One option for weak or old machines


Okay - so my usual modus operandi is to have Ubuntu Mate on my main, powerful, desktop machine. But on my laptop and notepad, I use Lubuntu, mocked up to look and feel like Ubuntu Mate with the usual two panels.

However, what has always irritated me about LXDE is the awful menu that is extremely difficult to customize or, even to make minor edits to due to having to get one’s hands dirty with long and complex config files where if even a single comma or parenthesis out of place it will screw it up entirely.

But, that said, LXDE is such a lightweight desktop I have, hitherto, been prepared to put up with the inconvenience of the LXDE menu.

However, the other day, I decided to experiment a bit. I installed “mate-panel” and simply replaced the existing “lx-panel” with it. Other than that, all other aspects of the LXDE desktop remain, including the Openbox window manager.

The exact setup is:

Ubuntu Server
Vanilla LXDE
Mate Panel

The reason I did not use Lubuntu as the base is because, although the existing Lubuntu 16.04 LTS is based on LXDE, the next Lubuntu LTS is going to be based on LXQT. Which, in my opinion is not as good as LXDE for two reasons. Firstly, it is a bit… how can I put it… cartoon-like. It sort of looks a bit chunky and odd. I am sure this will be tweakable, however, and so this, in itself is not a deal breaker. The second issue, though, is much more significant and that is that it is quite a bit heavier in terms of resource consumption than LXDE. This undermines the point of using Lubuntu for me.

So, I have used the vanilla LXDE desktop on top of Ubuntu Server in this virtual machine in anticipation of when I am going to need to do this for real in order to continue to use Ubuntu with LXDE . But, from now on, it will be with Mate panel instead of LXDE panel. All in all it only adds about 40M to the RAM.

I will readily admit that the LXDE desktop running mate panel is more or less identical to out-of-the-box Lubuntu LXQT 17.10 (the new LXQT version of Lubuntu that has just been released) in terms of RAM usage. Which begs the question; if I am prepared to take the extra RAM hit with LXDE to get the Mate panels, why am I not simply prepared to use Lubuntu LXQT? The reason is because the LXQT menu has the same issues as the LXDE menu and, if I employ mate-panel in Lubuntu LXQT, it takes the RAM usage to around 350M for some inexplicable reason!

To clarify:

Ubuntu Server with LXDE = 200M
Ubuntu Server with LXDE and Mate Panel = 240M
Lubuntu LXQT = 240M
Lubuntu LXQT with Mate Panel = 350M

So, LXDE (with mate-panel) still wins.

As I said, This is just for my notepad and laptop. My main rig is full fat Ubuntu Mate…:slight_smile:

See below for a vid of the VM

If anyone else wishes to do this and wants to know how, let me know on here and I will post instructions. It’s not hard to do at all.


Been thinking about this a bit more

Given that Lubuntu is dropping LXDE - it leaves a bit of an opening for another Ubuntu flavour to continue to offer an LXDE option to users.

That being the case, it might be an interesting idea to offer Ubuntu Mate users two desktop variants at login. One with a combination of LXDE and Mate Panel, as in my example, and the other the full fat Ubuntu Mate desktop.

Or, perhaps, reverse engineer it so that, within the existing Ubuntu Mate desktop, there is an option (possibly via Mate tweak), to change the following items on the fly:

Window manager changed from Marco to Openbox
Default file manager changed from Caja to PcManFM
Desktop manager changed to PCManFM (because Openbox can’t manage the desktop)
Retain Mate Panel (do not load lx-panel)
Anything else I have not thought of…:slight_smile:

That way, Ubuntu Mate becomes an all encompassing Ubuntu flavour for the widest possible variation of machine capability.

Just a thought…


Thinking about it some more…I am going to try and lash that together and do a little bash script to change the items mentioned on the fly…:slight_smile:

Jesus wept…I am always giving myself stuff to do that I don’t need to…hahahaha


Jesus wept...I am always giving myself stuff to do that I don't need to...hahahaha


God help me…

you are right




reverse engineering Ubuntu Mate “works”.

But, when I drop down from Marco to openobx it leave it running at 350M

Also, even if I reboot and simply login with openbox. It is running way over 250M for some reason.

So, I am guessing there must be all kinds of background processes built into Ubuntu mate that are still running.

So, back to my original solution I think before I get too far down this rabbit hole…


I like your tinkering. I have a soft spot for LXDE because it will be the last GTK 2 desktop. I know that Trinity (KDE 3.5 fork) is usable on several distros. I have tried it myself and it was quite impressive (the window-manager for instance), but it also felt really old (the file-manager). The reason I’m writing about Trinity is that I think they forked Qt3, because not many distros have Qt3 in their repos. So I’m thinking that there may be more life in LXDE, because GTK 2 is still maintained and much more widespread than Qt3.

