Open Source optimize

Xubuntu, so close, but not quite there

Jack Wallen jumps the generic Ubuntu ship for the faster, cleaner waters of Xubuntu. But is Xubuntu everything it could (and should be)? Check out Jack's opinion on this distribution "that could".

Let me set the stage for my recent migration to Xubuntu. On one of my machines -- my main machine actually -- I upgraded to Ubuntu 11.10 only to find the desktop starting to randomly lock up. So I did what any one would do: I migrated my other test machine to Bodhi Linux, installed Dropbox to sync all of my work, and then began the process of re-installing Ubuntu 11.10 onto the new machine. Thing is, although I think Ubuntu Unity has come a long way, it's just not the desktop for me. So, with that in mind, I installed GNOME 3 (aka Gnome Shell). What did that do? Brought my little machine to a screeching halt. This behavior was partially expected, but not welcome.

My next step in the test was to try a different distribution sporting GNOME 3 -- Fedora. Throwing caution to the wind (as I am wont to do) I downloaded the 64 bit beta ISO and installed. It looked as if everything was going to work out just perfectly. Oh, how looks can be so deceiving. When the installation completed, I attempted to log in -- only to find that the Nouveau drivers are still, well, bad.

Since Fedora was never my favorite distribution, I decided to go back to Ubuntu, only this time to Xubuntu. I knew one thing for sure -- I really liked the XFCE desktop. It's fast, it offers tons of options, and it's reliable. But is it on par with what the standard Ubuntu offers? Or Kubuntu? I wanted to find out. Here's what I discovered.

It's so close. So close is it that it's almost worthy of usurping Bodhi Linux as my new go-to Linux distribution. But here's the thing: With both of these distributions the end result is that you still have to do a bit of work to get them where you want them. So those things being equal, I'm going to stick with the desktop I've always preferred -- Enlightenment. But, Xubuntu is dangerously close and I have a couple of suggestions for the developers that will pretty much solidify Xubuntu as the single most user-friendly distribution available.

Samba

This is probably the biggest issue. I will preface this by saying I can configure Samba manually. Give me Nano and smb.conf and I'm good to go. That's preaching to the choir and what these developers need to be doing is preaching to the passersby on the street that know not the ways of Samba.

If you install either the Unity or the KDE flavor of Ubuntu 11.10 you can right-click a folder and quickly share out that folder to other users (cross-platform even). If your distribution didn't install Samba, you'll even be prompted for the installation -- easy peasy.

Xubuntu? Not so much. In fact, this isn't even possible with Xubuntu. Why? In a word, Thunar. Thunar simply doesn't have the ability to work with Samba to share out folders on a network. At one point a plugin was being developed, but that development has since ceased. That is a shame. Someone needs to pick up the development of that plugin right away and roll Samba sharing into Thunar. Why? Two reasons: Thunar is a solid file manager and easily sharing folders is something users need -- especially in a business environment.

I've dug into this issue only to find the Thunar developers pretty much saying, "If you want this feature, then code it."

Um, yeah...

Included software

You install Ubuntu 11.10 and you get LibreOffice. You install Xubuntu 11.10 and you get Abiword. Now, I'm not at all against Abiword; in fact, it's quite a nice word processor. But most users need a bit more interoperability than what Abiword offers. So the first thing I have to do on Xubuntu is install LibreOffice. I understand why they've decided to go this route, but I do believe the choice made was a poor one. Migrate to LibreOffice so Xubuntu is not looked upon as a lesser and less usable distribution.

Same thing goes with the choice of media player. Xubuntu ships with Parole as the media player. Interesting choice, but why go with a player that cannot even connect with Ubuntu One Music Store or Amazon MP3 Store? A simple solution -- default to Banshee, which is quickly becoming the best music player available.

And while we're at it, the Ubuntu Software Center is included, so why is Ubuntu One not? This is an "official" Ubuntu derivation, why not include all the goodness that ships with Ubuntu (minus the weak desktop)?

I realize I seem to be picking at nits here. Why? That's how close Xubuntu is to becoming a distribution that anyone can use. It already has a desktop that could please any user-level -- so why not take it just the few steps further to make it a distribution that could please anyone from new user to well-versed user?

