Updated: May 9, 2020
After Kubuntu, it's Xubuntu time. We need to embark on another distro test, now that the hunting season is officially open. The first four months of this year weren't kind to my mojo. I tried a few systems, and most of them didn't really deliver, adding to my spiritual disillusionment. Now, Kubuntu 20.04 was surprisingly neat. So I'm sort of cautiously optimistic.
Xubuntu is my next gig. The odds are ... mixed. Xfce can be a blast when done right, especially if you're in the game of hardware frugality. But it can also be a bad case of misplaced nostalgia. Like when you remember a decade fondly, but then you think more deeply, and suddenly recall also all the other things that don't come up in that first gushing moment of glorified memories. Anyway, G50 laptop, multi-boot combo with Windows and Linux, and off we go.
Things started wonkily from the first second. Remember my Kubuntu boot-splash sequence? Well, it's totally different in Xubuntu, of course, because consistency is overrated. Here, you get: text message intrusion, Xubuntu logo (no vendor logo), desktop. Essentially, two almost identical distros, and yet, this.
The desktop session is quite uninspiring, too. While the wallpaper is okay-ish, it feels like the only thing that's been given some sort of conscious effort. For instance, the Wireless connection notification obscures the top panel. I mean something as trivial as this wasn't QA-ed properly. Worse, 'tis a regression from what we've seen with Xubuntu 19.10. Then, you have all those internal volumes shown, as always, which is so wrong on so many levels. One, no one cares at this point. Two, if you remove them, your desktop icons end up forlornly misplaced in the middle of the desktop area. Add to that awfully low font contrast and washed out colors.
Meh. Wireless, fine. Bluetooth, kind of fine. First, the wizard didn't initially translate the MAC address to actual device name, so you have no idea what you need to pair with. Second, it didn't initialize the pairing. Third, when I did manually pair, it did eventually display the phone name (Aquaris). Fourth, if you continue with the wizard at this point, it will actually "fail" your paired connection. Fifth, the border problem I've reported still remains. Six months, since I've reported on this, one gray line couldn't have been fixed. Sixth, the Bluetooth wizard crashed, and complained that Ubuntu encountered a problem - the branding hasn't been fixed or adapted, so it reads the name of the parent edition.
P.S. At this point, I'm doing this review so you have something to entertain yourself with during this pointless global isolation exercise we're playing at, but otherwise, there's really no merit to continue with the Xubuntu test at this point. Bugs and niggles of this nature, in an LTS? Inexcusable.
Samba sharing, another meh. It wouldn't connect to the Windows shares by name - Kubuntu did. So I had to use IP addresses, and then it did work. I couldn't drag 'n' drop the folder shortcut into the sidebar in Thunar, because bookmarks or favorites or whatnot are overrated, I guess. Printing, the only aspect of this part of the review that seems to work fine.
Okay-ish. Music, no complaints. Video - worked fine, but then jumping to different time stamps in the clip doesn't work well. The video refresh takes a full 1-2 seconds. It is also slow to respond to mouse clicks, and something that should work fast feels like a game of lag.
Both Android and iPhone (iOS 13) worked fine - except the silly display of serial numbers in the file manager address bar. This is horrible from the usability perspective, because no one gives half a goat pellet about random hexadecimal numbers.
Meh. It worked fine, but. First, the partition discovery step seemed to be faster than Kubuntu. And it's got labels, even though the frame listing partitions is 2-3px narrower than a full integer of lines, because we need random nonsense to pollute the user experience. Then, after you select a partition, there's another ten-minute waiting period for the installer to do whatever it does.
The slides are also checkbox exercise. Simple, boring, uninspiring. It's best not to have any slides than show a weak set. Also, over the years, the quality of these slideshows has gone down, everywhere in the Linux world. This speaks of pride and desire and energy and lethargy and whatnot. It's no wonder the Linux desktop is semi-comatose.
Let's focus for a moment, shall we?
