Updated: November 5, 2016
Time to test another Ubuntu hatchling. This one with the Xfce mask. Xubuntu is a strange one. Long time ago, I hated it. Then, it started getting better and better and better, and soon it became a favorite. It also won high praises from me last year, both in the Xfce competition and the annual best-distro contest. After that, things went downhill.
The problems are caused and instigated by the erratic, wild, irrational changes in Ubuntu, of course. But still, Xubuntu is a separate entity, and so it should have a personality of its own. Which makes the Yakkety Yak experiment all the more intriguing. Ubuntu 16.10 is a huge flop. What will Xubuntu achieve now? After me.
Booted fine, pretty and all. No problems connecting to the Wireless. By default, the live desktop shows all internal disk drives as individual icons, which is distracting and ugly. The familiar blue color scheme abides.
Overall, Xubuntu behaved well. But this is worrying. Because Ubuntu did NOT behave well. We're talking two distros, with the same DNA, almost identical under the hood, tested maybe a week apart, and with such drastic differences in the results. That is alarming. Remember my article on consistency in the Linux world? We have it again.
In more detail, the Wireless network worked fine and only died toward the end of the live session, necessitating revival through the removal and then re-insertion of the RTL8723BE kernel module. The lack of support for the Realtek card on this G50 machine continues, because no one cares, it's the typical distro-to-vendor blameshifting nonsense that has been going on forever. However, unlike Ubuntu 16.10, the module trick was enough to regain connectivity. There was no need to HUP the DNS and DHCP services. We have our first big inconsistency.
Bluetooth worked - kind of. I was able to connect to the Ubuntu Phone, but it flickered on and off, and in the end, I failed to setup a stable link and use the device as either the audio source or sink. This made the Bluetooth utility crash. No such thing happened on Ubuntu. More inconsistency.
Samba sharing support was flawless - unlike Ubuntu - and yes, you need to authenticate, because security people have laid a pile of pointless enterprise turd on home users after a little bit of commercial world scale. Samba printing also worked, because Xubuntu does let you search and install dependencies. Not so in Ubuntu. The discovery of network shares and printers was also super quick. No graphical artifacts. Which were there in Ubuntu.
Do you see why I'm getting more and more annoyed by the day? Do you see why the Linux desktop is such an amateurish effort? Less than 10 minutes into the live session, I could spot five or six big, cardinal differences between these two distros. Same hardware, same reviewer, same methods. This is atrocious.
If you recall my Ubuntu Yak review, this didn't work well. Here, in Xubuntu, I was able to play MP3 songs and HD video without any problems, and Youtube worked just fine in the browser. Smooth playback, and you even get media art in Parole, which also shows up nicely in the system area, plus notifications, plus volume control menu. Splendid. The only thing that looks weird is the gray-black second counter beat, which might be by design or something unplanned.
I had no trouble initializing and using the iPhone and the Ubuntu Phone. PTP for the former, MTP for the latter. Parole was able to play music off the latter, too, albeit without meta data, unlike Rhythmbox in Ubuntu.
This one worked fine, again with many fine differences compared to the Ubuntu 16.10 experience, just to keep me on my toes. The partition discovery was fairly long, but after I had selected the root and formatted it, the subsequent refresh was instant, which was not the case with Papa Boontu. On the other hand, Xubuntu was confused around timezones, and wanted me to become a New Yorker. The slides were pretty. No issues with the bootloader and the multi-distro plus Windows setup that I run on here be box.
Let's see what Xubuntu Yak can do. I must say I was mildly to positively impressed by the behavior and the results so far, with a fairly elegant and practical live session offering most if not all of what I would expect. So much better and faster than Ubuntu.
The desktop launched with two problems. One, language support. Really? Why pop this thing up ever? Second, the Wireless settings were not preserved from the live session but Bluetooth pairings were, and the network died right away. It actually died four times in about four minutes. That was bad, until I tweaked the modprobe.d conf file and loaded the module fresh. After that, things improved somewhat. However, unlike my previous success in the live session, now I also had to HUP the DNS and DHCP services to get the connectivity back. Just awful.
