It’s a challenge to talk about Xubuntu Linux without referring to Xubuntu’s more popular relative, Ubuntu Linux. Ubuntu Linux was started in 2004 and based around a then popular flavour/distribution of Linux, Debian.
Debian Linux was the distribution The Working Centre’s Computer Recycling Project initially used to develop our own Linux distribution, WCLP – Working Centre Linux Project, way back in 2001. By 2006 the project had switched to Ubuntu Linux. Ubuntu Linux was a rising star back in 2006, it made installing “difficult to install” proprietary drivers easy (compared to Debian). And because Ubuntu was based on Debian, people with Debian experience could easily adapt to Ubuntu.
Ubuntu has changed a lot over the years. Back in 2010 Ubuntu switched the desktop environment from GNOME 2 to a desktop environment they’d been developing in-house, Unity. This was a problem for our project since many of the laptops we received at the time could not run the Unity desktop environment. At this time we went looking for a distribution/flavour of Linux that looked and worked a bit more like the Ubuntu of old. This is when the project switched to installing Xubuntu. We’ve been using Xubuntu ever since.
The Unity desktop was praised by many, but there was also a lot of complaints about the new environment (I suspect quite a few were for the same reason we dropped Ubuntu/Unity). Around mid 2017 Ubuntu dropped Unity for the GNOME 3 desktop environment. While the Unity desktop environment is still being developed, the featured desktop environment for Ubuntu has been GNOME 3 ever since.
Besides the difference in the desktop environment, Ubuntu includes a different set of programs during the installation, than Xubuntu. When Ubuntu first starts, it encourages people to “Connect Your Online Accounts.” Ubuntu lets you integrate Google, Microsoft (cloud), Nextcloud, and Ubuntu Single Sign-On accounts during the initial boot up. The Online Accounts screen can be skipped if you don’t want to use this method to access online calendars, documents and photos. A couple of other information screens appear if you click skip, until the window switches to a “Ready to go” window. At this point clicking Done will close the initial welcome dialog box.
Ubuntu features a thick panel on the left side of the screen, and a smaller panel at the top. Nine tiny boxes, that form a box, in the bottom left of the window, open a screen of installed software when clicked. This new screen contains more software than appears on the screen and can be searched by typing the name of a program in the search field at the top.
Ubuntu’s settings program is a bit simpler to use compared to the settings program in Xubuntu. I like how settings are handled in Xubuntu. Settings in Xubuntu look similar to how settings appear in Windows 7, a window, with a number of icons to control different categories of settings.
Ubuntu takes a slightly different approach grouping different settings on the left pane of a window. Switching between different settings in Ubuntu is a matter of clicking one of the other tabs.
While Ubuntu has come a long way, it is still more resource demanding than Xubuntu. On a 3rd generation Core i5 with 8GB of RAM and an SSD Ubuntu perfoms decently, but while it’s possible to install on something like an older Core 2 Duo desktop with a decent graphics card, it’s better to stick with lighter-weight options like Xubuntu or Lubuntu.
Online account integration is nice if you like that kind of thing, but I’ve always felt the less my computer stores sensitive passwords the better. I’ve become accustomed to Xubuntu’s default set of hot keys and some of the quirks and bugs in Xubuntu, so despite some of the nicer features of Ubuntu, I still prefer to use Xubuntu.