Home » 2017 » May

Monthly Archives: May 2017

SparkyLinux -Distro for Low-end PCs

Recently, Ubuntu announced the end of the 5-year Long-term support (LTS) for its 12.04 version.  This includes Kubuntu 12.04, Xubuntu 12.04, Lubuntu 12.04 and Edubuntu 12.04.  All of these operating systems will no longer receive software updates.  Why this matters to me is that I have two older IBM ThinkPad laptops running Xubuntu 12.04 (a T40 and a T43 respectively).  I chose this version because it doesn’t (didn’t?) require a CPU with PAE (Physical Address Extension), which these computers lack.  Now I’m stuck with a dead-end operating system.  What to do?

sparkylinux,energize educationSparkyLinux came to the rescue.  SparkyLinux, like Ubuntu, is based on Debian Linux.  What makes Debian so special is its package management system, or how it installs software.  There are thousands of applications available through the Debian repositories.  Any of these can be easily installed from a command prompt.  Debian also takes into consideration software dependencies, so if the program you want requires another program to run, Debian installs it automatically.  What Ubuntu strives to do, is to present all of this in a format that is more approachable to new users.

sparky linux,energize educatoin through open source
The SparkyLinux Xfce Desktop

As SparkyLinux is based on Debian rather than Ubuntu, it lacks some of the “ease-of-use” that Ubuntu has.  For example, installation requires a little more user participation, especially when setting up your hard drive.  Another example of this would be the lack of a “Software Updater” application.  Updates are run from the command prompt.  SparkyLinux also requires installation of the GRUB bootloader, something I haven’t used since switching to Ubuntu/Xubuntu.  Don’t let these differences fool you.  SparkyLinux is full-featured and user-freilndly.

Like Ubuntu, SparkyLinux comes in a variety of flavors, if you will, each with its own desktop environment.  Available DEs include LXDE, MATE, Xfce, KDE and LXQt.  There are even minimalist ports  available for  older computers.  Needless to say, I chose Xfce as I can’t seem to get enough of this functional, customizable DE .  Once the installation was complete and the system rebooted, I was presented with a simple login screen.  Once logged in, I was pleasantly surprised to see a rather approachable interface before me.  One interesting note is that, by default, the Xfce Whisker Menu is used rather than the Main Menu.  The Whisker Menu presents applications by category, a way that Microsoft Windows users will find more approachable.

christopher whittum,energize education, sparkylinux
The Whisker Menu

SparkyLinux really ran well on both laptops.  There were a few other surprises awaiting me.  The first was the fact that LibreOffice was installed by default as the only office suite.  I’m used to seeing AbiWord and GNUmeric installed by default and having to install LibreOffice separately, so this saved me a step.  Another pleasant surprise was the presence of the Synaptic Package Manager, which is no longer installed by default in Ubuntu.  It was at this time that I noticed a lack of Update Manager or Software Updater.   We don’t need this as a system can be updated from the command prompt with sudo apt-get update.  

sparkylinux,energize education
A typical session (note: I set the terminal to provide a forutne at launch).

There are a few other software surprises in regards to SparkyLinux. One rinteresting thing is that GIMP is not installed by default as it is with many distributions.  It can be easily installed, but finding it once it’s installed can be tricky.  This is because it is listed as GNU Image Manipulation Program rather than GIMP.  Another surprise is that in lieu of Mozilla Thunderbird Email Client, SparkyLinux opts for its Debian counterpart, IceDove.  However, after I updated my system, I found IceDove supplanted by Thunderbird.

In short, SparkyLinux comes with the software you need to make that old desktop or laptop functional again.  It is highly functional “out of the box” and very approachable.  It’s easy on system resources, so applications launch quickly and run smoothly.   Download an ISO from their site (choose your interface) and try it live to give it a test run.  You may be pleasantly surprised.  I was.

Resources

SparkyLinux Web Site

apt-get Linux Man Page

References

SparkyLinux [computer software].  (2017).  GNU General Public License.