The DistRogue

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Review: Xubuntu 6.06 "Dapper Drake"

This review is probably one of the most pointless ones I've made yet. Why? Simple: Ubuntu 6.10 (aka "Edgy Eft") is due out October 26th, barring any spontaneous 6-week delays (*AHEM, Dapper dev team*), and it's supposed to be a revolutionary release. It'll feature Linux kernel 2.6.17 (recently supplanted by 2.6.18), FireFox 2 (which is a beta/RC right now), Compiz, and a ton of other kewl stuff that most people would drool over. Including me. Compiz is a cubic desktop that you can rotate with your mouse, and move windows freely over its faces. It needs a good graphics card to work, so forget about running it on that old Pentium 2 box you have. It also has its own window manager called cgwd (Compiz General Window Decorator) that lets you warp windows as you
resize/move them, among other things. And you can try it out right now!
Well, almost. There's one major problem: While you can download Xgl, Compiz, and some other stuff you need for it via Ubuntu's Synaptic package manager, cgwd is missng, and it's very hard to find. A fork of it called beryl is under development, and isn't even in beta phase yet. And until then, Novell and openSuSE get all the fun (Ubuntu users, watch that link- some useful news might come up). But that's no reason not to like Xubuntu as it is.
Since openSuSE failed to install (I bought and burned 2 separate CDs, both of which came up with the same "Please specify a config file" error), I moved on and blew the dust off my Xubuntu install disc. Ubuntu seems to be perfecting its installer over the months, but they don't really have anywhere to go. My Xubuntu CD booted up into a live interface with a lot of clean, refined graphics. Gotta love XFCE and its Tango icon theme. The install, which took about half an hour total in Breezy (the previous version of Ubuntu, aka 5.10), took almost half the time in Dapper. It was also done completely in graphical mode, thanks to the new "hybrid" live/install CD architecture that almost every distro's using by now. I repeated the install on my gaming machine (yeah, over Zenwalk... I still think that was a bad idea), and proceeded to set everything up. The biggest problem was that installing the "nvidia-kernel-common" and "nvidia-glx" packages in Synaptic alone didn't work, but as usual, there's a script for this sort of problem, called "Envy". After using Envy (text-mode, deal with it), everything worked fine, including SuperTux Milestone 2 (for the first time in a month or so- I was going into withdrawal) and TuxKart. GLXGears wasn't benchmarking, for whatever reason...
On my laptop, things weren't that much different. I set up XFCE to look like GNOME, checked the SuperTux wiki, wrote a blog entry (does this sound familiar?), and copied my FireFox and SuperTux settings over from my Mepis partition- in a matter of seconds. The main reason for the double install was to check to see if the reason I gave Zenwalk and Mepis different reviews, for example, was that they'd been installed on separate machines. Given how well Xubuntu did on both machines, I guessed not for a bit. Of course, I was wrong.
Package management is easy. It's so easy I theorized that my mother could install SuperTux with Synaptic. To install a package, find it in a list of about 20,000 packages (there's a "Search" button, and they're sorted by name), click on it, go to "Mark for installation", and, after marking all the packages you need to install (it calculates dependencies for you), click "Apply", and sit back and watch it download the package files and install them automatically. And speaking of adminning utilities, on Ubuntu, the admin password is the password of the first user. You use sudo for adminning, and never su, since there's no root account. They did this for security- it makes it a ton harder for would-be h4X0rs to log in as root remotely.
Synaptic is so easy to use, I figured that with some basic instructions, my mom (a casual Windows user with almost no Linux experience) could install SuperTux with it. It worked! Important tip: If you can't find a package, go to Settings > Repositories, and check all the unchecked options. Then, click "Refresh". There are your 20,000 packages. You can also use the sidebar to browse by status or category.
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As far as actual performance, Xubuntu is quite an improvement over Mepis, but it showed that there's quite a difference between my 2 test machines. The gaming machine launched FFX in about 3 seconds, but my laptop took up to 8.

On another note, I've decided to start rating the distros I review. Distros will be judged in 4 areas:
  • Friendliness: Will a newbie be able to run/install/use it?
  • Performance: Does it have a bloated UI full of background apps? Or is it a l33t machine?
  • Features: Does it have enough apps to keep newbies happy and make geeks drool?
  • Packaging: How does it handle package management?
Each category is scored out of 5, and the final average is also out of 5.
The score for Xubuntu 6.06:
Friendliness: 4.5/5- It looks very GNOME-ish, and makes the most out of XFCE.
Performance: 5/5- It ran slower than I thought it would on my laptop, but the results were amazing on my other computer.
Features: 4.5/5- Sure, it doesn't have all of Ubuntu's apps, but it has enough. It comes with Abiword and Gnumeric as OpenOffice replacements.
Packaging: 5/5- What can I say? It uses Synaptic and Apt-Get, and I can't think of anything easier to use than that.
Overall score for Xubuntu 6.06 "Dapper Drake": 4.75/5
Sure, I might be a bit biased, but I'd definitely run this over Kubuntu. Overall, Xubuntu is a nice balance between Zenwalk's mad-l33t performance and Ubuntu's newbie-friendly, out-of-the-box ease of use- both of them "Just Work". (By the way, normal Ubuntu would get a 5/5 on my rating system.)
Next distros: Knoppix 5.0.1 and Accelerated Knoppix.


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