Updated: December 10, 2014
Time to try another Ubuntu derivative. Xubuntu has been kind of a second league player for many years, but then it suddenly got awesome, and it grew on me like fungus only in a good way, and it's been getting better and better and slicker all the time. For real.
Trusty was truly excellent. But now we need to make sure there's no regression, the kind of like what happened with Unicorn in its official flavor. Remember, Xfce has become a beautiful and highly viable alternative to most other desktops out there. So let's commence the testing, shall we.
Try before you buy
The live desktop is nice. You no longer get the popup panel at the bottom, and the wallpaper has changed once again, but it retains its blue mousy motif. That's not all. The new theme comes blessed with a lovely, lovely infusion of purple or pink, not really sure what the color is, but it gives Utopic that necessary rainbowy feel, so fitting its name. Plus the system menu has been revamped even more than it was in Trusty, and it's now just as modern and stylish like them other desktop environments.
Just look at all those pretty hues!
This is also the first distro ever to actually give a name to my battery. Not sure if this is needed, but it's definitely refreshing. Lots of little visual improvements have gone into this edition, and I like it very much.
Everything worked fine. Wireless, Bluetooth, Samba sharing. Good.
I was leery of this step. I got bitten twice, one when testing the Unity version and then when I tried the MATE edition. However, Xubuntu 14.10 had no trouble with partitioning and the formatting worked without a hitch. I'm really wondering what had gone wrong with the other two that did not manifest either in the Kubuntu spin or here. Weird.
There are many cool things about Xubuntu's installer. Its main view in the partitioning stage, for example, does not vertically crop the lines, so your OCD demons will be very calm. And the slideshow is all new and so totally pretty.
The setup was very quick, similar to the MATE version. There were no problems whatsoever with the quad-boot configuration, although the GRUB2 menu is somewhat bland and generic, and it just reads Ubuntu.
Time to play
Like MATE, the updater popped up almost instantly, and it downloaded new packages lightning fast. The desktop is pretty and very responsive. For instance, saving screenshots to the local folder; in many distros, there's a perceptible lag between the moment you press Enter and wait for the Save as window to vanish. Here, it's a quantum tunneling operation, and you don't see it happen. Shake and bake. Not bad, not bad at all.
Again, very cool:
More super cool and such:
Xubuntu Unicorn packs a set of tools and programs that is different from the stock version. You get Firefox, Thunderbird, GIMP, Abiword and Gnumeric instead of LibreOffice, Pidgin, Transmission, and a few other apps, plus the highly skinnable gmusicbrowser. Not bad.
And the extras are right there, in the repos:
Everything was peachy and nectariny.
Making Utopic Unicorn rainbow shine!
This is a very easy task. Almost as easy as doing it in the MATE version. I grabbed some nice wallpapers and icons, and the rest is pretty trivial. The new system menu will take you into the right system settings option, and then you can play and tweak. I wish a single system settings tool would have been retained, but the alternative where the different sub utilities are shown in the main menu is good enough. End result, epic.
A very pleasant surprise, but not really, because you expect Xfce to be light and fast and efficient. This remains the case here, with the total utilization of RAM at only abut 300MB, so it's lower than even the MATE version. The CPU hovered in the low single digits, higher than the MATE version. Consequently, I think the reincarnated Gnome version is that much more responsive overall. Both are lightning fast, but the MATE edition comes with Tesla turbo chargers and those Command & Conquer slash Red Alert coils. Comrade! Very neat.
Now, Xubuntu is still among the more responsive and productivity oriented environments out there, and if you're looking for something that can revive your olden boxes, look no farther. But we just cannot ignore what MATE did. It's amazing how spoiled you can become around milliseconds, even when you switch over from desktops that take their perceptible time to respond to your wishes.
Not necessarily an issue, but the touchpad is enabled, and you might want to turn it off so that you can type with wild abandon and not fear random mouse taps. And the printing to Samba shares? Nope. Why? Damn you. Is there really any reason to botch it up with these tiny omissions? Is this a test of faith, or whether reviewers pay attention?
MATE vs Xfce
I normally don't do this kind of comparison, but given the striking functional similarity between the two edition, we must. So, if I must choose one, which one? MATE or Xfce?
So, both are essentially simple desktop environments that do not need any 3D fancy stuff to make you happy. Both are designed around the simple work flow approach, with menus, icons, shortcuts, and a fully accessible desktop background. Both are well maintained, continuously developed and improved, highly stable and robust, highly customizable. Almost identical in looks. Almost.
Very hard to choose. If I must go by responsiveness alone, then MATE probably wins with its phenomenal implementation. It's an otherworldly experience. But Xfce is prettier in its default theme, I must admit, and comes without any burden and scarring of its family feud. And it has shown consistent behavior these past two or three years.
And so the answer is, toss a coin. The differences are so small, you need a floating point resolution that the current architecture does not allow. I'm being silly of course, but I just can't choose. I guess it's the matter of sentiment and daily whim. I really don't know, and this makes me happy. Think about it. So much goodness around.
Xubuntu 14.10 Utopic Unicorn performed like a star. It is beautiful and stylish and feels fresh. It is modern, relevant, utterly stable, and you can tweak it any which way you want. In my testing, the only problem that came up was the Samba printing thingie. Everything else was perfect.
While I'm absolutely psyched about the upcoming Plasma 5 release, I cannot shake off my gushy sentiment for the so-called old desktops, like Xfce, which still manage to provide everything you need without feeling 1995. At some point, there's almost too much choice. But if you don't feel like browsing the shop for three hours before making a decision, then let's make it simple. Xubuntu 14.10 is a splendid option for your hardware. It definitely deserves 9.9932/10, so there. It's that good. You should try it.