15 Dec 2011

Xubuntu 11.10. It Came To Stay

I repeatedly tell on my blog that my laptop has quadro-boot landscape. It became so when I first installed Linux on my hard drive (really installed, not frugal installation that I had for SLAX and Puppy).
Latest quadro-boot configuration included Mageia 1 KDE, Debian Squeeze, Fedora 16 KDE and inevitable Windows XP.
It included. Then it did not. I managed to brake Fedora installation significantly when followed the advice on LinuxQuestions.org forum about possible solution for my laptop's semi-hardware volume control keys. That advice effectively brought X-server to in-repairable condition. Keyboard stopped working at all. Of course, there could be solutions to fix it via command line, but I decided not to do so, because of couple of reasons:

  1. Fedora would not stay there anyway
  2. I want to have XFCE distribution to complement my KDE and GNOME systems.

And then Xubuntu came. I tried it recently for the first time, and liked it so much that fate of hard drive's partition was decided.


I did Live run of Xubuntu from USB stick prepared by Unetbootin.
It is very logical that I started installation from the same USB stick too.
If you have ever seen Unetbootin menu, you may know that it has "Default" boot option in addition to all the options which ISO image has itself. In case of Xubuntu, "Install" is one of these options. And I chose that option without going to Xubuntu Live run.
After few seconds of waiting, I saw installer window on absolutely empty screen. To be precise, just before installer start, there was a pop-up message saying that wireless networks were available. The message disappeared quickly, leaving me with the only window of installer. There was no panel or something to configure network.
Latest version of Ubuntu's installer runs some checks before the actual start of installation. Xubuntu, of course, uses Ubuntu's installer. And, of course, network check at the first installation phase failed for me. Simply because I had no option to configure my wireless connection. As a result, I cancelled that installation, and system went into normal Live run.
It was not an issue for me to establish WiFi network connection. Once it was done, I started installation again, this time from desktop icon.
Installation process itself was more or less usual for Ubuntu 11.10. I've seen it twice already, when I tried Ubuntu 11.10 and Kubuntu 11.10. I won't describe it in details. Just will note that I decided not to install updates during the installation. I'd do it later separately.
Installer by default gives you little bit strange options to re-partition the hard disk drive. Luckily, there was an option for me to choose advanced partitioning tool. This tool was quite convenient. I was able to assign mounting points to all the partitions I have on hard disk. The only inconvenience there was that bootloader had to be installed somewhere. There's no way to skip that step.
I keep saying that it is not good for users who install (X-,K-)Ubuntu as second-third-forth-etc Linux operating system on their computer. If you are in the same boat with me, you should already have bootloader configured in one of your existing systems, and most likely you want bootloader to stay there. That explains my decision: I installed Xubuntu's GRUB2 into the /dev/sda with hope to replace it back with Debian's GRUB immediately after installation.
So, installer started. What was nice and convenient is that system continued to be available while installer worked. I was able to browse the Internet while doing the installation. Other tasks were available as well. Of course, you should not expect same performance like in normal Live run, because media and processor are busy with installation/copying task, but system was still pretty much operateable for me.
And finally installation was over. Reboot.

First boot... not Xubuntu

GRUB2 (bootloader) was definitely taken by Xubuntu. It was in plain black and white colours, which was different from Ubuntu (purple) and Kubuntu (blue) installations. It even did not have any graphical images which Debian's default GRUB2 screen has.
As planned, my first boot was not into Xubuntu, but into Debian Squeeze. Purpose was to restore status-quo and get GRUB2 back under Debian's authority. Before getting to normal commands sudo grub-install /dev/sda and sudo update-grub, I changed fstab file and assigned ext3 file system to partition where Xubuntu was installed. It was ext4 before, as Fedora required this file system.
So, GRUB2 is now under Debian's management. No surprises to expect.
Now restart. And now it is time boot into Xubuntu.

It's Xubuntu time

Of course, the first thing in Xubuntu that I saw was login screen. It was different from anything I'd seen so far. And the most Delphic. It had an option to login as darkduck (username created during installation), guest account and... other! If you wonder what "other" is, and I was wondering, I will tell you. Under "other" system understands manual entry of username. Also, there was drop-down menu to choose type of session. It could be either Xubuntu or... XFCE. What's the difference? Can anyone explain me, please?
Anyway, my username and password matched and I got into Xubuntu session.
Technically speaking, default Xubuntu 11.10 gives you Linux kernel 3.0.0-12 with XFCE 4.8. It is not the freshest kernel version, but the latest one for Desktop Environment.
Of course, screen was not very different from what I've seen in Live run. Stop! There WAS a difference. And very pleasant one! Xubuntu 11.10 inherited my WiFi connection from Live run! That's the greatest difference from all the systems I've tried to install so far. Only Mageia managed to do the same.
Xubuntu developers deserve applause here.
Clappin' in the Back
Image by Moriarty
It was not a big surprise that update manager appeared almost immediately after first boot. It asked me to get 163 updates which totalled in about
160Mb of additional download. Of course, I did not have much choice. I updated my system before continuing to anything else. Kernel was updated too, and new kernel version was 3.0.0-14. Not a big change, I should note, taking into consideration that latest stable version is 3.1.5, and even Debian testing has 3.1.0.
PS. Next day after this was drafted, I got another batch of updates. 71 update, including kernel 3.0.0-15.
While updates were installing, I removed Panel2. I complained about it in my Live review, and I had no wish to keep this popping annoyance on my desktop. Little bit later I also moved main panel to the bottom (you have to "Unlock" it first), but that was finishing touch.
Another reboot. First to Debian for sudo update-grub, then back to Xubuntu with kernel 3.0.0-14.

