Why Xubuntu – Another Reason That Might Surprise You

I have written about a lot of Linux distros, and they’re all great in their own way and for a whole bunch of varied reasons. Sometimes I would try one out just to try something new. More often I would “distro hop” (change my Linux operating system from one distribution to a different one) because of other Linux users (hereafter “‘Nixers”) reviews and opinions. Sometimes I hopped to get away from systemd, which other ‘Nixers have written horrible stuff about, like “they’re watching, they’re spying, they’re gathering info, and systemd will eventually become Skynet and wipe out humanity!” I’m already scared of technology by nature, but all the fuss over systemd (used in most Linux distros now by people a lot smarter than I kinda freaked me out and I binged on distros that aligned against the coming takeover of human society by the Robotic Overlords.

I have already described why I love this distro, Xubuntu. But in this post I want to go beyond the user experience, and explore another compelling reason that I have settled on Xubuntu and expect to stick with it.

Sometimes I read blogs from other ‘Nixers who railed against Linux distributions made by corporations hoping to profit from free and open-source software (FOSS). How dare they! Profit is evil! The pursuit of money leads to all kinds of evil, exploitation, and ecological disaster! Red Hat, IBM, Oracle, and Canonical among others, all create and give away great Linux operating systems for desktops and servers. There’s nothing in the GNU license, under which Linux is offered, that forbids anyone from copying, modifying, selling, and mixing up Linux any way they please. Yet many ‘Nixers seem to be awash in anti-corporate and anti-capitalist sentiment. They insist that any decent Linux OS must be created and maintained by volunteers supported by donations from users, period. Yet look at what many of these volunteers supported by donations are building on: Corporate Linux! How many Ubuntu-based spinoffs are there, all asking for donations to “improve” Ubuntu with some unique software and shiny wallpaper? How many from Fedora, same thing? It seems so hypocritical. Using Ubuntu as a base and relying on Ubuntu’s software repositories, these spin-offs claim some higher morality? Pfffft. Use Debian as a base, then. Use Arch as a base, or Slackware or any other “non-corporate” distro to improve upon and release as a “new” distro (or “distrolet,” as I call many of them).

Now consider why Ubuntu is far and away the most popular “base to build a new distro on.” There’s always Debian, from which Ubuntu is based, and it’s not an evil profit-seeking corporation. But noooooo, they build their distro on Ubuntu. Why? Because Ubuntu has vastly improved upon Debian, from the easiest installation software ever devised to whatever “non-free blobs” they have added to make Ubuntu “just work” on a huge variety of hardware. The “evil profit-seeking corporation” that developed and maintains Ubuntu has done a heckuvalot to improve on Debian, and it’s so very much easier to build a new distro on than Debian is.

So: Why Xubuntu instead of Debian, Slackware, Arch, or Mandriva? Because of the amazing work and innovations of the corporation behind it, for one thing. Also because it is officially supported by that corporation, yet community-developed at the same time. It’s not going to disappear when it’s “lead developer” gets sick, dies in a car crash, or has a stroke and can’t work anymore (like almost every other non-corporate Linux distro). And because it is built from Debian, great grand daddy of distros, which is also backed by a large community and not just one guy or one small group.

The Lead developer of Xubuntu at present is also a developer of the wonderful Xfce desktop! Both projects benefit from sharing developers. Under the hood (or bonnet, for you chaps on the other side of the pond), it’s Ubuntu. But only minimally so. Updates are far less frequent on Xubu than on it’s flagship Gnome-desktop counterpart, and updates don’t seem to break things on Xubu. I’m using a well-broken in Long Term Support release of Xubu, so it’s far less prone to having an update break anything.

So if you’re a ‘Nixer because you’re an anti-capitalist left-leaning FOSS zealot, you’ll hate this post, and you might hate me for writing it. But if you’re a ‘Nixer because the locked single-vendor system of Microsoft or Apple has let you down, try Xubuntu.

Newly Installed Xubuntu 18.04

Ah, I can relax now. I’m back home, and it’s as warm, cozy, familiar, and easy as I remember. And the neighborhood is lovely, upscale but not snobby and uptight.

Home is Xubuntu, of course. I’ve been away a long time! But this is just exactly the way I remember my home distro, except that it seems a little slower than before. That might be just because the last time I was here was before systemd and all that extra junk was foisted on users. But I think I can speed things up a bit with the usual little things, like turning off services I don’t use, adjusting the “swappiness,” maybe going back to Seamonkey instead of the usual separate Firefox and Thunderbird applications.

This time instead of the usual Xfce panel with launchers on the bottom, I thought I’d throw a liiiiiiiiittle bit of eye candy in, so there’s Cairo Dock with weather applet, analog clock applet, and silly bouncing effects when you mouse over them and click them. Yet it’s lightweight, and just prettier than a plain ol’ Xfce panel. And I like that 3D shelf thing.

Lots less bloat than Linux Lite, and all I added was Synaptic Package Manager, because it’s what I’m used to and I think it’s better than “Software Center.” I added SystemBack and MintStick, just because they’re super-simple graphical tools for formatting and writing images to a USB drive, creating restore points and allowing me to make a bootable and installable copy of my installed system and write it to a pendrive. All done in under 40 minutes. On Debian this would have taken me a few days!

But this is Xubuntu. Almost perfect as-is, right out of the box, saving me lots of work and letting me get right to work, doing what I love.

Xubu instead of Linux Lite

I used to recommend an Ubuntu derivative called Linux Lite. But he idea of putting extra software like Virtualbox service on the Live iso, that is not for the user, but for reviewers (and thereby to benefit the developer) strikes me as kinda putting yourself ahead of the users. Perhaps I have misjudged him, so to be fair I won’t be too critical of that decision other than to say I think it’s weird. But Linux Lite another one of those one-man show distros, and I’m friends with a former developer for the project. That too might be influencing my decision not to recommend Linux Lite anymore.  Linux Lite (and LXLE, by the way) also comes with several PPA included by default, which cause no end of update issues.  Some of these PPAs are for software that is already in the Ubuntu repositories anyway, just perhaps not the latest version.   Again, why make unwitting Beta-testers out of Linux newbies??  Unforgivable.  One of the first things I always did after a fresh installation of Linux Lite was to remove almost all of those extra PPAs!  Xubuntu, on the other hand, is community-developed and doesn’t include a lot of “weird” stuff nor a whole lot of cruft. It’s a sweet, fast distro and I will always be a fan of Xubuntu.

Plus, for all it’s “newbie friendliness,” LinuxLite just isn’t all that “lite” anymore, which kinda concerns me.  For a nice long run, Linux Lite defied the “axiom” that newbie-friendliness was a trade-off for speed.  Removing the extra PPAs was probably part of the reason my experience was so good… But out of the box, so to speak, Lite isn’t so lite anymore.  Xubuntu has been and probably always will be the distro I run back home to after straying off because:

  • I got scared of systemd after reading someone’s panic-post about Robotic Overlords taking over Linux, or
  • This other distro is new and shiny, or
  • some Linux snob scolds me for using “a kiddie distro” (see here), or
  • I got scared about systemd again because of the panicky stuff I read on some other web site

But I always end up back on Xubuntu, because it’s simple, it’s super-fast, perfect right-out-of-the-wrapper, already configured the way I like, and takes only a few minutes to install and/or upgrade. I’m a busy boy lately, and just don’t have time to hop a lot.

Between Philosophies: Salix OS

This is probably the best review of Salix OS that I’ve ever seen! It doesn’t just look at the esthetics, included software, package management, and performance, but it delves into the philosophy that motivated the development of the distro, and it’s history. Linux used to have one of those. Philosophies, I mean. Principles that mattered more than your distro’s popularity and placement on Distrowatch’s ranking.

“Between philosophies” describes the balance Salix successfully strikes and maintains between Slackware’s bare-bones, terminal-and-text approach to things in the name of simplicity, and a common sense point-and-click approach that saves time and keystrokes. The GUI (Graphical User Interface) doesn’t babysit newbies, nor prevent them from acting without reading the manual first. Being a responsible user is still required. Or to quote the article,

being a Lazy Slacker does not mean being an Ignorant one.

Have a look, see if the challenge doesn’t appeal to some geeky corner of your brain, even if you’re scared of technology like I am!

Likely to Be my Permanent – and my Only – Linux OS

I have kept Linux Lite and MX-Linux around for a long while, mostly to help introduce new users to Linux. Many of them got started because the Microsoft OS they were used to is such a freakin’ resource-hog that you have to buy a new computer every three years or so just to keep up! Why let a perfectly good working machine go to the landfill because Micro$oft has decided not to support it anymore, right? So, Linux to the rescue, right?