Package management & updates
The new Gnome Software is utter crap. No other word for it. This version also has the same bugs as the one in 16.04, ergo no progress, and it could not find any updates, nor offer Steam, even though it's available from the command line. I've had enough with this stupidity. So I removed it and installed Ubuntu Software Center instead. Awesome. You can use either apt or apt-get to unlock the bonus features.
sudo apt-get remove gnome-software
sudo apt-get install software-center
And now, we finally have a normal graphical package manager, and it works beautifully, majestically. It's faster, more elegant, more relevant, more accurate. Everything. That other abomination is the worst piece of code ever made.
The default set is decent. Nothing too stellar but fair and balanced, like a certain US TV news station or something. You get Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, Parole, Orage, Pidgin, Transmission, and a few odd utilities here and there. Practical, if slightly boring.
Xubuntu 16.10 Yakkety Yak is fairly lean. It tolled 480 MB of RAM on idle, including about 50 MB used by the Bluetooth utility. So about 450 MB, and 0% CPU. It's fast and nimble, anything and everything you expect from an operating system.
Hardware compatibility, suspend & resume
Seems to work just fine. All the Fn buttons were properly initialized, and Wireless was working after waking from sleep, which is another difference compared to the autumn release of Ubuntu. This is just madness. Madness? This is sadness.
Now, what we have here is about 3 hours and change on 50% brightness. Not bad, very similar to Ubuntu 16.10, and similar to its predecessors. At least we do not have a regression here. Screen dimming on inactivity worked as expected. The slider still has that annoying 5px gap on the right side that needs to be fixed. Why leave these ugly little things floating about like a favorite turd?
Well, we had them network-related hiccups. Skype wouldn't launch from a shortcut the very first time, just before EULA, and Gnome Software died once before I had it removed from my computer. Other than that, this was a stable, solid test experience.
I was in a good enough mood to do some basic Xfce pimpage. I grabbed one of the provided wallpapers, which is an improvement over the default stock in previous releases, installed the Faenza icons, setup the Numix theme, and then added VLC, GIMP, Steam, and Skype to my arsenal. Lovely jubbly. Looks and behaves just fine. Without the Realtek bugs, it might actually be a very reasonable, very capable release. Very little to complain about, I must say. Well, the Skype icon looks ugly in the system area, and it cannot be hidden.
Xubuntu 16.10 Yakkety Yak is far from perfect. It's also not the finest Xubuntu release by a long shot, and the streak of awesome in 2014-2015 remains unmatched. Yes, it is very difficult to create successful distros when they are based on stupidity. However, Yakkety Xfce does manage a dose of normalcy and quality in the sea of dross.
The inconsistency in system behavior compared to Ubuntu is quite worrying, and this is nothing new. It remains Public Enemy No.1 in the Linux world. But if we put this crap aside, all in all, Xubuntu Yak displayed some fairly decent traits. It is fast, good looking, with adequate smartphone and multimedia support, even in the live session, solid results on the network side save for the Realtek card, neat performance, and solid hardware support. Yes, there are problems and glitches, and of course, the unholy Gnome Software needs to be destroyed with photon torpedoes.
Giving a high score to Xubuntu 16.10 Yakkety Yak may look as if it's getting credit only because all other Ubuntu releases this year were horrible. But it is not so. If we exclude the hardware-specific issues with the Realtek drivers, which is a big issue across the entire distro world, and the package manager choice, there weren't any huge, cardinal problems this time. It would seem that Xubuntu is recovering gently. Perhaps it is still too early to tell, but Yak is much, much better than Xerus. And it deserves 8/10. I feel as if a weight has dropped off my chest. After so much torture and pain, we finally get something reasonable. Even likable. Fun perhaps. Well there you go. This is a first Ubuntu release worth testing, after a whole year of failures. Go for it. See you soon.