You could tune a car by taking the engine out and putting in a new one, but that’s pretty drastic. Sometimes that also applies to switching your Linux distribution. Sure, that’s a great way to breathe new life into an aging machine, but it’s also a lot of work!
Even if you make that effort, it doesn’t matter if you use 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: Vivaldic
Vivaldi is simultaneously one of the lightest and most powerful web browsers you can put on your Linux desktops. Vivaldi may not have the branding of Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, or Mozilla Firefox, but it doesn’t lack expertise. The browser comes from one of Opera’s co-founders.
Vivaldic is not completely free and open-source software, because the code controlling the browser’s interface will be closed. But as a Chromium-based offering, the vast majority of the browser is open, and unlike other proprietary Chromium-based browsers, the Vivaldi team seems to have values that are largely in line with the free software community.
To download: Vivaldic
2. Email Client: Trojitá
Trojitá is a Qt-based email client that feels at home on both KDE and GTK-based desktops. That’s an advantage over other mature options like Claws Mail, which uses GTK.
Trojitá isn’t the most configurable or feature-rich—only IMAP is supported. But the developers prioritize speed and efficiency with regard to both system and network resources. That’s a win for you.
3. Word Processor: AbiWord
AbiWord is a word processor that is great for typing papers or your next big novel. It loads several times faster than LibreOffice’s. In addition, the built-in collaboration feature provides functionality similar to Google Docs.
The application can save documents in the commonly used Microsoft Office and OpenDocument formats, but the experience is best when working in the native ABW format.
If you’re sending a document to someone who doesn’t have AbiWord installed, consider saving it as a PDF. Unless they need to make changes, this is a safe 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 criticism applies. The program is probably more than capable of serving as your sole spreadsheet editor, especially if you’re not 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. Text Editor: leafpad
What do you want to do with a text editor? If your answer is: write text, then Leafpad is the tool for you. This application does not come with a toolbar or any other distraction. The few options, such as word wrapping, are tucked away in the menu bar.
Leafpad is light enough to make regular appearances on LXDE- and XFCE-based desktops. It’s not nearly as powerful as gedit, but that’s not its goal either. There’s no need to crash the program if you’re just writing basic notes. Keep the focus on what you’re writing and only switch to something heavier when you need to.
6. Image Viewer: PhotoQt
You need a special program to view images on your PC, and some are slower than others. If your computer takes a second or two to load a JPEG, you may need to install something else.
PhotoQt shows you what it’s like to see an image load instantly and see how fast you can browse folders when you don’t have a thousand thumbnails cached. The application keeps the controls off the screen until you want them to, keeping the focus on your photos.
To download: PhotoQt
7. Photo Manager: Shotwell
Desktop photo managers are complex pieces of software. Most allow you to organize folders, apply tags, and edit your images. Shotwell does all this without overloading most Linux desktops. Shotwell requires more resources than an image viewer like PhotoQt, but it’s lightweight compared to digiKam.
If you happen to be using an Elementary OS, you might be surprised to learn that Elementary Photos started out as a fork of Shotwell. So Shotwell can serve as a way to keep a familiar interface when you switch to another desktop.
To download: Shotwell
8. Music Player: Prague
Many commercial music players try to offer everything: play music, edit tags, burn CDs and offer stores where you can download more. These features weigh a music player down. Pragha scans your albums and plays them.
Prague 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 fast and spicy.
Streaming media sites may have cut back on how many videos you keep lying around on your hard drive. But when it comes time to check out those remaining files, you need a video player. Parole is a lightweight and minimalist option that keeps the focus on what you’re looking at.
At the same time, Parole doesn’t skimp on options. You can view subtitles, switch audio tracks, edit the aspect ratio and more. And there is the option to further extend the functionality with plugins.
10. File Manager: PCManFM
PCManFM is the default file manager for LXDE, but don’t let that put you off if you’re using a different desktop environment. You may find this option a lighter alternative to Files (Nautilus) on your GNOME desktop. Alternatively, you can check out Thunar, the manager used in XFCE.
Do you feel lighter? Also try lightweight Linux distributions
These aren’t the only lightweight programs you can install on your Linux box. Breathing new life into old hardware is something Tux is good at, meaning there’s plenty of software out there for underpowered machines. Plus, there are tons of old applications that now run faster simply because computers have gotten better.