I don’t have really old hardware (not really new hardware either) so I don’t care too much about RAM usage. However I do like software with a small footprint. 240 MB with MATE panel is impressive. Openbox is an underrated wm and with Compton it can look a bit fancy too. I guess Compton will eat some RAM though. Usually the browser is the RAM culprit. I have found Pale Moon to consume a lot less memory than Firefox. I don’t know if the comparison is fair, because I had some extensions in Firefox which were native in Pale Moon.

Anyway I encourage you to continue your quest for small efficient software. UM 16.04 can get down to about 550 MB RAM after cold boot just by disabling “unnecessary” start-up applications. I suspect UM 17.10 to be rather heavy in the original configuration because of all the different panel layouts that are supported out of the box. Well most people have machines that can handle it and don’t find great interest in counting RAM usage. My own comfort level is around 700 MB RAM for a full-blown OS. I think that’s what a clean copy of Windows 7 uses. Speaking of that, Windows XP was pretty lean… but also a security nightmare. There is also MenuetOS with a composited desktop that fits on a floppy…


I just tried Compton with it. It comes in at 268M.

Still pretty nice…:slight_smile:


Shortest verse in the bible.

mate-panel looks good on LXDE. Great idea Steve.


I’ve always wanted to do that, but I honestly would prefer for someone to port MATE menu so i can use that over Whisker.


It’s funny this thread happened. I have been fooling around with obmenu on a VM lately. I’m doing this for a couple of days only so I have yet to read on any dpkg hooks that I can use to populate the menu after packages install/uninstall. But that’s my planned next step.

I’m however less concerned with imitating MATE menu. My objective is similar to yours: get a consistent low memory menu across distros. But I plan to reach it in a different way: by ignoring the mate menu altogether (and this includes Ubuntu MATE itself).

Note: This all started with rofi for an application finder menu. Which is already set. I’ll be working on a panel too, after I’m done with obmenu. Quite likely, Tint2. But here things will be a lot more interesting, considering how tightly integrated panels usually are. I know I can completely replace Xfce panel. Just not sure of MATE’s yet.


Well, I think I have found the smallest footprint with the optimal GUI setup for my notepad and laptop.

Ubuntu Server


Tint2 set to use two panels (auto-started). The top one with the clock and system tray and key application launcher icons. The bottom one set to display tasks as buttons. So, a Mate-like setup - minus the Mate menu.

Compton (auto-started)

Tilda (auto-started)

Nitrogen wallpaper manager (auto-started)

The main menu utilizes the right-click one that comes with OpenBox. But, has been modified using Obmenu. It can be right-clicked to open anywhere on the desktop or, if the desktop is covered with an open application window, it can be right-clicked to open on either of the two panels.

I've still got an audio volume manager and network manager to set up on the top panel in the system tray. But, apart from that it's good to go.

It all comes in at around 185MB on the RAM.

Minus Tilda and Compton, it comes in around 150MB.

So, that's probably about as lightweight as it gets.


Looks good Steve, hope you share your setup notes with us once it’s complete.


I certainly will Steven…:slight_smile:


Basically you reinvented BunsenLabs, just on Ubuntu instead of Debian. Good work though, I like small distros.


Ahh… BunsenLabs. Never heard of that…

I’ll take a look


Actually, it's even lighter than I originally thought. I had just finished installing a couple of items prior to taking that last screen-shot and it must have left a bit of bloat hanging around in the RAM. When I rebooted, it came in at 166MB from a standing start.....:slight_smile:

So, I am guessing somewhere around 140MB minus Compton and Tilda.


So are you booting to a command prompt, and using startx to launch openbox?


May I suggest ps_mem as your goto memory usage report? It is considered one of the best and it accurately reports your system core memory usage taking into account shared libraries that may be being used across multiple programs and ps_mem knows how to take into account.

Your results seems about right. Here’s my output on xfce, after boot with tilda, artha, redshift and conky. Taken from within tilda to not open another terminal session: 328.5 MB

[9982][1] [0][~] $ sudo ps_mem
[sudo] password for marfig: 
 Private  +   Shared  =  RAM used	Program

