Turbo-charged machines with wattOS

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Viktor Gmyria, 123RF.com

Viktor Gmyria, 123RF.com

What OS but wattOS?

The latest offering from PlanetWatt, this lightweight distribution is specifically geared towards energy efficiency, giving older machines a new lease on life.

PlanetWatt unveiled wattOS R10 in September 2016, which is based on Ubuntu 16.04.1 LTS for long-term support and stability [1]. Since a tentative beta was released in July 2013 [2], releases have been on roughly an annual basis.

Despite the emphasis on energy-efficiency, this isn't apparent from the boot menu or the rather leafy desktop, which is at once very easy on the eye, but contains minimal clutter. By default only three apps are displayed. Besides the habitual trash can, the default desktop contains shortcuts to the Firefox v48.0 web browser and the Lollypop v0.9.112 music player (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The default wattOS desktop using LXDE. Desktop shortcuts have been placed for more common apps, such as Firefox and Lollypop.

WattOS' spartan LXDE desktop environment is coupled with the lightweight i3 window manager. PlanetWatt, the project developers' website, claims that any system that has a processor released in the last 10 years is compatible with the operating system (OS). WattOS requires 192-256MB of RAM for installation, but the website claims that less than 128MB are required once the install is complete. When testing in VirtualBox, I found that 256MB of RAM and 35MB of video memory was more than enough to keep wattOS ticking over nicely.

Try Before You Buy

If the lure of a lightweight distro appeals, 32- and 64-bit versions of wattOS are available from the developer's site via BitTorrent or direct download [3]. Both versions can fit fairly comfortably on a single CD-ROM.

Like most Ubuntu-based distros, the CD-ROM can be used in live mode for testing purposes, subject to the usual proviso that any changes you make or files you save will be lost on reboot. The installer is identical to Ubuntu's. For the security conscious, full disk encryption is supported, as is home folder encryption. WattOS comes with powertop preinstalled, so it can be installed alongside other OSs, such as Microsoft Windows.

The installer also contains the only bug I could find in wattOS: When entering your name, the username field remains as guest rather than suggesting your forename automatically. This can be updated manually, but it could be a nuisance for less experienced users who may inadvertently hitch themselves with an unwanted username.

Watt Apps

Once installation is complete, take time to enjoy the crisp greenery of the desktop background and then click on the Applications menu to explore the default programs.

Time and care have been put into providing a minimal set of useful applications that will not overburden the system. WattOS R10 has switched to using the Lollypop to give users access to a wide variety of music stations, saving the trouble of downloading music.

KeePassX 2.0.2 has been included for password management. Firefox is accompanied by Filezilla, as well as the Transmission BitTorrent client.

The most recent iteration of wattOS also now includes gThumb 3.4.3 as the default image editor (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Use gThumb to edit your favorite cat pictures. Launch from Applications > Graphics.

WattOS' focus on efficiency makes it an attractive prospect for laptop users. To this end, the System Tools section now contains Laptop Mode Configuration . While not as beautifully laid out as the rest of the system, this utility allows you to enable or disable a number of energy saving features. Some of these are already activated, such as auto-hibernate and Intel's Powersave mode. Others such as Bluetooth are disabled by default until needed.

Click Preferences > Firewall Configuration to open Gufw, the handy graphical front end to Uncomplicated Firewall (UFW). Aside from saving the trouble of entering firewall rules via the command line, Gufw has many preconfigured settings to allow connections by popular programs, saving you the trouble of remembering individual port numbers.

Under the hood, WattOS R10 has added Dynamic Kernel Module Support (DKMS) and legacy broadcom support, meaning more wireless cards and other hardware should be supported out of the box. Purists will be pleased to know R10 uses version 4.4.0-38 of the Linux kernel [4].

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