ambiance Style

    XFCE: Ambiance Style 

    Another example of how customizable XFCE is. Firefox looks almost the same on Unity.

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    Enlightening Enlightenment

    Enlightening Enlightenment 

    Enlightenment is a window manager which can often be used as a substitute for a full desktop environment. Enlightenment has a light and refreshing look and should be good enough for your everyday needs. Another highly configurable software, Enlightenment is definitely geeky.

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    Handy Mouse-click Menu

    Handy Mouse-click Menu 

    Like XFCE, clicking on the desktop reveals the menu and other system settings. The dock at the bottom, among other things, has a workspace switcher.

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    Tiny, Yet Heavily Customizable

    Tiny, Yet Heavily Customizable 

    The desktop environment has a loads of settings which can be easily customizable. Normal Ubuntu applications work well. However, some applications may not look as beautiful as you would expect them to look (for instance, the Ubuntu Software Center looked quite ugly).

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    Loved It!

    Loved It! 

    Almost every aspect of the software can be tweaked to your needs.

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    Lightweight and Sleek: LXDE

    Lightweight and Sleek: LXDE 

    Lubuntu is the latest inclusion in the official line of desktop environments supported by Canonical. LXDE for Ubuntu is supported by a vibrant community whose goal is to create a bautiful and functional desktop with very low memory usage. Normal GNOME software for Ubuntu works quite well for Ubuntu 11.10 with LXDE.

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    Customization at Your Fingertips

    Customization at Your Fingertips 

    Like XFCE, LXDE also supports numerous themes/customizations to make your desktop look more beautiful. You can modify almost anything possible.

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    LXDE: Ambiance Style

    LXDE: Ambiance Style 

    You can change the window decorators for Openbox using Openbox Configuration Manager. Themes can also be downloaded from http://box-look.org

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    Changing Bottom Panel Properties

    Changing Bottom Panel Properties 

    Almost everything from panel transparency to panel color can be tweaked to your preference.

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    Blends in Beautifully

    Blends in Beautifully 

    After playing with the themes and settings for a while, I finally manager to bring a consistent look to the desktop. Notice how Totem Movie Player looks well intergrated with the rest of the desktop.

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    Looks Awesome with Darker Themes

    Looks Awesome with Darker Themes 

    Clicking on the LXDE logo on the menu bar opens up the menu. Nice and easy.

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    Non-native Software Well Integrated

    Non-native Software Well Integrated 

    Applications worked perfectly and looked quite pretty. You just need to find the right theme suitable for your desktop. Within 30 minutes of installing LXDE, I had customized a lot of things.

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    Sleek, Yet Tiny

    Sleek, Yet Tiny 

    LibreOffice looks better. Period.

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    Everything Works Perfectly!

    Everything Works Perfectly! 

    LXDE is definitely one of the most exciting projects out there and you should definitely keep an eye on this project if you want a fully functional operating system for your old hardware.

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    Worthy Mentions

    Worthy Mentions 

    Fluxbox is a no-frills easy to use desktop environment with support for desktop themes. It has a right-click menu support and multiple workspaces.

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    Worthy Mentions

    Worthy Mentions 

    Awesome is simply awesome. It aims to be small and fast and yet provide the user with a fully-functional and customizable environment.

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    And if You are a Power USer

    And if You are a Power USer 

    There is nothing in the Linux world as powerful as the command line. If you have the experience, want to know more about being a power user, you should give Xterm a go. Almost everything you can imagine can be done with this powerful and extremely productive tool. Having Emacs or Vim installed on it, do I need to say more?