Lubuntu Gives You A Full-Fledged Desktop On Your Netbook

Lubuntu Gives You A Full-Fledged Desktop On Your Netbook

Netbooks aren’t the fastest computers, but they can be useful — as long as they’re usable. If you want your netbook to work and feel like a real computer rather than a toy, I can’t recommend Lubuntu enough — it makes my netbook feel like a whole new machine.

I bought my netbook hoping it would be the perfect portable companion for those quick jobs when I’m out and about — like updating one of my posts, or touching base with my boss without using my phone. The problem is, those “quick” jobs seemed to take ages on the netbook. Starting up Firefox in Windows seemed to take forever, and forget about opening multiple tabs. Even on Ubuntu, everything moved a little more sluggish than I’d like. Sure, netbooks are always going to be a little bit slower, but when they move at the speed of molasses, it seems to defeat the entire purpose of having one.

The LXDE desktop environment — the environment behind the Lubuntu variant of Ubuntu — aims to be a lightweight desktop that keeps low-resource computers running snappily. It still isn’t as fast as your uber-powerful desktop or laptop may be, but you don’t feel like every action takes five minutes to complete. Everything opens very quickly, and it doesn’t waste time or resources with flashy eye candy — though it doesn’t look ugly at all.

A Fast, Full Desktop On Your Netbook


While things like Joli OS and Chrome OS are often pushed as ideal netbook OSes, they never act the way I want them to. In the end, I don’t want to use my netbook like I use a tablet or like I use a browser — I want it to be a very small computer on which I can actually get things done when I need to. Lubuntu comes with a netbook interface, but I’d personally skip it. The desktop interface is super easy to use, familiar and just as fast. Plus, it’s Ubuntu — which means you can install all your favourite Linux apps using Synaptic or apt-get in the Terminal, just like you normally would. If you’re at all familiar with Ubuntu, you’ll pick up Lubuntu in no time.

Some might argue that an even lighter weight distribution, like the do-it-yourself Arch, would be even better. If you want to go through the hassle of installing Arch with the LXDE environment on your netbook, you absolutely can, but I personally don’t want to waste that much time on my netbook — my secondary or tertiary machine — which is why I found Lubuntu so perfect. Install it, grab the one or two programs you need to use on it and you’re mostly done. You’ve got a full, usable, desktop OS on your netbook that won’t suck up resources.

A Few Tweaks You May Have to Make

Lubuntu isn’t perfect — it is Linux, after all — so there are a few things I’ve noticed that you might have do a bit differently. These won’t apply to everyone, but they’re just a few things I’ve noticed that you might want to be aware of.

Its Preferences are quite sparse: Unlike Ubuntu, which has a load of preferences in the GUI, Lubuntu is a bit more toned down. Luckily, you probably aren’t customising your netbook as heavily as you would a desktop machine, but there are still a few small things you might have to work harder at. For example, I like to swap my Ctrl and Alt keys, which is a one-click process in Ubuntu. In Lubuntu, however, I actually had to install and configure Xmodmap instead. Obviously most of you don’t remap your keys, but you get the idea — lots of preferences aren’t available in the GUI, so you might have to set up one or two of your custom tweaks in a more manual fashion.

Windows-formatted flash drives won’t mount themselves: For some reason, if you’re using a flash drive formatted as NTFS or FAT, it won’t automatically mount in the file manager’s sidebar. EXT drives seem to automount fine, but unless you use Linux on all your machines, this doesn’t help. I haven’t found an actual fix for this, but you can always mount the drive manually through the terminal:

sudo mount -t ntfs-3g /dev/sdb1 /mnt/Flashdrive

for NTFS drives or

sudo mount -t vfat -o umask=000 /dev/sdb1 /mnt/Flashdrive

for FAT32 drives. You’ll need to also run mkdir /mnt/Flashdrive the first time you do this. Obviously, you can change Flashdrive to whatever you want, and you’ll have to make sure /dev/sdb1 is where your flash drive is located (which you can check using Gparted or by running fdisk -l in a terminal). Just remember to run umount /mnt/Flashdrive when you’re done using the drive to eject it.

