8 Dec 2011

Xubuntu 11.10: Unbelievable Easyness of Humanity

Humanity can take several shapes and forms. Everybody understands it differently.
Same for Ubuntu, which is "humanity" in some African languages. Somebody only understands it with Unity interface. Somebody cannot live without KDE, and they are fans of Kubuntu type of "humanity". Somebody prefer light and easy types of it, and their choice is Xubuntu.
I have written about Ubuntu and Kubuntu several times. Different versions, different systems, different experience.
But I have never touched Xubuntu topic so far.
Should I? Why not?
I downloaded ISO image of Xubuntu 11.10 from torrent. ISO image of this OS weights about 670 Mb
Because of bad experience with "burning" of Ubuntu-based images to USB stick with command dd (my BIOS does not like USB sticks created this way), I decided to give Unetbootin a go this time.
So, USB stick with Xubuntu 11.10 is ready and plugged into the port of my laptop Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Pi 1505. Reboot. Choose to boot from USB. Let's go!

Booting and first acquittance

The only screen which I saw from the booting start time till the fully loaded system was Unetbootin selection, where I could go for installation or Live run. My choice was for Default, which effectively meant Live run of Xubuntu 11.10.
Once booted, I found myself in Xubuntu 11.10 which has XFCE 4.8 working on Linux kernel  3.0.0.
Freshly booted system took about 230 Mb of memory. That's surprisingly a lot for lightweight distro. Unfortunately, I have not found any tool in Xubuntu 11.10 which showed memory usage in Mbs. That's why you can see only percent indicator on the screenshot. 23% from 1Gb memory is 230 Mb which I have mentioned above.
Default desktop wallpaper in Xubuntu 11.10 is in blue theme. There is about a dozen of alternative wallpapers, most of them are with XFCE logo. So, you have at least some choice.
Screen in Xubuntu 11.10 has panel at the top. Menu button is at the left corner, and it has XFCE, not Ubuntu logo on it. Of course, the icon can be changed easily. I did it in few seconds - and now my Xubuntu has Tux sitting in the top left corner. Unfortunately, (X)Ubuntu logo is not available in the list.
There are no application shortcuts on the top panel.
Right part of the panel contains familiar items: clocks, mail notificator, network manager, volume control, battery status and so on.
Top right corner contains button with username. This button calls up shutdown/reboot menu.
There are 2 virtual desktops by default in Xubuntu 11.10, and switch between them is in the rigtht corner of the panel, just before the shutdown menu. Applications are not shared between panels on desktops. so applications working on one desktop are not available when another is active.It repeats GNOME2 approach, and it is different from default behavior of KDE.
General menu design reminded me GNOME3. Similar colors in default theme, similar icons.
Other than panel at the top, Xubuntu 11.10 comes with another panel at the bottom which hides itself automatically. It works like a dock and contains shortcuts to applications. There is an issue though. Active applications do not notify the panel of their existence. Each time you click the dock item, new instance of same application is started. In other words, dock does not work as taskbar. Another issue with the panel, as with any dock, is that it makes part of the screen unusuable. You cannot move mouse or normally type in that area of the screen without this panel appearing. That's why I do not like docks, and this time bottom panel was switched off at all.

Network connection

Xubuntu 11.10 automatically recognized and configured WiFi card on my laptop Intel 3945 ABG. Few mouse clicks, few keyboard strokes. And I am connected to the Internet. This post was drafted and edited in Xubuntu 11.10.

Keyboard layouts

Keyboard configuration in XFCE, as I always complain, starts from the end. You need to add applet to the panel in order to be able to configure layouts and keyboard combination for switch between them. To be honest, this is not exact true, because layouts themselves can be configured in Keyboard section of Settings manager. But what's the point to have several layouts without an option to quickly switch between them?
Unfortunately, Xubuntu 11.10 comes without necessary applet xfce4-xkb-plugin. I had to install it from the Synaptic. By the way, in Ubuntu Software Centre you need to type "xfce4-xkb" to find this applet, while Synaptic understands "xkb". Is "old friend" Synaptic is still better tool for package management?
Once applet was installed, I added it to the panel. Right click, and configuration menu is here. It was business of few seconds to configure layouts: put English UK and Russian instead of default English US, and also enable switch with Ctrl-Shift.
I would also note here that touchpad scrolling and clicking was working fine in Xubuntu 11.10. This was the first XFCE-based distribution where both these features worked right out of the box.

What is in the box

Xubuntu 11.10 comes with pretty good set of applications.
Default browser if Firefox 7.0.1. Other than Firefox, Internet section of menu contains Pidgin, Thunderbird mail, Transmission, XChat IRC and Remote desktop tool. Would you wish anything to add? I would add something for FTP, but that is pretty much optional.
Office section of menu contains GNOME Office applications: AbiWord and Gnumeric. Other than these, you can find couple of Orage applications and Dictionary.
Xubuntu 11.10 comes with half a dozen of different simple games, like Sudoku, Miner, Solitair.
Multimedia menu contains Xfburn, Mixer, and a couple of players: Parole and gmusicbrowser. 
Graphics section of menu is dominated by GIMP. Would you need anything else when GIMP is here? Other than this powerful graphical editor, you can find different viewers and scanning tool. Strangely enough, screenshot tool is not in Graphics section, but rather in Accessories.
Accessories themselves have more or less standard set of applications: Leafpad, Calculator, Notes, File Manager (Thunar), Terminal and so on. For whatever reason Xfburn is also listed here.
System part of menu, again, contains usual suspects: GParted, Synaptic, Users and Groups, Printing. Also Gigolo can be found here.

