Introduction to Xubuntu
Xubuntu Linux is a community developed operating system that works well on new and older hardware. Xubuntu shares some code with Ubuntu Linux, a flavour (distribution) of Linux backed by Canonical, a company that provides commercial support for Ubuntu.
Xubuntu Linux is lighter on resources, and generally works better on older hardware than Ubuntu. Ubuntu Linux was at one time the most popular “desktop” Linux distribution, but many changes, and the appearance of many other distributions means more people exploring other flavours of Linux. Xubuntu has always been less popular than Ubuntu, but for the Working Centre’s Computer Recycling Project it’s been our go-to distribution of Linux since April 2010.
Xubuntu uses the XFCE desktop environment. Different flavours of Linux use different desktop environments. For a complete tour of the XFCE environment see the XFCE tour web page at: https://xfce.org/about/tour418. (It’s worth mentioning that Xubuntu 20.04, the slightly older long term service release version Computer Recycling installs on most systems, uses an older version of XFCE 4.14, that may have a few different features).
Instead of XFCE, Ubuntu Linux (another flavour of Linux), uses the GNOME desktop environment. Currently there are at least 14 different desktop environments actively being developed. It’s possible to install other desktop environments in Xubuntu, you don’t have to use XFCE if you don’t want. For example, if you like how Ubuntu Budgie looks like, you can install the budgie desktop environment in Xubuntu by opening a terminal and typing:
sudo apt install ubuntu-budgie-desktop
You’ll be prompted for your password, then Xubuntu will ask you to confirm the installation (Y/n). The confirmation appears because ubuntu-budgie-desktop installs a number of other programs the Budgie desktop depends on, so Xubuntu prompts you to confirm you want to install all those programs. After installation Budgie desktop will be installed, but you won’t see the desktop until you log out of the system, and change the desktop environment at the login prompt. A more complete list of desktop environments can be found here:
Not all these desktop environments can be installed in Xubuntu as easy as Budgie, but the list gives you a sense of how different some of the environments can be.
If you find an environment you like better than XFCE, you can always check the Ubuntu flavours web page for other Ubuntu-based Linux distributions. Kubuntu, Lubuntu, Ubuntu Budgie, Ubuntu MATE, Ubuntu Studio, Ubuntu Unity, Xubuntu, and Ubuntu Kylin are all variations of Ubuntu Linux with different software, different looks, and different purposes. The web page above links to each of those distribution’s web sites.
Xubuntu Linux follows the same development schedule as Ubuntu Linux, with a major version released every two years in April. These major releases are known as Long Term Support (LTS) releases. LTS releases have 5 years of hardware and maintenance updates. LTS releases also qualify for 5 years of Extended Security Maintenance (ESM) updates. ESM requires either an “Ubuntu Pro” subscription. People using Xubuntu and Ubuntu on their personal computers can sign up for a Pro subscription for up to 5 computers for free. See the Ubuntu Pro web page for more information about free and paid options.
Minor versions of Xubuntu are released every six months and only have nine months of support. This seems like a very short time for support. You might wonder why release a version with only 9 months of support. Minor releases incorporate newer features and versions of software. These minor releases are a testing ground for things that may, or may not get rolled into the next major version of Linux.
For a more in-depth explanation of the Xubuntu/Ubuntu release cycle see this web page on Ubuntu.com: https://ubuntu.com/about/release-cycle
Xubuntu versus Ubuntu (visually)
Here’s a visual comparison between Xubuntu 22.10 (the latest minor version at the time of writing) and Ubuntu 22.10.
A manual, written by Xubuntu volunteers, can be found on the Xubuntu web site at: https://docs.xubuntu.org/current/user/C/xubuntu-documentation-USletter.pdf
Additionally, the Working Centre’s Computer Recycling project has created a manual that covers our implementation of Xubuntu Linux, which includes a number of extra programs. That manual can be found here: [github link to CR Xubuntu manual in PDF format]
Elements of Xubuntu Linux
These elements are common not just for Xubuntu Linux, but most Linux distributions/flavours that use the XFCE desktop environment. These are the terms/elements used by the XFCE team for the interface environment. Some other distributions that use XFCE include: MX Linux, EndeavourOS, Linux Lite, AV Linux, and many more which include it as an alternate desktop environment.
All of these distributions feature:
Panels are the long or short like bars that appear at the top, sides, or bottom. Panels are normally at the very top, bottom, left or right, but can be made to be “floating” away from the edge of the screen with a bit of tweaking to the panel settings. In Xubuntu you can add as many panels as you’d like. Panels are independent from one another and can be individually configured to contain different items on each panel. Any more than a couple of panels on the screen is probably overkill.
