In one of my last reviews I covered Linux Mint 201104 Xfce, a distribution featuring the Xfce desktop environment that is based on Debian Testing. Linux Mint 201104 is a rolling release distro. Rolling release distros are great for some folks but not so great for others. In this review I cover Xubuntu 11.04, an Ubuntu derivative that also features the Xfce environment. Xubuntu 11.04 is not a rolling release distro though; it follows the same release pattern as Ubuntu and the rest of its official derivatives.
Xubuntu is not as popular as its big brother, Ubuntu, but it has its own charms. It’s ideally suited for those who are looking for a slimmer alternative to Ubuntu itself but who also want to stay within the Ubuntu family of distros. Xubuntu and Lubuntu 11.04 are both similar in that respect. Xubuntu also has the virtue of not using Unity, the new Ubuntu interface that I talked about in an EOL column a while back called “Unity: Ubuntu’s Descent Into Madness!”
In case you aren’t familiar with the Xfce desktop environment, here’s a brief bit of background:
Xfce is a lightweight desktop environment for UNIX-like operating systems. It aims to be fast and low on system resources, while still being visually appealing and user friendly.
Xfce embodies the traditional UNIX philosophy of modularity and re-usability. It consists of a number of components that provide the full functionality one can expect of a modern desktop environment. They are packaged separately and you can pick among the available packages to create the optimal personal working environment.
What’s New In This Release
Here’s a sample of the new features in this release:
Updated Xubuntu wallpaper for integration with graybird theme
Install slide show updated
Elementary icon theme updated
Xubuntu uses Droid font by default
Xfce updated to 4.8
This release isn’t exactly chock full of cool, interesting features so it probably won’t rock your world in that sense. But it’s a solid upgrade, following in the footsteps of Ubuntu 11.04 itself.
I’m always up for some interesting wallpaper and it never hurts to update the slide show to keep people entertained during the install. The icon theme update and Droid font will certainly be appreciated by some Xubuntu users.
Xfce junkies will also appreciate that this release includes Xfce 4.8. If you aren’t familiar with changes in Xfce 4.8, here’s some of what you’ll find:
Xfce 4.8 is our attempt to update the Xfce code base to all the new desktop frameworks that were introduced in the past few years. We hope that our efforts to drop pieces like ThunarVFS and HAL with GIO, udev, ConsoleKit and PolicyKit will help bringing the Xfce desktop to modern distributions.
With Xfce 4.8 our users will be able to browse remote shares using a variety of protocols (SFTP, SMB, FTP and many more). The window clutter has been reduced by merging all file progress dialogs into a single one.
Our panel application has been rewritten, thereby improving positioning, transparency, item and launcher management. It also introduces a new menu plugin to view directories. Its plugin framework remains compatible with 4.6 plugins.
We also improved our settings dialogs. The display configuration dialog now supports RandR 1.2, detects screens automatically and allows our users to pick their favorite resolution, refresh rate, rotation. Screens can be configured to either work in clone mode or be placed next to each other. Keyboard selection has become easier and more user-friendly. Also, the manual settings editor has been updated to be more functional.
Aside from the features implemented in Xfce, the 4.8 development cycle brought us a bunch of other goodies. For the first time we had a serious release strategy formed after the “Xfce Release and Development Model” developed at the Ubuntu Desktop Summit in May 2009. A new web application made release management a lot easier. We worked hard on improving the situation of Xfce translators which led us to setting up our own Transifex server. Something else you will hopefully notice is that our server and mirroring infrastructure has been improved so that our servers hopefully will not suddenly surrender shortly after this release announcement.
Hardware Requirements & Installation
Here’s what you’ll need to run this distro:
You need 256 MB RAM to run the Live CD or 256 MB RAM to install. The Alternate Install CD only requires you to have 64 MB RAM at install time.
To install Xubuntu with the standard installer (Ubiquity), you need 4.4 GB of free space on your hard disk. The Alternate Install CD only requires you to have 2 GB of free space on your hard disk.
Once installed, Xubuntu can run with starting from 256 (or even just 192) MB RAM, but it is strongly recommended to have at least 512 MB RAM.
Xubuntu uses the same installer as Ubuntu, so it’s quite easy and fast. Take note of the option to download updates while installing and add third party software. I highly recommend doing both as it will save you time later on. Note that Xubuntu 11.04 is a Live CD distro, so you can boot off the CD and run it without actually installing it. It’s a great way to get a taste of Xubuntu without going through the actual install routine.
If you aren’t doing an install and instead just want to update from Xubuntu 10.10 to 11.04, please see these instructions.
The screenshots below walk you through the install, from beginning to end. You can watch a slideshow during the install that will give you an idea of what to expect from Xubuntu.
Booting & Login
Here’s what the login screen looks like:
As you might expect, Xubuntu 11.04’s desktop is a no-frills affair. The only icons you see are Home, File System and the Trash. The panel is also simple and the colors are understated, bordering on bland.
Click the Applications Menu button on the left side of the panel to access application category menus, system tools, etc. Even if you’ve never used Xubuntu before, it should take you all of about 5 minutes or less to find what you want in the menus.
Xubuntu 11.04’s desktop is geared toward simplicity. You will not find blobs of useless and bloated eye-candy here, but you will find a usable desktop environment that will let you work without getting in your way.
There’s also a second panel at the bottom of the screen that contains additional icons. However, this panel is set to automatically hide itself so you’ll need to move your cursor over it. I’ll have more to say about that in the problems section. The bottom panel contains icons for web browsing, showing the desktop, GIMP, the trash, etc.
If you dislike the default theme graybird, you can change it by going into the Settings Manager. There are a lot of different styles available, so you should find something that floats your boat easily enough.