Xubuntu 18.04 Bionic Beaver - Middle ground

Updated: May 16, 2018

The pursuit of happiness is an alienable right of any techie, especially those who dabble in the open source. Shall they find what they seek? Well, I'm like Bono this spring season: I missed the rains down in Africa, and I still haven't found what I'm looking for. Namely, my experience with Kubuntu and Ubuntu MATE, both of the Beaver persuasion, were somewhat disappointing.

Well, we're continuing the hot pursuit. Next on the menu, Xubuntu. It will be interesting to see how well this distro fares, and whether it blindly embraces the bugs and inconsistencies that plague its two LTS siblings. One thing is certain, my hopes are low, for LTS editions are meant to be free of problems, and that's not what we have. Maybe the Xfce-clad Bionic can deliver?

Teaser

Live session

Some consistency after all. The boot sequence is identical to the other two - a firmware error that intrudes into an otherwise clean sequence. Fast, too. Faster than either Plasma or MATE. The Xfce desktop is, well, not that pretty. You get all those external volumes, ultra-pale fonts - and two network icons in the system area. Can someone please explain to me how it is possible for something as obvious as this to be allowed into the official release? How is this even conceivable? Where's the pride in quality and precision?

Live desktop, not pretty

Two network applets

Networking

Wireless connectivity worked fine - except the two icons, right. Now, they also happen to become different once you connect - one small, one big. I'm waiting for a random comment on a forum somewhere that will explain how this is MY fault or how my hardware is not good or how cosmic rays made this possible.

Different Wireless icons after connection

Samba sharing did not work - of course. I had to use the manual tweak to make it possible. After that, I was able to reach my shares, and also print to a Samba device. The Wireless printer was also correctly detected.

Samba does not work

Printers

Bluetooth also threw a hissie. It supposedly failed to pair - but pair it did. We saw this in the other flavors, too. It's amazing how many regressions are allowed into new builds, and to say nothing of the fact this is supposed to be the master blaster LTS. I was able to send files and whatnot.

BT supposedly failed

Fonts

My eyes started watering more than that one time I cried watching a movie. Thin, pale, and worse yet, no matter which one of the available themes you choose, it's still bad. I don't know what the difference between this and the previous release is, but they botched it. Adwaita makes things slightly better, but still not good enough. High-contrast is unusable for other reasons. I don't understand why high contrast also has to come with 1993 looks?

Fonts

Overall, Xubuntu has steadily improved over the years, but then sort of stagnated in 2017. Zesty was good. Aardvark was okay. And now Beaver seems to be another underperformer. I really don't understand this. How hard is it to make simple, clean fonts?

Multimedia

Good one. HD video and MP3 playback. But Parole does not see any metadata when playing stuff from smartphones. This is a bit meh. No system area integration either.

HD video

MP3 playback

MP3 playback from a phone

And this be from a phone. Another inconsistency.

Smartphones

Speaking of smartphones, the three major brands worked - iPhone, Android, Windows Phone. But none was automounted. I had to open Thunar and click on the device in the sidebar to get things going. This is a little disappointing.

Windows Phone

Android

Other observations

The system menu is not set to activate with the Super key - why the hell not. The touchpad was jittery, and the system was almost unusable. Contrast this with the other two reviews I've done so far. Sad. Parole seems to require extra clicks to respond for some odd reason (it ignores the first). HD videos open by default in the browser (webm files). The disk was super hot during the testing. There's a visible separator in the top panel. I mean couldn't it have been set to transparent? I mean just a little bit of QA? Maybe like five minutes? Lastly, you get the same nice, cool copy progress indicator as in MATE, but nothing as slick as Plasma's task manager progressive color bar.

Installation

This was a fairly orderly ordeal - if slightly inconsistent and different from MATE and Plasma, of course, because we can't have a single unified experience across the distro family. The partitions discovery wasn't that long, but then when I selected a partition for formatting, it took another 10 minutes to complete this step, bringing the total time to about the same amount of too much as in the other two.

The partitions list box is ever so bigger than the listed number of entries, so no matter how you position it, there will be a couple of pixels of the lines below and above creeping into the view. The language problem persists. The slides are utterly bland. It feels like it was more of a must than any real desire to make things nice and happy. Is Xfce on the decline again?

Partitions

Partitions, names show, vertical spacing is odd

At least the partition names show.

Slide

The positronic man ... ual

The distro installed fine. The boot sequence is reasonably fast. It's snail slow compared to when init was in use, when it took only about 10 seconds to boot (even without SSD), but now with glorious systemd in place, we're talking more like a whole minute or more, anyway, still faster than its siblings.