The Computer Recycling project installation of Xubuntu 20.04 normally includes 2 panels, a slim panel at the top identical to the default installation of Xubuntu, and a larger panel at the bottom with quick launch icons for programs we’ve found useful.
Creating a new panel is easy:
- Right click on an empty space in the panel at the top.
- Hover over the Panel option in the menu that appears
- Click Panel Preferences in the menu that pops out
- Click the + symbol beside Panel 0 in the Panel Preferences dialog box that appears
To remove a panel click -, but don’t remove Panel 0 unless you really intend to. There is also a Backup and restore button beside Profiles in the Panel Preferences dialog box that’s handy if you plan on experimenting with changing your panel(s).
The (Whisker) Menu
Xubuntu Linux has a small icon in the far left of the top panel that looks like a white mouse head surrounded by a blue circle. When clicked on this icon opens up a menu. In recent versions of Xubuntu this menu is known as the “whisker menu.” Older versions of Xubuntu and other flavours of Linux may use a different XFCE menu that looks a bit more simple. The whisker menu looks a bit more modern, compared to older versions of the menu program used in XFCE. The whisker menu is searchable, and categorizes software in a nice structured system, and lets you add particular programs to a “favourites” option that’s near the top of the menu.
Workspace(s) / Desktop(s)
The default installation of Xubuntu Linux defaults to one “workspace.” Workspaces are the entire space visible for you to work on. The concept of workspaces is a bit different from “the desktop.” Other operating systems, Microsoft Windows in particular, the desktop was the workspace. There’s one important difference between a Windows Desktop and a workspace, it’s possible to add and switch between many virtual workspaces in Xubuntu/XFCE/Linux. Almost every desktop environment I can think of in Linux had permitted switching between many “virtual” workspaces.
Why have many workspaces? On one workspace you might have Spotify open playing your music playlist, on another you might have LibreOffice Writer open working on documentation, and on a third workspace you might have GIMP open editing an image to go in your documentation, while on a fourth workspace you have a text editor open working on some code. You could have all these programs open on one workspace, as you might on a Windows desktop, but this clutters the screen and is difficult to work with. Workspaces let you run programs at full screen size, and switch between them using hot keys or the mouse through a program called the workspace switcher.
As mentioned earlier, Xubuntu defaults to one workspace (emulating the way Windows works). To add the workspace switcher (which will let you add more workspaces):
- Right click on an empty space in the panel
- Hover over panel
- Click Add New Items
- Scroll down the Add New Items dialog until Workspace Switcher is selected
- Click the Add button at the bottom of the Add New Items dialog
A box will appear in the top right of the panel. To add more workspaces to the workspace switcher right click it, select Workspace Settings, the click the + beside Number of workspaces in the Workspaces dialog box that appears.
Right clicking on an empty (no programs open) part of a workspace brings up an XFCE menu. Most of the items at the top of the menu are “context” items that may change if you right click somewhere else, in a Thunar File Manager window for example. At the bottom of the menu is Applications, which, when hovered over, results in a menu similar to the whisker menu (except it’s not searchable in this context).
Icons / Launchers
Xubuntu 20.04 defaults to showing icons for the Home folder, File System folder and Trash, on the desktop. This behaviour can be changed by typing Desktop into the whisker menu, opening the Desktop program, switching to the Icons tab in the Desktop program, and unchecking each option under default icons.
There are a couple of ways to add icons to the desktop. The simplest method is to find a program in the whisker menu and drag the icon for that menu out to the desktop. A more difficult method involves right clicking on an empty space on the desktop, clicking Create Launcher, and filling out the different fields to point to a particular program. This second method is handy for adding programs that don’t appear in the menu (for example: programs made for a different desktop environment).
Why I like Xubuntu Linux
I like Xubuntu Linux because it’s simple, yet functional. While XFCE, the desktop environment Xubuntu uses, predates Windows XP (XFCE – 1996, vs Windows XP – 2001), the current look of Xubuntu, with a single slim panel, is reminiscent of Windows XP (except the panel is at the top by default).
I’ve tested a lot of Linux distributions at the Computer Recycling Project. While Xubuntu hasn’t worked perfectly on everything, it tends to work very well on hardware from the past 10 years.
Xubuntu is backed by the same software repositories the Ubuntu project is, so there is a lot of software available for Xubuntu Linux.
One thing I find awesome about Xubuntu are the hot keys. I’ve shared a few of the hot keys I find useful in this video on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rvrk_utew9k&t=114s