The DistRogue

Monday, October 22, 2007

Xubuntu 7.10: Solid as usual

In Linux-land this week, it was pretty much Ubuntu Gutsy, Ubuntu Gutsy, and Ubuntu 7.10. (And KDE 4 Beta 3.) Nothing else was on Digg, and little else on Tuxmachines, on October 18. As usual, the GNOME side of Ubuntu got all the new features (and the hype that comes with them), but the new additions, Gobuntu and Fluxbuntu, didn't seem to receive as much attention. As is tradition, neither did Xubuntu.
But Xubuntu is still a solid system for people with older hardware. It still runs lightweight, GTK-based software and can still (supposedly) run off as little as 64MB of RAM. It still includes most of Ubuntu's features (except Compiz Fusion, which is a big downside), with XFCE as its (capable but underrated) default desktop. It still doesn't run amazingly fast, but it still balances speed and friendliness. The biggest change in this release might seem superficial, but it's a very welcome improvement- a new theme based on the Murrine engine. Add in the usual updates, and you get another solid release.
But one thing troubled me as I booted off the live USB. GLXGears only reported 260FPS, and the lowest score I'd seen so far was 800 (for Fedora 8 Test 3). Hmm. The past Ubuntu releases had hovered around 1000. Everything else seemed to run snappily (except games, which had the same bizarre problem)... After looking around a bit, I found the problem. Gutsy is missing a package vital to 3D acceleration, and to fix the problem, just run the command;
sudo apt-get install libgl1-mesa-dri

and that should fix it. GLXGears jumped to 900FPS.
Nothing has changed in the install since last release, so I won't go over it. Well, actually, one thing did: The install froze at 86% when downloading language packs. Just like on Kubuntu. Beta. Wow, since someone already filed a bug on Launchpad, I thought it would be fixed for the final release, but nooo... Not good. Like last time, taking the system offline during the install fixed the problem.
From a blank install, I had a working desktop that could do all the things an average user would want to do: work with spreadsheets and documents, browse the Web, play music... The boxed application set is minimalist as usual, but still functional. It uses Totem for all audio playback (may I suggest adding Exaile?), AbiWord for word processing, and Transmission for BitTorrent downloads, along with the usual app set. MP3 codecs aren't boxed, but just like with last release, can be installed with a few clicks when needed. (It even has a wizard! :-) And since it came with ipw3945 drivers, I didn't need to worry about wireless.
The thing that really struck me about this release was the artwork. Xubuntu uses the new Murrina-StormCloud theme, along with an XFWM theme from XFCE 4.5-svn. The resulting system looks sleek and runs fast. And the wallpaper is an immense change from past releases, using a new steel-gray color scheme to replace the previous blue. Awesome. Of course, with my custom settings, I didn't get to experience the wallpaper after the install, but the live desktop looked sweet. (In the screenshots, all of the eyecandy can be added with XFWM's built-in compositing, a special font for XFWM titles, and WBar 1.3. No Compiz, Avant, or anything special.)

But Xubuntu's goal isn't to just sit around and look pretty. Even without CFS, scores in Sauerbraten and GLXGears were solid, but it isn't a gamer's OS. (Especially if that "gamer" forgot to order a laptop with decent 3D acceleration... x.X) The lightweight desktop remained responsive with Firefox, GIMP, and a handful of other GTK apps open, but slowed down when I added Azureus into the mix (Java programs are slooow...). This is why I use Deluge for BitTorrent downloads...
Xubuntu Gutsy marks another solid release from the Xubuntu team. It's not supposed to be a full Ubuntu release, but a more watered-down version for older machines, which explains why it's missing a few things (coughcoughcoughCompizcoughcoughcough). If you don't like the default package selection, just add more programs in Synaptic. The new artwork, along with the changes common to all versions (new kernel, GIMP moved to 2.4-rc series), make the upgrade worth it.
Pros:
-New artwork
-Package upgrades
-GIMP 2.4 (worth it alone)
Cons:
-No new ground broken
-Still not fast enough
-Installation issues
Friendliness: 4.5/5-
Almost on par with the main Ubuntu.
Performance: 3.5/5- It's supposed to be fast, but it could be a lot faster...
Features: 3.5/5- A basic desktop, but a complete one.
Packaging: 5/5- Top of its class again.
Artwork: 2.5/2.5- Nowhere to go from here, the artwork is superb.
Community: 2.5/2.5- The Ubuntu community remains helpful, enormous, and diverse.

