Updated: May 24, 2014
Time to give Ubuntu's under appreciated brother - or sister - its deserved attention. Going from sucky to awesome in the manner of just a few years, Xubuntu has effectively filled the gap left by the end of Gnome 2, and it's now the new lithe darling of the desktop world. With such high stakes, we test.
As far as hardware goes, I am going to do something rather bold today. Remember my T400 laptop, the one that no distro could really use well, because the Wireless network was dreadful and all? Well, I will attempt to use this one for the current setup. After me.
This review needs to be read carefully, and two separate conclusions need to be drawn here. First, the overall improvement - or lack thereof - in the hardware support of the entire Linux family on this particular laptop model, which has given me endless grief. So if we fail here, it will NOT be Xubuntu's fault. I am emphasizing this up front, because if things get ugly, remember, they are equally ugly in all other conceivable distros.
Second, we will judge Xubuntu on its own, as an operating system, APART from the hardware support and the very likely issues with the Wireless card, drivers, firmware and all that. This is what you've come to read, but inevitably, hardware plays a big part, only not this time. Dedoimedo out.
Live session & installation
Xubuntu looks nice. The big difference is, no more popup panel at the bottom, and I do have to do admit that I kind of miss it now. Yes, it makes more sense to use a single panel, but I liked the efficiency of space that it gave, especially with tons of icons.
That said, the system looks polished and vibrant. Happier than before. It's not just a dreary collection of boring colors, there's pride showing up. You want that in your LTS releases, and that's how it's meant to be.
The notifications are also badass, especially the eco bulb thingie for screen brightness:
The search is flawed
The new menu is cool, but it's not really effective. It only searches for words left to right, so if you type down a middle word or a description of a product, it won't be found. Then, take GParted for example. It's installed, but the search will invariable produce two different and conflicting results:
Then, if you do try to fire up GParted, there's no password prompt, the startup will fail, and you will be forced to use the command line, where indeed sudo or sudo su - and the rest work just fine.
What about the hardware?
Ah yes. Remember the Wireless thing? This was the deal breaker in all my previous attempts, with any which distro you want. Just name it. All of them failed miserably. The Wireless would disconnect every few minutes. Horrible. Not so any more. It works nice and steady, but you do get slight desktop freezes every 15 minutes or so. The mouse sort of stalls, and this is caused by the driver causing a nice little oops and hotplug storm and whatnot.
[ ] ------------[ cut here ]------------
[ ] WARNING: CPU: 0 PID: 154 at
/iwl-trans.h:743 iwl_dump_nic_event_log+0x369/0x370 [iwldvm]()
[ ] CPU: 0 PID: 154 Comm: kworker/u8:3 Tainted:
[ ] Call Trace:
[ ] [<...81715a64>] dump_stack+0x45/0x56
[ ] [<...810676bd>] warn_slowpath_common+0x7d/0xa0
[ ] [<...8106779a>] warn_slowpath_null+0x1a/0x20
[ ] [<...a06ad539>] iwl_dump_nic_event_log+0x369/0x370 [iwldvm]
[ ] [<...a06ad580>] iwl_nic_error+0x40/0x50 [iwldvm]
[ ] [<...a04725b0>] iwl_trans_pcie_send_hcmd+0x5b0/0x690 [iwlwifi]
[ ] [<...810aae90>] ? prepare_to_wait_event+0x100/0x100
[ ] [<...a06b6556>] iwl_dvm_send_cmd+0x46/0x110 [iwldvm]
[ ] [<...a06ba7ff>] iwl_send_add_sta+0xdf/0x130 [iwldvm]
[ ] [<...a06bc596>] iwl_remove_dynamic_key+0x1a6/0x1f0 [iwldvm]
[ ] [<...a06b077b>] iwlagn_mac_set_key+0x1bb/0x290 [iwldvm]
[ ] [<...a05c3190>] __ieee80211_key_destroy+0x110/0x2b0 [mac80211]
[ ] [<...a05c4640>] ieee80211_free_sta_keys+0xf0/0x120 [mac80211]
[ ] [<...a059f882>] __sta_info_destroy+0xc2/0x360 [mac80211]
[ ] [<...a059fc65>] sta_info_flush_defer+0x85/0xb0 [mac80211]
[ ] [<...a05dc600>] ieee80211_set_disassoc+0xb0/0x3d0 [mac80211]
[ ] [<...a05dc955>] ieee80211_sta_connection_lost.isra.26
[ ] [<...a05df719>] ieee80211_sta_work+0x4c9/0x510 [mac80211]
[ ] [<...81097498>] ? finish_task_switch+0x128/0x170
[ ] [<...a05acc49>] ieee80211_iface_work+0x2c9/0x360 [mac80211]
[ ] [<...81081729>] ? pwq_activate_delayed_work+0x39/0x80
[ ] [<...810838a2>] process_one_work+0x182/0x450
[ ] [<...81084641>] worker_thread+0x121/0x410
[ ] [<...81084520>] ? rescuer_thread+0x3e0/0x3e0
[ ] [<...8108b312>] kthread+0xd2/0xf0
[ ] [<...8108b240>] ? kthread_create_on_node+0x1d0/0x1d0
[ ] [<...8172637c>] ret_from_fork+0x7c/0xb0
[ ] [<...8108b240>] ? kthread_create_on_node+0x1d0/0x1d0
[ ] ---[ end trace f5d56ce2539d9489 ]---
Much better than before, and I decided the problem was not serious enough to ruin the review. Now, this is a positive testament to Xubuntu's hardware support improvement, and it's been spotless so far, including my rather enthusiastic Ubuntu Trusty's reviews. But it's also ridiculous that this problem has been around for about three years, and it still has not been fixed. Overall, both 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wireless worked, and Samba sharing was fine.