The desktop. Boot sequence - like the live session. When you log out and then log back in, a text message pops out of nowhere. The Wireless setting was preserved. The inconsistency compared to Kubuntu is bugging me mightily. The internal volume icons even more so.
Package management & updates
All right-ish. I mean, Software comes with its own theme - it does not respect the system config, and the interface is bland and listless. Updates worked fine, no issue. If you want extras, like say VLC or Steam, you can find some in the repos.
Okay-ish. Firefox, LibreOffice, Transmission, Pidgin, GIMP. Not bad. I mean, quite reasonable for an Xfce desktop, most of which usually ship with a less than ideal set. But it can be a little more energetic and fun. Now, Pidgin. It integrates into the system area using a mail envelope icon, why pray, and this one has no quit button, left or right click, so you actually need to open Pidgin to be able to close it.
I felt compelled to make some changes. And it's amazing how much you can accomplish in just 60 seconds of effort. That's how much effort wasn't invested in improving the bad default ergonomics. I changed the window decoration to Numix - boom, big window borders, easy to hit with the mouse, good separation between foreground and background windows. Boom. Then, I changed the Appearance from Greybird to Adwaita - boom, the interface is cleaner, clearer, with better contrast, including fonts. Boom, boom, boom!
Next, I decided to invest a few more minutes, and promptly gave up. I resized the top panel, but as you can see, some icons simply don't scale. You end up with a 1994-level of visual harmony. This is sad. Not to say anything about super-outstanding issues like the compositor shadow across the bottom of the screen, the five pixels of Whisker menu height that force a scrollbar in the categories, no ability to have a smart icons-launcher panel, no global menu, no native dock per se, and so forth. Making Xfce look elegant and efficient is a chore.
Another thing that annoyed me - language. Just choose an English-speaking region, and see how your desktop language is forced to the locale. And then the desktop complained about missing language packages, which include NZ and CA spelling. Seriously? Why would I care? I only want to use En(US). Also, changing the primary language with drag 'n' drop - annoying. Notice the scrollbar, it has its own theme.
So, me not happy (btw, that's me in the picture, after a few days of "isolation"):
Hardware compatibility, stability
Overall, good. Stuff worked properly - and no new crashonies like in the live session. The hardware was correctly initialized, all the Fn buttons work, and all that. This is probably the most harmonious part of this whole review.
Resource usage, performance
Something that aligns with Kubuntu Focal, finally. Performance behavior - more CPU jitter. But overall, responsiveness is pretty good. Idle memory consumption stands at about 550 MB, and we've seen much better both for Xfce and some other desktop environments. The processor usage was about 1-2% on idle, which seems like nothing, but it's significant for Xfce.
So what we have is as follows: 42% charge (out of 60% total battery capacity, ergo 25%), gives us about 80 minutes. This means the full charge would result in about 5 hours worth of juice, with light utilization and brightness set to 50%. Very, very nice. An excellent result. Alas, the rest of the system ain't so sparkling.
I'm a tragic hero, I am. It's not like I said I want my own island with gun emplacements and a fortress, well I did, but that's beside the point. All I wanted was a bunch of nice, solid Linux distros to make me happy, so I can enjoy my testing. But then, more and more, that's not the case. Xubuntu 20.04 Focal Fossa is not a release worth its long-term support badge. It's not exciting, it has ergonomic problems, it has bugs, and it offers a lethargic experience. There's really no sense of pride. Inertia only.
If we look at dry facts, you get an average score across the board. Some problems in pretty much every aspect. Things work, but it's a bare minimum. The sweet momentum that was, back in 2017 or so, gone. Well, there you go. Hopefully, the results will improve over time, but I'm doubtful. I've not seen anything really cool or fresh in the Xfce desktop per se for a while now. Xubuntu could work for those looking for a very spartan XP-like experience. But for anyone looking for a bit more, this ain't the dream distro. 5/10. Peace.