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wattOS R6 Review – Go green with Linux

An Ubuntu based distro, wattOS uses Openbox and is optimised to be lightweight, low-power, and able to run on older machines

Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin LXDE Openbox

As a Linux distro configured to run on less-powerful machines than their modern counterparts, wattOS is hardly unique. There are plenty of distros that go further with that, such as Puppu or Tiny Core, however wattOS takes an up to date distro and makes it usable on machines ten years old or more. R6 is finally out, and is now based on the current Ubuntu LTS, 12.04.

The last time we reviewed wattOS, we were concerned over its selection of default apps, such as Midori replacing Chromium, SMPlayer instead of VLC, and a lack of an email client. While at the time SMPlayer may have been more advanced than VLC, and Midori was and still is more lightweight than Chromium, both applications have become so ubiquitous that it seems odd not to include them. Especially as they aren’t exactly resource hogs to begin with. Of course, you could have always installed them anyway.

Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin LXDE Openbox
The DM requires manual entry of your username

This has changed again in R6, with Chromium and VLC back as default software. They join lightweight audio player Audacious and office programs Abiword/Gnumeric to round out what’s available from the get go. It still, however, does not include an email client. Sure, a lot of people are now invested fully in web based email like Gmail, but most businesses still like to keep it on clients. You can always install one from the repos though, and while wattOS prefers lightweight software, you’re definitely not restricted to it.

While wattOS is based on Ubuntu, it does not contain it’s full list of packages. Instead of using the Software Centre, Synaptic is the default package manager, and as standard only contains about half of what’s available in Ubuntu. While that’s still over 30,000 packages, it may be missing one or two you’d desperately need.

Installation of the distro is quick and straightforward, using the Ubuntu installer directly from the Live environment. Unlike some other Ubuntu based distros, wattOS replaces all the branding, and just does away with the information panes that scroll in the Ubuntu installer after username and time zone are sorted out. As we said, it’s very quick, and well within half an hour we were able to restart and get into the distro. The display manager is the kind that requires you to enter your username, rather than GDM or LDM which allows you to click on a username. While that’s a minor concern, it seems like an archaic practice for fully graphical distros.

Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin Openbox LXDE
Synaptic replaces the Software Centre as the main package manager

The display manager indicates that modified KDE and GNOMEs are available, but these do not work to begin with. However, that is not a problem, as the default LXDE/Openbox combo works perfectly well, and is extremely fast. Boot time is quite short, and instantly after logging in you’re able to start whatever task you want to get on with – a refreshing change from waiting a few moments for everything to appear. This carries on through normal use, with general day to day computing happening at lightning speed on a modern, decently powered machine.

In general, we’re pleased with the changes they’ve made to R6. With updated and very smart power management tools, it’s also still very green, without sacrificing much usability compared to the full-fat distros. It still lacks an email client as default, but at this point that is pretty much our only complaint with wattOS. The switch to the stable LTS Ubuntu has done well for them.

Verdict

4/5

Small, lightweight, fast, and power conservative, wattOS R6 meets all its goals while still remaining a user friendly distro. While we’re still a little miffed that they continue to not include a mail client, the rest of the default software is a great mixture of low-resource use yet powerful applications to get you started

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