Meet The Newest Member of the Ubuntu Family: Introducing Xubuntu

by Caitlyn Martin

On 1 June Ubuntu 6.06 (Dapper Drake) was released. New versions of Kubuntu (Ubuntu with a KDE desktop) and Edubuntu (a version for young people) were also unveiled. Perhaps the most interesting release was the newest member of the Ubuntu family, Xubuntu, a derivative distro based on the forthcoming XFCE 4.4 desktop. In this review I am going to focus heavily on the desktop since that is really the only thing that sets Xubuntu apart from Ubuntu.

In the article where I renewed my complaints about Gnome I touted XFCE 4.4 as an up and coming challenger to both KDE and Gnome on the desktop. The 4.4 version includes a new file manager, Thunar, added panel functionality to rival what KDE and Gnome users are accustomed to, new applets, and greater configurability. The release of Xubuntu is actually built on a beta of the new XFCE, version While I was originally a bit concerned about this it turns out that Xubuntu has relatively few bugs and a very polished look and feel.

One of the claims made on the Xubuntu web page is:
It's lighter, and more efficient than Ubuntu with GNOME or KDE, since it uses the Xfce Desktop environment, which makes it ideal for old or low-end machines, as well as thin-client networks.

I decided to put this to the test, installing Xubunu onto a Toshiba Satellite 1805-S204, a laptop with a 1 GHz Celeron processor and 512MB of RAM. This was one of the systems I used to evaluate and review Fedora Core 5. At the time I found FC5 to be substantially faster on this somewhat dated laptop that Ubuntu 5.10 (Breezy Badger). Over a roughly two month period I used this laptop running Fedora with an XFCE desktop and my usual favorite applications so my comparison of Xubuntu 6.06 to Fedora 5 is apples-to-apples.


Felix Dzerzhinsky
2006-06-18 02:35:49
If you have Ubuntu or Kunbuntu you can try out Xubuntu by (in a shell) using sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get xubuntu-desktop
2006-06-18 07:57:50
I can't remember the site, but I recall reading on some german blog that there is no network browser available for Xubuntu. Can anyone here confirm or deny this?
Caitlyn Martin
2006-06-18 09:03:59
Felix: That will certainly allow you to try out the Xubuntu desktop on Kubuntu or Ubuntu. What it will not do is give you the performacne of stand-alone Xubuntu if KDE services (i.e.: dcop/mcop servers) are running.

AC: You can run any Gnome or KDE app under Xubuntu if the required libraries and dependencies are installed. There is no reason you can't run LinNeighborhood or any other network browser you like under Xubuntu.

Xubuntu fan
2006-06-20 09:41:43
Thank you for this excellent review. I used the alternate (text-based) Xubuntu iso to install Xubuntu on my old PII 350 Mhz with only 128 MB RAM. I had been using Ubuntu Breezy Badger. With a stand-alone Xubuntu install, I noticed substantial speed and performance gains, so I've decided to keep Xubuntu on my old PII.

Initially, I experienced the menu-editing problem you mention, but this seems to be fixed now that I've added the most recent updates to Xubuntu with Update Manager.

Caitlyn Martin
2006-06-20 10:28:52
Xubuntu fan: Thanks for the report on your success with Xubuntu and a PII 350. I may try it on one of my Toshiba Libretto SS1010s: a paperback-book sized 233MHz Pentium MMX with 96MB of RAM. We'll see how that goes.

I've kept my system upgraded as well. Perhaps that's why the menu editor worked so well for me. Still, you'd think if it was truly fixed we'd have seen an update to the Xubuntu web page. I dunno...

2006-06-20 12:12:09
"AC: You can run any Gnome or KDE app under Xubuntu if the required libraries and dependencies are installed. There is no reason you can't run LinNeighborhood or any other network browser you like under Xubuntu."

Thanks for the tip... Unfortunately, while I found and installed LinNeighborhood without issue, I can't seem to find or run the app from my Xubuntu computer!

I should have mentioned that the rest of my home network is Macintosh-based, so I'll try one the options mentioned here:

2006-06-20 17:03:56
Been running Ubuntu & WinXP on a Dell D600, & my work servers are RHEL4. Had XFCE on an ancient server and liked the look. Tried other distros but keep going back to Ubuntu for personal use. With Ubuntu 6 I grabbed the XFCE desktop and love it!- especially when doing a lot of terminal work. I opt for clean graphics and low clutter every time if I can still get my work done (speed doesn't hurt either). Am thinking Xubuntu will be half of my dual-boot work PC. (I'm working toward doing all my work stuff on a non-Win PC just to show "them" it can be done :)
Caitlyn Martin
2006-06-20 18:36:31
AC: If you used apt-get or synaptic to install LinNeighborhood it's there. To find it use the whereis command at the command line or from a terminal window. Apps that aren't native to XFCE or commonly used with XFCE often don't get added to the menu automagically. Once you use whereis to find the app you can create your own launcher or add it to your menu with xfce-menueditor. As I mentioned in the articl I had todo this with both Seamonkey and Flock.
S Ambler
2006-06-21 05:52:41

I recently started a thread on the Ubuntu user forum site detailing the problems I had with the text-based install. The install routine did not prompt me to set up a default user account. I had to set one up manually in rescue mode using adduser, but the account was created without adding the user to any group whatsoever, and no sudoers group was created at all.

