Xubuntu 11.10: go, little ‘Buntu, go!

The release announcement was not exactly bashful:

There are a few times when, through hard work and diligence, we get things right. The developers and contributors of Xubuntu 11.10 “Oneiric Ocelot” believe they have it right. They are proud to announce the release of Xubuntu 11.10, “Oneiric Ocelot”. Through the outstanding efforts of all involved, this sleek and smooth release offered for your enjoyment and use.

(The grammar snob within me will be polite for once.) I installed Xubuntu 11.04 when it came out. I liked it a lot, and I think I could have learned to love it. But for various reasons—Foresight Linux, Mageia, Hurricane Irene, KDE, a gray enveloping torpor—I didn’t specifically blog about it. Xubuntu got some heavy name-checking in my Foresight Linux review from last May, and that’s about it.

Before then, I had never spent a lot of time with Xubuntu. I don’t even remember what version(s) I tried, but I wasn’t especially impressed. Until this year, my only—or at least my most—positive experience with Xfce was in an unofficial community mix of Mandriva 2010. That lived for a few months on a since-retired computer that I used for working on during the day while looking after my wife as she slowly recovered from a series of major surgeries. (That computer is going to rise again; all I need is a couple of parts.) I enjoyed it, but went back to a Gnome 2 desktop after a few months. Then, as now, my work is stored on a computer upstairs. I figured out how to mount remote partitions in the fstab on the Work Computer, but for reasons I no longer remember, that stopped working one day, and I couldn’t get it to work ever again. I might not have knocked myself out over it, either. I did perceive the Mandriva 2010 Gnome release as being aesthetically on a higher level than its Xfce release; depending on what you think of Apple, Gnome 2.2x/2.30 on Mandriva might have been the most visually appealing desktop ever. (Honestly, I’ve never spent enough time around Apple products to have strong—or at least intellectually honest—opinions about their legendary interfaces.)

The release of Xfce 4.8 (in January 2011) and Gnome 3 (in April) got me interested in Xfce again. The technical improvements over 4.6 are significant and have been remarked upon. One thing I noticed is that a lot of work has been done to make Xfce look better. To some extent, that is coincidence; SalineOS has proven that an elegant desktop can be constructed on an Xfce 4.6 base. And Linux Mint managed to make their first Debian Edition Xfce release look reasonably Minty. But Kubuntu 11.04 surprised me; it was a visual knockout, the most gorgeous desktop I’d ever seen on any *Buntu.

Now on to 11.10. Have they, indeed, gotten it right?

Installation
Here is a bit of a change. When I installed Xubuntu 11.10 on the “Play Computer”, it dispensed with the “% done” displays I described as so much phonus balonus in last week’s Kubuntu ravings. But the following day, I installed a copy on the laptop, and I noticed that some of the text I expected to see accompanying the progress bar had gone missing. I wonder if the vaunted *Buntu installer has gotten heavier and not everything could be displayed on my aging laptop. I used the same disk for both installations, and checked the disk integrity first (a pleasant option that *Buntu live CDs offer), and the display was noticeably different between the two computers. I don’t need the prompts so it wasn’t a big deal for me, but I don’t know if newer explorers might wonder. I’m not trying to brag; it’s just that I’ve put this installer through its paces more times than I can remember.

Anyway, I asked for the restricted drivers, but not for the updates. The installer asks you for some information near the beginning of its routine, and after I supplied that and flipped through the slideshow, I went off do do a few chores and pretty much left the installation unattended. It seemed faster than Kubuntu’s, but that is probably because I didn’t sit there like a buffoon and look at it.

First impressions
Here is the announcement from the Xubuntu news page:

Changes for this release include the following applications included by default: gThumb, pastebinit, and onboard. The team has also chosen to switch from GDM to LightDM as the default display manager and from mousepad to leafpad as the default text editor.