In the end though, Xubuntu is close, very close, to being the best of all worlds. With just a little tweaking, this distribution could easily top the list.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

32 comments
LeonBA
LeonBA

I'm a Xubuntu user (since 8.10) and I agree with you, especially on the Samba thing. Sure, you can install Nautilus to manage sharing your folders, which is what I've done; it works pretty well. The trouble is that Nautilus is a desktop hog--it WANTS to control my desktop environment, and will push out XFCE when it gets a chance. Then my actual desktop changes, my icons move around to different parts of the screen, and I don't have the usual right-click options etc. that XFCE gives me. Getting XFCE back is a hassle--and shouldn't be necessary in the first place. Sure, you can help prevent it by setting Nautilus to always run with the --no-desktop switch, but every so often it muscles XFCE out of the way and grabs my desktop anyhow. Curse you Nautilus! Thunar now allows me to access shares over the network via smb://, so if it would let me manage shares as well I could just say good riddance to Nautilus. But that one little thing, and the stubbornness of the Thunar developers, mean I'm stuck with Nautilus indefinitely.

qs.perhct
qs.perhct

After fleeing from the Unity disaster, I tried a few other distros. Lubuntu really fell down on VLC playback. Any jumping around or frame-by-frame use frazzled up the screen. I tried a couple other distros and then read some great reviews of Xubuntu, and spun that up. OOB (out of the box) I couldn't do file sharing (WHAT!?) and this whole Gigolo thing is not great. My question is: if I just install Nautilus to get back the file sharing features I'm used to, what exactly is going on? Why isn't Nautilus in Xubuntu anyway? Why would they put the inferior Dolphin and Gigolo in Xubuntu? I think the reason has something to do with XFCE and Gnome, right?. Is Dolphin written for XFCE and Nautilus written for Gnome? If Nautilus is written for Gnome, why am I able to install it in XFCE (Xubuntu)? If that means I'm installing a ton of support crap for Nautilus, then installing Nautilus in Xubuntu doesn't seem like a good idea. There's the Desktop Manger, the Window Manager, the Package Manager .... Did Gnome just end up with all the good apps? ... or how does this work? Like why would anyone pick Dolphin or Thunar instead of Nautilus?

Spannerz
Spannerz

I honestly like Fedora and I REALLY like the minimalist boot screen in F15. The only REAL problem I have with it is NO professional tools/options like Ubuntu has. No Disk partitioner, no Diag tools, NOTHING. It's designed for the every-day user with Tablets and Laptops in mind, but nothing for users who require a bit more bang such as myself. NO POWER OPTIONS EITHER, and Shutdown is only accessible by mousing over Standby and hitting ALT+Click... EDIT: Don't get me wrong though, I do like Fedora and Gnome3 :) I wanted a switch from Ubuntu because Unity just Killed it... ._.

dchute
dchute

"only to find that the Nouveau drivers are still, well, bad." - AHH I wish I could Google+ that comment.

asterus
asterus

- Excess distros - Lack of drivers (raid, fakeraid, tv, turner, even video drivers aren't that good) - No or little software quality control, excess of bugs - Middle button on firefox linux is really bad :P

todd_dsm
todd_dsm

How old is the target machine? I haven't had Nouveau driver problems since using hardware made during or after 2008. I've installed client systems on even older hardware with no issues. That's one of the perks I get from leaving Windows. I never have to deal with drivers any more. But, then again, I use fedora. I know Gnome 3 causes unwanted heart palpitations but after about a week you begin to see the beauty in it; honest. Gnome 3 reminds me of my first go-round with a (non-production; EVAL-ONLY) version of OS X. It was a radical departure from the old interface but it was UNIX underneath, so...you ride it out. On first perusal, you can tell it's an all new beast but the underlying curiosity of what this new thing could turn into was unavoidable; you just knew bigger things were coming. Gnome 3 is in that early phase right now. Yes, it's got some OS X-like qualities but, that don't make it bad. The rest of the (user) world has rushed to OS X in frenzy - I hope that's become obvious. Besides, we all know the majority doesn't care what's under the hood; it's the UI. Ubuntu really only gained early wide-spread adoption because of its simplicity and UI elegance. I remember the first time I installed it in 6 steps - brilliant. But, if you look at Distro Watch, Linux Mint has surpassed Ubuntu in Hits Per Day. Why, because the UI is gorgeous. Now Fedora brings a new kind of beauty but, everyone is simply unfamiliar with it. I believe that the Gnome 3 developers have identified with the success of the Mac UI and are taking us there in - perhaps - clumsy baby steps but you can't help but look at it and think, "Where will this be in 5 years?". I think it will be a fantastic contribution to bringing the masses a little closer to Linux, even if some of us have to wait it out and be drug kicking and screaming to get there. Change is good, bad, or otherwise, necessary for our survival and it's never killed anyone in software. It really does give me a big rubbery one when I make old hardware sing but, that's mostly for servers. For your main work-station, drop the cash, get an i3 with a dedicated video card and re-evaluate it. A few weeks in, and with new eyes, I think you'll agree that Gnome 3 has a bigger future than we can see right now.

