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.
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."
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.
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.