It’s the fat that makes you look fat

Never clean out your closet. I did, and finally found the three original Ubuntu 6.06 ShipIt disks I ordered years ago, hiding under an empty CD spindle. And of course, having those in hand, I started thinking about the Ubuntu of four years ago, and the Ubuntu of now, and wondering. …


Yep. That’s some massive weight gain. You see Dapper Drake on the left, running on this computer, within a neat and petite 75Mb out of 192Mb on cold boot. On the right, a quasi-modern core duo with a relatively roomy 512Mb needing over 154Mb just to start up. 😯

Normally I don’t condone the use of Ubuntu Gnome on machines as old as 2001 — performance is acceptable but not stellar, if you must know; startup in under 3 minutes, with most applications taking under 10 seconds to get going, etc., etc. — but this is almost too dramatic to leave alone. With only 192Mb total in the system, 6.06 can still run Rhythmbox and a mess of Gnome crud with relative speed and a generally perky desktop experience.

I also mention this because the 10.04 system I run in that photo is also exceptionally chunky — chunky to the point of grinding to a halt if I try to do too many things at once. This is obviously an issue of available memory and I don’t necessarily fault Gnome for it, but I do know that if I use Firefox and try to transfer large files across USB, the system more-or-less freezes until one or the other is finished. Network transfers are likewise sketchy, when the memory load is high.

My neighbor who is using 9.10 on a 2.2Ghz Celeron mentioned the same thing, saying the jump to 10.04 makes the system even more sluggish — even if it does clear up some issues with video artifacts. Redrafting the system to use something even lighter might be the only option, short of dumping more memory into the machine … which wouldn’t really help much, since it’s not an issue of free space left over. It’s just fat software.

But this is what I have whined about for years now, and to no avail. Software appears to be written not only to the availability of the hardware, but also the general power of a new, run-of-the-mill system. Give an inch, take a mile — or should I say, give 256Mb of memory, take a gigabyte.

I suppose there’s nothing really to be done about that. Grass-roots campaigns for lighter software sound good on paper (on blogs?), but for every revolutionary crying out for a lighter, faster desktop, there are two or three clamoring for newer features and a system that requires less intellect and more intuition to use. The masses have spoken. Let them eat cake.

Add to that the minions of contemporary closed operating systems that preach “minimalism,” and I suppose it’s only to be expected that over time, metabolic syndrome sets in and things start to go pear-shaped.

But then again, who knows? Maybe in another four years I’ll be posting a screenshot of a necromanced 10.04 desktop, pasting it side-by-side with an Ubuntu 14.04 system and saying, “See how light things used to be?” 🙄

22 thoughts on “It’s the fat that makes you look fat

  1. Armor Nick

    You’re right, of course. Luckily, part of the linux beauty is that there’s a lot of them. People like you who want lightweight systems can use one of the many lightweight linux distributions. Or Arch Linux. Or CRUX. Or just compile your own linux kernel…
    The options are limitless.
    Personally, I’m going for Arch when I buy a second-hand laptop later this year. That’s thanks to you, showing me that story of stuff video. See, your words actually reach people 😉 . I would never have known those wonderful distros like Arch if you’ve never talked about them.

    Anyway, enough raving 😀 .

  2. damaged justice

    This is the last place I expected to see the words “metabolic syndrome”. I am filled with uncontrollable glee.

    -dj, zero-carber

  3. artopal

    Hi, nice post, though my experience is another. I was rather impressed for how «light» lucid is. After trimming the fat that I don’t need, my dell laptop d410 with 512MB of RAM consumes just *115MB* RAM on a cold start, with compiz. The «fat» is mono, evolution (or at least the client and any other compoments that the gnome desktop doesn’t «need»), the video editor, gedit, eog, all the games, OOo compoments that I don’t need, all the fancy fonts and locales that I don’t need, and then deactivate all the startup services and applications that I don’t need running all the time, even the update manager, the bluetooth deamon, print deamon, etc. That laptop has even a broken battery, so the power manager deamon goes away, too.

    But you are right, I still want to upgrade to 1GB RAM to have «room for growth» for when I want or need to run many apps all at once.

    After trying Crunchbang Statler Alpha 1 and AntiX, both using more or less 50-60MB RAM on cold start, I wonder… and still want to try Squeeze with the gnome desktop and see how it compares to lucid.

    Still, ubuntu with gnome gives me a lot of comfort. Jockey-gtk, language-selector, the easy way to configure many keyboard layouts and change between them, and the beauty of compiz for managing windows.

    I’m still trying to use more and more console apps, so that those 115MB don’t grow too much, but on my not so old and not so new laptops, ubuntu still gives me the best of both worlds: the new and fancy and the bare and efficient. Consuming less than 100MB memory on a cold start would be nice, though. 😉

  4. mulenmar

    Another interesting comparison would be between 10.04 and a fully-update 8.04 installation, since the latter is the previous Long Term Support release. 😐

    I tried the beta back in March, and it was rather impressive. Just too slow in usage for my taste — although to be fair, that was because I couldn’t use the proper driver for it with Lucid’s Xserver.

