The DistRogue

Friday, December 29, 2006

Review: Xubuntu 6.10 "Edgy Eft"

Slashdot has gone after Ubuntu Linux several times (like in this article) for its many flaws. However, true fans of Ubuntu know that, like any open-source project, its true strength lies in the community. For every problem Ubuntu has, there's a script to work around it. No built-in NVidia drivers? Envy. Need more apps? Automatix. With the release of Ubuntu 6.10, aka "Edgy Eft", the focus wasn't on adding new features so much as basic enhancements, such as making it run faster. Since there're already way too many reviews for Ubuntu, I decided to see what was new in my favorite variant on it, Xubuntu, which runs XFCE as the desktop environment, instead of Ubuntu's GNOME.

==Install and upgrade==

I didn't happen to have a working Xubuntu 6.10 CD handy, so I had to use my 6.06 disk. The install was easy, and after the reboot, I upgraded to Edgy. Launching the Upgrade Manager and clicking the big, tempting button labeled "Upgrade" can, has, and WILL break your system! The workaround goes like this:
  • Launch a Terminal window.
  • Type in "sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.list" and press ENTER.
  • Enter your password and press ENTER again.
  • Change all instances of "dapper" to "edgy".
  • Press Ctrl+O, ENTER, and CTRL+X.
  • Type in "sudo apt-get update; sudo apt-get dist-upgrade" and press ENTER.
  • Wait for the upgrade- this might take a while.
  • Type "sudo apt-get clean" and press ENTER.
  • Reboot.
If you're scared about an upgrade breaking your system, try that.

==Apps and looks==

I personally thought that the version of Xubuntu's default Clearlooks theme, which the last version used, was a bit... flat. Well, the updated version of Xubuntu's default theme was a welcome improvement:
There's also new boot-splash artwork, and a more sophisticated-looking GDM screen. All of which is a welcome improvement.
Xubuntu comes with a surprising number of cool apps. There's the GIMP, the famous open-source Photoshop replacement:
XFCE's media player, Xfmedia, wasn't too bad...

...but the PDF "playback" was a bit weird.

Xubuntu's a minimalist system by default, but it's enough.

==Customizing Xubuntu==

Ubuntu and Kubuntu have an improved init system called Upstart, but why should they get all the fun? Why shouldn't Xubuntu have boot speeds so fast that one reviewer wondered whether the Live CD had even shut down completely, after his first boot?
Answer: It can.
The code is "sudo apt-get install upstart". If you're feeling paranoid, back up /sbin/init, but I didn't have any problems. I noticed a speed boost in the startup, but it's not always as dramatic as that guy said. On my system, an AMD Athlon XP at 1.4GHz (with 1GB RAM), the startup time dropped to 35 seconds.
If you're having problems getting your NVidia graphics card to work, head over to Alberto Milone's site, the home of the Envy NVidia installer. Technically, it works with any distro, but it's intended for Ubuntu or Debian, since it uses their apt-get system for installing the driver's dependencies. To use it to install the NVidia driver:
  • Download the file.
  • Install it with dpkg or GDebi.
  • Enter runlevel 1 by pressing Ctrl+Alt+2. Then, log back in.
  • Run the script with "sudo envy".
  • Press 1, then ENTER.
  • The script will install the driver's dependencies, download the driver, and launch it, and while this is happening, you might want to get a cup of coffee or go to a rock concert.
  • Follow the instructions in the driver's install wizard. Most of them, you can just press ENTER.
  • It'll start X again after it's done. If all goes well, you should see the NVidia splash screen before XFCE starts.
  • Game to your heart's content. I recommend SuperTux Mi1.9.
Mostly, this consists of doing absolutely nothing. Fuuun.
If you want a ton of kewl stuff, such as Swiftfox or Democracy, without having to do a ton of work, Automatix is worth a look. To install... well, anything:
  • Add the GPG keys: "echo "deb edgy main" | sudo tee -a /etc/apt/sources.list; wget; gpg --import key.gpg.asc; gpg --export --armor 521A9C7C | sudo apt-key add -". Copy and paste that huge block of code, and hit ENTER.
  • Install Automatix: "sudo apt-get update; sudo apt-get install automatix2".
  • Launch Automatix; it should be under Main Menu > System.
  • Check all the apps you want installed. Then, click "Start", and pray that your iPod's playlist lasts long enough to keep you occupied while Automatix is doing what it does best.
  • Have fun.

==Installing Beryl==

Beryl is a set of 3D desktop effects that make bizarre things happen on-screen. For instance, a Beryl desktop might have windows that wobble when they're moved. Or a cursor that makes ripples when it moves, like a duck on a pond. Or transparent windows that float on each other. Or... well, let your imagination run wild for a bit. Point is, it's awesome. There's a tutorial on Beryl's wiki that lets you install it yourself, on any desktop (including XFCE)- but it's only for apt-based distros like Ubuntu, and you need a graphics card with an appropriate driver installed. Read it here. There's also an instruction manual here- READ IT.
This screenshot is only a taste of what Beryl can do. If you've ever seen a cube on someone's screen with their desktop on it, that's another example- probably one of Beryl's more famous effects.

==My opinion==

Xubuntu Edgy is a major improvement over the last version. It's fast, cool-looking, and easily expandable. If you have an Internet connection, give the companion apps a shot.
  • Fast
  • Looks cool
  • Expandable with community apps
  • Nothing major; some minor bugs
Friendliness: 4.5/5- With these tutorials, it's easy to get basic tasks done.
Performance: 4.5/5- XFCE + Swiftfox + NVidia drivers + Upstart = Mad l33t.
Features: 5/5- Standard set included, myriad of stuff easily installable.
Packaging: 5/5- Apt-get and Synaptic. What could be easier?
Overall: 4.75/5- Xubuntu is an awesome OS. Ubuntu is probably even better.
And a PS: Back to sources.list, and change "edgy" to "feisty" to join the "herd".
From Xubuntu 6.10,
The DistRogue.



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