For the past few days, I’ve been playing with alternative DE’s for my Debian distro currently running on my laptop. The technical jargon for the distro I’m currently running is “Debian GNU/Linux 7.0-VSIDO. This translates to Debian Sid. The minimal install I started with came by default with Xfce4.10 or Openbox as the desktop environment. And all was good! In the spirit of honest reporting, I never really gave a OB chance. In my defense, I started out using Xfce4 and just never really looked back. I have a good friend Bruce, in the Linux community who swears by Openbox. I just haven’t given it a close enough look to include any pro’s or con’s here in this post. Perhaps in the next few weeks, I can persuade Bruce to write a post touting it’s (Openbox) horn, so-to-speak!
Before going to the ‘pure’ Debian side of things, I’d been happily using Ubuntu as anyone who’s read any of my posts know. Though Ubuntu is based on the Debian distro, it is it’s own beast. I was quite happy with their new Unity interface and had no complaints to speak of. It took some getting used to, but once you’d been using it a while, it was pretty intuitive. As stated in a previous post, I think Ubuntu is great, but for me it was just too bloated. If I was still using Ubuntu, I’d still be using Unity as well. That’s as much of an endorsement as I can give since I’m no longer using either one. Ubuntu, Unity, and thus by default Compiz, were in my opinion very hungry for RAM. If you are into eye-candy, which of course I am then you’ll know you need the oomph to keep it running quickly. My recommendation for such a setup would be at a minimum, 4 Gb’s of RAM and a pretty healthy video card that sported at least another 2 Gb’s of dedicated video RAM. This of course presupposes that you’d be running some pretty stout software that would be in need of such RAM. In order to run Wine for example, if you wanted to play any Windows based games, or MS bloatware.
So, back to VSIDO. The first alternative DE I tried was the KDE Plasma 4.9 desktop. While I was able to easily get it up and running, it was even hungrier than Ubuntu running Unity and Compiz. Just booting up and logging in, I was already well over 900 mb’s of RAM. To me, running Linux, this was in my opinion staggering! The exact same system, booting up and logging in using Xfce4.10 utilizes about 150 mb’s of RAM! Though the Plasma desktop is pretty, it is also cartoonish and not as intuitive as other DE’s out there. With my system running 8 Gb’s of RAM, everything ran quickly, but only because of that fact. If you were trying to run the Plasma desktop on a lower spec’d system, I have to think it would be slow going for sure. It is also a maze to get through, with everything requiring a lot of navigating via mouse clicks to accomplish simple tasks. I did only a minimal install of the desktop environment only, which allowed me to keep my favorite apps without using the default KDE apps that would have normally been installed with a full KDE install. I’m purposefully not going into details with my install steps here because I don’t want to be the one you blame if you destroy your computer trying to emulate any of this. In this regard, Google is your friend! Within a couple of minutes, I had all the info I needed to successfully get it up and running. If KDE is the route you’d like to take, then that is how I’d recommend you go about it.
Next up was Gnome. For me, Gnome has been an old friend. Since the early part of 2001, every Linux distro I used from that point forward had some version of Gnome being utilized as the DE. Though I’m not a Gnome adept by any stretch, I was again, easily able to get a minimal DE up and running quite painlessly. As stated above, I’m not going to detail the install process here. I’ll say again, Google is your friend and within minutes you can find a site to guide you through any number of install types. Though version 3.6 is available, I installed and ran version 3.4. It was easy to setup, easy to configure, had lots of appealing eye-candy etc. However, the boot up and login resulted in RAM usage at a whopping 680 mb’s. Again, I’ll point to the low RAM usage of Xfce4 which consistently boots in at around 150 mb’s. Again, everything ran smoothly and quickly with my machine spec’s. If you want all the added software that comes with Gnome, you can be looking at using some serious disk real-estate. (this same axiom also holds true with KDE)
For me, in a nutshell Xfce4 is an amazing little DE. I can have all the appealing eye-candy I want, and not have to worry about how intensive the RAM utilization is going to be. I’m no Linux guru by any stretch, but I can have my “desktop” looking as good or better than any system I’ve tried running so far. This is including Windows and Mac OS X. Any version of Windows I might add. The Mac, I’ll give a little ground here as I’ve seen some mighty fine desktops out there. When I first started using Xfce4, I was under the mistaken impression that’d I’d be ‘giving up’ some of the effects and eye-candy that we’re able to utilize on todays computers that are totally loaded with the latest and greatest that today’s technology has to offer. This is totally not the case. Utilizing some ‘pretty’ background images, a couple of nicely written “Conky” scripts, and the addition of a couple of nicely written “Tint2” panels, my screen is very pleasing to the eye, and a source of pride to work on. Not to mention the increase in skill level that getting it to this point has given me!
Learning new tricks in Linux is so rewarding. And painless too! It is also totally free! Everything I’ve accomplished on this website, and my personal laptop has cost not even one shiny penny! That alone makes it totally worthwhile. Linux is today’s fastest growing OS in the World. Once you realize how simple things can truly be when using it, you’ll wonder why it took you so long to switch. My mental health would’ve been greatly helped by me making the total switch years before I did. If you haven’t given Linux a chance then your wasting a lot of money, time, and more importantly, sanity! Linux puts the power of computing back in the hands of the user. It will run on practically any hardware, and gives you the satisfaction of not supporting the Microsoft and Apple empires! Also, unlike Microsoft and Apple, there is a Linux flavor/distro for everyone; from the first time user, to the old pro that knows it all. Many thanks to VastOne for creating such a fine distro! If your interested in VSIDO, you can check out the forums here.