renaudlevesque
renaudlevesque

After having installed Ubuntu, just install the xfce4-desktop, login to Xfce desktop, and then you'll be right on tracks with the good apps (Nautilus, Banshee, LibreOffice, etc.)

yaseennoorani
yaseennoorani

I'm in the exact same position as you Jack in terms of distros. Bodhilinux is now my favorite with Xubuntu being close second. For me Bodhi edges it because of E17. That is one hell of a window manager/shell...very light, fast, full of effects and fully CUSTOMIZABLE! I like Xubuntu because its reliable, reasonably light and is also very much customizable like the old gnome 2.

CFWhitman
CFWhitman

Xubuntu is not likely to ever use Banshee as the default media player because Banshee requires Mono. Mono would mean a lot of space used up on the installation CD just for one program, Banshee. Banshee is also not in line at all with the idea of having a slightly more lightweight desktop (although I admit that the Xubuntu desktop is not all that lightweight as Xfce desktop configurations go). Actually, now that Ubuntu is dropping Banshee in favor of Rhythmbox again, this point will probably become moot. Perhaps then you would want Rhythmbox to be the default player for Xubuntu. I'm not sure how much hope there is that they would switch to that, but it's certainly more possible than Banshee ever would be. I tend to use Quod Libet for music and Xine (supplemented by occasional VLC use) for video. I'm currently running Xubuntu on one older laptop, but I have Linux Mint Debian Edition Xfce, with a Liquorix kernel, on my main laptop. There are pluses and minuses to the rolling release, but I have yet to decide to go back to Ubuntu Studio. Ubuntu Studio is actually more interesting now that they've converted to Xfce which is what I always used with it anyway (well, when I didn't use Fluxbox or IceWM; I certainly never used Gnome).

jlholmes21
jlholmes21

Well at leasts its not Fedora and I mean that in the best way possible... Try the normal Ubuntu release and install the GUI you want to use on top of Ubuntu. A lot quicker and you have less of a headache

gradkiss
gradkiss

I have a similar history of changing from one program to another program like some change operating systems or run back and forth from one laptop to another workstation.The idea is never find the ideal until the ideas run out or I am cornered that much by copyright acts or patents.It's then I will just use my own server and whatever I am not hooked up with anyone else but me type of operating system...and Xubuntu would not be off my list. I am currently typing from Whezzy sid gnome 3 and still just sitting back and letting someone else do what I added and subtracted and still have working with their updates into the volitale area...and will not erase Zorin. One thing for sure...I never step on someone that supports the poor by subtracting the luxury of a cost to produce school assignments without the added burden of even having a trip to the local library.Sometimes...cheap and plain or signs of intelligence...that's not one of my brags. Everyone have a good day...I once explained to a religious person how he was like a group even when he was an individual and convinced him that the other person he was in dispute with was close enough as a friend to be at least stored on a shelf as if there when that day arrived he needed him for added protection And to think I am not in the looney bin along with all the cartoon characters...just proves I might be good at telling jokes.

pgit
pgit

I want to pull my hair out every time I see a writer use that "(subject here)? Not so much." line. It just drives me batty. It doesn't need to be said, the idea can and should come from the next supporting information that durn well better be provided, and it's "cutsey," or whatever affectation that's supposed to be, grinds on my brain like a stone mill on the harvest. My wife agrees, actually has stronger opinions that begin to reach the outskirts of cultural reasoning, stuff one does not discuss in polite company. From now on before reading an article it'll be ctrl+f ---> "not so much" and if the search window ain't red, it's ctrl+w.. bye bye.

