Looking for an open source Linux distribution that can conserve more power (so that you can have, for example, a longer-lasting laptop battery) and run better on older hardware without compromising on features or performance that you’d expect from a full power system? wattOS could be the answer.
While other lightweight Linux distributions like Puppy Linux, are also energy-saving, as they consume fewer resources to run, what truly differentiates wattOS from them is that it also includes specific optimisations for power saving.
Release 8 specific information
Version 8.0 of the green distribution was released on May 11. As the release announcement notes, the 8.0 release (also known as R8) has switched from Ubuntu to the current stable branch of Debian 7.0, Wheezy (Linux Kernel 3.13.10-1). The latest release includes three flavors : wattOS Mate’ edition, LXDE edition, and the ultra-slim Microwatt edition. While the first two include 32- and 64-bit, the third flavor is 32-bit only.
As wattOS is targeted at low-level hardware, it largely includes lightweight applications which are not the most popular and sophisticated ones, but still can do their job.
Default applications include PCManFM file manager, Shotwell graphics editor, Iceweasel web browser (Qupzilla in case of Microwatt), Filezilla file transfer client, Transmission torrent client, ePDFViewer for PDF viewing, Audacious music player, VLC multimedia player, and more. You can also install the standard Debian packages via the Synaptic Package Manager.
As far as hardware and memory requirements are concerned, all three editions should be able to run on any system that has a Pentium 3 class processor or better. While LXDE and Mate require 192-256MB of RAM to install but less than 128MB after install is complete, the Microwatt edition, which now runs openbox instead of PekWM, should be able to run with a comparatively smaller memory footprint.
wattOS is developed and maintained by a Portland-based technology consultant Biff Baxter, real name Ronald Ropp. The idea behind the OS, which was first released in July 2008, was to create a simple, minimal, and fast desktop that can leverage the large Debian/Ubuntu knowledge base and repositories.
Aside from individual users, a Thailand-based company NorhTec that makes the Gecko EduBook, a low power, portable and cost-effective laptop, is using a custom version of wattOS.
A quick review
NOTE – I’ve used the Microwatt edition for this review.
After I downloaded the wattOS ISO from its official website, what grabbed my attention first up was its size, which has increased from 456MB to 650MB in case of Microwatt edition. Although I successfully did a test run of the OS through a live USB, I still decided to install it.
As far as installation is concerned, the process was quick (took around 5-7 minutes), but could be a bit difficult for newbies because unlike some of the popular Linux distros like Ubuntu, that automatically partition your disk during installation, wattOS installer requires you to do manual partitions (using gparted) of your hard drive.
On the positive side, the booting time is really quick. From the moment of selection of boot option in the Grub menu until the moment when I got a login prompt, I only had 16 seconds of waiting time. The desktop, which appears almost instantaneously as you type the password and hit Enter, contains nothing except for dynamic system information and shortcut keys to launch various apps and services. A right-click on the desktop, however, produces a list of app categories each containing one or more apps. Turns out this is the only way to browse the system graphically.
NOTE: A quick look at the R8 specific pictures here reveals that the desktop experience varies from edition to edition.
A freshly booted wattOS system took about 105 Mb of memory, which is quite decent. Talking of software, I am quite used to working on Google Docs, but when I used QupZilla web browser to edit a document stored on Google’s cloud storage service, I got a warning that some fonts couldn’t be loaded correctly, suggesting me to upgrade the browser.
What more, the browser didn’t display tab icons for various websites (like Google, Gmail, LWN, and more), which makes it harder for you to identify the website while switching tabs. Privacy focused search engine DuckDuckGo is the default, but you can also opt for Google powered search in the search bar.
While working on command line, I observed that you cannot paste any text copied from another application, say a text file or a web page. I tried Ctrl+v, Ctrl+Shift+v, right-click->paste, but nothing happened. To clarify, a right click doesn’t produce any option, let alone paste, when done on command line shell.
Another strange problem that I observed was related to the root account. I was able to switch to root account using ‘su -’, but wasn’t able to change the password. The passwd command kept throwing:
After googling around for sometime, I found that others are also facing similar problems.
Also, there is no pre-installed email client. That’s weird because not everybody out there is using web-based email clients. Anyway, you can always install an email client (or any other software) from the repos though, and while WattOS prefers lightweight software, you’re obviously not restricted to it. A good thing about WattOS being tied to Debian, one of the big distributions, is that there’s less of a chance of being stuck for an application that you need.
wattOS is not a perfect Linux distro, as it has quite a few quirks that may annoy some users, but the good thing is that it delivers what it is supposed to — a lightweight, fast, and energy-efficient Linux experience. If you are looking for a Linux distro for your old desktop, try wattOS.