The desktop retained no live session settings (except Bluetooth, oddly). A single network icon this time, a colored battery icon for when it's fully charged, and all them desktop icons for all those partitions. The menu still does not use the Super key. The screenshot tool defaults to using the mouse pointer when it did not in the live session - MATE's tool is better, and it needs one less click to complete actions as you can type the name right away instead of choosing what to do with the image. The touchpad is all fidgety. I needed to fix Samba again, only samba-common ain't installed, so I had to grab it. Question, does the distro have the necessary package after the installation? Kubuntu, no, Ubuntu MATE, yes, Xubuntu, no. So messy.

Desktop installed

Package management & updates

The updater popped up right away - even before I connected to the network. No fuss. This worked fine. Gnome Software is meh. Looks toyish, and very slow to respond. Laggy. And as always, not really accurate. If you search for Steam, for instance, it's not the first instance you get. Boutique is 100x better.

Updater

Software

Software is inaccurate

Software is useless

It does not list any themes really.

Applications

Xubuntu Beaver is lighter than its brethren - at 1.3 GB, giving you Firefox, Thunderbird, Pidgin, Transmission, LibreOffice, Atril, Parole, and such. It's a reasonable mix, and fairly useful. Of course, I added my stuff, but the defaults are good.

Apps

Customization & fonts

This wasn't a fun affair like with Ubuntu MATE. I spent a lot of time doing things, but they are not really productive. More sort of patching up for bad defaults and bugs casually added into the system. Whisker activation shortcut to begin with. Small things. Changing the default theme so your eyes don't melt.

I also installed Plank - but here, the implementation comes without the right-click option to launch preferences, so you need to do that on the command line with plank --preferences. So bad. I started playing with different themes and such, and all of a sudden my desktop icons had a solid background. Why?

Icons with solid background

Even if we ignore the mixed pale and dark icons that cropped during the customization, I cannot explain why I had two bells (notification whatnot) in the system area all of a sudden. It just wasn't the smooth, friendly Xfce experience that I've grown to appreciate over the last years. This is a throwback to 2012 or so. In this regard, MX Linux has a much better overall integration.

Too many notifications

And then, we have a rogue VLC icon (and Skype, too, just like MATE):

VLC icon

At some point, Plank stopped working - showing new icons, but it did show Chrome, except it was a fuzzy, low-res thing. I had to fully log out and log back in to fix this problem. All part of my customization fun, right.

Plank stopped working

Eventually, with Adwaita, Numix and some other tricks, we get a slightly more reasonable fontology:

Better fonts

Visual work in progress, including some heavy rearrangement of the system area:

WIP

Final looks, sort of:

Final looks

And I added the global menu applet, just for fun (more on this in a separate article):

Global app menu

Hardware compatibility

Okay overall. No firmware for Intel's processor, and no webcam tool out of the box, although all the bits and pieces work fine. Suspend & resume also did its job, however the wake sequence was slow, a good 6-7 seconds, making it among the slowest I've seen in a long, long while.

Drivers

Webcam, why dark theme

Why does Cheese come with a dark theme?

Smartphones again

I owe you the iPhone screenshot, so I had it mounted again after the installation:

iPhone

Resource utilization

This is a lean distro, no doubt about it. Only 400 MB memory on idle, and no CPU nonsense. Zero percentage means zero percentage. Fast, smooth, nibble, frugal, as it should be. At least this aspect of the Xfce experience remains intact.

Resources

Battery life

Alas, the spartan behavior does not translate into lavish battery time. Remember, the battery quality is about 80% of the intended original capacity, so we need to add about 25% to the number before us. Well, I had brightness set to 50%, but that gave me only about 2.5 hours. Which means 3 hours at a stretch. That's not too impressive.

Battery life

Other things

I had to change the language of course - because I hate localization. And the first thing you get, language support not installed completely. Why not? Why is it so difficult to grab these during the setup? Then you need to drag 'n' drop your preferred language to the top of the list. Not intuitive. And all of it unnecessary.

Language problems

The sound applet is cool, though:

Sound applet

Conclusion

Year 2016 was the year of Xfce. Year 2017 belongs to Plasma. This year, so far, it seems MATE is the innovative beast, and Xfce is sort of stagnated, without pushing the initiative. I think secretly the projects are afraid to make things better, because that will break the neverending cycle of development. After all, for devs, the only thing that matters is coding. User experience is an alien concept. And inside this gap, Xubuntu 18.04 fits perfectly. Which means not that well.

The distro did the basics okay - media, phones, apps. Package management can be better, battery life can be better, network support can be better, the visual side of things can be a whole lot better. There were way too many inconsistencies, and the distro lacks the love and fun that it used to have only a year ago. Is it apathy, exhaustion, mere luck? I don't know. But Xubuntu Beaver feels like a product of habit rather than love and passion. And it is not LTS solid. Plus very little actual innovation, which can sort of be excused, but then why all them bugs? Overall, Bionic behaves something like 6.5/10. Worth checking, but for the time being, the other lightweight option - Ubuntu MATE - seems more mature and fun ready. It will be quite interesting to see how things evolve over the coming months. Check it, don't expect any miracles.

Cheers.

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