Nothing there that shatters the time-space continuum, really. Not even a deposing of an old favorite; gThumb—another single-hump camelCapped name—competes with but doesn’t replace Ristretto, the traditional Xfce viewer. I looked at a few utilities and applications that come standard with Xubuntu. Thunar has moved from 1.21 to 1.23; Gnumeric (which you get, along with AbiWord, instead of LibreOffice) from 1.10.13 to 1.10.17; and xfterminal from 0.4.7 to 0.4.8. The credits on the Help | About are animated in both Gnumeric and GIMP (which is version 2.6.11, just as it was in Xubuntu 11.04); the animation makes them harder to read, but it looks kind of spiffy.

I fired up AbiWord to write a note for my wife (Emacs isn’t known for attractive printouts, and I wonder what would happen if I sent a message to the Emacs Listserv saying, “Hey, I leave notes around for my wife and I want them to have some pizazz, not this corny M-X ps-print-buffer with lines that sometimes run off the edges, what’s up with that?” Would RMS find a little place in his heart for that message?) and was puzzled; AbiWord has a pleasantly hi-res editing screen, but it moved like a sullen child; the cursor loped along like it was on a 286 running That Other Operating System 3.1. I found that it had maybe 40 plugins enabled, including an ISCII Importer/Exporter (it’s Indian ASCII, which you might have known but I sure didn’t), a ClarisWorks Importer, a .wmf Import Plugin, a Google Plugin, AbiGarble (that sounds like fun!)…. I could go on, but I’d do better to save up my energy for figuring out how to load them only when I need them, not all in a big pile.

Xubuntu 11.10′s arboreal default wallpaper and darkish window dressing are all but identical to its predecessor’s. All in all, the biggest change—one that Xubuntu inherited with its siblings—is probably the migration to Linux 3.0.0-12.

Poking around, I did happen upon an immediate problem. I opened Thunar, went [Ctrl-L] to type in a location, and endeavored to go to one of the shared folders on the “Fun Computer” by typing in smb://f…. Something changed color. A regression had crept into Thunar, and, just like in earlier versions under Xfce 4.6, the language of Samba was unknown to it. A quick search via Startpage, which claims not to track anything about you, uncovered the answer: a package called gvfs-backends had gotten left out, and I had to install that from the repo. (I learned from the Launchpad page that the “something that changed color” was a “no entry icon” that appears when you type in a protocol that Thunar doesn’t like or doesn’t understand.)

The Broadcom problem discussed in the Kubuntu 11.10 review exists here, and because it is an identical problem, it has an identical solution.

So here’s what I had to do to get a fully functioning Xubuntu system.

sudo apt-get install gvfs-backends
sudo apt-get install b43-fwcutter
wget http://mirror2.openwrt.org/sources/broadcom-wl-4.150.10.5.tar.bz2
tar xf broadcom-wl-4.150.10.5.tar.bz2
cd broadcom-wl-4.150.10.5/driver
sudo b43-fwcutter -w /lib/firmware wl_apsta_mimo.o
modprobe b43

I then had to edit /etc/samba/smb.conf to replace ; name resolve order = lmhosts host wins bcast with name resolve order = bcast host lmhosts wins and edit /etc/modules to add a line reading, simply, b43. I edited the two files in nano. The whole operation from “So here’s what I had to do” to here took about 3 or 4 minutes, After rebooting, I had a working Xubuntu installation, and all I needed to do was load up with some software I rely on and copy some of that software’s customization files over from my backups (e.g., accountrc for Claws Mail, .emacs and a few others for Emacs), and I was good to go. By “working”, I mean that Thunar can browse networks and accept SMB addresses with the best of them, and I can get onto any WiFi network that will have me, including several very fine and upstanding WiFi networks.

A couple of other things come in mighty handy. I disabled the touchpad and added a compose key. These are best accomplished, as near as I can figure out, by adding them to Session and Startup. To wit: From the menu, go Settings | Settings Manager, and then choose Session and Startup. That screen has five tabs, the middle one of which is called Application Autostart. