After reading a review of Xubuntu with an eye towards older hardware, I was prompted to think about why I use it.

The initial reason I looked at Xubuntu was precisely because it was a lighter distribution, written for older hardware.  This is the reason the aforementioned fellow re-tried out Xubuntu; he wanted to see how it would perform on an older machine.

What struck me as slightly odd was that the hardware started out as the reason I checked out Xubuntu but it’s not the reason I continue to run Xubuntu.  Of course slightly odd tends to be a starting description for me anyway, so I shouldn’t spend any significant amount of time worrying about it.

I’m pretty lucky in that my hardware tends to be up to date (or at least in the neighborhood).  So it turns out that I run Xubuntu because I want to, not because of hardware.  You might not hear this all that often but then again, this is ThermionicEmissions.

For the Buntu-ignorant, there are a number of Ubuntus, all sharing a common base.  The difference is in the desktop.  The Big Three are Ubuntu, Kubuntu, and Xubuntu.  Ubuntu comes with the Gnome desktop.  Kubuntu features the KDE desktop.  Xubuntu uses the XFCE desktop.

I played with different desktops when I used Debian, a few years ago.  Ubuntu is based on Debian – what luck.  I have a vague recollection of trying out XFCE as well as a few others.  I remember liking it.  I also remember what a pain in the posterior it used to be trying out different desktops, as the documentation was, shall we say, lacking.  I could generally bring them up but sometimes I couldn’t use them.

When I started using Ubuntu, I tried the Big Three out.  Before I go any further, you need to understand a bit about my requirements (before you start calling me REALLY odd, as opposed to Unconventionally Weird).  I don’t need or want blinky lights, noises, or full page announcements in the New York Times whenever I open a program.  I don’t want to hear so much as a DING or a BEEP (unless the machine is on fire).

Ubuntu comes with the Gnome desktop.  This was obviously my first exposure to Ubuntu (and to Gnome).  To be polite, I didn’t like it.  There’s just something inherently wrong with the taskbar being up top.  That’s for Mac people.  Heaven knows I don’t want to look like one of them.  🙂   I tried, unsuccessfully, for a while to get the panel to the bottom but Gnome was having none of it.  At about that point, I was having none of Gnome.   In all seriousness, things just don’t seem to be where they should be in Gnome (for me), so off I went.

I had tried KDE on top of Debian and it was decent, so I installed it under Ubuntu (you can use the base and install different desktops or install whichever you like up front).  KDE is packed so full of GEE WHIZ that it bothered me.  I tried to tone it down, with some success, but it certainly ate up resources.  I had to struggle to get KDE to do some of the things I wanted also, so it didn’t last too long.  At least it had the taskbar in the right place.

Recently I had an XFCE desktop go insane on me, possibly due to an ATI driver.  It flatly refused to display anything correctly, no matter how nicely I asked.  Finally I purged the installation and installed KDE, while reinstalling XFCE.  KDE and Gnome worked wonderfully but XFCE still went nuts.  Even more aneurysm-inducing was that I had to install KDE4.  If you haven’t had the pleasure, I suggest you RUN AWAY, as fast as you can.  Not that you’ll have any choice – apparently it’s now standard.

KDE4 got a lot of bad press when it first came out (and rightfully so).  Some of it seemed to be that it wasn’t thoroughly tested enough to include with Kubuntu.  A coworker and fan of KDE installed it on his machine.  He showed me some of its `features’, including having to click four more times to perform the same actions, menus nested within menus, and some hideously blue theme (and blue is my favorite color).

KDE was supposed to have improved considerably since I saw that `demo.’   It failed.

My first task seemed to be attempting to navigate KDE.  One of the design aims seemed to be finding the best place to hide things.  And the designers were very successful.  I couldn’t seem to find anything I was looking for.  I actually avoided using certain programs because I knew I’d have to navigate the menus looking for them.

It also took a while to tame down the basic appearance.  Another apparent design goal of KDE4 was to make it look like Vista.  Quite frankly, if I had wanted to use Vista, I would have installed Vista.  I have no idea why anyone thought plasmoids would be a grand idea, but there they were.  Right out of the Vista playbook.  And at this point, I hadn’t even seen Vista.

I tried for two weeks.  I tried to like KDE.  I tried not to dislike KDE.  I actually tried really hard because the alternative was to go back to Gnome or do a complete reinstall of Xubuntu (neither of which really appealed to me).  But it was not to be.

Xubuntu is Home.  I say that because it’s what I like.  It’s what I use.  There is no inherent WooHoo.  No blinky lights.  No sounds or noises (or if there were, I turned them all off).  There was an annoying bootup noise but I killed that (by ripping out the internal speaker).  Let’s start out with Complete Panel Freedom, shall we?  You can have as many panels as you want (ok, at least four, as far as I know).  You can have them autohide, a favorite of mine.  I love screen real estate.  I can never get enough of it.  Even with dual monitor setups, I still never have enough screen real estate, hence the panel-hiding.

Unfortunately the panel flexibility comes at a price.  For some reason known to no one, including the XFCE people themselves, my main panel at the bottom sometimes refuses to hide.  Hiding is definitely checked.. I know because I checked it.  When I retoggled it, the panel continued its staid refusal to hide.

This does very little to diminish my happiness with XFCE, although it is a bit of a pain in the ass.  It brings up something else one needs to know when using Xubuntu: it’s not Gnome and it’s not KDE.  No, you are saying to yourself, you’re kidding!  Why I’ll bet it’s also not OS-X or Vista either!

Ok, I had that coming.   What I actually meant was that KDE and Gnome are somewhat tightly integrated into Ubuntu.  They have their own menus and everything.  Unfortunately XFCE does not.  XFCE is not what we’d call tightly integrated.  At times it would appear that it isn’t what we’d call loosely integrated.  Sometimes you have trouble locating certain programs that aren’t programmed to appear in the menus.

By default certain programs are going to be loaded.  If I install K3B, the really good CD/DVD burning program, there are KDE libraries that are going to be loaded.  This holds for Gnome programs too.  So the lighter weight desktop comes with its own baggage.

Again, this is not to say this is a huge problem.  It’s not for me.

This is why, out of the Big Three, Xubuntu is the one for me.