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I was reading this article comparing different flavors of Ubuntu: https://itsfoss.com/which-ubuntu-install/ It seems that Lubuntu is extremely lightweight with very low RAM requirements which fits perfectly to my needs. I wanna install Lubuntu to a laptop that would be used for browsing and office work. So, power efficiency is important which to my understanding, Lubuntu would be better in this regard compared to other distributions. However, I also read in the ubuntu wiki that

The differences between Lubuntu and Ubuntu are: Different DE - Lubuntu uses LXDE while Ubuntu uses Unity as the default DE on releases up to Lubuntu 18.04 LTS. Lubuntu uses LXQt from Lubuntu 18.10. Different Default Applications Other than that, they are the same. The DE is what makes Lubuntu a lightweight OS, and of course the selected applications too because we make sure to use the lightest applications which are not resource hungry. However, you are still free to use any application available in Ubuntu’s repositories, as long as your computer can run it.

So, if I can run all the applications of normal Ubuntu on Lubuntu, what am I missing with the lighter desktop environment? If the LXDE provides the same benefits as Unity does but using much lower RAM, why use unity at all? I don't really care about default programs since I can install whatever I happen to need at will.

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    Don't compare against Unity. Unity is as far as I know discontinued (unfortunately). In the recent years the default Ubuntu comes with Gnome desktop. – Levente Feb 11 at 17:03
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    Besides "lightweightness", the choosing of a DE is a matter of preferences. Everybody has a different workflow, and some DE would suit they better that other. I didn't like gnome at first, now it is my DE of choice, no matter what distro I use. Be aware of the DE's fanboys, don't listen to them :) – schrodigerscatcuriosity Feb 11 at 17:14
  • My bad, I wanted to say GNOME as I realize that is the default DE for Ubuntu. So, the way I see it, there is nothing except potential aesthetic differences to justify GNOME over LXDE? On a desktop where battery life is of no concern, I can see one installing whichever flavor one prefers, but what could possibly justify 8 times more RAM usage of GNOME over LXDE if the targeted device is a laptop? – EvilRaceHorse Feb 11 at 17:17
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    I think it's possible to have both desktops installed on the same system, and then the login screen will offer a select widget before logging in, where one can pick which DE to launch for the session. That way you could evaluate both. Then you can even come back, and add an answer to your own question ;) – Levente Feb 11 at 17:23
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Both of the 'heavyweight' Ubuntu desktops (Gnome and KDE) provide code and components that are then shared by both the desktop itself and many applications in the same 'family'. For example, the 'file open' dialogue that is used to open files in any program. At a more advanced level, each provides its own password manager (Gnome Keychain and KWallet respectively). LXDE only provides the bare minimum of such components.

If you install any application from the respective family (such as Gnome's Gedit text editor or KDE's Kate text editor) you will have to install the basic components for that family. And you may need to install more components to get the application's full feature set. Many of these components need to run continuously and so will add to your system's minimum RAM requirement. And now you have two sets of such components: the original LXDE ones and the Gnome/KDE ones you have added. You are possibly using more RAM than if you had just installed the 'heavyweight' DE.

If you just want to use a PC for browsing, you could choose a browser that is not part of either family (e.g. Firefox) and in that case Lubuntu is a good choice for you. But Firefox should (in theory, I don't know about in practice) use more RAM than Konqueror because it has to provide all its own code and components. Whether KDE-including-Konqueror uses more RAM than Lubuntu+Firefox is something that you could calculate.

If someone needed to edit images for their office work, they might decide the only adequate Linux application was Glimpse, which is part of the Gnome 'family' (GTK). In that case, they might as well install Gnome anyway and re-use the components for Gedit and other GTK-family programmes.

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    That's a very useful thing to point out. – Levente Feb 11 at 17:57
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    To have a glimpse into what would happen, try sudo apt install kate --dry-run. Kate is a KDE application. You will see a MOUNTAIN of dependencies that would get installed (if it was not a simulated dry-run). Performing such a check (with --dry-run or just -s) before installing anything new, can easily prevent accidentally ending up with this mountain of dependencies. But then again, I can imagine it's just a matter of time until one cannot resist installing some app with the huge dependencies, because one simply cannot live without that app... – Levente Feb 11 at 18:02
  • Thank you for the insightful reply. I am aware that Lubuntu provides less default applications. But for example if I wanted the password manager that comes with regular Ubuntu, can I manually install that to Lubuntu later if I want to? I mean, it doesn't seem much of a concern to me if I can add the missing stuff at will if I feel like I may need them. – EvilRaceHorse Feb 11 at 20:55
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    @EvilRaceHorse while you can add (almost?) any software, the spirit of this answer suggests that you might want to always pick the lighter-weight applications for any purpose. I think there might be such a consequence that you have to choose between installing something heavy-wieight (but that would invalidate your efforts on a light system), or, having to choose command-line-interface programs (potentially) without a graphical user interface. That would mean you would end up doing more tasks inside terminal windows as opposed to clicking around in easier-to-use graphical windows. – Levente Feb 12 at 11:01
  • Yes, I wouldn't install anything heavyweight unless it is inevitable. However, I really doubt that will be the case since I will be using it only for basic tasks (browsing, office programs, etc.) I mean, if I sacrifice some visual quality for a lot longer battery life, so be it. – EvilRaceHorse Feb 12 at 13:32
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Mostly this is just @Matthew's answer in different wording (I'm late to this question sorry).