Nope, not nearly as much as it ought to be. A trip to the Swap Shop finds a dozen or so vendors offering refurbished computers for $40 or so, but they still have Windows and they’re slower than snails. When I used to brag about how Linux could make them run better than new, and without any need for the dreaded terminal, I won a few “converts,” and a few more by cleaning up and donating old computers with a lightweight “newbie-friendly” distro pre-installed. Of allllllll those people I helped, guess how many are still using Linux?

One. Just one. As far as I know, anyway, we lost touch when I moved away. So maybe none! All of them – and we’re only talking a dozen or so – have since traded up to new computers and – one guess – they’re Windows or Mac.

So, my OS is gonna be for ME, not for anyone else. Not to “show off” to others in hopes of winning them over; not on my computer so I can walk others through the steps of configuring, fixing, tweaking, and installing software. Not for the coolest, awesomest, most thrilling visual effects and eye candy I used to care about. No more of that now… my ‘puter is my own, and it’s just for me, and it’s gonna be what I want: Blazing fast, graphical, simple, uncomplicated, and basic. No systemd. No bloat. Nothing I don’t need or want. One application per task, faithful to the old Unix ideal, quaint and outdated as that might seem to others who like the bleeding edge, eye candy, and super gaming capability. Does anyone know of a Linux distro that offers just that, without all the busy bovine excrement that has to be included in the OS just to make this-or-that other thing work that you actually want? One that is still supported and up-to-date without the instability of the Big Major desktop distros? I can think of one. It’s an old faithful standby that has kept my ancient spare 32-bit Dell out of the landfill for over a year now, with no issues. And it’s mind-bending fast on my higher-end 64-bit desktop and laptop.

I’m so disheartened by the fact that all my enthusiasm, “evangelism,” and newbie support for Linux hasn’t actually changed anyone’s mind for more than a temporary short period, that I think I’m pretty much done with all that now. I’ve got better things to use my computer for than just writing about computers, OSes, software, and why these things should matter to people. In fact they don’t matter to most people, and desktops and laptops have largely been replaced by smart phones and tablets now anyway. You like your Chromebook? Cool. Does it matter to most people that it’s Linux-based? Prob’ly not. Does it matter that it’s a Google gadget and it’s likely spying on you and reporting back to the Mother Ship for targeted ads and to predict what you’re likely to spend money on and where you go every day? Apparently not.

Well, it matters to me. And to maybe 2% of all desktop computer users on Earth. The other 98% are content to be carried along, captive to a single vendor and subject to it’s whims. Fine, fools.

I’m moving on.

Moving on from Diaspora the digital ghetto, moving on from trying to convert others to this truly better way of computing and managing applications, data, and workload. I’ll still advocate for Linux and Free Open Source Software (FOSS) when and if the subject ever comes up at school or work or church or hanging out, and here in this blog from time to time when I feel moved to do so and have something interesting to write about that might be of interest to others who appreciate it’s value.

Kinda Missing My Linux Lite

I know, I know. I’ve already got the bestest, most wonderfulest and awesomeful Linux distro in the history of ever on my ‘puter. It’s not encumbered by systemd, it’s got cool tools, good looks, great performance, and a wonderful supportive community.

But I still miss my Linux Lite, and I’m torrenting the latest release all day today. I intend to dual-boot it with my equally fantastical and awesomeful MX-18.

Why, you ask? Why, why whyyyyy would you do such a thing?! After all that stuff you said about Ubuntu-based distros putting Beta software in their updates and all that stuff about what systemd might well become?

I have several good reasons, and I’m not alone! A lot of cool techno-wizard types who use MX-Linux and AntiX and post regularly in MX forums also use Linux Lite and help out in their forums! The two distros share a common mission in spite of their different bases and different philosophies. That mission is making and keeping desktop Linux easy and simple for us “mere mortals,” us ordinary desktop and laptop computer users. They have different ways of doing it, and both are great! I tend to give Linux Lite the edge in that department so far. My reasons for dual-booting:

  • For new Linux users that I don’t do the installations for, Linux Lite is much easier to install. That Ubiquity installer from Ubuntu is just the best there is, and I wish the Debian-based distros would adopt and use it.
  • If I do the installation, it’s likely to be MX-Linux if they are interested in really learning how to configure and maintain it. If they’re honestly not willing or inclined to learn more, and to join the forums and learn to responsibly maintain a DebianLinux system, I’ll install Linux Lite for them, which – for now at least – has a very low learning curve and built-in maintenance features for “lazy” users.
  • I can provide much better support to these new users if I use the same distro and can “click along with them” to configure, adjust, and maintain their OS.
  • I can remove 99.999% of the risk posed by the Ubuntu base by adding the “after market” tools that minimize the update dangers and make the menus and such more intuitive (in my opinion). UnlockMe also has the simplest way to add software that isn’t in the Linux Lite and Ubuntu repositories. If I do the install, I’ll use a custom iso that includes these wonderful tools.

Linux Lite has a wonderful community of friendly people, and like the MX-forums, the developer(s) actively participate in those forums. That means a lot to me, still being as technophobic as I ever was, despite being geeky enough to use Linux and actually understand some of the techno-jargon in Star Trek, my all-time favorite entertainment escape. They are also easily searchable and welcoming for those few newbies who actually regret not wanting to learn more at first.

So look for an overdue review of the current version later this week or next.

“Artim”

Linux Lite 3.6

Some might say it’s “Xubuntu done right.”

But “right” is a very subjective term. Right for me is first simple, second, fast, third novice-friendly (because I prefer to use the same distro I’m sharing with so many people new to Linux, since it’s so much easier to provide support to them), and fourth suitable for modest, older hardware that can’t handle newer versions of Windows or the big fancy mainline Linux distributions. For others, Voyager is “Xubuntu done right.” For others, Linux Mint Xfce is “Xubuntu done right;” and for many others, it just doesn’t get any better than Xubuntu right out of the chute. Until I discovered Linux Lite, Xubuntu was my go-to distro. The others are all wonderful, but most were either to “heavy” for my old hardware, or not suitable for sharing with “newbies” who never used Linux before. Linux Mint Xfce would ordinarily be my first choice for newcomers to Linux, but many of these new arrivals are here because their computers are older models with low resources, and even the “lightweight” Mint can become a bit resource-hungry.

Linux Lite is built from Ubuntu core (minimal) and uses a very highly modified Xfce desktop which makes it far less demanding on resources than most Xfce-flavored Linux distributions.

But it doesn’t stop there. That would be enough, but Linux Lite aims to be beginner-friendly as well. The trick is to be “newbie friendly” without adding so much GUI stuff (graphical user interface) that you weigh it down and make it slow and cumbersome.

Ease of use used to be a trade-off, sacrificing speed. Or if you wanted speed and miserly demand on RAM and processors, you sacrificed the GUI stuff that makes Linux “friendly” for us ordinary mortals. Linux Lite blows that old paradigm away. You really don’t have to sacrifice speed and resource-demand to make Linux “play nice” for beginners, kids, great grandparents, and even technophobes.

Linux Lite achieves this “impossible” blend of simplicity and speed in three ways:

The first I already mentioned – the very highly modified Xfce desktop. Xfce is ordinarily easy on processing power anyway, but by not mixing it with Compiz and other extra goodies outside of Xfce’s own designs in hopes of making it “elegant” or whatever, it retains it’s undemanding qualities. Other tweaks make it even less resource hungry than “plain vanilla” Xfce.

The second is Linux Lite’s collection of awesome tools, not least of which is the Welcome Screen (which you can bring up on demand long after your first use of the distro) which offers step-by-step links to updating and upgrading, maintaining, cleaning, adding or removing software – all with point-and-click ease. Other cool tools include Lite Sources, which lets you choose from among software repositories anywhere in the universe, for faster updates and upgrades. Choosing the one closest to where you live is generally best, of course. And Lite Tweaks lets you personalize your desktop, clean up any junk, recover wasted space, and speed things up even more!

How is a new user supposed to know that Thunar is a file manager? They don’t know Thunar, but they know Files – Home – Pictures and whatever. So other than the applications everybody probably knows, like Firefox, apps are named for what they do, not the whimsical names that don’t really offer any clue as to their function. That’s simplicity without bloat if ever there was.

A feather is the official symbol of Linux Lite, and it’s completely appropriate. And that heart, well, that just means I love it! That huge dagger behind my back in the picture simply represents hacking out all the extra bloatware and cruft that most people assume is necessary to make a Linux distribution “user friendly.”

To make this Ubuntu-based distribution even more safe and secure, I recommend unlockforus – an “unofficial” repository of wonderful stuff not approved by Linux Lite (yet?) but either developed for Linux Lite or adapted for Linux Lite from other Linux distributions, like the awesome MintStick app and of course the must-have Mint Updater adapted for Linux Lite.

Enjoy!