Getting software configured

It was a time to get Xubuntu configured for my own needs. Sure enough, default set of applications is good, but every user has its own preferences and dislikes. So do I.
What I have installed as additional software:
  • Qutim - instant messenger with support of Mail.Ru Instant Messenger right out of the box. Of course, I could use default Pidgin with MRIM's plugin (as I described in this guest post), but Qutim is closer to my heart. It's pity that it took good portion of Qt with it. But this downside did not overweight the benefit of using software I like.
  • VLC - player which takes care of all my audio and video needs.
  • LibreOffice - to keep consistence with other installed systems. Of course, I could stick to stock Abiword and Gnumeric, but I'd rather stick to same application everywhere.
  • Chromium - please note, I did not even try to install Chrome, because of bad experience I had with Ubuntu and Kubuntu installations. At the end of the day, there's nothing in Chrome which I can't find in Chromium. Why bother than?
  • xfce4-xkb-plugin - this is plugin to enable panel item showing keyboard layout. I wrote about it in Live review. I could not configure multiple keyboard layouts and key combination to switch between them without this plugin.
  • mc - Midnight Commander. The best two-panel file manager, whatever everyone else may tell you.
  • smbfs - Samba file system client. I use it to connect to my network external drive.
  • gedit - simple document editor. Of course, Xubuntu already has analogue - Leafpad. But Leafpad does not have many features I use.
  • gparted - partition management tool. I was clearly surprised when I could not find such a tool in Xubuntu's menu. I mostly use this tool to clean up myUSB stick after another distro hopping. Of course, fdisk and mkfs commands are good replacements, but I prefer graphical application where possible.
All these came from default Xubuntu's repositories. Unfortunately, I had to install something from 3rd party repositories too. And this "something" was Skype.
I not only installed additional software, but also removed some applications which I'm not going to use.
  • Abiword and Gnumeric - clearly no purpose for keeping them installed if I have LibreOffice now.
  • Thunderbird - I never used it. Before removing, I made an experiment. As in many other places of my Xubuntu usage, experiment was a pleasant surprise. Thunderbird automatically correctly configured connection to my GMail-hosted e-mail account. But it still had "flat" message list interface, where all the e-mails are listed as separate items. I got too much used to GMail's conversation-style display. That's why I decided to stick to webmail solution from GMail.
  • Leafpad - no point to keep it when I have gedit.

I did not remove Pidgin. Just in case... if I wanted to switch to it again.

How it worked for me

When I was running Xubuntu from Live USB, I used stock browser Firefox. It asked me to install flash player when I first came to YouTube page. I tried Gnash that time, and complained in my post because Gnash did not properly scale the video to YouTube's placeholder. I honestly expected to make another choice in Xubuntu installation, because open-source Chromium was my choice. Instead I was pleasantly suprised.
Flash came with Chromium. Or with VLC. I can't tell for sure, because both were installed at the same time. Anyway, Chromium stared playing YouTube videos straight away.
Another Chromium/Chrome feature which I like and use is "Application shortcut". If you don't know what it is, I should explain a little. It is icon on the desktop or in the menu which opens specific web site in browser without any buttons or menus. It is just a web page with its internal control elements. I like to use it for GMail and Yahoo!Mail. You don't need navigation buttons there, do you? Unfortunately, this feature does not always work. Actually I saw most complicated cases in KDE distributions, including my favourive Mageia. Chromium's "Create application shortcut" worked in Xubuntu like a charm and items appeared on desktop.
After installation of smbfs, I could mount my network partition. VLC played files from there without any issue.
Transmission seems to be more seed-efficient torrent client compared to KTorrent. I used same .torrent and same resulting files in Xubuntu's Transmission as I do in Mageia's KTorrent, and could compare. Of course, Transmission lacks all the nice visual elements which KTorrent has. But it is a case where functionality is more important than design.
I tried to enable Compiz as recommended in here. My laptop has Intel 945GM video card. I did not tweak the driver at all. Unfortunately, not all the Compiz's features were working fine for me. Instead, I got some instability and high resource usage. At the end, I decided to switch off and uninstall Compiz.
When all the applications were installed and initially configured, I made another reboot to check couple of things:
  1. Remote partition was unmounted correctly
  2. Freshly booted system took 13% of 1 Gb memory on my laptop. In other words, ready-to-use Xubuntu operating system only used about 130 Mb

How does Xubuntu compete?

