Updated: November 30, 2012
This spring, something extraordinary happened. I liked Xubuntu. For the first time ever, it felt like more than just an amateur spin. It was fast, elegant, stylish, and rather useful, offering a viable alternative work environment to those disliking either Gnome 3 or Unity.
This autumn, I will see whether the latest release, Quantal Quetzal, when matched to the Xfce desktop, can achieve the same level of nice. Now, this is quite crucial, given how bad Ubuntu 12.10 is, especially on high-end hardware. In fact, it may come down to just not having any other choice, because Quetzal might not work for you in its standard flavor. Anyhow, please follow me for a mousy spin.
I will try to avoid repeating most of the pleasant observations I remarked upon in the last review, somewhat forcing you to go back and read. However, some improvements and changes are immediately apparent. For example, new fonts and the transparent background on the desktop icons, as I've written in my pimping guide.
The bottom panel is still set to autohide, and the icons are somewhat boring and not colorful enough, but that's a minor infraction. Overall, the gray-blue-black theme is pleasant, although some spice might be in order.
There was one visual quirk, and that was, Thunar showed all volumes twice for some reason, but this only happened once. However, the styling is ever so slightly improved compared to the previous version. A leftover from the 12.04 version is that network mounts added to the sidebar will not be preserved when you log out and log back into your session, so you will need to use an alternative method to map your shares.
Overall, Xfce 4.10 looks quite dandy. It's simpler, more convenient to use, and the system settings menu is no longer a frightening jumble of options meant for geeks only. This is definitely a step in the right direction.
I complained about network manager not cooperating nicely in Kubuntu Quetzal. Well, there was none of that here. The connection to my routers was instant, maybe just one or two seconds to acquire the IP address, and that was that. Snappy, fast. Download and upload speed was just right. Samba sharing worked flawlessly. It's truly amazing how seemingly identical versions of the operating system can be so drastically different.
I decided to install Xubuntu on my SSD laptop, which already houses three permanent installations in the form of Ubuntu and Kubuntu Pangolin, the latest Mint Maya, the fourth slot being dedicated for exactly these kinds of experiments. I also decided to reuse the account from the Xubuntu Pangolin test, which comes with all the pimpology.
During the partition stage, the installer wizard wanted to write changes to disk immediately, similar to the prompt I saw in Ubuntu, but not Kubuntu. Again, tiny differences in virtually the same process. If you click Go back, nothing sinister will happen.
I setup Xubuntu on its own partition, and let Ubuntu remain in charge of the bootloader. The installation was relatively fast, although not as quick as Kubuntu, although definitely much faster than Ubuntu. The slide show is a bit more elegant than the last time, again a nice tiny improvement.
There was one more bug I found. The system menu has only log out and shutdown options, where the later really tries to halt your system in earnest. The restart option, as well as another shutdown option is available in the Log out menu. This is kind of confusing and redundant. But maybe only limited to the live session, so we will check later on again.
Using Xubuntu - and the fun begins
Since I've imported my account, I already got a new, different look than the stock one. For the sake of exercise, I created another dummy user, just to show you what the desktop would look in its vanilla state. So here's the vanilla:
And here's mine:
The system updates icon still looks somewhat like the crash notification, so this is somewhat confusing. Other than that, awesome really. And if you want to play some more, you can. With the proper set of decorations in place, you can make it even more elegant than what I did in Pangolin. The autist in you is your limitation.
Stick to the default dark theme and expand:
Or something like this:
The no reboot button issue still remains; needs to be fixed.
I will save the official comparison between the three major players for later on, but I must add that Xubuntu is proper quick. Even faster than Pangolin by half a second. At only about eight seconds total, the improvements are minuscule, but still nice to see that there are no ugly regressions, and we will discuss this when we pit the family against one another. Anyhow, if you're wondering how to do this testing, try bootchart.
Worked quite well. Gmusicbrowser still rocks, with its super-skinnable interface and the lovely plugins that equal that of more expensive KDE players.
Xubuntu sports a nice, somewhat spartan, or let's say, frugal collection of programs, which still offers a decent compromise between usability and performance. GIMP has been removed this time around, but you still have Firefox, Thunderbird, Abiword, Pidgin, and others. Adding new software is quite easy, as you have the Ubuntu Software Center at your disposal. That said, I would still love to see a standard Xfce set.
As we've mentioned, you get Ubuntu Software Center for your needs and perks. You can also install pure Gnome and KDE programs. For example, I added Nautilus, because it is more convenient than Thunar for my cross-OS work with multiple remote shares. And the tabbed interface is also a must.
Xubuntu 12.10 Quantal Quetzal is a little hungrier than its predecessor. It wanted to eat about 350MB RAM, which is almost 50% more than Pangolin, although still half as much as its brothers desire. I guess you can take this number down further if you stick to default settings, perhaps. The CPU was very, very quiet. And the responsiveness was phenomenal.
No crashes this time, no great bugs, nothing. Butter and milk. Suspend & resume worked just fine. By all accounts, estimates, standards, and laws, Xubuntu Quetzal is the most solid, most stable release of the three Ubuntus we have seen so far, by a fair margin.
Well, I did encounter a few, after all. For some reason, the volume icon did not show in my account, so this could be entirely my customization that did it, as the volume button did show in the vanilla account. Or perhaps some tiny glitch in the account import? However, the sound worked just fine, including the laptop Fn buttons and the on-screen splashes.
The bigger one was with printing. Xubuntu uses the standard applet, but it was not able to detect my Windows-shared Samba printer over Wireless. At first, it complained about the firewall, and it is indeed enabled, but you do not have a GUI frontend to disable it. So you must head to the command line and run sudo ufw disable. Even so, Quetzal did not find the printer.
To sum it up, we have the confusing logout-reboot thingie, no bookmarked network shares being preserved in Thunar in subsequent sessions, the volume icon missing, and the printing not really working. Well, not bad, all in all.
Another revolution. Not only am I pleased with Xubuntu, I will most likely test it on my Nvidia-powered laptop as well, as possibly even introduce it into my production setup. Xubuntu 12.10 is a solid improvement to an awesome LTS release. It is even faster, more responsive, without any major problems. Some of the small old bugs remain, but several others have been polished, and no new ones introduced.
I do realize Xfce is not for everyone, and I used to be one of those people. And I still think the environment is a little rough round the edges. But there are no cardinal issues, nothing that cannot be resolved in about 10 hours of quick coding. And that would truly make this release outstanding to the max. Xubuntu Quetzal is a damn fine version. It cannot get the highest mark, because it needs to work on those little quirks, but 9.8/10 is an extremely good achievement. Honestly, do try this one, you will not be disappointed.