Build a lighter Gnome in Ubuntu

In light of the last post and this post from a day or two ago, I suppose it’s worth mentioning (or showing) that a simplified Gnome desktop is possible in Ubuntu too. But in showing it, I will probably be underscoring a few other issues that I have grazed in the past.

If you start from a command-line system in Lucid and add xorg, there are a few separate packages you can install that will give you a leaner, meaner Gnome. The first, and probably the least svelte, is gnome-desktop-environment, which will drag down a considerable amount of stuff and looks — omigosh — a lot like Debian.


You get most of the standard-issue Gnome suite in this package, with stuff like GDM, Ekiga, Brasero, Cheese webcam and so forth. If you want Gnome but don’t want the Ubuntu, this might be what you’re after. Then again, if this is what you’re after, you might want to take a look at Debian. 🙄

Stepping down, there’s a metapackage called gnome, but to be honest I don’t know if I should include it here or not. aptitude wants more than 340Mb of software with this one, and some of the dependencies were broken for the Lucid beta. Either way, if you install it, you’ll get a sort of in-between version of Ubuntu’s Gnome.I don’t know if I recommend it though, or at least not until the final release of 10.04.

The smallest one I could find that still has some reasonable function is the gnome-core package. This will take up only 84Mb or so of your bandwidth on top of what xorg requires, and you’ll get Gnome, some of its niceties (like automounting), a terminal emulator, a text editor, a system monitor and a few of the preference menus.


Beyond that it’s quite slender, and you’re in a good position to build upward. If you have a preference for certain parts of what Ubuntu delivers, but an extreme distate for anything else, I would recommend starting with gnome-core.

One thing that jumps out at me after this little experiment is what I mentioned obliquely about a week ago — Ubuntu Gnome’s hideous memory demands. It’s now painfully obvious why a 2.2Ghz Celeron with only 256Mb suffered so badly: Both of those want well over 300Mb from a cold start, leaving me with the question … why so cement-uous? :mrgreen:

In any case, the lesson learned here is to pick and choose the applications and software you want for your Ubuntu Gnome system carefully, knowing full well that some things in there are going to blimp out like an aggravated blowfish. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. … 😐

17 thoughts on “Build a lighter Gnome in Ubuntu

  1. koleoptero

    Not very light solutions ram-wise are they? But to be honest I’m wondering over why it uses so much ram if nothing’s running? The last system for which I posted screens in the ubuntuforums screenshot thread starts up with 190mbyte ram (the whole gnome, AWN, compiz, conky) in use and tops at 500mbyte with rhythmbox, firefox, evince, empathy and whatnot open. And 0 swap so I’m not full of cache things. Is it perhaps that gnome doesn’t like you because of all the things you say about it? 😀 Or is your computer spoiled by crux and framebuffers? 😛

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      I wish I could at least pin down what was causing the balloon effect. Since it has been the case on at least two distinctly different machines I can only suspect there is some sort of software issue at work.

      Or maybe you’re right, and my machine is spoiled by framebuffer-based console systems. … 😈

      1. koleoptero

        To be honest though, since everyone else here has elaborated, I have removed a fair amount of stuff from the base install: all mono things, all bluetooth things, update manager and the stuff that goes with it, ubuntuone and couchdb things, and god knows what else. I didn’t do it to get my sytem running lighter, I just have no use for them.
        Yet I was surprized to see I had such a low ram usage at startup with compiz+emerald+awn running.

  2. quigybo

    The difference in ram used on startup between ubuntu+gnome (341.2 MiB) and arch+gnome (70.4 MiB) is amazing (if that is the right word for it…). Of course there are a lot of differences between the two that doesn’t justify the direct comparison, but still…

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      You’re right, there’s no direct comparison to be made there. But it does beg the question, why install Ubuntu and gnome-core when Arch plus gnome plus gnome-extra plus gdm gives you so much more, and at a fraction of the resource demands?

  3. Art


    my Ubuntu (Karmic) installation uses 250 MB right now. Firefox, Gvim, Transmission and the System Monitor are open. But I do try to remove everything I don’t need right after an installation (programs and services). Normally, my system starts with 160 MB RAM being used. I always remove Mono (no need for Tomboy, F-Spot, et al.) and I also try to remove as much of Evolution as I can. Soon I’ll have to fight against Ubuntu One and all its underlying components. Hopefully LXDE will soon mature enough to be usable (for my needs) and then I’ll be trying Masonux. Even if I appreciate real lightness (e.g. Puppy Linux), I’ve come to being used to some cohesiveness in the desktop experience (I’m spoiled by GNOME, so to speak).


    1. K.Mandla Post author

      I agree, I am looking forward with great anticipation to see what the Lubuntu team will cook up. Until then I have a lot of other stuff I need to try out. 🙂

  4. Pingback: Links 22/3/2010: Commodore 64 With Linux, Linux 2.6.34 @ RC2 | Boycott Novell

  5. Pingback: Its beauty is in its potential « Motho ke motho ka botho

  6. tim

    Perhaps a noob question, but I un-installed my entire Gnome-desktop-environment and then reinstalled gnome-core, and it looks like a light weight version, but for some reason it reinstalled almost everything again! I’m talking about evolution, epiphany, and a bunch of crap that’s not in the gnome-core package! Why?
    What should I use, synaptic, apt-get or aptitude?

  7. Keithpeter

    total used free shared buffers cached
    Mem: 1001 428 573 0 46 208
    -/+ buffers/cache: 173 828
    Swap: 313 0 313

    Above on Lucid Lynx, running firefox and bog standard install with full Ubuntu style gnome. Been running for a bit tonight.

  8. ninetynine

    Is that a screenshot of gnome or gnome core? Just did a gnome-core ubuntu install and with everything up and running I’m around 145mb of ram usage. Out of 2gb though so I still have lots of overhead.

  9. Pingback: Look out Ubuntu, look out Arch: Linux Mint Debian « Motho ke motho ka botho

  10. Pingback: No joke: A full Gnome desktop on 105Mb « Motho ke motho ka botho

  11. Pingback: No joke: A full Gnome desktop on 105Mb « Motho ke motho ka botho | Don Bishop's Blog dweb98

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s