WattOS — a lightweight, low-power Linux

WattOS logo

A lightweight Linux distribution often seems to require making sacrifices — using a UI which many users would find unfamiliar and using software which is heavily cut down in functionality.

WattOS is a really interesting lightweight Linux distribution that is based on Ubuntu 10.04 (as of WattOS R2). As the name might suggest, it is also focused on low power usage and is said to work well with older and less powerful hardware.

WattOS blank desktop

At the same time, though, it runs familiar software, like Firefox, Empathy for instant messaging and has a friendly user interface. It uses Openbox and LXDE to form the desktop environment, and while many Linux users may not have even heard those names, the combination works brilliantly — keeping the software lightweight and super speedy, but without behaving oddly or describing things in an unusual way. In short, a non-technical user certainly won’t have a problem with the way the desktop works if they have used full-fat Ubuntu before.

WattOS running Firefox 3.6

While older machines might struggle to run the latest and greatest Firefox 3.6, its inclusion in WattOS, again, ensures good compatibility with websites. The newest R2 release also includes the Microsoft TTF fonts package and Adobe Flash Player 10.1 out of the box, so you don’t need to do any configuration to have a usable, modern web browser where websites behave as expected and render as intended.

In other areas, the developers have rightly steered away from the traditional productivity choice of OpenOffice.org to offer Abiword for word processing and Gnumeric for spreadsheet tasks. There is also RhythmBox, the Totem Movie Player, as well as microblogging client Gwibber and the Transmission BitTorrent application, as well as a few other utility applications that can be found in Ubuntu. Again, though, if you need or want anything more heavy duty, or want something that is not offered, you have the flexibility of the entire Ubuntu software catalogue at your disposal.

WattOS showing Ubuntu Software Sources selection

So, the interface is good and it has great software, but how does it actually run?

If you have a fast machine, very quickly, and if you have a slower machine, probably with acceptable performance, depending on the hardware (you can see what success others are having with older hardware on their forums). Even in Live CD mode, things are snappy, as you would expect; the only really significant risk of slowdowns being when running Firefox. It’s a sensible tradeoff in order to have a modern browser, but, again, it is the one area that might present issues on those older computers.

The other focus of WattOS is, of course, low power consumption. The distribution ships with its own power management software. Unfortunately, it needs a little bit of manual configuration post-install to work (you have to add the user to the powermanagement group) and the configuration interface doesn’t have the same feel of simplicity as the rest of the OS. I personally don’t have the right hardware to be able to really test it, but it does offer Auto and Manual power management modes and Performance and Power Saving settings. How much difference it would make to battery life, then, is something that would be difficult for me to comment on.

WattOS power management software

What strikes me most about WattOS is it seems to combine the best of both worlds — it is genuinely fast and lightweight and supports older hardware, but comes without the significant compromises in functionality and in ease of use that often accompany other cut-down distros. This makes it an excellent operating system choice for many applications — a simple web browsing box for beginner computer users, a way to give a new lease of life to older hardware, a netbook OS and even in a kiosk or thin client situation. In many cases, it would even work well just as a live CD, even without the hassle of installing it alongside anything else.

WattOS file management

If you are looking for a lightweight Linux, WattOS is most definitely worth a look. You can download the new R2 release from planetwatt.com.

Do you have experience with lightweight Linux distributions? What do you think of WattOS? Have your say in the comments.

Avatar for peter Peter Upfold - http://peter.upfold.org.uk/

Peter Upfold is a technology enthusiast from the UK. Peter’s interest in Linux stems back to 2003, when curiosity got the better of him and he began using SUSE 9.0. Now he runs Linux Mint 9 on the desktop, runs a CentOS-based web server from home for his personal website and dabbles in all sorts of technology things across the Windows, Mac and open source worlds.

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Discussion: WattOS — a lightweight, low-power Linux

  1. # Posted on 24 June 2010 at 03:33 AM

    I'd love to see an Xfce edition of WattOS I really don't care for Lxde it's beta nature really shows imo PCmanFM is terrible and can't hold a candle to Thunar If Xfce is setup properly it can run well under 100MB of Ram and Chromium or Chrome should really be the default browser.

  2. Sammy (guest)

    # Posted on 24 June 2010 at 12:43 PM

    I haven't tried WattOS R2 on all my older computers yet but, I have taken it for a spin and it seams to work pretty well. It's nice to have an OS that runs on older computers and has all the mutli-media features. I love the fact that WattOS is based on Ubuntu 10.04 so, there is lots of software in the repos. I have a bunch of really old computers I will have to try.

  3. drazen (guest)