Some GNOME-based apps are quirky: Dropbox is one of the big issues here, which is built for GNOME and not LXDE. You should be able to install it as normal, but a few of the GNOME-specific functions — like opening the Dropbox folder from the system tray — won’t work, but the basic functionality still does. Similarly, MPlayer doesn’t seem to disable LXDE’s screensaver when you watch videos, which can get obnoxious. Luckily, VLC fixes this problem.

These are just a few things you might want to keep an eye out for. Lubuntu is still pretty young, so it has its idiosyncrasies, but enough people use it that there’s usually a pretty simple fix for any quirks you encounter. The overall experience of the OS is well worth it.

Your mileage may vary when it comes to making the necessary tweaks, since everyone needs something different, but overall I’ve found that even with those, it’s been a godsend. It’s the first thing I’ve tried that’s made my netbook actually usable for me–I get a full desktop OS without sacrificing much. Of course, your opinion may differ, so if you’ve found an OS that better suits your netbook, let us know in the comments.


  • I never really was fond of LXDE. On my Acer netbook i use Linux Mint Gnome edition. It is significantly faster than ubuntu was on it, and it still has all the good parts of ubuntu.

    There is also an LXDE version which would run faster than gnome, however Gnome seems to just be a nicer DE to me.

  • Peppermint OS is a better alternative. Its fixed all the issues listed above and I use it for my netbook as well as my desktop machine. It’s also super fast!

  • I started using ‘Easy Peasy’ which is a ‘Ubuntu’ based OS too, it is a hell of a lot faster than ‘Ubuntu’ on my little eBook, but it updates as ‘Ubuntu’ making it slow again! Does anyone know if ‘Lubuntu’ updates itself to ‘Ubuntu’ as well, ‘Whitson’ maybe? #]

  • I’m using Mint LXDE on my netbook and i’ve loving it. Before that I was using Lubuntu but it died when I tried to upgrade it. I prefer Mint to Lubuntu, as Mint has some nicer settings like having samba installed so you can browse network drives.

    Both must faster than xp which is almost unusable on a netbook.

  • I have a bottom of the range netbook which runs superbly on windows 7. I do use chrome rather than firefox (and this is the machine which convinced me to switch all my browsing to chrome). I’m not saying linux is bad or anything, but it seems installing a new operating system, which you’ve admitted isn’t perfect, is a bit of overkill when you could just use chrome instead of firefox.

  • On my HP mini (first of the dual cores) I dumped Starter and put Win7Pro on. It now runs much better than the Starter version. I always try to put install “light” programmes as people who expect to run Photoshop and full-blown Office on a netbook are missing the point I think. Keep it lean and mean and it will serve you well. Oh, bumping the ram to 2gb helped immensely as well.

  • I use the latest Crunchbang distro on my toshiba nb550D works a charm, cpu and ram run at around 2% on average and most tasks are extremely fast! Ever since it moved to Debian it has been stable as well! would recommend it to anyones system! I know someone using it on a macbook pro with a ssd and it is lightning!

  • I do recommend a highly configurable lightweight OS such as Arch over Lubuntu if you have the time, but if you want an out-of-the-both OS that works (99% of the time) perfectly, I fully recommend Lubuntu.
    I used it for about 3 months on my eee pc 1001px. It’s a hell of a lot faster than Windows 7 or OS X, that’s for sure (and yes, you can get OS X on netbooks).
    And after configuring your kernel and apps such as cpufreq, you can get it lasting a very long time on your battery.

    I don’t use a netbook anymore, but if you do I highly recommend at least having a look at this distro.

  • So what happens when you put Lubuntu on your uber-powerful desktop. Does it mean you don’t need to upgrade your desktop.

    Are we getting bloated crappy software because that serves the purposes of the hardware and software companies.

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