I know a number of people who advocate the use of Xubuntu on resource-constrained desktop systems. But there has recently been talk about how the resource usage of Xubuntu is growing at a rapid pace. Along these lines, today I read an article that considers the use of Ubuntu Lite as an alternative to Xubuntu for those with low spec computers. I haven’t used Ubuntu Lite myself, but I would like to make a recommendation of an open source UNIX-like system for low-end desktop computers: NetBSD.
A quote from the NetBSD project’s home page really makes clear what it is, and what its goals are: NetBSD is a free, secure, and highly portable Unix-like Open Source operating system available for many platforms, from 64-bit Opteron machines and desktop systems to handheld and embedded devices. Its clean design and advanced features make it excellent in both production and research environments, and it is user-supported with complete source. Many applications are easily available through pkgsrc, the NetBSD Packages Collection.
The goals of the NetBSD project result in NetBSD being a very high-quality system. The support for low-end platforms means that care must be taken to ensure that the kernel and userland tools and libraries use a minimal amount of system resources. Furthermore, the focus on supporting modern platforms means that NetBSD offers the capabilities one would expect from a modern UNIX-like system. That’s why I think it can be used as an alternative to systems like Xubunt and Ubuntu Lite.
And when we consider its long history, dating back to when PCs were a mere fraction of the power of PCs from even a decade ago, we can see why it’d make a good choice. Compared to a 386 system, even a 300 MHz AMD K6-2 system is a powerhorse. A system like NetBSD, that even today runs suitably on a 386 or 486, is very usable on a more powerful computer. And with people considering a 1 GHz system to be “low-end” today, NetBSD makes an excellent workstation OS for such a computer.
A major feature of Debian and Ubuntu-derived Linux distributions is the extensive and friendly package management. NetBSD is quite comparable in this field. Its packages collection, pkgsrc, is very capable, complete, and up-to-date. It offers virtually all of the open source software one would expect or ever want. Support is included for all of the major open source desktops, including GNOME, KDE and XFCE.
Furthermore, i386 NetBSD offers excellent binary emulation support. This means that if you have a Linux application that is only available in binary form, you likely will be able to run it on NetBSD. In addition, NetBSD also can run binaries from a number of other systems, including x86 FreeBSD and x86 Solaris.
NetBSD is a truly remarkable and versatile system. And for many people, I think it would make a great alternative to lightweight Linux distributions like Xubuntu and Ubuntu Lite. The very philosophy of the project, that being widespread portability, will no doubt go a long way towards ensuring it remains a modern system that consumes minimal resources. If you’re currently a user of a minimalistic Linux distribution that you think is beginning to get bloated, maybe you should give NetBSD a try. It may just be exactly what you’re looking for.