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.
The default wallpaper is rather bland, I’m sorry to say. It has no personality and I rather dislike it. It’s easy to change it, however. Just right click your desktop and choose Desktop Settings. There are some other Xubuntu wallpapers there that I think are a bit more cheery and nice to look at. Or you can also add your own to personalize it more.
The Xfce Settings Manager also contains all the usual stuff you need to customize and manage your system. Take a moment to browse through it if you’re new to Xubuntu or the Xfce desktop environment. You’ll be glad you did later on when you want to change something.
Here’s a sample of the software included in this release.
Ristretto Photo Viewer
Remote Desktop Viewer
Parole Media Player
Xubuntu includes the Ubuntu Software Center. Synaptic is also included if you prefer to use that instead of the Software Center.
Newcomers should start with the Ubuntu Software Center and then experiment with Synaptic later on once they’ve had time to learn more about it. The Software Center has lots of applications, broken down into the usual categories. You can also search for applications or check out the featured applications.
I recommend downloading LibreOffice since it’s not included in the default software install in Xubuntu. Abiword is great, but you might find LibreOffice to be a bit more useful.
Take note also of the Update Manager when you first start up your system (assuming you didn’t download updates while doing the install). Click the updates exclamation point in the panel at the top of the screen to pull up Update Manager. I recommend updating your system as soon as you boot into it. It’s a good idea to stay current if you can.
Adding & Removing Software
Adding and removing software in the Software Center is quite easy. Just find the application and click the Install or Remove button. In Synaptic just click the checkbox next to the application’s name then choose Mark for Installation and then click the Apply button. Managing software in Xubuntu should not be a problem even if you are new to the distro.
Sound and Multimedia
YouTube & Flash
You need to make sure that you choose the third party applications options when you do your install to make sure that flash is installed. I generally don’t do this, as I like to see what the default software selection is when doing a review. Anyway, it’s not a big deal at all as most people would smartly opt to install everything during the install.
Xubuntu 11.04 comes with a very basic selection of multimedia applications: gmusicbrowser, Mixer, Parole Media Player and Xfburn. If you want more you’ll need to hit the Software Center to add to what’s installed by default. There are 315 multimedia applications in the Software Center so you shouldn’t have a problem finding what you need.
Problems & Headaches
My experience with Xubuntu 11.04 was very good. As I expected, I did not encounter any noticeable problems or issues. It was fast and reliable during my use.
One thing that I would have liked to see is LibreOffice bundled with Xubuntu. Yes, I know that Xubuntu appeals to minimalists but I worry sometimes that newcomers to Linux might be disappointed to find just Abiword and Gnumeric as the main office applications. Experienced users know they can easily get LibreOffice in the Software Center, but newbies might not. Anyway, this is a minor nitpick on my part but I wanted to note it here.
The new wallpaper is…well…underwhelming. Your mileage may vary, however, and it’s quite easy to change it. So no big deal. It would be nice in future releases to see something with a bit more pizzazz, along the lines of Linux Mint’s default wallpaper.
Another thing I didn’t care for is that the bottom panel is set to automatically hide and show. I found this irritating and unnecessary. I’m not sure why the default settings are that way but you can easily change it if you want by right clicking the panel and unclicking the checkbox in panel settings.
Where To Get Help
Please take a moment to register for the DLR forum; everybody is welcome. Feel free to post a message in the forum and we’ll do our best to point you in the right direction. The forum contains discussions about Linux, as well as other topics. Please stop by and say hello when you have a chance.
You might also want to check out the Xubuntu help & support page for documentation and community support (including forums, mailing lists, IRC, etc.).
Final Thoughts & Who Should Use It
Xubuntu 11.04 is a good choice for minimalists who prefer a desktop environment not bogged down with pointless eye-candy. It should work well on older or slower hardware.
It’s also a good option for those who dislike Unity and want a different desktop environment. Xfce is simple, fast and doesn’t get in your way when you are trying to quickly launch an application or otherwise find something. And those who decide to use Xubuntu still remain in the Ubuntu family without the headache of dealing with Unity. So if you’re a Unity resister, you should definitely check out Xubuntu 11.04.
This distro is fine for beginner, intermediate and advanced users.
|Pros:||Updated wallpaper & install slideshow. Comes with Xfce 4.8. Droid font is used by default. Elementary icon theme updated in this release.|
|Cons:||LibreOffice not included in default software install.|
|Suitable For:||Beginner, intermediate or advanced Linux users.|