Often in today’s high powered computer world, the mindset seems to slowly be drifting toward more complex and all encompassing desktop environments and windows managers. Perhaps it is the luring features that capture our attention and draw us in, or the availability of high end computer systems that push us towards utilizing vital system resources for more complex background functionality, creating a simpler and more glamorous user interface. There are, however, many lightweight desktop environment and windows manager solutions available still have a valid place in today’s modern computer world.
While time would fail us to discuss the best or most useful of these lightweight environments and windows managers, instead we should focus on two practical reasons one should consider using one.
First, let us consider the most obvious reason: hardware limitations. While we all want to utilize the latest and greatest software available, our current physical system may not be able to handle the high requirements of some of the larger desktop environments such as Gnome 3 or Unity. It is not that these environments do not have good merits of their own, but that lack of ram or processing power may keep your proverbial hands tied when trying to get any work done. For example, using LXDE, IceWM, or Enlightenment are resourceful ways to save your company money and utilize older laptops or desktop computers.
A second reason to camp in the lightweight department is to direct more of your system resources towards your programs. This is especially true of servers, but can apply to other platforms as well. If you know that you are going to be using a program that is literally a resource hog, it might be wise to consider spending less resources on presentation, and more resources on functionality. While running multiple virtual machines with Qemu, KVM, Virtualbox and the like, you can quickly run out of resources. Using about 1% of your system resources to run JWM, as opposed to nearly 10% to run Gnome 3 (in the case of the computer that this was written on) makes a huge difference when you are setting up two virtual machines to run simultaneously.
Obviously, there are times when a heavyweight desktop environment or windows manager is appropriate. Some of these time include new users, who are still learning how to navigate in Linux, or perhaps day to day office machines, or systems with too many resources and nothing to use them on…. The possibilities are endless, and that is one of the greatest things about Linux, it is completely up to you.
Often people overlook the lightweight desktop environments or windows managers because they don’t “look cool”, rather than the functionality of them. However, with a little bit of research, you may find that they can be quite ornate and glamorous in their own right. Meanwhile, you just might be getting your work done faster with the extra resources available to you when you travel light.
Linux – keep it simple.