I know for a fact that others have encountered this same problem, but it appears that it happens sporadically, perhaps depending on the exact hardware specs of the machine.

Yes, I did file a bug report, but last time I checked it's listed as "unconfirmed." Anyone else with the same problem?

2006-06-23 01:21:35
Thanks for your ideas on the distro.

I've been using Xubuntu 6.06 since its release on my old 500mhz, 256mb Ram laptop, and unfortunatly even with a very square & simple theme it lags well behind Windows 2000 when it comes to the usual desktop tasks.
The memory usage is great, ie. not showing any paging at all, but the redraw speed of the windows and refreshing of files/directories etc is noticeably slower than what I'm used to.
I want to love Xubuntu despite my speed issues, and probably would more if it wern't for XFCEs pretty lame desktop icon interface and the bugs that come with using a beta version. (randomly loosing stuff of the panel anyone?)

The future looks really good for Xubuntu, but as usual, I wish I didn't have to wait.

2006-06-23 09:07:27
Great review. I have never previously considered anything other than gnome or kde. I installed the xubuntu-desktop on my Ubuntu machine and it is great. I may get rid of ubuntu altogether. I never realized before how much I hate the complexity and bloat of other desktops (like XP). I use the computer for the applications, the desktop that I use just gets in the way. I now know why I prefer gnome over kde (and XP), as I prefer xfce over gnome. Thanks for your good work!
Caitlyn Martin
2006-06-23 16:14:20
phizm: If you want a desktop more advanced and much more feature rich than Windows XP and certainly than Windows 2000 then I suggest you run KDE. KDE has features that Microsoft claims as innovations in Vista and had had them for years. (The same is certainly true of Mac OS X.) Of course it consumes a lot more resources than XFCE or Gnome but that is the price you pay for features--bloat. You can't have both speed and lots of bells and whistles.

At least Linux gives you many good choices on the desktop. Microsoft leaves you with no choice at all.

s. keeling
2006-07-22 18:17:56
I decided to put this to the test, installing Xubunu onto a Toshiba Satellite 1805-S204, a laptop with a 1 GHz Celeron processor and 512MB of RAM. This was one of the systems I used to evaluate and review Fedora Core 5. At the time I found FC5 to be substantially faster on this somewhat dated laptop that Ubuntu 5.10 (Breezy Badger).

1 Ghz is somewhat dated? Wow. I consider my PIII-733 a kickass machine, and this thing does real work. I installed Debian Sarge on a friend's PII-2xx, and it kicked ass.

Some people have too much time on their hands.

2006-07-30 10:04:53
i am also running xubuntu on a PII 350 Mhz, 192 MB RAM. It is for my mam. She needs to use a PC at her office but here in Mexico there is not so much money for a new PC (or having legal software from Windows) XDDD.
PC works just fine, perhaps not as fast as Puppy distro, but the interface is much prettier and in Spanish¡¡¡
2006-08-01 02:55:09
Overall good review, one point though: It's not XFCE but Xfce ;)
2006-08-05 13:26:59
Ambler: I had the same user-issue re-installing Xubuntu after having Ubuntu installed on my box. The Xubuntu install only asked me for a password, no name for SUDO, finished up, said OK reboot- but when I Did reboot, I got Ubuntu startup splash!!! I tried to login with my usual name/pass, name/no pass, name/"sneeky pass", to no avail. I had to zero-out the HDD, and then re-install Xubuntu from booted CD.
For the Spec Keepers / Loggers: Xubuntu Alternate Dapper 606, running on K6 500Mhz, LiteOn 52X CDROM, WDHDD, SB0220 soundcard (correctly working via new Linux kernal! XPWNT! Winblows couldnt get the 0220 up and running. not even with DriverGuide's help.), and last but not least, gForce2MX400. Praise 2 Xubuntu & the thousands of man hours that has got us here. ^_^ Keep up the good work every1, n' lets show em what we Got.
2007-03-02 09:31:24
I loaded Xubuntu up on a 400mhz AMD based PC with 384MB RAM and it actually ran OK. It detected all of the hardware in this ancient machine, which included an ATI Radeon VE video card, a Creative Soundblaster Live! Value sound card, a Macronix PCI network card I bought used at a hamfest, and an HP CD writer. The fact it just worked truly amazed me and I recommend it for any older hardware. I have since set it up as a dual boot with XP on my 3 year old 1.583GHZ AMD Sempron with 512MB of RAM and it runs great!

I do have a few complaints though. One is the XFburn sofware. In addition to it's lack of DVD support, it would not burn a CDROM from a .ISO file. I tried this on 2 different PCs with 3 different brands of CD writers(HP, AOpen, and Sony), and it will only burn a data CD. To configure my ancient HP Deskjet 712C to print the last page first, I had to go into a file and add an extra line of code I found in the Ubuntu Forums to get it to do this. Still, Xubuntu is a great OS that just works and in time, could become a real contender on the OS wars.

Jon B
2007-08-03 14:25:11
I hear it is nearly impossible to get Xubuntu to reconize a Sound Blaster16 sound card. is this true?
chris palmer
2008-03-21 20:18:06
I currently use Xubuntu on a Patriot Laptop computer with 256mb of RAM, it runs quite well, and I've no plans to remove it, it not only does the job, it connects effortlessly to the internet via my wireless internet connection.

Its the best version of Linux I've tried so far, and I've tried a few.