jimdusek
jimdusek

Installed Xubuntu on my Compaq Armada M700 (old!) and it runs flawlessly. Upgraded software as discussed. Then I discovered Mint Debian xfce which had all the enhancements PLUS codecs with DVD version. Perfect. End of search!

merelyjim
merelyjim

Just a thought; I installed LinuxMint, Debian edition with Xfce on both a 64-bit Toshiba and 32-bit netbook last week. Seems to address the issues raised here; Libre Office, VLC, etc. There's also a Gnome desktop, if you prefer, and best of all, it's a rolling release. Sad truth is that Mark Shuttleworth wants Unity, and all other Ubuntu- variants are being pushed off to the side. If you don't share in the vision, you go elsewhere.

Up2Stokes
Up2Stokes

Jack, I have been a reader of your Blogs for some time, and like the way you write. During the past 5-6 years I have tried the past 3-4 versions of Ubuntu. I love the smooth way Linux operates, more like a Mac than a Windows machine. Less footprint on my HDD and less Memory hungry. I have been so excited each time I got Ubuntu up & running; that is, UNTIL I went to install my very common Huawei E160 Wireless USB Modem. {Where I live,Telstra have invoked the fine print in their contract that says they are only responsible for voice & data cables, NOT ADSL availability. Good on yer, Senator Richard Alston and Helen Coonan. Same people who are totally canning the NBN.} This leaves me just two choices: 1) Run Windows & existing Wireless Modem with its exhorbitant charges, regular dropouts and foibles. Optus only ISP offering a half way decent W/less service here. 2) Telstra is barely receivable and shocking with dropouts. I have been waiting these 5-6 past years hoping Ubuntu or some other Linux OS would be my salvation. It simply will not allow me to connect up to the 3G Network, either Telstra or Optus. I have been told by Linux Officianados I only need to fiddle with this and fiddle with that and install something else. I followed instructions to the letter, but lost my whole Drive; Linux Instructions ASSUME far too much and leave gaping holes in the methodology. When I went back to them for further advice I was ignored by most pleas for help and abused by others for being a "dumb Windows moron who would never be good enough for Linux. Another accused people like me of being too lazy to sit down for a year or two and learn Linux properly. One can only wonder if this is the Elitism inferred in the last couple of postings in this Forum. At my age,I fear I will be dead & buried before Linux becomes usable for people like me. I can fix most things Windows, with 22 years experience behind me, and I am still reasonably adept tp learning most new skills, I might add. Would love to hear from other non-Linux/non-Programmers.

davidpearson
davidpearson

If teh Samba thing is the problem, do what I did.. Go to the Software Centre.. Install Nautilus from there, and within XFCE, set Nautilus to the Default File Manager.. Simple as that.. I was having problems accessing my NAS until I installed Nautilus, and then it worked a dream.

seanferd
seanferd

Ubuntu. If Samba is your sticking point, then I guess XFCE is the problem, but you know how to use a package manager, Jack. You'll end up installing libraries (esp. gnome or kde) for other applications you want, anyway.

janitorman
janitorman

that I am, I downloaded Ubuntu, couldn't stand it, three days later had Xubuntu with xfce AND Dolphin, with the apps I wanted, working fine, on my old hardware. It's called a package manager, people. Configure it however you want!

Pronounce
Pronounce

I delved into making Thunar work, and after a fair amount of time I gave up. Since I was easily able to get Nautilus and Gnome to work for me I couldn't justify the time expense needed for XFace. Linux fanboys always dismiss the lack of intuitive nature related to their favorite distro and I understand (who needs a good GUI when the CLI works great). For all their passion the lovers of Linux aren't really all that interested in making it user-friendly (read "n00b friendly").

