In addition to Ubuntu, several related distributions released their 14.04 LTS editions on April 17th. One of these is Xubuntu, which matches the Xfce desktop environment with the Ubuntu base. Since many people are still unhappy with some of the decisions made by Canonical (Ubuntu’s parent company) – mainly revolving around privacy issues in the default release – Xubuntu serves not only as a good desktop edition for folks with older hardware, but also as an alternative that avoids the default use of the Dash and its search features.
I’m reviewing the 32-bit edition of Xubuntu 14.04 LTS, on an old Gateway M460. It has an 80 GB hard drive, 2 GB of RAM, and an Intel integrated graphics card.
Xubuntu uses the Ubuntu installer, and it is fairly easy to understand and use. I didn’t need to partition my drive, and chose not to update while installing. I did choose to install 3rd party software for media viewing/listening. The installer will ask you if you wish to install alongside your current OS, replace it, or do something else (create custom partitions for instance). You can choose to encrypt your home directory, and support is offered for LVM (logical volume management). I don’t know much about LVM, honestly, and chose not to do that.
Unlike the more widely known distributions, Xubuntu uses Abiword as the default word processor. Here is a first look at the most recent version (3.0), which is the one shipping with Xubuntu 14.04. I haven’t really used it much, but my impression is that if you just need a good word processor with a few extras, Abiword more than fits the bill. Just remember to change the default save format if you expect to send documents to LibreOffice, Calligra Words or MS Word.
The media player supplied is called Parole, and the music player is “gmusicbrowser”. Unfortunately, try as I might, I simply couldn’t get CDs to play at all:
Not even VLC would see my DVDs or CDs. Even after running the install script for libdvdread4, nothing happened. I could play mp3 files easily, but physical media simply weren’t readable. If it turns out that this is a problem with my DVD player, I will make note of it here.
The web browser installed is Firefox, not Midori. I think Xubuntu made the right choice, because although Midori fits in with their “low resource” ideal and is a fine browser, it is not a familiar program to the typical user and has less options than Firefox does. A browser is often the most used program on your computer these days, so Xubuntu chose wisely.
The default installation of Xubuntu offers no support to watch DVDs or play CDs, I can only assume for legal reasons. One of the reasons why I prefer Linux Mint is that I never have had an issue playing CDs and DVDs.
There are usually 2 ways that an Xfce desktop can be set up by default. Xubuntu uses the “taskbar on top, menu at upper left” style that Gnome 2 used (as you can see in the first screenshot in this review, under Installation). At the right-hand bottom corner of the menu are 3 icons: one for your overall Settings, one to lock the screen, and the last one will bring up your Logout/Suspend/Shutdown options.
Xubuntu uses the Whisker menu instead of the usual Xfce default. I’m not familiar with either, but Whisker does provide some nice features, which are accessed by right-clicking the (tiny) “start button” mouse icon and choosing Properties:
In addition, to edit your list of applications, you now have MenuLibre as the method to do so:
One other feature of note is that Xubuntu installs the Ubuntu Onboard on-screen keyboard. For folks who need this accessibility, it’s a great application and I am pleased that it is included.
My printer was discovered pretty easily, always a plus:
The software installed by default is fairly good. Under Accessories we have 12 programs, including the Ubuntu Onboard onscreen keyboard application. There are 2 casual games installed, Mines and Sudoku. The Graphics applications consist of a document/pdf viewer, GIMP, the Ristretto image viewer, and a simple scan utility. Under Internet, you have Firefox for a web browser, Pidgin for messaging, Thunderbird for mail, Transmission for torrents, and XChat for IRC. In the Multimedia section, you have the GMusic browser, Parole (a media player), the Pulseaudio volume controller, and xfburn for CD/DVD burning. For Office needs, you start off with Abiword, a dictionary, the aforementioned document viewer, Orage Calendar and Orage Globaltime (both Xfce applications)
You won’t find Libreoffice, Banshee, or Brasero installed by default.
Xubuntu uses the Ubuntu Software Center for your installation needs. I tend to install the Synaptic program manager and use it instead, but either way works fine.
As noted above, you have 2 games available right from the start. Since Xubuntu uses the Trusty Tair repositories, all the games found in Ubuntu are there for your use. PlayOnLinux is available in the Software Center and I definitely recommend it for many older Windows games.
There are quite a few games available through the Software Center which cost money, but most have ratings and are reviewed online as well. That’s an advantage the SC has over using Synaptic.
Help and Support
The main website for Xubuntu has a webpage you should use as the first line of support. It includes documentation, a FAQ, the IRC channels, and mailing lists. To ask questions in a forum, they point you towards the official Ubuntu forums which are found here and suggest the “Desktop Environments” subsection for Xfce specific questions.
I found a couple of very useful webpages offering suggestions on what to do after you install Xubuntu:
Things I liked
- Most programs are light on resources, making Xubuntu one of the better choices if your laptop is old or has very little RAM.
- The exception is the browser, using Firefox instead of Midori.
- Xubuntu users have access to the Ubuntu support forums, and to all of the hundreds of applications in the Ubuntu repositories.
Things I didn’t like
Playing DVDs and CDs is disabled in the default installation and seems very difficult to get working.
Xubuntu strikes me as a good, solid distribution. For newcomers, it seems to be fairly easy to use and while not flashy, certainly not unattractive. It uses the Ubuntu repositories, so if there are programs you need that aren’t installed, they are easily obtainable.
However, if you regularly listen to CDs or watch DVDs, I’m hesitant to recommend this distribution. Even the most recent suggestions haven’t worked for me. It’s possible that this is my laptop’s fault, but in the previous reviews I never found it to be an issue.
Also keep in mind that if you have a Realtek wireless driver, check the Ubuntu forums – I found that both Ubuntu and Kubuntu 14.04 have problems with my driver on the main laptop – it would shut off after abut fifteen minutes – and I think it reasonable that Xubuntu could also have the same problem.