Overall: 4.3/5
I'm still trying to decide where to go next. My biggest candidates are Arch and Puppy, but Arch's installer keeps crashing. I had this problem back when I tried 0.72... And Puppy is... well... Puppy Linux. Since I have a new computer, I can't find any uses for it other than gaming, and it doesn't come with libSDL. Too bad, it would make an awesome gaming platform...
From Xubuntu 7.10,
The DistRogue.
PS: A word on that chart. I've made another PHP image generator to make little charts comparing the strengths and weaknesses of various distros. The numbers on the left side represent ease of use, while the right side focuses more on practicality. Here are some more:
Mandriva 2008:

openSUSE 10.3:

Wolvix 1.1.0 "Hunter" Edition:

PCLinux OS 2007:

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7 Comments:

Anonymous Vincent said...

Nice review, but quite a few inaccuracies:
- Fluxbuntu is not a new addition. It already existed (sort of) and was and is not officially supported.
- You complain about it not being light-weight enough. However, obviously "enough" is partial, as it is light-weight enough for me. Then you vouch for the addition of Compiz Fusion and Exaile, but those two apps are certainly too heavy, especially Exaile, which is written in Python.
- The libgl1-mesa-dri seems specific to your hardware to me, but as this is not my area of expertise, perhaps I'd better leave someone more qualified to comment on that.
- Transmission is not shipped with Xubuntu. It looks nice though, perhaps I should give it a shot when I have Gutsy.
- "which explains why it's missing a few things" - what? Only Compiz Fusion? If there's anything else that really is essential it would be nice if you could point it out so it could be considered for Hardy. Xubuntu's goal is to be user-friendly.
- "MP3 codecs aren't boxed, but just like with last release, can be installed with a few clicks when needed." That's not supposed to happen... It didn't with me, too. Xubuntu ships totem-xine which does not include that wizard as oppposed to Ubuntu's totem-gstreamer.
- To me, it sounded like you thought not that much has changed since Feisty, but in fact, I think Xubuntu has progressed most of all *buntu's this release. See the Xubuntu release notes.

Otherwise, nice review ;-)

Best,
Vincent.

10:45 AM  
Blogger Sébastien said...

can still (supposedly) run off as little as 64MB of RAM

You can remove the "supposedly" part.
Provided you use the Alternate (text-install) CD and a few tips, it works well.
I wrote an entire guide for this (in french, sorry).

11:24 AM  
Blogger Sébastien said...

BTW:
sudo aptitude -y install linux-restricted-modules xubuntu-restricted-extras ffmpeg libdvdplay0 libdvdnav4
sudo /usr/share/doc/libdvdread3/install-css.sh


seem to solve almost all codec problems (including MP3 and DVD reading with navigation. You'll also get Flash, Java and Microsoft Fonts (Times New Roman, Arial...)).

And it's no Automatix/EasyUbuntu-sources-list-mangling trick.
It uses only the standard Ubuntu repositories.

11:31 AM  
Blogger DJ Gentoo said...

@Vince: Thanks for the corrections. I love your blog, even after just looking around for a few minutes!
@Sebastien:
O RLY?
I know it could, but would you really want to? 64MB of RAM... That would mean a *really* slow system, especially if you want to run Java-based apps like Azureus... Might want to add some swap. Like 2 gigs.

2:26 PM  
Blogger Sébastien said...

I know it could, but would you really want to?

Can be handy when recycling old but perfectly working computers for friends, family, schools, associations...

Not everybody uses Azureus, and there are plenty of other bittorrent clients.

2 Gigs is nice, but it comes at a price.
64 Mo computer (or even better) can be found for free.
More power to everyone.

5:29 PM  
Anonymous Vincent said...

DJ Gentoo - cool that you're taking it that nicely :)

And I like yours too, I had already subscribed :)

7:44 PM  
Blogger yoho said...

Did you really review all those distros ? Where are all the reviews ?

9:44 AM  

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