sullivanjc
sullivanjc

I switched to Xubuntu desktop after installing Unity a second time with 11.10 and hating it a second time. Unity is a step backward. Is there anybody besides pundits and Canonical/Unity developers that really like that dog? I've also tried Gnome 3. Hated that too. I've also tried Kubuntu. Didn't *hate* it but didn't really like it a lot either. Xubuntu has been the best of the lot for me. Faster on my old machine and I've been able to configure it the way I want. I haven't really dealt with the Samba issue yet to see what's up with that. but I rarely share files directly with my windows machine like that. I didn't have the issue with Libre Office because I installed Xubuntu over Unity so it was already installed and in my menu. Not using Banshee by default seemed silly to me too. I also think with some tweaking this would be the go to desktop. Unfortunately, Canonical seems hell bent on self destruction with Unity so they will probably largely ignore it.

cbojar
cbojar

I really did. I wanted it to be a proper GNOME2-like Ubuntu replacement, but it really falls short, unfortunately. When trying to preview it or load it, it has some significant performance problems (if it even loads at all), and it just doesn't quite work well enough to replace GNOME2. Thunar just doesn't do what Nautilus does, and Nautilus is getting quite behind the curve itself. Additionally, the default set of applications are geared toward the "resource-lite" desktop (even though I doubt it would run that well on a low-resource machine) and would just about all need to be replaced to have Xubuntu really offer what standard Ubuntu does. I wonder if this is because of a purpose without a place or focus, or whether it's really just a sheer lack of resources on the development side. I had hoped Xubuntu could be a real desktop refuge after the tabletification of Linux desktops, but it really does come up short.

essin
essin

Kubuntu sounds like what you were after, minus the headache,

janitorman
janitorman

...because of its built-in file previewer. Sure you can use gThumb to preview photo folders, but dolphin previews many other types, such as a simple .txt file! I had to install dolphin instead of Thunar in Xubuntu just for this reason! (in 11.10 Thunar is the Xubuntu file manager by default, but you can always install others, just use Synaptic package manager! (I tried using the Ubuntu software center and the thing's a DOG that just freezes up, so got RID of that! )

todd_dsm
todd_dsm

I do most of my heavy lifting with RHEL. I can tell you there are plenty of diagnostic tools there. Since Fedora is the testing ground for technologies that will eventually end up RHEL, and keep in mind, not all utilities or technologies make the cut, I have to assume there are a great deal more on Fedora. I know some utilities have different names on different distros. Or each distro will select different utils that do the same things but have different names. You could always hit the freenode / # fedora IRC channel. The guys there would be willing to field some of those questions. Honestly, I use Fedora more than I fix it, which is why I'm light on some general info here, and also why I ditched Windows. Perhaps that's the real problem? All I can tell you is I've been using Fedora for years in the consulting trade. It's never left me without a tool.

CFWhitman
CFWhitman

This article is about how Xubuntu stacks up as a distribution compared to other distributions, not really about how usable Linux is in the first place. Your points, though. -Excess distros This one is bogus really. There is always the freedom to create distributions of Linux. That's why it's called Free Software. Many distributions never get more than a small following. They don't interfere with the popularity of a distribution that a lot of people like. This freedom didn't stop Ubuntu from becoming the most popular distribution almost overnight. -Lack of drivers If there is a lack of RAID drivers for actual hardware RAID controllers, then I have yet to notice it. That has seemed to be one of the most strongly supported areas for Linux to me. There is a lack of FakeRAID drivers for Linux. I usually don't bother with FakeRAID because most FakeRAID hardware will work as a series of SATA (or IDE) controllers. Then you can just use software RAID, which is pretty much the same thing. I guess FakeRAID has its uses for people who want to dual boot, but with virtualization, that is getting more rare these days. There certainly are TV Tuner cards that have drivers for Linux. I've taken that into consideration when purchasing a card. I agree that it would be great, though, if more TV card manufacturers supported Linux. Video drivers are a mixed bag. Almost any video card you can find will work under Linux to some extent. I haven't been impressed with ATI's drivers and video tearing issues. There are workarounds for that, but you'd think they could do better than they do. NVIDIA's drivers seem to work pretty well most of the time (the same as in Windows, I'd say). Intel video seems to work OK most of the time that I've seen, considering the relative lack of power of Intel video chipsets compared to the others. -No or little software quality control, excess of bugs I don't see that. I see buggy software and good software whichever environment I am in. I'm not any more impressed by Windows software. -Middle button on firefox linux is really bad :P I have no idea what this even means. Firefox buttons work just the same in Linux as they do in Windows. I use both versions all the time and never notice any issues.

