With the successful Beta release of Xubuntu 8.04, I got to thinking of some of the qualities that have always drawn me back to using Xubuntu. I know that people have spirited feelings about their desktops of choice in the Linux world, but I thought I’d present a few reasons (8.04 reasons, to be exact) why Xubuntu (or Xfce in general) makes a good desktop environment choice, and why Ubuntu or Kubuntu users should consider using Xubuntu in place of their Gnome or KDE environments.
So, with all due respect to my Gnome- and KDE-using brothers and sisters, here they are:
1) Relative lightness - The Xfce desktop loads more quickly than Gnome or KDE desktops, and Xfce applications are built with an emphasis on lightness. Xubuntu does have a handful of Gnome-based applications (and hence, some Gnome dependencies), but the developers avoid Gnome-lib heaviness where they can, and applications that require Gnome libraries have been only been chosen because they provide vital end-user functionality.
2) Xubuntu is extensible - I used to work at a deli when I was in college, and my boss used to tell me, "You can always add more, but you can never take away." He was referring to putting ingredients onto sandwiches, but his statement can also apply to Xubuntu. You can use the breadth and depth of the Ubuntu repositories to add extra features and functionality that you may want, but the heavier Gnome or Mono libraries aren’t built into Xubuntu’s core, so you can also stick with the lighter choices if the default Xubuntu system suits your needs.
3) You know what you’re doing - Let’s say you’ve been using Ubuntu or Kubuntu for a while, and know your way around a Linux environment. You know mv, cp, ls, grep, what a ".whatever" file is for … So you don’t need a distro that’s going to hold your hand quite as frequently. Xubuntu provides you with most of the same features of Ubuntu, but also doesn’t get in your way with a GUI for everything. This may not be an advantage for some, but may not be a nuisance for those who are knowledgeable about their systems.
4) Reasonably well-documented - A handful of folks have done a lot of work to bring the full-scope of Ubuntu’s quality documentation to Xubuntu for the 8.04 release. The Xubuntu wiki is undergoing an overhaul, too. Long-gone are the days (version 6.10…) when Xubuntu’s documentation wasn’t even updated between releases, so the information that you need to get going is available right from your Xubuntu system. (Now if we could just do more work on Xfce’s own documentation…)
5) Easy to contribute to, valued contributions - The Xubuntu development team is small, which means it’s easy to get involved and contribute. Have you been hacking away on Ubuntu artwork, but haven’t been getting your contributions into the releases? Xubuntu has one person who works on all artwork - why not collaborate as part of a small artwork team? If you are a budding MOTU, you can help package updated Xfce components. If you are a Drupal nerd, you can help out with the Xubuntu website. I understand that all projects need help, but Xubuntu could be an option that is right for some people.
6) Hacker ethic - Yes, Gnome and KDE have more community support than Xfce. Gnome development forges ahead with a large developer and userbase and the support of several large corporations behind it, and KDE has its own large and thriving community. Yet Xfce is developed by a handful of hackers who have day jobs, and they’ve still managed to create a technically sound desktop environment. I think that is pretty cool.
7) Hackability - Although I am not a hardcore coder myself, I’ve heard from numerous experienced developers that the Xfce code base is clean and good. If you are interested in coding, why not get involved in a project that has a clean codebase, and would appreciate your help? If are interested in Python application development, take a look at the pyxfce bindings for creating Xfce applications in Python.
8.0) An easy transition - The transition to the Xfce environment on Xubuntu is an easy one, particularly for users of Gnome. The Xubuntu default settings (particularly in regards to the menu bar setup) have been configured in a way that is similar to Gnome’s setup, and Thunar (the Xfce file manager) looks and works in a manner that is very similar to Nautilus, the Gnome file manager.
8.04) Xubuntu has a logo with a cute mouse in it.
I’m not going to pretend to say that Xubuntu has all of the functionality that is present in the Gnome and KDE desktops of Ubuntu and Kubuntu - Xubuntu can’t mount Samba shares by default, and I’m sure that other people can point out other areas where the Xfce desktop in Xubuntu is currently lacking. But for everyday computing tasks, for users who have lower-powered hardware, for developers who want a system that uses less-resources on their well-powered hardware … Xubuntu is a worthwhile option.