384.0 KiB + 115.5 KiB = 499.5 KiB	rtkit-daemon
604.0 KiB +  23.5 KiB = 627.5 KiB	ssh-agent
648.0 KiB +  84.0 KiB = 732.0 KiB	crond
400.0 KiB + 397.5 KiB = 797.5 KiB	systemd-hostnamed
596.0 KiB + 219.0 KiB = 815.0 KiB	redshift
680.0 KiB + 258.5 KiB = 938.5 KiB	gpg-agent
816.0 KiB + 165.0 KiB = 981.0 KiB	xfconfd
872.0 KiB + 192.5 KiB =   1.0 MiB	gvfs-mtp-volume-monitor
832.0 KiB + 255.5 KiB =   1.1 MiB	at-spi-bus-launcher
392.0 KiB + 725.0 KiB =   1.1 MiB	avahi-daemon (2)
740.0 KiB + 449.5 KiB =   1.2 MiB	systemd-logind
912.0 KiB + 360.5 KiB =   1.2 MiB	gvfsd
  1.0 MiB + 273.5 KiB =   1.3 MiB	at-spi2-registryd
  1.1 MiB + 178.0 KiB =   1.3 MiB	gnome-keyring-daemon
  1.1 MiB + 185.5 KiB =   1.3 MiB	gvfsd-fuse
  1.2 MiB + 222.5 KiB =   1.4 MiB	accounts-daemon
  1.2 MiB + 199.0 KiB =   1.4 MiB	gvfs-gphoto2-volume-monitor
  1.0 MiB + 424.0 KiB =   1.5 MiB	gvfsd-dnssd
  1.2 MiB + 305.5 KiB =   1.5 MiB	ntpd
904.0 KiB + 655.5 KiB =   1.5 MiB	(sd-pam)
  1.1 MiB + 474.5 KiB =   1.5 MiB	gvfsd-trash
856.0 KiB + 738.0 KiB =   1.6 MiB	sh (2)
  1.3 MiB + 542.0 KiB =   1.8 MiB	gvfs-afc-volume-monitor
  1.8 MiB + 645.0 KiB =   2.5 MiB	sudo
  1.9 MiB + 819.0 KiB =   2.7 MiB	gvfs-udisks2-volume-monitor
  2.1 MiB + 657.0 KiB =   2.8 MiB	dbus-daemon (3)
  2.9 MiB + 111.0 KiB =   3.0 MiB	systemd-udevd
  3.0 MiB + 389.5 KiB =   3.4 MiB	bash
  2.7 MiB + 670.0 KiB =   3.4 MiB	cupsd
  2.4 MiB +   1.1 MiB =   3.5 MiB	panel-6-systray
  3.1 MiB + 469.0 KiB =   3.5 MiB	gvfsd-network
  1.6 MiB +   2.3 MiB =   4.0 MiB	systemd (2)
  3.3 MiB +   1.1 MiB =   4.4 MiB	xfsettingsd
  3.6 MiB +   1.6 MiB =   5.1 MiB	panel-12-thunar
  4.5 MiB +   1.1 MiB =   5.7 MiB	xfce4-session
  4.7 MiB + 949.5 KiB =   5.7 MiB	lightdm (2)
  5.4 MiB + 818.5 KiB =   6.2 MiB	udisksd
  5.1 MiB +   1.2 MiB =   6.3 MiB	Thunar
  4.8 MiB +   1.9 MiB =   6.7 MiB	xfwm4
  5.9 MiB + 936.0 KiB =   6.9 MiB	pulseaudio
  6.6 MiB + 335.5 KiB =   6.9 MiB	colord
  4.9 MiB +   2.1 MiB =   7.0 MiB	panel-8-whisker
  8.1 MiB +  40.0 KiB =   8.1 MiB	dhclient
  6.7 MiB +   1.9 MiB =   8.6 MiB	xfce4-panel
  7.2 MiB +   2.2 MiB =   9.4 MiB	polkit-gnome-authentication-agent-1
 10.0 MiB + 406.5 KiB =  10.4 MiB	polkitd
  7.0 MiB +   3.5 MiB =  10.4 MiB	conky (3)
  8.1 MiB +   4.1 MiB =  12.2 MiB	xfdesktop
  8.7 MiB +   3.8 MiB =  12.5 MiB	volumeicon
 14.1 MiB +   3.8 MiB =  17.9 MiB	tilda
 18.0 MiB +   4.5 MiB =  22.6 MiB	redshift-gtk
 22.3 MiB +   3.7 MiB =  25.9 MiB	systemd-journald
 27.8 MiB +   1.5 MiB =  29.3 MiB	artha
 41.0 MiB +   3.6 MiB =  44.6 MiB	Xorg
                        328.5 MiB

This is my bare minimum and the lowest I wish to go in terms of active applications. OpenBox will probably shave off 50 MB of this. But I wish to stick to xfce and MATE. So that’s a no.

I can’t right now show you the MATE desktop. I’m in the process of reinstalling it in the next days, after I messed up /usr with the rsync command (yeah, that happened!). But I can tell you the same as above only adds 20MB on MATE. I’ve been booting to MATE for the past year on 347 Mb, as reported by ps_mem.

After I’m done with obmenu and tint2, I expect to save approx. 20MB on Xfce and MATE, for a final boot mem of 308MB on Xfce and 327 on MATE.


No, at the moment, I’m using lxdm