How does Xubuntu compete with other Linux distributions I have tried so far in either Live and, more important, installed versions?
My opinion is that it leads the race, at least among XFCE distributions. As I have noted just before, it does not have a bug with wireless network and remote Samba partitions, which some other versions of Ubuntu and other Linux-based operating systems have. It is very light on resources. Both these points are definite indicators that Xubuntu has good chances to stay on my laptop for long.
But it does not matter that sky is heavenly blue and clean in Xubuntu. There are some things which I'd like to be improved.

What I miss in Xubuntu

  • I did not find an easy way to add quick launch shortcuts to the panel. The one I found includes several steps in different windows and cannot be considered as quick one. Obviously, drag&drop would be the easiest way. Since it works in KDE and even (oh, God), Windows, I'd expect it to be working in XFCE too.
  • Internet speed seemed slower in Xubuntu sometimes compared to Debian and Mageia on same laptop. I am not sure if this was an issue with the driver, with Chromium, or temporary issues on provider network. This slowness was on and off, so I can't tell for sure. Just a little unpleasant residue.
  • KDE-style applets on desktop. Oh, I liked them so much. I can see how much resources are used at each particular time in my KDE desktops, Mageia being the primary. As opposite, I have not found an easy tool in default Xubuntu which shows memory usage in megabytes. The best was Task Manager which shows percentage.
  • KDE desktop effects. And again I compare with KDE. Eyecandy in XFCE is definitely less developed compared to that K Desktop Environment. Of course, there's Compiz. But, as I had mentioned above, it was not a solution for me.

Anyway... Xubuntu came to my laptop to stay. At least for some time. Let's see how it works out for me.
Do you want to try Xubuntu yourself? This distribution is in assortment of Buy Linux CDs site, which also offers CDs with lots of other Linux distribution. Just choose and order!


  1. Well, it's true that the Xfce desktop that comes with Xubuntu is what makes ubuntu actually *usable* now that their mainline has switched to the universally hated "Unity" desktop.

    One must ask, though -- if you're going to go with Xfce, why bother with Ubuntu at all? This was the question I asked myself after fleeing from Ubuntu to Xubuntu. For me the answer was "gee, there really is no point anymore" and I just switched to a stock Debian build.

  2. Just a note about the KDE desktop effects,

    XFCE is supposed to be a minimalist type desktop. Very light on the effects, and visuals. This has been the reason I use XFCE as my main desktop for the last several years. It has a good trade-off between usability and visuals.

    I do not like the bloat of KDE or Gnome. I do not like the visual "Effects" that happen with different windows etc. Thus, XFCE is my desktop.

    If XFCE starts getting too bloated with added effects, etc, then I will have to go to LXDE or Fluxbox.

  3. Kudos for the nice thorough review. More of this please, and less of the live ones..

  4. If you want Compiz on Xubuntu11.10, those instructions you used left out some necessary stuff. Here is the full list I installed from Synaptic, and got perfect behavior even on a really old, slow Compaq desktop:


    Hope it works for you - I've used those on the 64-bit version of Xubuntu11.10 too, on another computer. Emery

  5. @IGnatius T Foobar:
    Ubuntu has image of more bleeding edge distribution. It is based on Debian Testing, isn't it? That's why Xubuntu has fresher packages compared to Debian, unless you choose Debian Testing / Aptosid.
    By the way, have you voted for your favourite XFCE distribution yet?

  6. @Unknown:
    Agree. I also don't like wobbly windows, breaking menus etc. But I like rounded edges, light shadows and so on. It's a pity I could not get them working (yet - looking forward to try an advise 2 posts below yours).

  7. @Anonymous:
    Unfortunately, I have good reasons why I usually do Live reviews.

  8. @Emery:
    Yes, it works better now.
    Although, I still have processor cooler working harder than without Compiz.
    Anyway, I added it into my startup list. Let's see.

  9. Did you know that there's a Gmail style conversation view extension for Thunderbird? Another one called Color Folders is also not bad.

    RE. desktop effects, Xfce has its own compositor which does all that you want, no need to install Compiz. You can find and enable it under Window Manager Tweaks, in the last tab.

  10. @Barnaby:
    Thanks for the advice about Thunderbird. I won't re-install it in Xubuntu now, but will try later when next distribution gets into my hands.

    I tried Compositor from XFCE. It does almost all the features I use in Compiz, but lacks desktop cube. Nice small eye candy I like so much.

  11. Drag and drop to launcher does work. You have to drag to a certain spot on the launcher. Then you can right-click and choose move to move it. :)

  12. @Anonymous:
    Thanks for confirmation.
    After 100500th attempt I found the way.

  13. Why do you quad boot the os's when you can easily switch between GNOME, KDE, XFCE or whatever in ubuntu? That is how I have all of my systems set up, it seems to save alot on space and keeps everything ordered much better.

    P.S. I found the full page ads on your blog to really hinder reading. I know you need to make some money, but there gets to be a point of to much. I really enjoy your blog and just thought you should know

    1. My quadro boot includes different distributions: Debian, Mageia and Xubuntu. You can´t have them in the same login manager, can you?
      Of course, you can install different DEs on top of the same system. But then you lose sense of clarity. Kate will look like an alien in XFCE session. Same about Gedit in KDE.

      I know about the ads. I am thinking about switching them off, but I need to pass the payment threshold before doing that.