Updated: October 31, 2018
Let the distro testing season begin! It's that time of the year again, and me first volunteer is Xubuntu 18.10, the Xfce flavor of the family. My journey with Xubuntu has been a colorful one. I wasn't pleased with it for a long time, but then it suddenly soared, becoming really good around 2014-2017. This past year though, there's been less enthusiasm and innovation in the distro. I don't know why.
The previous edition, Bionic Beaver, was sort of average, which isn't a good result for an LTS, offering the familiar, understated Xfce look and feel but without the extra zest and fun that we had only a year prior. So it shall be most interesting to see how Cosmic behaveth today. The test box will be the eight-boot UEFI/GPT Lenovo G50, with Intel graphics. Let us merrily proceed.
The boot sequence was quick and quiet, no flashy text or anything like that. The desktop is ... well. You get all your internal partitions mounted and shown, and if you have more than a dozen, this really pollutes your space. The look & feel is reasonable, but too restrained, one of the big problems with this distro.
The issue becomes more prevalent as you start using the system. There's no pride. The file manager feels outdated, and the icons are so '97. I mean really. Why not give a slightly more upbeat, colorful icon theme to the users?
A mixed bag of results. The Wireless worked just fine. Bluetooth didn't - I was not able to pair my Lumia 520 phone. In fact, at first, the system would show devices by their MAC address only, and it's impossible to know which one is yours. Only on the second attempt, after waiting for more than a couple of minutes did the Bluetooth wizard finally resolve the name. But then, it didn't work.
Samba sharing - nope. Not only can you not connect to Windows 7 boxes due to the Samba thingie, you cannot connect at all, because the samba-common package is not installed or offered in any way. This is quite sad, because this excludes 90% of all desktop users. After making the manual changes, I was able to connect. The printing worked fine, Wireless and Samba.
I tested Android and Windows Phone, didn't have my iPhone around, soz. Both worked well, without any problems. At least this area seems to be reasonably well covered, with few hard regressions from one version to another.
Good. HD video and MP3, smooth and without any big fussing. But. No system area integration whatsoever, and if you play files from your phones, like the above, no metadata or cover images either. Feels archaic after I've been using Plasma for some time now in my production setup.
The network connectivity was fast - almost instant, good. The system menu is also blistering fast - faster than ever before. This is a nice improvement. The touchpad was horrible - unusable. I had to disable taps and whatnot, otherwise, it was killing my productivity. The fonts are too pale for me eyes.
Thunar would not let me save any bookmarks, especially for network locations. This is super annoying. Feels like the program has lost its mojo. For that matter, the desktop itself has, too. The window buttons are too small for comfortable use. Windows resizing is really clunky, and you need to go pinpoint sharp, losing seconds until you get the grabbable handles.
The screenshot tool was a little annoying - won't let you type the name right away, the same problem you get with Spectacle, for example. The disk was moderately hot, which is not something I was expecting from a frugal, lightweight desktop like Xfce.
The image viewer was also misbehaving - it would show no thumbnails for phone media (images), but it would display the pictures fine. When I copied a bunch of files over in Thunar, the overwrite/skip prompt is problematic. The width of the window changes depending on the name of the file, so the buttons that you're supposed to click shift left or right. This means you can't do a quick yes/no with a batch of images, as you can accidentally press the wrong button, what with the whole UI jittering about.
Lastly, Samba shares are shown in a weird way in the address bar in Thunar. Instead of just seeing the expected convention, something like smb://server/path, you get this instead:
This was a rather bland process. First, the language - in the live session, Xubuntu defaulted to En-US, the way I likes it [sic]. The installer also suggested the US keyboard. But after I selected a different locale, boom, it changed my language, without telling me. I absolutely detest this.
Second, it took about 15 minutes for the distro to discover the partitions. One of the slowest ever. Then, there are no fancy slides. Very bland. The mojo depletion is definitely felt and present. I guess the dev team or the project team or whatever lost their passion. I hope this is not the case, but this is what it feels like.
The installation was a bit slow, and it took about 30 minutes, with the GRUB setup taking the longest. The issue of chaining up the multiple systems that I have has still not been improved or resolved in any way, and this is not just an Ubuntu issue, this is a wider Linux issue. The system was also sluggish during the installation. I struggled doing other operations at the same time.
Over the years, the Linux experience has become progressively less friendly. Nowadays, you don't even get your Wireless network to be carried over into the installed session, to say nothing of actually porting user settings or data or anything like that. You have to do everything all over.
Package management & updates
I got the updates prompt right away. Neat. I also installed all the updates, which should hopefully include improvements and fixes for those last-minute bugs after the official release. UI-wise, you get Gnome Software, which still does not feel quite as cohesive as it should. You can sign into stores, which is cool, and the repo management is on the left side. Kind of disjointed. But sort of works.