    I’m sticking with Arch, even though I have to hold the kernel at 2.6.31 and the Xserver at 1.6 for my poor litter Poulsbo-bearing netbook. 🙂

    1. Bryan

      Tried to do much the same – hold a snapshot of Arch on my poulsbo burdened netbook for a while. you’re a better man than I – I couldn’t stand not being able to update. I think it finally caught up with me when I attempted to update HAL or similar due to a new feature I wanted to try out and that required something else that required Xorg 1.7+ or something. I drew the line after trying to fix that debacle for a few days and finally just threw XP back onto the harddrive and am currently using LiteShell and a few supporting programs.

      Back on topic, I was on the Warty Warthog street team (or whatever they called it – I handed out CDs to unsuspecting people). I was staunchly in the Ubuntu camp until about 6.06 when I started drifting away from Gnome. It’s still interesting to see how things have changed since then, even though I don’t care to use their releases any longer.

      And back off topic – K.Mandla – Have you tried any of the BSDs yet? I just got around to installing FreeBSD as a dualboot to my Arch machine and I’m rather impressed so far. It’s most certainly a different experience, but it looks like it’s everything that I like from Arch and Crux and then some. I have a feeling that you’d like the experience.

      1. mulenmar

        Really? I haven’t encountered anything that requires Xorg 1.7, but I run a rather scarce Openbox environment. It has HAL installed, though, and I haven’t had any issues with Xorg compatibility.

        And technically HAL is obsolete, being replaced with DeviceKit, udev, and some other stuff. (Something about HAL having become far more than it was supposed to be, and not being maintainable?)

        I’ve tried FreeBSD, and unfortunately it’s drivers don’t cover my Xircom PCMCIA ethernet card, they haven’t for at least four or five releases. PC-BSD was great on my desktop, other than some instability that made me remove it. That was a long time ago, though, so it’s probably fixed.

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    1. peter griffin

      No, we think Ubuntu X is ugly.

      Fat dont matter.
      Ugly does,

      GNOME is just butt ugly.

  6. spc

    I dont understand why?? Some time ago i installed Vector 6 with Kde 3.5.10 and afther choping off redundant crap it was 60 cold start (very loooong start though). Now this KDE 4.4 does same shit but it eats 5 times more hmmmm… Some say it looks good…

    Another issue is desgin of app gui. For instance : ktorrent (eats 2x mem of transmission qt), fire it up and one is being flooded with gui dialogs, which confuse more than help. Cluttered. Same goes to Dolphin…

    What is Avahi?? When it’s being used?? How to completely remove it??
    What is nepo -somthing ?? don’t know.
    How ubuntu’s init with upstart works?? don’t know.

  7. Nobody Important

    I know that pointing at Windows is like making fun of the nerd in the corner, but Windows 7 takes up 1.10 GB on boot, according to my mother’s freshly made Dell box.

    I would have thrown Ubuntu on her old Celeron, but she would have nothing of it. Sigh.

  8. cianoconnor

    My system has 69MB on a cold boot, though that includes a URXVT daemon. With Emacs and Chromium running, using Ram for all temporary/logs files, plus loads of terminal apps, I’ve been known to get as high as 180MB. Crazy man.

    Arch and XMonad are pretty wonderful together.

  9. Keith

    Isn’t a problem with the DE, not with Ubuntu itself? Personally, I don’t like Ubuntu; it’s just too dumbed down and thus requires too much work to do what you want to do. I’ve tried Ubuntu and just had to go back to Mandriva, where I could customize it the way I like it. Ubuntu is Linux for (stupid) human beings.

  10. pogeymanz


    Long time reader, first time replier.

    It seems like nobody mentioned that you are running these comparisons on two different machines: a fundamental mistake. Much software is like a gas, in that it expands to fill its container. If you have 512MB available, it will use more than if you have 192MB available. Percentage-wise, those numbers are similar (~30% off the top of my head), so I’d love to see what each version uses on the same computer.

  11. YankeeDDL

    I’ve been debating whether to reply to this or not …
    A couple of disclaimers:
    – “Fat” is “fat”, no matter how you look at it. And the snapshots in this post speak louder than words
    – There should be no excuse for “sloppy” coding: blowing up memory (or disk) footprint just because today’s HW allows it is not a good reason (BTW, slightly off-topic: I installed Windows7 on a new machine the other day and a “fresh” install of the OS takes over 17GB of HD space … go figure).

    All this said, I think we should also call things with their own name: 154Mb is obviously (much) worse than 75Mb but … “fat”?
    I suppose we can all agree that from 6.06 to 10.04 Ubuntu has improved quite a bit, and, I’m sure, some of that improvement does come at a cost in terms of RAM usage.
    I’m not saying Ubuntu is “lean”: Slitaz, DSL, Puppy and many more distros are there to prove it … still, on my Thinkpad none of the minimalistic (maximalistic? :p) distros work right off the bat. Wireless is a big issue, sometimes the trackpad too. Of course expecting them to work flawlessly right out of the box is unreasonable: still, 154Mb is ‘very little’ for any PC which is less than 5 years old (heck, I have 512Mb on my Inspiron 8000, which dates back to 2001).

    Personally, I would love to see Ubuntu’s setup to be “customizable”: one could pick a “default/easy” option, or a “minimal” option, stripped down of all ’embellishments’.
    Of course this can be done already (you showed it yourself, with the CLI-based installation guide), but -hopefully- you see my point.

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