Updated: November 22, 2013
Time to review the third of the Musketeers. First, we had Kubuntian, then Ubuntos, and now Xubuntis. Sorry for the lame names, I tried to make them kind of in line with the originals. Never mind. Now, this implies there's a fourth player, too, maybe.
Anyhow, so far this bright autumn, at least in the northern hemisphere, Kubuntu Saucy was good, but not as good as its spring predecessor. On the other hand, after a year of failed efforts, Ubuntu Salamander finally made it as a jolly good operating system. Which begs the question: how will Xubuntu 13.10 behave?
Live session & installation
Xubuntu has come a long way from being a boring, uninspiring operating system sulking in the shadows of Gnome and KDE. But it can do more to enliven its image. For example, the splash screen features the nice blue bird and lake and trees motif used in the previous release, but the desktop comes with a gradiented wallpaper that is only a fraction exciting as the splash. Why? Is this not the fruit of your loin or suchlike? Be proud.
One weird thing you will notice right there is that it shows the volume to be muted, but it's not. It's working just fine, and even the laptop Fn keys work properly. Might be a live session thingie. Speaking of work and proper, everything was dandy. Wireless, Bluetooth, Samba sharing, and more besides. The only problem is, there's really no fun, at all. You don't get any pr0n codecs, so you can't go about the Web enjoying music and videos.
Which means, at this point, I hit that Install Xubuntu icon. There's little else to do, really. Again, if you've followed my Ubuntu family reviews for the past half a decade, little has changed. Sort your partitions and move on. Salamander comes with a familiar slide show that tells you all about Xubuntu, with focus on Xfce and how it does things, and once again, there can be more fire, more pride.
Now the fun begineth
All right, let's do the really interesting stuff. Make this distro rock as it should. We have a laptop with an Nvidia card, so this is something we will definitely take into consideration. Overall, Xubuntu has avoided the woes that its parent had with the drivers installation, but we still must be cautious. And there's a lot more besides. Now, focus.
We have discussed a lot in the past, how to make Xubuntu presentable. This time, I did a few very simple and familiar tricks. Grab an awesome wallpaper from wallbase.cc, and this is my only resources for the images, for those asking. Remove the external volume icons from the desktop, make the bottom panel always visible, install the Faenza icon set. Bob's your uncle, really. That's all it takes to transform a shy, average-looking distro into a fine specimen. Why not do it by default, me wonders.
I won't tease you too much. The configuration of the Nvidia 319 driver went without any problems. Whether you launch the Additional Drivers utility from the Settings menu, or go through the Software Center, you will reach the same tool. Select the desired driver, apply, wait, reboot, enjoy yourself.
Applications - Sixes and Sevens
Xubuntu comes with a solid, if slightly underwhelming set. First, there are a ton of great applications for non-KDE and non-Gnome desktops. Not all are included, and certainly not all the best ones. Furthermore, there are some unnecessary ones that can be tossed away and replaced by worthier candidates.
Let's talk about Thunar first. It's become one kickass file manager. It has tabs, and for all those who had problems keeping bookmarks between logins, especially Samba shares, worry no more. So what's the point in having Gigolo still?
On the bright side, we have the mighty Firefox and Thunderbird combo, and the funky duo of Abiword and Gnumeric, plus Pidgin, Transmission, and curiously GIMP. More goodies, plus some less known, less needed apps. Can be optimized a little more. If you ask me, and you damn should, then get rid of some unneeded extras and toss in a real office suite, that would be quite charming.
Multimedia - blimey!
Everything worked fine, including Flash, MP3 and even HD video packaged as WebM. Interestingly, Xubuntu chose to open the file in Firefox, by default, but Parole did a very good job handling it, too. Underneath, we have XviD and Lame, by the way. Still rather nice.
And I remain being impressed by the gmusicbrowser and how it manages to change its skin to mimic other players, giving you an application with a dozen colorful personas, and truly extending your multimedia experience.
Resource usage - strewth!
Here, we set another new record. Even better than CentOS. Xubuntu 13.10 tolls only 280MB of memory on idle, and the CPU consumption hovers near 1%. This is probably the quietest distro I've ever tried. More than that, application launches are instantaneous, even though we have a fairly slow hard disk. The only program that might take a while coming up is GIMP, and that's only because it has to load all its plugins the first time.
Works fine. Samba shares browsable. Tickity-Boo.
How about Steam? Sounds like a good idea. It's there in the repo, and you don't need any special instructions to get it running. Just search for it, select, login to Ubuntu One for your free purchase, and complete the installation.
Gordon Bennett AKA problems
So what were they? Well, two. One, the sound problem remains. It's not a problem, but the indicator is useless. It provides no useful info, the audio works, the volume controls work, and changing the icon set translates the indicator into a kind of a traffic prohibition sign. So I felt it necessary to remove it. No ill side effects.
The second issue relates to system stability. The thing is, apart from a one-time glitch, and we shall soon elaborate, the system was rock stable. No system errors, application errors, or anything alike. Suspend and resume worked fine. Except that the first time I did it, I got a kernel oops. No such issues afterwards, but we still must count this one exception, because the review would be incomplete without it.
Remember Fuduntu? Well, this Xubuntu 13.10 Saucy Salamander comes as close as being perfect as that. It has everything you need, grace, beauty, amazing speed and minimal resource usage, a great balance between functionality, practicality and bling-bling, and it's extremely stable. Everything worked majestically, including the installation, the Nvidia drivers setup, the multimedia stack, apps, games, printing, and so forth.
Except two tiny issues. Of course. There must always be some. Otherwise, what's the point? So we have the volume icon that doesn't do much good, but at least it causes no evil. And the system couldn't recover well from its sleep the first time. This has not happened to me with the other two distros, but y'know how it works. But still, even with these niggles that bar the perfect score, Xubuntu Salamander is an awesome distribution. Xubuntu keeps getting steadily better and better, and maybe it's high time to consider a commercial spin, because the distro sure deserves it. Anyhow, grade wise, 9.99/10. Jolly fantastic.