At 1.4 GB worth of data, Xubuntu isn't too big, but neither is its application collection. There's LibreOffice, but only Writer and Calc, no Impress, what. You get Firefox, Thunderbird, Parole, Transmission, Pidgin, and a few extra utilities. I installed Chrome, VLC, Skype, Steam, GIMP to feel better.
Hardware compatibility, stability
Some good things, some bad things. AKA You win some, you lose some. As I've written in the Plasma 5.14 review, the underlying kernel improvements bring better compatibility, like my internal microphone, which always used to be neglected in the past (had to do command line tricks). Suspend & resume works fine, the hardware was correctly initialized and detected, the Fn buttons worked all right. But then, there were also some crashes - after installing all the available updates that is. Quite silly. There weren't too many of those, but even so I'm a little disappointed.
Resource usage, performance
Xubuntu 18.10 retains its frugality. Well, almost. The CPU was quiet, but the memory footprint figure was relatively high for Xfce - about 550 MB. The desktop is fast and responsive, but slightly less so than in the past, especially under load. This does not mean there are any big problems, just that I expect more, especially given how lithe, nimble and low-latency Plasma is. I didn't test the battery charge, but that's something I intend to visit in the future. Worry not.
Making Xubuntu Cosmic into Xubuntu (Miss) Universe
Well, the distro ain't pretty. I invested a whole bunch of energy trying to make the desktop more accessible, along the lines of my tutorial on this topic. I added the Plank dock, the global menu, new icons, new window decorations, tweaked a few things here and there, and of course, set up some dope wallpapers.
There were quirks, too - like an occasional low-res icons in Plank. I couldn't pin Chrome, and with Skype, it depends what version you use, some you can't, some you can, plus the top panel itself sometimes shows as a dock icon, too, which it really shouldn't.
Other ergonomic tweaks & observations
Mousepad needed a better, higher-contrast scheme. The one labeled Kate seems to work the best, and it offers black fonts, even though Plasma/Breeze/Kate do not offer pure black fonts by default.
No matter how hard I tried, Thunar refused to add bookmarks, and it remains stubbornly unfriendly. You must hide devices if you want to see your home folders. It's nice and all, but it's not really useful. Somehow it remains archaic, which is not synonymous with lightweight, minimalistic or practical.
Problems and such
So, it wasn't all merry. The boot sequence is marred by text - fsck messages and alike. Why oh why. The task manager also comes with the height that is about 1/5 lines more than the displayed text, similar to the installer. Such an unnecessary little papercut.
Firefox was slow now and then, and once it actually fully froze and I had to manually kill it. Plank comes with separate preferences, not accessible through the dock itself, you need to launch the program from the command line with the --preferences flag. This is awful.
The windows list item in the top panel is actually called Windows Buttons. Really? The panel edit window is not resizable. If you select text in the terminal, with the default color scheme, the highlight is almost the same color as the background, making it impossible to see what you've selected.
I need to installed the global menu plugin manually via apt-get install xfce4-appmenu-plugin. Once or twice, the top panel pulsed (at the frequency of about 1 Hz); probably has to do with editing and some weird Plank conflicts. No Youtube integration, in any way. It all feels very standalone.
Eventually, after some diligent effort, I got here:
With some extra extra tweaks:
But then, this is the wallpaper that represent the situation the best - How was Cosmic, Korben my man? It was bad! It had no fire, no energy, no nothing. And It must pop pop pop! So yeah, this is the sum of all my jaded emotions at the end of this review. Green?
Xubuntu 18.10 Cosmic Cuttlefish is a pretty standard, run-of-the-mill distro, without any superb features or amazing wow effect. It kind of works, the defaults are somewhat boring, and you need to manually tweak things to get a lively, upbeat feel. The basics are there - media, phones, networking to some degree. The application set is reasonable.
But the distro isn't pretty or as fast as it used to be, you need to invest energy polishing things up, there was an odd crash or freeze during my testing session, and above it all hovers a cloud of apathy. Just a few short seasons ago, I praised Xfce as the best thing in the Linux ecospace. Now, poof, gone. I think it's almost artistic fear of completing something. This happens to a lot of authors, painters, movie directors. They just can't bring their projects to a closure. A sort of tragic never-end, where the final cut is left to collect dust in the shadows.
Anyway, Xubuntu Cuttlefish does not seem to bring any great advantages over Beaver, and all in all, it's more or less the same. Perhaps it's even slightly less polished than its predecessor. Something like 6/10. A few okay points, marred by glitches and a lack of enthusiasm. Worth testing, but don't hold your breath.