Sunday, September 13, 2009

Give Lubuntu a try on Ubuntu 9.04

Lubuntu is based on Ubuntu 9.10, so the LXDE packages in 9.04 are old. 9.10 is just around the corner in a couple of months, or less, but if you want to try out the latest LXDE, here is the info:

First, add the ppa key:
sudo apt-key adv --keyserver --recv-keys F9D8BC54

Then add the following to the end of /etc/apt/sources.list
deb jaunty main
deb-src jaunty mainw

sudo apt-get update; sudo apt-get install lxde

The lxde in 9.04 is pretty buggy, so if you want to try out Lubuntu without all the hassle, this is the way to do it. Just select "lxde" in your display manager, or "startlxde" in your .xinitrc if you startx.

Still like the polish of XFCE4 for my lightweight/lean Ubuntu installs. LXDE seems a little primitive, but for the curious, here you go.

Latest LXDE for Ubuntu 9.04

9.10 is just around the corner in a couple of months, or less, but if you
want to try out the latest LXDE, here is the info:

First, add the ppa key:
sudo apt-key adv --keyserver --recv-keys F9D8BC54

Then add the following to the end of /etc/apt/sources.list
deb jaunty main
deb-src jaunty mainw

sudo apt-get update; sudo apt-get install lxde

The lxde in 9.04 is pretty buggy, so if you want to try out Lubuntu
without all the hassle, this is the way to do it. Just select "lxde" in
your display manager, or "startlxde" in your .xinitrc if you startx.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Syndaemon Touchpads

For those of you who have laptops and have that annoying problem of accidentially hitting the touchpad while working, I stumbled across this little blog post while surfing the #ubuntu hashtag on Twitter:

basically its about syndaemon, which can monitor for keyboard activity, and disable the touchpad while until your done typing.

Good bye annoying accidential touches!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Chromium on Ubuntu

Chromium has gotten pretty useful now. Here's how I installed it from the Ubuntu PPA:

vim /etc/apt/sources.list
----- add -----
deb jaunty main
deb-src jaunty main
----- add -----
sudo apt-key adv --keyserver --recv-keys 4E5E17B5
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install chromium-browser

Start with:

chromium-browser --enable-plugins

to get Flash support, which is a little buggy. Otherwise, its a pretty nice browser, and a decent option for Lean installs

Saturday, June 27, 2009


There is a HUGE debate going on in the lxde community as to which desktop uses less resources. The following is a test that I conducted for the following thread:,2004.0.html

Their claims was that lxde uses 1/3 the memory of XFCE4. I didn't believe it, so I conducted my own set of tests to debunk this myth.

Here is a test I conducted just now. Using my Laptop, Acer Aspire 5315, 1.73 ghz celeron, 2 gigs of RAM. Ubuntu 9.04, cli only install, xfce4 installed from apt. Very lean installation of Ubuntu, runs great on a 10 year old Compaq notebook as well.

Anyhoo, back to the test. I created a test user. I turned off the display manager, and rebooted the laptop before starting each of the desktop environments. Here is my results:

free memory after reboot: 1,944,304
free memory after startxfce4: 1,789,552
free memory after startlxde: 1,804,456 ( Yes, I rebooted before I did startlxde )

xfce4 difference: 154,752
lxde difference: 139,848

Difference between xfce4 and lxde: lxde uses 15 less megs of ram than XFCE4.

I'm sure I would get different results if I used a different machine, but I think you catch my drift. LXDE isn't that radically smaller than XFCE4.