So, if I can run all the applications of normal Ubuntu on Lubuntu, what am I missing with the lighter desktop environment? If the LXDE provides the same benefits as Unity does but using much lower RAM, why use unity at all?

toolkits or resources used (especially ram)

LXDE was very light, but it was also GTK2 (ie. older GNOME+GIMP toolkit or libraries). Unity 7 used GTK3, as GNOME 3 has for a ~decade now..

The moment you started using GTK3 apps on the GTK2 LXDE environment, the lightness of LXDE was starting to erode, as you ended up with GTK2 libs in memory (needed for desktop), plus GTK3 libs in memory (needed for your applications). That is one problem with LXDE (or XFCE when it used used GTK2.. you didn't provide release details; Xubuntu/XFCE is GTK3 from Xubuntu 19.10 onwards). Same applied back with Ubuntu-MATE/MATE only it ported much earlier; I used to love MATE on a pentium M laptop with 1GB of ram, dropped it when it ported to GTK3.

security

Next is GTK2 is dead upstream, no longer getting security patches, as were done only until gimp (last GTK2 program) completed it's port to GTK3. So there are now potentially security risks with GTK2 as flaws aren't being patched. (new work is being performed on GTK4, GTK3 is where legacy maintenance now occurs)

LXDE -> LXQt history & toolkits, esp. related to Lubuntu

PCman (developer of pcmanfm which was LXDE's file manager, but also handles the desktop itself) started ported it to GTK3 years ago, but there was a huge performance hit (GTK3 is heavier), so the work was paused, then a new port was done to Qt5. The Qt5 port was far lighter & had better performance... (PCman has blogged about this, it was long ago now)

The LXDE devs joined with Razor-Qt guys & are now the LXQt team. That's why Lubuntu switched from LXDE (depreciated except with 18.04) to LXQt. LXQt uses Qt5 libraries.

Lubuntu is I believe the lightest out-of-the-box of the Ubuntu flavors (be it LXDE using GTK2 or LXQt using Qt5), however if you're intended to use GTK3 apps, the advantage will quickly be lost, and it may not be best for you.

applications to be used

Consider the applications you'll use in your decision of what desktop. What toolkit do they use? as ideally you want it to be ones already in RAM, as they're used by the desktop itself thus resource kit will be less.

In particular attention pay attention to apps you'll use at the same time, eg. I still use Liferea (GTK3), Hexchat (GTK3) & Evolution (GTK3 MUA) on my LXQt system, the resource hit is greatest when I load the first of them, but hit isn't there for 2nd & 3rd app as libs are already in memory. My old 2009 desktop can cope with because it has enough ram; so I can keep using apps I used back when GNOME2 was my desktop.

taste

Further, there is taste. Not all of us think "chocolate" is the best ice-cream, so different desktops allow us to work in a particular way that suits us, so beyond the lightness or toolkits in use, we can choose one that meets our tastes, or weigh lightness against the other things we value (in our kepner-tregoe selection spreadsheets)

FYI: I used boxes with 1GB of ram to test releases up to and including Lubuntu & Xubuntu 19.04. I still do (18.04.5 was last in 2020-August), however most of my testing now involved more RAM. The amount of RAM you have will dictate how much care you take, with 2GB or less I'd plan ahead, with >4GB of RAM I tend to ignore it & use the applications I want to. The desktop I'm replying to you on, is a 2009 dell so it's old (no i-series processors as too old) and my base is Lubuntu/LXQt, but I still use GTK3 apps I started using when GNOME was GNOME2 (& thus GTK2) as with 8GB I can afford the RAM hit. When using less ram devices though I'm much more careful.

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  • FYI: I don't consider I'm missing anything running Lubuntu. Actually my system also has ubuntu-desktop, and xubuntu-desktop installed, so I can logout, and choose to use GNOME or XFCE as my desktop... but boxes either side of me are almost identical (just have lubuntu-desktop & kubuntu-desktop installed though I spend 50% of my time using boxes with only lubuntu-desktop installed.. I can run all GTK3 apps on any Lubuntu.. they just use slightly more RAM, just as using a Qt5 app on a GTK3 desktop does... "six vs half-dozen"... – guiverc Feb 13 at 1:30
  • Thank you for the detailed answer. My main hope with installing Lubuntu is that I expect to get better battery life compared to regular Ubuntu. I used to get somehow worse battery life on normal ubuntu compared to Windows 10. So, I expect Lubuntu to be less draining than windows 10. In short, taste goes out of the window for me if there is a significant drain on the battery and if Lubuntu has essentially the same functionality as GNOME Ubuntu, then I see no reason why Lubuntu does't win this. – EvilRaceHorse Feb 13 at 12:46
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    I can't speak to battery life sorry; I prefer desktops so that's what I use. I QA-test on laptops, but battery life isn't part of the current QA tests (I'm not OEM testing). I count resources as RAM (no impact to battery) & cycles (that would but not significantly; though motors use power so do reduced cpu-cycles dropped enough to not cause fan to start? I don't know). There are questions on this site for tlp and power management but it's not in my skillset sorry. – guiverc Feb 13 at 21:19
  • No problem, thanks again for your response. – EvilRaceHorse Feb 13 at 21:58
  • This answer provides a lot of the detail and history behind my 'ELI5' answer. – Matthew Feb 15 at 17:13

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