todd_dsm
todd_dsm

I had this problem too; not all mice are created equal. I dumped a Logitech mouse for a (new) stock Dell mouse and the problem went away. Use (almost) any LSI raid and you can't go wrong. I've got 'em all over town and they work like champs. Bugs: I think within the "for free" format, they expect us to do *some* of the work: Crowd Sourcing. Too many distros, agreed. But someone will stumble onto a design we haven't seen yet and change the game. This is where we get Ubuntu. It's certainly not the oldest one, but now it's the most widely used. It's a necessary bump in the road.

benjinz
benjinz

I too have had issues in the past with trying to set up a USB wireless modem in Linux, however one day i was able to somehow get it to work, not sure if it was the fact that i had no sleep and running on caffeine or not, but I have since lost that os and re-installed and now cant remember what i did, so long story short, i went out and bought a Fritz!Box (http://fritzbox.com.au/product-fritz-wlan7390.html) that i can plug my USB 3G modem into and it works no problems - maybe this is something you might want to look into (there many different brands at different prices), it may be at a cost, but at least you will never have to worry about trying to program the settings.

zefficace
zefficace

I have used Linux distros for a while, and I must say that eletist users have always been a pain. To this day, I have found many of them, and wonder if they aren't on forums just to troll beginners. Never cared much for their behavior. As for the quality of instructions, they are often lacking as well. I have regularly "completed" instructions for one of my friends. Even for myself, after more than 10 years of Linux use, I must still extrapolate a few bits of info here and there. Obviously, my friend is lucky to have someone with experience which is willing to help, but that clearly is not your situation. Strangely, after having switched to ArchLinux, the proplem has gotten smaller. Arch does require that you get your hands dirty, but its Wiki is beyond any other distro's documentation. The problem is that installing Arch is a scary process, which most beginner will simply refuse to go through. It's actually much easier thant it looks, but it still might not be for you. As for your wireless modem, I have no idea how to help you as I have never fiddled with those things.

janitorman
janitorman

Still working fine, Xubuntu 11.10 with a lot of tweaks, Dolphin file manager, Samba, Banshee, etc. I regularly check the Synaptic package manager for updates/new applications that might be useful. I use abiword like notepad in windows PLUS installed Libre-office for the rare times I need a full-blown office suite. You really can't complain about a distro out of the box, when you can basically configure it however you want within minutes of install, if you're on a high-speed connection. Don't like something? throw it out and replace it. Want a new feature? It's probably available. Like to tweak? There are lots of choices! On this old machine (AMD 64, 3.2 g dualcore) it runs faster than Windows XP ever did, too, and NO driver problems so far. PLUS no hassle 64 bit, and no Windows foibles! I'm certainly not concerned about filling up this drive with junk like Windows did, I could probably run a 30 G drive on it forever and not worry. (I don't store video or photos on the drive.. Windows stored EVERYthing, updates, temp files here there and everywhere, 5 or more usernames (mine, "administrator" "default" "HP adminstrator" "system" and "guest" with duplicate files, it was a monster. Linux of any sort is much cleaner.) I recommend specifically AGAINST Ubuntu software center, it freezes, it's slow, it is very frustrating. Synaptic is MUCH better. I also have absolutely NO USE for Ubuntu one, storing information "in the cloud," and trying to sell you stuff. Whoop de doo 5 gig of storage and a "music store" where you can BUY MUSIC ... which I avoid doing, I'm perfectly happy with my LP's that I've digitized!

Up2Stokes
Up2Stokes

"Linux fanboys always dismiss the lack of intuitive nature related to their favorite distro and I understand (who needs a good GUI when the CLI works great). For all their passion the lovers of Linux aren't really all that interested in making it user-friendly (read "n00b friendly")." How SO very true ! I keep making excuses for Ubuntu - want it so bad, yet still cannot come up with a way to connect to the Net via my very common, garden variety USB Wireless Modem. No one can help me, not ISP, Huawei, Linux Forums. Same with Open Office - more bugs now than before. It is no wonder the poor average punter is stuck with Windows and MS Office.

mewombat
mewombat

I dunno - I use it (ZUbuntu 11.04) on an Asus eeePC 901 netbook, and it works pretty well for me!