UPDATE: Did the same test just now on my Compaq Presario 700. Athlon 500 with 256 megs of ram. Same Ubuntu install, same packages.

free after reboot: 163,868
free after startxfce4: 92,312
free after startlxde: 107,320

Again, difference of 15 megs in favor of lxde. Doesn't seem like enough to worry about to me.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Web Browser

Modern machines are nothing without a decent web browser. Firefox is nice, however it uses a lot of resources and can be a bit bloated, especially on systems with around 200 megs of ram. There are a few very good alternatives out there, mainly:

Seamonkey - Uses less resources but shares a lot of code with Firefox, so it has a familiar feel
Epiphany - Very light weight, however requires a lot of GNOME dependencies
Midori - Very very light weight, but very beta right now

I actually recommend Seamonkey over the three listed above. Sure everyone has their favorite, but Seamonkey also benefits from the extensive mozilla plugin system. The 2.0 version is about to go beta, and runs very well in its alpha state. I've been using the nightly builds for a while now. I originally installed it on the infamous Compaq refrenced in this article, but I loved it so much, its now my browser of choice, even on my dual core 2 gig machines. Its very snappy.

Just a few thoughts on a difficult subject. If you have the resources to spare, Firefox might be the way to go, but there are alternatives for the adventurous in all of us.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Graphical Environment and Network Manager

After installing and getting your network up, we need to install a graphical environment. The key here is that we are trying to "go lean" so to speak. Normally the desktops of the various official flavors of Ubuntu are handled by a metapackage:

ubuntu-desktop == Ubuntu. Simple enough.
xubuntu-desktop == Xubuntu. Installs Xubuntu
kubuntu-desktop == Kubuntu. This installs, you guessed it, Kubuntu.

So for example lets say you've followed the "cli" install method detailed earlier, and you now want a full ubuntu desktop, simply run:

sudo apt-get install ubuntu-desktop

Lets say you want to install Xubuntu:

sudo apt-get install xubuntu-desktop

This is actually not a bad idea, this gives you a network install with all the latest security patches right out the gate. I always use the mini.iso or netboot.tar.gz, its faster, more efficient, and the most secure way to install Ubuntu.

Its very debatable as to what is the most lean desktop environment. In my tests, and I've had other people and other articles confirm it, Xubuntu only uses slightly less resources than Gnome with desktop effects turned off. On a lot of machines, ones with 256 megs or lower, this could pose a problem.

However, for me, I wanted to run xfce 4.6, the latest XFCE release. Even though Xubuntu uses XFCE, they are actually seperate projects. To install XFCE without all the extra Xubuntu stuff, simply run:

sudo apt-get install xfce4

This will be a VERY bare minimal desktop environment. Its basically the same set of xfce4 packages that Debian uses. This install doesn't even have a consistent icon set. I recommend tango:

sudo apt-get install tango-icon-theme

Once its installed, you can set the icon theme in Settings - Appearance and go to the Icons tab. Click on "Tango"

There you have it. Now you need to install a web browser, and other applications your accustomed to. I recommend doing this one application at a time. It keeps your system very lean. Use "apt-cache search" to find your applications.

Now, onto network manager. I've resisted installing this application because I felt I was beyond it. I was actually wrong. And don't worry about resources, NetworkManager only has a rss of a few megs, I'm sure you can spare the change.

My main reason for installing it was my laptop. My networks sometimes, and sometimes don't, reconnect after I unsuspend my laptop. There seems no rhymne or reason to it, it just simply won't reconnect.

To install, I simply ran:

apt-get install network-manager network-manager-gnome

and presto, it was running in my system tray next time I started my X session.

Just one caveat: Make sure you comment out any configuration you may have done earlier in /etc/network/interfaces. The auto lines are all you need.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Logging in, getting network up

The first steps after the installer is to get logged into your machine.  The console login might look a tad bit alien to you, but it operates much in the same way that the display managers do.  Simply enter the username you picked for yourself in the installer, and you will have a command line from which to work from.

To get networking up and running, first run:


This should show you what network interfaces you have up and running on your system.  At bare minimum, you will have the "lo" or loopback device, but you should see another device that starts with eth, most likely eth0.  Execute this command:

sudo dhclient eth0

This will request an IP address from your dhcp server and configure the interface.  You will need to run this command every time after you log in, unless you make the connection permanent.  To make this network connection permanent, or to configure a static IP address, see the "interfaces" man page:

man interfaces

That will explain in detail how to set up networking on Ubuntu and Debian. 

