It's fun to discover new lightweight applications. They work well on newer computer systems as well as older or slower computers and low resource machines like many mobile devices. You can run more of them at once. If they're not well-known, they can actually be more secure sometimes (using the security through obscurity principle). I also personally prefer portable applications. That way, you can use the same programs on any operating system. You don't have to relearn new programs for each system you work with.

It can be quite a challenge to find new lightweight applications. I've read several threads on forums where users post their favorite lightweight applications. Many truly are not lightweight by standards that take into consideration memory usage, lines of code, compilation time and/or number of dependencies (libraries).

One way to find lightweight applications is to look for programs built with lightweight GUIs. I've seen a few comparisons of GUI performance. This one is particularly good because it tests the various GUIs and gives statistics:
I was rather surprised by the SDL2 results. Generally, the time it takes to build a GUI from source is one good indication of complexity. FLTK and SDL both build quickly from source compared to the other GUI frameworks mentioned. So, I was surprised that SDL2 scored so badly on the memory usage tests. I'd be curious to know if SDL 1.2.x (which many systems still use) would show a large improvement. Another surprise was how well Tcl/Tk did in the tests. I typically think interpreted languages have worse performance than compiled ones. It would be interesting to see some statistics on response times for similar applications created with these GUIs.

I often go through various source repositories such as Sourceforge, github, etc. looking for code written using specific user interfaces in order to find new and interesting applications. Standard search engines are another way to search for programs. The user interfaces I'm personally most interested in at this point are FLTK, pdcurses/ncurses, SDL and command line programs. These types of applications are typically more lightweight or designed to do one thing well. Know of any other lightweight GUIs or TUIs (text user interfaces)? Please share your recommendations and why you like them.

There are some nice blogs for finding and discussing minimalistic (or in some cases maximalistic) programs. Unfortunately, many are no longer very active. Some favorites are:

If you know of others, I'd love to hear about them.

One can also look for lightweight distributions and see what programs they have in their repositories or read their forums for more suggestions. Some of the interesting distributions to check are TinyCore Linux (uses several FLTK programs), Nanolinux (uses more interesting FLTK programs), Rogue Class Linux (uses several SDL programs), Puppy Linux, AntiX (Debian based), INX ( ), Absolute Linux (Slackware based), 4MLinux ( ), OLPC. Typically DSL and Puppy get mentioned when people list lightweight Open Source systems. There's been no active development on DSL in a long time and the forums are very quiet. I also found Puppy a little too resource intensive on one of my older machines. FreeBSD performed much better on that system. Puppy Linux has some interesting discussions in their forums.

Linux systems that work in framebuffer mode using DirectFB, nano-x and other alternatives also typically contain many interesting, unusual and lightweight applications. Nanolinux and Rogue Class Linux are in this category.

One can also look at operating systems and development projects that use more lightweight C libraries (such as uclibc and musl). Those projects typically gravitate to choosing lightweight applications, command line and console based programs and lightweight tools like Busybox and Toybox.

Alternative operating systems often offer interesting lightweight application choices. Syllable and Haiku often use SDL programs and other lightweight applications that are easier to port to those systems. Systems like Minix and ELKS are also interesting to investigate. Minix 3 uses a lot of the programs that BSD systems do, but earlier versions of Minix include some interesting alternatives. XFDOS includes many interesting FLTK applications. Plan 9 is interesting as well, but not many of the programs used on this system have been ported to other systems. Another good place to look for unusual applications is on mobile devices.
Here are some application lists from Syllable and Agenda:

I'd love to find more places to discuss lightweight applications. If you've written an article on the topic, please share it. If you know of a good blog, forum, mailing list or other resource, please let me know ( ). If you'd like to discuss your favorite C/C++ applications further, you're welcome to use the CppDesign mailing list ( ) as a forum.
I've listed some core utilities options besides GNU. I thought I'd share something about what utilities I personally prefer to use. My main requirement in a good set of core utilities is portability. This is rather hard to find. You would think that if a utility was efficient and lightweight, it would be easy to port. However, that's not necessarily so. Many utilities that are designed for efficiency take advantage of features of a particular operating system which makes them harder to port.

At first, I considered starting with sbase which had stated goals similar to what I was looking for, but it didn't have enough features to effectively replace the GNU core utilities when developing and building programs. While newer versions of sbase have added a lot of functionality, they've become much less portable.

My favorite source for inspiration is Minix. Earlier versions provided some interesting and fairly portable versions of a variety of utilites:
Some of the utilities don't have sufficient UTF-8 support or lack some newer functionality found in GNU utilities that makes them fail when attempting to build applications. However, they make a useful starting point.

In some cases, the OBase or BSD utilities do a better job than the older Minix ones and still do that job efficiently. I particularly like the version of patch found on BSD systems. It's an earlier variant of the Free Software Foundation's patch program. Unlike the FSF's version of patch which uses the GNU license, it uses a BSD style license.

For some utilities, I've consulted the POSIX standards ( ) and rewritten them from scratch.

Rather than trying to port utilities such as the Free Software Foundations coreutils, I thought having a lightweight, efficient, highly portable option would be a useful alternative. Many of the FSF developers have little interest in portability making it hard to get later versions of their programs working on non-POSIX systems. I was surprised at how little interest most users have in developing portable alternatives to the core utilities that could be used to build software. Not only was their little interest, some people posted extremely negative comments when anyone suggested creating alternatives to the FSF software. I was also surprised by some of the negative reactions I read about wonderful projects like SBase.

I have a growing collection of public domain, BSD and MIT licensed alternatives to the GNU core utilities. For now, I just use them for my own projects. If you have an interest in portable utilities and tools, would like to see a viable portable alternative to the FSF's GNU coreutils or would like to further discuss related topics in a positive light, feel free to contact me. I'd enjoy talking with other developers and utility users on the topic.

You'll find some added information on my utilities and information on how to discuss the topic further at:

July 2017

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