Monday, September 26, 2011

Hands On With Xubuntu 11.10 Beta

Xubuntu 11.10 Beta 1 Desktop
On September 2, Canonical released beta versions of Oneiric Ocelot for Ubuntu, Kubuntu and Xubuntu.  This is the third article in a series looking at these newest releases. Today we focus on Xubuntu, the lightweight Ubuntu, designed for older computers or those that just want a fast distro with a comprehensive software collection that is easy on system resources.

I downloaded the .iso from here. You can pick between Desktop and Alternate Install CDs, with choices for x86 PCs and 64 bit PC (AMD 64) versions.

Using UNetbootin, I loaded the image to my flash drive and booted into the Xubuntu desktop.

This version uses XFCE 4.8.3 with the Thunar file manager which now supports remote shares browsing and an eject button for removable devices.

The panel has had numerous improvements, including positioning, transparency, an item editor and the ability to create launchers with drag and drop.

The new desktop uses these panel upgrades to create a customized bottom panel which resembles Docky or Cairo Dock in appearance but without the animations or advanced options.

The top panel is similar to the one used in Ubuntu, but sports a small icon on the left which opens the main menu for applications and system settings.

Software Center
Xubuntu comes loaded with a complete software library for most common computing tasks. The included applications and utilities are generally lighter with fewer options than the software included in Ubuntu or Kubuntu but all alternatives are available in the repositories.

Synaptic Package Manager is included along with the Ubuntu Software Center. Using the new Software Center, you can browse by general category or search by name or task. Choosing the right application is easy screenshots and  reviews and ratings from other users.
gThumb Picture Viewer

The new software center provides reviews, ratings, and screenshots from other Ubuntu users. Unfortunately, the Software Center seems to still be rather buggy as it crashed several times as I attempted to install packages. This felt very similar to problems I noticed in Ubuntu 11.10 beta, using the Unity interface.

Kubuntu includes gThumb, a simple picture viewer, but also GIMP for more advanced image editing.

Thunar File Manager
gMusicbrowser is the default music player. It is a simple, easy to use player with many of the features found in heavier programs.

Plugging in an Android phone, Xubuntu recognized it as a USB storage device and launched the Thunar File Manager. I was able to move files easily between phone and computer. It did not recognize the file types or offer to open a picture viewer or music player.

Abiword and Gnumeric are included for Office applications. Both are lightweight but surprisingly full featured programs. Save files in open or proprietary formats, including pdf and MS .doc and .xls file types.

Thunderbird Email Reader

Thunderbird is the the default mail reader and it imported my mail and contacts without a hitch. Mozilla Thunderbird is a full-featured mail program with advanced search and filter capibilities. Tabbed email allows easy movement between multiple messages. Add-ons are quickly installed with the new Add-ons Manager, which provides descriptions, recommendations and pictures.

Onboard on-screen keyboard
Xubuntu now includes 'Onboard', an on-screen keyboard with a full qwerty keyboard, including function and other common keys. Click the orange area to the right to access the number pad and create 'snippets', macros which can be executed with a click.

Firefox 7.0 is included but repeatedly crashed, especially when accessing webpages using Flash. After several restarts, I was able to get Flash installed, despite the Software Center saying it was not available.

Gnome users may find this Desktop Environment slightly familiar, albeit less feature rich. I found it plagued by many of the same bugs I encountered in my review of the Ubuntu/Unity version of Oneiric. I experienced numerous crashes when using the Software Center, Firefox and even the Thunar file manager.

Xubuntu is the minimalist member of the Ubuntu family. It is a full featured distro, designed for those who prefer a fast, lightweight desktop environment, but be prepared for some frustration and bug reports if you decide to test this release.

Find more info at XFCE and Xubuntu Oneiric Ocelot beta1web sites.

*Hardware specs:
Asus eeepc 900
16 + 4 GB SSD
900 MHz Celeron Processor
Atheros AR5001 wireless adapter
Intel 915GM Graphics Controller

This article originally appeared at on Sept 23, 2011.


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