Spotlight On Linux: wattOS

So many computers head for landfill when they are still able to carry out useful work. However, some organizations and individuals do what they can to put these machines into the hands of people who can use them. Naturally, this is an ideal application for Linux, and having had a quick look at it, I suspect that wattOS would make a good choice for refurbishing older computers.
[Update: Full developer interview on site. ]

wattOS is derived from the current version of Ubuntu, giving it an advantage when it comes to hardware support. Another good thing about being tied to one of the big distributions is that there's less of a chance of being stuck for a application that you need.

It runs as a LiveCD and the hard disk installer is invoked by double clicking on the install icon on the backdrop. The installer itself is from the Ubuntu mold in that user interaction is limited to a few questions at the very beginning. Helpfully, it begins with a prompt to enable the downloading of updates while installing and also the installation of media codecs.

The installation itself is uneventful, and after a reboot, an LXDE desktop pops up. This gives a familiar desktop layout, complete with a start bar, that should be familiar to anyone who's used a computer in the last ten or fifteen years. As you might imagine, things are pretty snappy, speed-wise, thanks to LXDE's focus on efficient use of hardware resources.

The application list strikes the right balance between being resource friendly and well-featured. AbiWord and Gnumeric from the Gnome Office Suite are present instead of the the more common heavyweight Open/LibreOffice, and I'm glad to see them here as they are great applications in their own right. The music player is Foobnix, a library based application. There are also applications for photo editing, torrent downloading, video playback and optical disk burning. The utility suite includes a tool for configuring a wireless network, setting the screen resolution and setting up a printer. The web browser is Firefox, and I'm left wondering if they could have chosen something stripped down that still uses the Gecko engine, or perhaps even Chrome, just to get a bit more performance out of older machines.

If there is an aspect of the application load-out that you're not satisfied with, it is possible to add and remove applications using the standard Synaptic package manager front end. Let's face it, for better or worse, what we're dealing with here is basically, a customized Ubuntu derivative. You can therefore do anything with it that you would do with standard Ubuntu.

Once you have customized things, it's possible to make an installable copy of the entire system using a tool called Remastersys Backup (see my overview). This is an ideal way of working, as you should be able to do a standard installation, customize it, and then create a disk for further deployment.


Could my personal favorite, Puppy Linux, be in with some competition? wattOS is very much an Ubuntu derivative, and Puppy is a custom distribution that now makes use of Ubuntu resources and packages. I suspect that Puppy could still be the go-to choice for really, really old computers as it comes with a collection of tools and scripts for dealing with awkward hardware. In fact, I tend to carry the Puppy disk around with me as a recovery disk. With wattOS, if you can't get it to work with a system, you're going to have the follow the same diagnostic and work-around procedures that you would with standard Ubuntu.

If you're interested in easily refurbishing old machines to state where they offer an attractive desktop for standard tasks, wattOS offers a well thought out minimalist desktop that is easy to customize and troubleshoot .


UK based freelance writer Michael Reed writes about technology, retro computing, geek culture and gender politics.


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Is there a powerpc edition?

simon@syd's picture

Is there a powerpc edition?

not officially

biff's picture

I have remastered a PPC edition that ran on G4 and G5 Macs. It was never released generally as I did not get the time to polish and finish it. I am trying to focus on one release now unless I get PPC help.

I can tell you the best bet is to get the small Debian release (~140MB) and install it and then you can pull down LXDE to give you a pretty quick functional machine.

Watt OS is built to save battery power on laptop

Bhaskar Chowdhury's picture

IIRC saw a article long time back in Phoronix. Correct me...Because running GNU/Linux on laptop(which I am doing for ages!!) take battery power to it's knees.I am running Gentoo,Arch,Fedora and Debian on my personal laptop and it always has a battery issue.These distro alson give false information that battery is full!!!

Phoronix article said Watt OS one of the object to save battery power.


Bad URL Reference for wattOS

Arv's picture

The URL given in this article apparently is broken.

links to a web node on that does not include info on wattOS. Same thing with that is returned from Google searches for "wattOS".


web site back up

biff's picture

Sorry folks....was down today briefly (of course)...but back up again...



biff's picture

Hi all..I am the distro maintainer. Thanks for the mention.

I never claim Puppy or wattOS compete. I even tell people to try out puppy. Its a great project and has a much longer track record, but I agree with the first comments in this thread.

I started wattOS in 2008 with the hope of creating a lightweight but reasonably functional minimalist desktop with some basic power savings tools (Comes now with PowerTop and XFCE power manager installed ready).

I used to recycle and rebuild old systems and resell/give, etc. Using Vector Linux which is where the idea took root and now I use wattOS.

I like the Debian/Ubuntu base because it gives the average user a large reliable repo to pull from and I like LXDE and the basic setup as it works and stays out of the way. So its a nice clean base that a user can add whatever they like.

I add and try new light tools and apps with every release (~ every 6 months).

I have installed and used it on a PIII 350MHZ with 192MB of RAM. The issue is the LiveCD. Once installed it runs well below that and depending on what is running I see it run well below 100MB once on the hard drive.

I hope to get the time to rally the text installer for people with low memory to start so they dont have to suffer with the liveCD/Synaptic install if they want to simply get it on the hard drive.

contact me any time...:) - tks.


WattOS and Puppy

Wine Curmudgeon's picture

The main difference between Watt and Puppy is installing it, since Puppy can still be problematic if you don't want to run it off a USB stick (or CD drive for very old machines). Plus, it's easier to tweak Watt than it is Puppy, for all of Puppy's greatness. I haven't tried Watt on my favorite 187 RAM machine yet, but that's coming soon.

Re WattOS and Puppy

quing's picture

... and yet Puppy Wary will even work surprisingly well on older PIII / AMD K6-2 computers with 192 MB RAM or less.
Dare I say better than WattOS??
I dare, I dare!!


Jerry McBride's picture

Nice tip and good heads-up on wattOS.

Up till now I've been using Gentoo and XFCE4. I keep the portage tree mounted on a nfs share and can tunnel it across ssh to home server if I'm caught on the road and need an application installed.

Yeah, use Remastersys Backup on occasion, takes a bit more effort on Gentoo.

I'm always interested in small foot-print Linux distribtions. Great to toss onto a USBstick and use for the surprise demo in the office of clients.

---- Jerry McBride