Mounting the external drive

I have already written couple of times about my experience with Gigolo. This is a tool in XFCE distributions to manage remote partitions. I am especially interested in this tool because I have external network drive which I use as data storage. Ability to connect to this drive is very important for me.
Previous experience with Gigolo was different from one Linux Operating System to another. Once connection was smooth and nice. Then I had issues with Gigolo because it expected me to enter password for connection, even though there's no password protection on the network drive.
How did Xubuntu's Gigolo behaved? Unfortunately, worse than ever. It even did not recognize my notation //server/share initially. Things slightly improved when I made notation to look like smb://server/share. But even in this case it gave me an error that partition is not mountable.
That's why I had to revert to usual mounting method in terminal:
sudo mount -t cifs //server/share /folder -o guest,nolinux
All worked fine here in Xubuntu 11.10, and I was able to browse the remote drive in Thunar file manager.

Multimedia support

Unfortunately, multimedia support is not the best in Xubuntu Live session.
I was not able to play MP3 files out of the box in Xubuntu 11.10. "Necessary plugin" was missing in Parole. There were 2 options possible: to search for plugin and install it, or to install VLC player which comes with all necessary plugins automatically. I chose the second option, and it worked for me.
Firefox in Xubuntu 11.10 comes without plugins for video playback. When I came to Youtube site, Firefox advised me to install this plugin. There were 2 options: official Flash and GNU-licenced Gnash. I selected second option, because I've never tried it. Did it work? Of course it did, but in quite strange manner. Youtube's placehoder was not fully taken by video.
Xubuntu 11.10
Of course, plugin installation required Firefox restart, as usual for this browser after new plugin installation. I always get surprised by it, because my favorite Chrome adds plugins and extensions on the fly.

Is it worth trying?

My general impression of Xubuntu 11.10 is very good.
The system literally flied on my laptop Fujutsu-Siemens Amilo Pi 1505 with 1.7Gb dual core Intel Centrino processor and 1 Gb of memory. Even when booted from USB, applications started in seconds. Firefox cold startup time was 2 seconds, Gnumeric also took 2 seconds. GIMP took "much more" - whole 7 seconds to start. But these seconds are nothing compared to other OSes which I tried on my laptop.
Combine this speed with vast selection of applications available in Ubuntu Software Centre and via different Ubuntu's PPAs, and you get terribly powerful mix!
What is next? I think I will try to install Xubuntu on hard disk of my laptop. It will replace Fedora KDE which I broke after some experiments with X server. So... wait for next posts with review of installed Xubuntu version.

If you want to try Xubuntu yourself, why not order a CD with this distribution from our sister site Buy Linux CDs? Not interested in Xubuntu? There is a good selection of other Linux distributions listed, or you can discuss your requirements via the comments form.

Useful links:
Another review of Xubuntu 11.10 with lots of technical tips to get it even better.


  1. Greetings.

    I switched to xubuntu after having stability problems with unity on my eeepc 900. It's a good choice for low-end netbooks, and I find the more traditional
    interface refreshing.

    I don't mind unity, but I don't think it's designed for older, low resource machines like the eee 900.

  2. I'm a fan of lightweight versions in general. I installed Xubuntu 11.10 64-bit on my desktop a few weeks ago and I find I like it even better than Lubuntu (LXDE version). It offers just enough additional options that it can be brought to a smoothly working configuration quickly. Xubuntu has a longer history of development than Lubuntu, which just earned the official Ubuntu blessing with the 11.10 version, and the newness shows a little in places. So far, I've seen no reason at all to go on wrestling with Unity or even Gnome 3 just to have the full-size Ubuntu. Xubuntu gives me all I need as soon as I dump Abiword and install LibreOffice Writer.

  3. @Anonymous:
    I think XFCE (and LXDE, but I am not fancy of it) were created specially to support mid-level machines. Where KDE4/GNOME3/Unity are not working very well. And where IceWM, JWM and other super-light windows managers are underestimation of computer resources.

  4. @Emery:
    I am going to install Xubuntu too. Though, it'll be 32-bit version.
    Stay tuned, I will write about it. Most likely nex week.

  5. I am not sure why the default bottom panel is referred as "Dock". It is a regular XFCE panel with regular XFCE application launchers on it (unlike the top panel, it is set to auto-hide and it has transparent background).

  6. @Anonymous:
    Thanks for comment.
    I call it "dock", because it works like a dock in some aspects.
    Even transparency does not help when it hides text beyond it from editing or reading.

  7. Actually, to my suprise, the version of Abiword on Xubuntu 11.10 is not to bad, I think I will keep it. I also bird-dogged the problem with gigolo (Samba etc. browsers) after reading this review, having the same problem on my Atom machine, You need to install gvfs-backends ("sudo apt-get install gvfs-backends"). This will enable network browsing, and I found that I could then connect to a wierd samba server that I could get no other browser (pyNeighborhood, smb4k) to connect to on my big Ubuntu box.

  8. @bigdawgte:
    Thanks for advice! I'll try to use it next time when I see same Gigolo behaviour.