Pranesh Srinivasan

Data. Hacks. Opinions.


My primary computing device for the last few years has been a 2009 netbook with an SU2300 dual core processor, and 2GB memory. I’ve managed to keep it up to date while being extremely performant and responsive by choosing the right set of tools and avoiding software bloat. My entire desktop boots up in less than 70MB of RAM and is extremely responsive. Here are the various components that make up my desktop:

Screenshot of xmonad in the default spiral

  • Operating System : Lubuntu: For a scaffolding installation, I use the latest LTS of Lubuntu, a lightweight version of Ubuntu1. This satisfies my requirements of stability, a large user community and regular updates.

  • Window Manager : xmonad: While the LXDE is a fairly functional and responsive desktop environment, I use xmonad as my window manager. It’s a light weight, fast, tiling window manager written in Haskell. I am generally allergic to the mouse as an input device, and prefer to use the 70+ keys on my keyboard whenever possible. I’ve spent a good amount of time customising my window manager setup – it’s configured to run standalone.

  • File Explorer : pcmanfm: If there ever was a fast, lightweight, X file system browser, this is it. It’s the default with LXDE and Lubuntu for a good reason. Besides being extremely fast to startup, it can run in daemon mode (making startups even faster), and manage desktop wallpaper.

  • Network Manager : wicd: It’s been my choice of network managers for a while now, being able to handle any sort of Wifi network, auth, strength that I have had to deal with. I optionally use the wicd-curses UI via screen or the wicd-cli if I am connecting to a pre-configured network.

  • Terminal Emulator : lxterminal: The default terminal emulator for LXDE, it is lightweight, and does a good job of staying out of one’s way – which is exactly what I require since I delegate most of my terminal management to screen (which also I customise).

  • Shell : zsh: While bash is the unanimous choice for scripting, I don’t think anything beats the power of zsh for interactive sessions. Previously complex configuration has also become much easier with oh-my-zsh to manage themes and plugins. It completes everything from arguments to git branch names and even suggests corrections for typos! Again, I have customised my zsh configuration (this has gotten much smaller after oh-my-zsh).

  • Volume Control: alsamixer: Good old alsamixer and it’s command line cousin amixer to the rescue. Nothing to see here, really, except more lightweight tools!

  • Status Bar : dzen2: I use dzen 2 as my panel / status bar. It consists of two sections – the top left bar which xmonad manages (and pretty prints the current workspace and tiling modes), and the top right bar, which via a lightweight, completely non-portable2 hand written C-program displays memory, CPU, and battery statistics.

  • Music Player : cmus, audacious: I switch betwee cmus, and audacious depending on whether I want to listen to a saved playlist (audacious), or my library (cmus). cmus is a console curses-based program, and does a very good job of library management, IMO. The latter is sort of a Winamp-clone on Linux.

  • Browser : chrome, firefox, dwb : I switch heavily between firefox and chrome as I have found that firefox does better at managing 20+ tabs, and Chrome is more responsive in the fewer tabs scenarios. I use dwb, a lightweight, webkit based, browser that was inspired by the vimperator plugin, for most other light browsing (quick google search, etc..) as it has extremely good startup times for me - YMMV. With both chrome and firefox, I use vimium and vimperator respectively to keep my usage of the mouse to a minimum.

So, there you have it – my light weight linux setup that’s fast, functional, and kind to my 5 year old netbook!

  1. Arch Linux would be a very good choice as well.
  2. It may work on other machines; I have not tested it. YMMV.