Well, it was a simple dual-boot setup with Windows 7. I created a bunch of partitions in the free, unallocated space, and configured Xubuntu Trusty there. You will have a full new dual-boot guide, coming soon. Finally, I setup the bootloader. The installation was super-quick, maybe only five minutes total. The slideshow is really nice.
Using Trusty Tahr, Xfce edition
So what gives now. Well, some of the problems from the live session remain. GParted, if you install it, still won't show in the menu, and the only way to use it reliably is from the command line.
In about six or eight hours of testing, I suffered an additional ten or so mouse stalls, and one serious oops. When this happened, the Wireless went down, and it could not be recovered. I had to actually reboot. Remember, I'm not blaming Xubuntu here.
May 3 14:45:27 failure kernel: [ 1416.792064] [drm] HPD interrupt storm detected on connector DP-3: switching from hotplug detection to polling
BTW, my host is called failure, so don't worry about the actual word failure there. After this incident, the occasional mouse stalls would continue now and then while the kernel dumped its thingie, although at a somewhat lesser rate, while the message logs were continuously bombarded with errors. If you ask me, this is not an acceptable situation for prolonged use, which means that Linux is still not good enough for our test box, although it's better than even three months ago, the last time I tested.
Anyhow, if you are wondering about the hardware, well then it's an Intel Ultimate N WiFi 5300 device, and it's the one that has been giving me so much grief here. If you have a similar laptop, you might want to consider postponing Linux use, yet again. The modprobe tricks I've shown you in the original laptop review don't do any good here, at all.
It was quick and true, and I got an update prompt within seconds of starting my installed session. Very cool, slick and fast. I liked it. Especially the fact the downloads were already pulled from the repo.
Flash and MP3, the reason for human existence, all good. Both work just fine, provided you ticked the right boxes during the installation. Moreover, you do get the Firefox 29 failure installed, but you can fix it rather easily, if you want.
The default collection is reasonable. Firefox, Thunderbird, GIMP, Abiword, Gnumeric, gmusicbrowser, not bad at all. You also get Pidgin. LibreOffice would really sweeten the deal, though. The sysinfo utility, which shows your hardware in a graphical manner is also not installed by default.
Per popular demand, if you ignore the first few minutes while the power manager gets its bearing, the three-year-old nine-cell pack gives a most respectable 5+ hours of use. This is really neat. The number may vary between 4:50 and about 5:20, and that's with Wireless in place. So let's call it about five hours of normal use. Nice.
System resources & stability
If we ignore the Wireless thingie, this is a very stable operating system. Suspend & resume worked fine on this particular hardware. As far as resource utilization goes, Xubuntu is lean and mean. Trusty Tahr running Xfce tolled virtually 0% CPU on idle, which is as it should be, and the memory consumption was about 9% of the 4GB, which amounts to 360MB. This is higher than what I saw on an Nvidia-powered box, with Salamander. It's nothing too bad, but it could be better. Then again, we can't compare different laptops.
Xubuntu 14.04 Trusty Tahr is quick. But previous versions of the Xubuntu family were quicker on the T61 machine, where they averaged about 8.5 seconds. Here, we have about 12 seconds to a fully usable session. Not bad overall, either way.
Worked just fine. A tutorial on HP printer hacks coming soon.
Customization & small quirks
The only other problem that I could discover was the the built-in screenshot widget always takes a full-screen screenshot, without any delay. That can be fixed. I did add the bottom panel, and I did install some extra icons. Rather cool, would you not agree.
Anyhow, I installed the missing software, like Skype, Steam, VLC, LibreOffice, and a few more, and now this is a highly presentable and aesthetic system for general use. Fast and elegant, and without any great problems. Apart from that Wireless thingie we decided to ignore upfront.
All right. So, the Wireless thing. All Linux distros are plagued by it. Forget it. This review wasn't done to convince you to use something under improbable circumstances, it was to see how well Xubuntu would cope with new hardware, explore yet another dual-boot setup, as well as give you a proper taste of the distro.
All right, speaking of the cuisine, Xubuntu 14.04 Trusty Tahr is a very capable distribution, with some really nice features. It does have a few odd visual bugs, mostly related to search, widgets and applications that require root permissions. Beyond that, it worked pretty well. It's fast, elegant, visually pleasing, well sorted out, stable, robust. There can be more excitement by default, I do admit, but it's quite consistent with previous releases, and it has the right ingredients to make it a solid everyday distro of choice. If you ask me, it's slightly less wowy than Salamander, but still a great option. Let's say 9.7/10.