You could tune up a car by yanking out the engine and putting in a new one, but that’s pretty drastic. Sometimes, so is switching your Linux distribution. Sure, that’s a great way to breathe life into an aging machine — but it’s also a lot of work!
Even if you go through that effort, it doesn’t matter if you’re using heavy applications. So if you want to lighten the load on your Linux-powered machine, these are the programs you want to run.
1. Web Browser: Midori
Midori is one of the lightest web browsers you can place on your Linux desktops. Despite the lack of name recognition, the application has been around for years. Some distros have started shipping it by default, including Elementary OS. It comes with many plugins and privacy options, offering plenty of appeal for power users.
Support isn’t as nice as what you get in Chrome and Firefox, but most websites load just fine. Midori launches faster and uses fewer resources. This way you only need to open a bloated browser when viewing specific sites.
2. Email Client: Trojitá
Trojitá is QT client that feels at home on KDE and GTK-based desktops alike. That’s an advantage over other mature options such as Claws Mail, which uses GTK.
Trojitá is not the most configurable or feature rich — only IMAP is supported. But the developers prioritize speed and efficiency in regards to both system and network resources. That’s a win for you.
3. Word Processor: AbiWord
AbiWord is a word processor great for typing up papers or your next big novel. It loads up several times faster than the likes of LibreOffice. Plus the built-in collaboration feature offers functionality akin to Google Docs.
The application can save documents in the widely used Microsoft Office and OpenDocument formats, but the experience is best when working in the native ABW format. When you’re sending a document to someone who doesn’t have AbiWord installed, consider saving as a PDF. Unless they need to make edits, it’s a surefire way to make sure the file loads as intended.
4. Spreadsheet Editor: Gnumeric
Gnumeric is to spreadsheets what AbiWord is to documents. Much of the same critique applies. The program is likely more than capable of serving as your sole spreadsheet editor, especially if you aren’t exchanging documents with other people.
There aren’t many other standalone options to consider in this category. If you want a full office suite — LibreOffice, Calligra, and WPS Office can all manage spreadsheets. But if you don’t need all the extra weight, this is the way to go.
5. Calendar: Orage
Calendars come as part of Evolution (GNOME) and Kontact (KDE), but then you also get an email client, to-do list, and address book. Can I just keep track of appointments, please? Orage is a tiny (seriously, it opens up in a small window) little calendar that isn’t strapped to something more.
When you’re not staring at the small primary window, an icon sits in the notification area while the program runs in the background. Alerts keep you from missing your appointments. There are more feature-rich calendar applications out there, but many of us prefer something simple.
6. Text Editor: Leafpad
What do you want in a text editor? If your answer is to write text, then Leafpad is the tool for you. This application doesn’t come with a toolbar or any other form of distraction. The few options, such as word wrap, are tucked away in the menubar.
Leafpad is lightweight enough to make regular appearances on LXDE and XFCE-based desktops. It’s nowhere near as powerful as gedit, but that’s not it’s goal either. There’s no need to bog the program down when you’re only writing basic notes. Keep the focus on what you’re writing, and switch to something heavier only when needed.
7. Image Viewer: Mirage
You need a dedicated program in order to view images on your PC, and some are slower than others. If it takes your computer a second or two to load a JPEG, you may need to install something else.
Mirage Image Viewer is an option requiring so few resources that you can use it on a Raspberry Pi. The application supports many formats, plus it can crop and resize your pictures.
8. Photo Manager: Shotwell
Desktop photo managers are complex pieces of software. Most allow you to organize folders, apply tags, and edit your pictures. Shotwell does all of this without putting too heavy a burden on most Linux desktops.
Shotwell requires more sources than an image viewer like Mirage, but it’s light compared to the likes of digiKam. F-Spot hasn’t seen an update in half a decade, and Google has canceled Picasa for Linux. That said, there are still a few other options out there.
9. Photo Editor: Fotoxx
GIMP and DigiKam are powerful tools, but they’re heavy. Want something without the dependencies? Give Fotoxx a look. The program can manage photos, provide basic enhancements, and remove red-eye. With software like this, there’s no reason you can’t use an aging computer to manage the memories on your digital camera.
10. Music Player Pragha
Many commercial music players attempt to offer everything — play music, edit tags, burn CDs, and provide stores where you can download more. These features weigh a music player down. Pragha scans your albums and plays them.
Pragha is not the most exciting option, even if it is very lightweight. Fortunately music players are some of the most common Linux applications. More than a few of them are quick and zippy.
11. Media Player: Parole
Streaming media sites might have cut back on the amount of videos you keep lying around on your hard drive. But when the time comes to watch those remaining files, you’re going to need a video player. Parole is a lightweight and minimalist option that keeps the focus on what you’re watching.
At the same time, Parole doesn’t skimp on options. You can view subtitles, toggle audio tracks, edit the aspect ratio, and more. And there’s the option to extend functionality further with plugins.
12. File Manager: PCManFM
PCManFM is the default file manager for LXDE, but don’t let that put you off if you use another desktop environment. You may find this option to be a lighter alternative to Files (Nautilus) on your GNOME desktop. Alternatively, you can check out Thunar, the manager used in XFCE.
These are hardly the only lightweight programs you can install on your Linux box. Reviving old hardware is something Tux is good at, which means there’s plenty of software out there for underpowered machines. Plus there are tons of old applications that run faster now simply because computers have gotten better.
What applications do you run on your decade-old machine? What about your Raspberry Pi? Or are you simply eking out every bit of power out of your high-end desktop rig? Let us know in the comments below!