I have spent the last couple of hours using Ubuntu Breezy (5.10) on a Celeron 400MHz machine with 256MB RAM, 13GB HD, DVD-ROM and jeez is it slow! Opening a new tab in Firefox takes a couple of seconds, having a few tabs open makes everything crawl, switching apps takes a few seconds, etc. If I try installing a package and switch to Firefox, it’s even slower.
I have to admit, I’m used to fast hardware and don’t have much patience for computers. I always want my computer to be faster than me; if i hit Ctrl-T, lxer.com, Enter, Ctrl-T, slashdot.org, Enter, Ctrl-T, news.google.com, Enter, Ctrl-Tab, I certainly shouldn’t have to wait in between the new tabs. Even as I’m typing this post, the letters appear after a certain delay that just drives me nuts!
I tried installing the Opera Browser because it’s supposed to be a bit faster than Firefox on the same hardware, but I haven’t found that to be true at all. They are qualitatively equally “snappy” on this hardware. Opening a new tab is still slower than it should be. Perhaps an older version like 7.0 or 6.0 would be faster.
On the positive side, I would consider this machine to be usable by the average person. This machine can do everything a faster machine can do with Ubuntu, it’ll just take a few minutes more. Sound and video works, so does flash (OK, so I had to add the multiverse repositories and know to install mozilla-flashplayer and gstreamer-plugins). I think it’s better to suffer through slightly slow Firefox or Opera than to suffer with the limitations of a browser like Dillo or links.
There is clearly a need for Ubuntu Lite. The original target for that sub-distribution was to configure an Ubuntu distribution to be usable on a machine with less than 64MB RAM. I have until recently been a proponent of the idea that RAM matters much more than CPU (that is, a 200MHz Pentium with 256MB of RAM would be far “faster” for desktop use than a 400MHz Pentium 2 with 128MB RAM) I based this opinion on my experience of using an Athlon XP 2400+ machine with 64MB RAM (by using the mem=64m kernel option (but also a fast ATA100 disk)), and it was much “snappier” than I expected. My experiences with this machine (400MHz, 256MB RAM) really make me doubt my previous opinion.
In either case, it’s much harder to choose the right packages to result in a “usable” desktop when you only have 32MB RAM. In fact, the latest Xorg needs at least that much memory. That’s why I think Ubuntu Lite should really target less than 256MB machines. There seems to be some widespread agreement that GNOME is a bit “heavy” and certainly, with a low-resource machine it doesn’t make sense to devote so much memory and processing power to the desktop environment itself. The resources should be left to the apps.