Well to get to the point right away, it’s not slow … in fact it flies! For certain operations (like YAST) I could not tell if I was working on my 2Ghz 4GB Desktop or on this little notebook. I was truly amazed by the usability of KDE4 on this old little brick and I wanted to share that. So here is my story …
To put things in perspective, lets first go back to the beginning of my adventure. It all started with an 8 year old Compaq Presario 700EA laptop (specs, smolt) running Windows XP. Like all Windows machines, no matter how much you maintain it, at some point it comes to a grinding halt. 7 years it had run Windows XP, but now I decided it was time for something new (and more secure). My parents weren’t so happy about this change, but I managed to convince them based on security arguments (during that time there were a lot of reports about Trojan stealing credit card information etc.) GNU/Linux was ofc, the obvious choice
I was already running openSUSE at that point, but somehow I figured that wouldn’t work for my parents on their silly old laptop, hell even my laptop has issues rendering the widgets on the desktop sometimes. So after some research I found that there are quite some distributions focussing on being lightweight … however but most of them were either not as usuable or seemed difficult to maintain. Also I didn’t want to scare my parents to much so I setteled for something maintream like Xubuntu, that is Ubuntu with the Xfce desktop. I tried Ubuntu with Gnome before that, but that just didn’t have the juice I wanted. I figured Xfce should be light enough. But boy was I wrong. It seemed to boot even longer than XP, ran slower and was actually be a little bit less usuable from my parents points of view. Luckily I have great parents and they gave me the benefit of the doubt.
However, X(ubuntu) was often swapping out memory like crazy halting pretty much anything you’d be doing at that moment. Also printing one document could sometimes take up to an hour. You can imagine I was called in for service quite a bit. And at some point, got fed up with it; I conceded and accepted that apparantly even Xubuntu does not settle for 256MB (- 32MB shared video memory btw). It was again time for something new.
I did some research again, and found a lot of potential candidates like Puppy Linux, Vector Linux, Arch Linux, plain old Debian, Dream Linux and some Ubuntu variants like Fluxbuntu or uLite. Yet most of them ‘saved’ on the Window Manager and/or Desktop enviroment; like using IceWM or JWM … but to be honest - I looked at the screenshots - most of them just are just plain ugly, not to mention difficult to operate (ever seen IceWM’s kickoff menu? ) I knew if I would put something like that on my parent’s laptop, they’d be asking me to install Windows XP again in no-time.
But then, after many hours of Googleing and reasing dozens of benchmarks and test I found this article on kdedevelopers.org:
KDE 4: like a dream on 256Mb/1Ghz/Intel!
That made me think. If KDE4 can work that well on this guy’s machine (provided it was much newer than my alptop), then perhaps it might run half decently on this little brick with a mere 224MB (32MB video) as well. I was not expecting much but I gave it a try anyway. Being bold I even jokingly thought of booting in from a Live CD and - being in a jolly mood - tried it. I figured it might be the best way of seeing if there were any hardware issues like networkcards not detect etc. You can perhaps imagine my amazement when 5 minutes later, I see a fully functional KDE4 desktop in front of me. After that little moral booster I started my ‘project’.
Since the graphics installer will complain about not having 1GB of RAM I just directly went to the text based installed instead (turns out that one too gives you a warning if you have less that 1Gig of RAM, why I don’t know). The installation didn’t go 100% smoothless (black screen after the initial reboot, another reboot and a “Sax2 -r” command later) but sure enough after half an hour or so, I have a working KDE 4 desktop, which is … quite snappy! All KDE4 apps start wthin a second or two-four, Firefox takes perhaps 10-20, but it works, and it’s usuable enough for my parents!
I actually didn’t understand how it manged to do that, but then I checked my memory usuage after a clean boot and saw that of the 224MB, only 102MB was really in use (nothing swapped), leaving me a whopping 120MB for applications! For what KDE4 provides … that’s a pretty low footprint.
So, to conclude … I would like to thank the KDE developers, and in particular the openSUSE KDE developers for bringing about such a wonderful lightweight Desktop Enviroment that still plays nice with hardware that’s nearly a decade old. In would say that in these times of economic ressesion, where not everyone has the cash to buy a new computer every few years, it’s nice to have an alternative.
PS: Thanks on behalf of my parents too