Updated: September 15, 2012
If the second half of the title does not ring a bell, the full meaning will be revealed further below. Have I used it before? I think I have. Never mind. Anyhow, time to explore the Xfce desktop some more. Here's a new player, a French distro called Voyager, which aims to up the Xubuntu feel to a new level.
As you know, I'm often leery about the respins and forks and pimped up versions of popular distributions, as they rarely meet the high standards they set for themselves, and rarely exceed the original, too. So, I'd like to see what Voyager 12.04 can do. All in all, the latest Xubuntu Pangolin is fairly good, and with some innocent aforementioned pimping, it can be made really great. Finally, since Voyager is a French product, I will try to insert silly French-sounding references throughout the review, so bear with me. Now, suivez moi.
Le sessione live
You will notice the live session boot menu reads Xubuntu. Hm. So perhaps the tweaking is not as radical as it might appear. Never mind. Twenty seconds later, my test machine was showing a dark desktop, dominated by black and orange motifs. Quite impressive, I must say. Except that installation icon tucked in the top left corner.
Le brief tour of the aesthetics
All right, so the desktop is definitely interesting, and it comes with some unique elements that I do not remember encountering in other Xfce desktops. The first would be the all new color scheme. Then, there's the bottom panel, which is set to hide only if there are active applications covering it. New applications show in the panel and can be docked/pinned.
Some of the icons use the two-tone text launchers, while others come with their own art work. It seems there are two powers at work. The icons are also shown in the top panel, so this might be interpreted as redundant. The system menu comes with what I believe is the Faenza set, which complements the black-orange set nicely, but I would have preferred a single collection.
In the right corner, there's a lively system area with a handful of applets. You get the usual workspace switcher, time & date with a format that could be nicer, the generic connectivity set, then another icon that looks much like Wireless, but is in fact a radio. You also have the Synapse desktop search available, which will browse everything for you.
In the center, you get system statistics displayed - via Conky.
All in all, it's quite a lot for 1440x900px of equity, so you might feel the desktop is a bit crowded, however, overall, the integration of these different elements has been stitched together well. I did not feel lost or annoyed by the excess.
Worked well from within Thunar, and fast, too. Surprisingly fast, including WINS name resolution. The file manager also comes with a rich content menu of activities, allowing you to perform things against your files with a single right-click. However, I do not know what most of the options mean. Reparation Aide? Test Security? Television? WTF?
Here's a strange thing. Voyager will let you play MP3 songs but not Flash. Here's a stranger thing - the default action for MP3 files is to open the SoundConverter. Why? Then, if you use the right-click menu, you can fire up your files in Clementine, which is colored in brown and feels more like a KDE application than one suited for an Xfce desktop.
With Flash, it was even weirder. Firefox complained about not having the right plugin. It also offers you no less than three options for installing Flash. First, there's the Flash install bookmark in the Bookmarks tab, which is an APT link, and will open the Ubuntu Software Center, but it will fail if you try it. Then, you get your standard Firefox missing plugin warning, which won't work either. Finally, the Youtube link, which will take you to Adobe site for the classic installation, which might work, but I haven't checked.
Speaking of Firefox, I was really annoyed by the customization done by the Voyager team. While they have managed to pull a decent and rather unobtrusive polish of the desktop environment, Firefox is bursting with unnecessary activity and unwarranted taste.
Take a look at all the activity happening in my Flash playback example. There's Adblock there, then Ghostery in the right corner, which does a similar thing. The default search engine is lxquick, which is supposedly private, and it displays some weird number there.
You also get a ton of stupid extensions, which are forced down on you. And the homepage is also severely customized, only it comes with Google search. So what's it going to be, privacy or no privacy? You cannot have both of those available at the same time, it's self-defeating.
In my lexicon, there's a French word, this is called merde, there's another.
Some other quirks
There were a few other weird things in the live session. For example, the mouse cursor, oriented to the left, would often have its hourglass thingie animation spinning, without any apparent reason. The terminal window is also set with 100% transparency, and this can be quite annoying.
Time to commit the distro to the disk. It's 100% Xubuntu process, down to every single word. The developers did not even bother replacing some of the strings, but they did vanish the images you get for the user account setup, so it looks weird, and the user account import did not work, probably because whoever dug into the code did a botched job somewhere. And the text looks misaligned.
Oh, I tried to take the screenshot of the user picture setup, but I did it twice, and then saved the image of me taking a screenshot. You will excuse this rather silly mistake, but it still illustrates the lack of avatars for the user.
And then you get the standard Xubuntu slideshow:
Le apre-installation usage
So here we go, Xubuntu ... I mean Voyager is installed. Let's explore some more. One thing that comes to mind is that the system update notification icon looks like something that symbolized a crash, sometime during my session the workspace switcher went from two desktops to four, and the mouse cursor changed direction, left-to-right.
This time, Flash works - and notice the name of the band and the song. Now you know what the Voyage, Voyage reference means. A must-have title for the car collection. You just gotta love that haircut.
Applications (le programmes)
Voyager 12.04 comes with a colorful selection of tools, some useful, some cool, others plain silly and unneeded. You get Firefox, Thunderbird, GIMP, Abiword, for starters. Then, as the main course, you might like Hotot, PiTiVi, Kazam. You also get Pidgin, Comix, and other programs. Most of the bias is toward multimedia. Minitube did not work as expected.
One really cool program that I liked is Tilda - an embedded desktop terminal. I have not see this since gOS or so, and I always fancied that kind of functionality.
System utilities are also quite interesting, although you might want some knowledge before clicking and running. What does OS-Uninstaller do? What does Boot Repair do, especially since Xubuntu is not controlling the GRUB. And so forth.
System stability, resource usage
As you might expect, there were no critical issues. There was one time the system logged me out for some reason, but it hasn't happened since. Then, suspend & resume worked as expected, but it's never the issue with stock hardware. Finally, the system usage was higher than I would expect, around 500MB and upwards for an idle machine, though the CPU was quiet most of the time.
Sometimes, too much spice can ruin the dish. In this case, this is the case. I am not impressed by Voyager. It's a nice spin, and the orange color is a blast, but it's nothing an experienced user can't make in two hours of work. And as always, the extra layers add complexity. There's also the matter of taste. You can't impose your own on the world and call it a distro. It's a one-man's show, then, and not what you want. The brightest example is the Firefox ruin here.
True, Voyager works well and offers more than stock Xubuntu, which is rather bland and boring. But that does not mean the remastering has to go into the far end of the spectrum, where you add so much you start losing yourself. And the bugs, let's not forget those. Finally, how about some original branding?
If you ask me, it's wiser to go for vanilla Xubuntu and then slowly upgrade it to whatever you need than the other way around. And you will also encounter fewer issues and little inconsistencies. While Voyager 12.04 is fairly stable and robust, it's nothing remarkable, yet another distro fork doomed to oblivion in three month's time. Say, 7/10.