    # Posted on 25 June 2010 at 09:52 AM

    I use linux Mint for my business (Business Consultant) and - as we all do - have some old machines with no resale value that I keep and try to use for home/kids use. The lowest specs one is an ASUS laptop P3/128MB RAM. NOT ONE of Ubuntu spins - regardless of configuration- works on that (Forget about all other big league players as well - Debian and Deb. spins with the exception of Antix, Suse, Mandriva, Fedora-RHEL spins!)! Not even WattOS R1 (R2 might be only more demanding). My experience is that on low-memory machines you need either light Slackware or Slackware based distro (If you prefer not to spend too much time configuring it and taking care of dependencies on apps you want to install from web repositories as you need to do on Slackware or Absolute) - or original distributions like Puppy, SliTaz and Tiny Core. The usable deb. one would be Antix, but it runs bit slower (And takes bit more RAM), than the fastest in the pack of which I would recommend for general use: Vector Light and Puppy. Puppy has had added potential for Ubuntu packages available now that Puppy 5.01 is based upon Ubuntu packages repo. rebuilt with the Woof tool for Puppy. Vector - on the other side - is stable and reliable. AntiX needs 256 MB as well as Salix and Zenwalk; other two exclellent Salckware distros. WattOS and Lubuntu need 512 MB to really work well with all the common apps: browser (Firefox, Chromium, Opera, Midori), OpenOffice (Abiword and Gnumeric are fine but limited for my needs), mail client (Thunderbird-lighning or Claws as slight one). Ubuntu and Mint need 1 GB for realistic common application. If you want to use Integrated Development Environments and/or Virtual machines - it goes up and up... The only advantage of a lighter and "faster" distro - besides geek-image appeal - is that it can save an old computer from being dumped. Now, SOME distros like SliTaz, Tiny Core and Puppy are build from ground-up in a different manner and have additional advantages for that manner but require adaptation efforts and time to reap benefits. Speaking of practical usage and "lightness", a distro must take not more than 1/3 or 1/2 of available RAM when "idling" (No apps, just OS) leaving the extra space for apps. When it has to expand into SWAP, it really becomes slow. That is why I recommend Puppy for a computer with 128 MB or RAM as it will only take 30 MB of RAM idling leaving all the rest for apps. Vector Light would take 45 MB of RAM on the same machine. WattOS and Lubuntu would be close to 100 MB or more! Not good for the old rag. :-)

  4. biff (guest)

    # Posted on 25 June 2010 at 06:46 PM

    Hi drazen,

    R2 actually has less demands than R1. I have installed R2 on a PII 333Mhz machine with 192MB of RAM and its very functional. I am the developer of wattOS and would love to have you test more. It only helps us make things better. Thanks for the commentary.

    I have never claimed to to be the lightest, and have even pointed people to DSL and Puppy. But I am encouraged by the latest build and the older hardware I have been able to get things running on.


  5. brothergale (guest)

    # Posted on 26 June 2010 at 03:20 PM

    I call my ministry: OntoHim Computer Recycling. I tried dozens pf distros. in the last year. Last September I sarted "production" on two old compputer models. A PII 450Mhz. 6gb hd., 256K mem. with LinuxMint-7. Very happy for "Young Family" model with office and games for adult use, educational games for children. A second model: "Collage Bound" is a PIII 733Mhz., 8gb. hd with 512mb ram. LinuxMint7 with most all of the better photo programs, and other programs for high school students. So far I have given away over 100 nachiines. I am expanding my computer models in both directions. Moving up to Ubuntu 10,04LTS as a base. A "Teen Machine" with PII 350Mhz., 4gb. hd, 256mb. ram with Ubuntu "Tutik" 10.04 "Remix" works marvelously! Will try on K6-2 machines. A "Gamer Machine" is in the works with UltimateEdition 2.6, PIII 1Ghz., 13.5gb. hd., 512 mb. ram. I will consider WattOS when it is finalized. Thank you for all your efforts. They are appreciated by me;) brothergale

  6. Nepto (guest)

    # Posted on 02 July 2010 at 12:15 PM

    Unfortunatelly it is not possible to download ISO from the website. Yes, there is Download link in the menu, but when you click download, you can see the filenames and attributes, but no link for actual download of desired file.

  7. # Posted on 02 July 2010 at 01:48 PM


    Click on the small floppy disk icon next to 'WattOS-R2 ISO'. You'll then be taken to a Security Check page with a CAPTCHA. Once you enter that, the ISO will download.

  8. hottyson (guest)

    # Posted on 03 July 2010 at 05:56 AM

    biff said:

    Hi drazen,

    R2 actually has less demands than R1. I have installed R2 on a PII 333Mhz machine with 192MB of RAM and its very functional. I am the developer of wattOS and would love to have you test more. It only helps us make things better. Thanks for the commentary.

    I have never claimed to to be the lightest, and have even pointed people to DSL and Puppy. But I am encouraged by the latest build and the older hardware I have been able to get things running on.


    As a teacher who uses free software in the classroom, I am a huge fan of Puppy. However, I just gave away two old computers to two of my fifth grade students and I installed WattOS R2. It is a clean and easy to use OS for 5th graders.

    Both PCs were around 400MHz machines with only 256MB of ram. (One was even a Celeron.) It ran great on the both computers. The students informed me that they are enjoying writing there papers using Abiword and researching on the internet. I apologized to one student if the computer was too slow for them. She said "No! It is very fast."

  9. rijnsma (guest)

    # Posted on 05 July 2011 at 07:46 PM

    It is beautiful and strategicly perfect with all that software avalable. I played nicely with WattOS. But why can't I do what I want with icons on the desktop and on the panels (shelves)?

  10. rijnsma (guest)

    # Posted on 16 July 2011 at 07:29 PM

    I've used it for a week and a half now and it is great. Stable software, little bugs, I have installed all kinds of things (Chrome with extensions, Froswire, Eboard with Sjeng, Crafty and Gnu-chess, Alacarte (works not completely), Parcellite etc. etc. so I have something like the desktop software I use normally (say a Mint desktop). WattOS is much faster and I did not notice serious deficiancies. WattOSR4 is very near and than icons can be moved on the desktop Biff told me. I can live with the config panels and no trash. I like it, I keep it and I will install R4.

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