Now that we've settled a bit into logging in and command line networking, for the next article we will take a look at a more controversial topic, what to install for the graphical environment.

The Install

The first step in getting a Lean Ubuntu installation, is to install a command line only system. There is a couple of different ways to preform this task, you can download the Alternate Installer, or you can use the Netboot/Mini installer. For this example, we will use the Netboot/Mini installer, since we don't need most of the packages on the Alternate ISO. First, download the mini.iso here:

This will install Ubuntu 9.04. If you want to install Intrepid (8.10), change "jaunty" in the above URL to "intrepid." I've found Jaunty to be stable for what we are doing as of this writing, and is set to release on the 23rd of April.

Once you've downloaded the ISO, burn it to a CD-R. For the mini.iso install method, your server will have to have an active network connection during the install. For most machines this should pose little problems, however if your network interface is not supported in the installer, this install will not work. You will need the Alternate Installer, which the steps should be similar. The benefit to using the mini.iso is that JUST the packages you need are downloaded, as opposed to the entire Ubuntu Desktop system.

Insert the new CD-R, and boot the machine you are going to run the install on. When the CD's "boot:" prompt comes up, put in:


and hit enter, following the installation steps. They are all fairly straightforward. When you are done, you will not have a display manager login, like most Ubuntu installs do, you will have a console login. To keep Ubuntu lean, and mean, all non-essential services are deactivated, that includes not using GDM. There is a way to start your GUI without a display manager (gdm), and we will get into that next.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Using Ubuntu on a Diet

A lot of us out there love Ubuntu. Its stable, has regular releases, and is maintained by an army of volunteers. Its probably the most popular distribution out there. I've been using it since late 2007, and have been quite happy with it. I'm currently running many servers off Ubuntu at my work (, ), in fact if a customer asks for Linux on their server, it gets Ubuntu unless they say otherwise. Personally, I run Ubuntu on both of my laptops, my daughter's netbook, my personal server/workstation, my Media Center, and a Desktop.

I've been using Linux for some time now, so I'm pretty a pretty experienced Linux admin. Ubuntu, and by extension Xubuntu, just works and its great, however I wanted to get more under the hood, so to speak. I wanted to see if I could run Ubuntu on as little as possible. I really didn't have a clue what I was getting into! Its really amazing how much Ubuntu does in the background.

What inspired me to "get lean" on Ubuntu was my Compaq Presario 700 laptop. I love this laptop, and have had it for many many years. The thing will not quit. Since then I've gotten an Acer Aspire Gemstone, but I really don't want to abandon hardware that still works. It has a 500 mhz Athlon processor, and 256 megs of RAM. Part of that ram is eaten up by the video, however, so its official reading of free is 230. I've tried Xubuntu 8.10 on this, however with all the extra services that have to run with the desktop environment, I run out of RAM after running Firefox for a while. Its really not Xubuntu's fault, its mainly Firefox eating up all the RAM, but its still a problem when you go from Firefox to something else. Mainly the machine just slows down, but I felt I could get better preformance out of the laptop if I trim some background stuff down.

This blog will be covering, in as much detail as possible, my exploits into this mad experiement in Ubuntu. Eventually this blog will also expand into other areas of Ubuntu and Linux, and will become a blog about setting yourself free from the desktop, and getting deep under the hood of Ubuntu, and what makes it tick. For starters, however, we will focus in detail how to make Ubuntu scream.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Arthur H. Johnson II is a Linux systems administrator, who has been using Linux 1996. Other than the occasional wine or virtualbox to run the unavoidable win32 application, he has been Microsoft free since 1998. He has been a Ubuntu advocate and user since version 7.04. Arthur has worked for numerous companies supporting the venerable operating system, and has been a constant advocate since he discovered the penguin, even running a Linux Users Group for five years. He is currently employed with Beach Communications supporting their and companies, building, deploying, and maintaining servers and supporting customers.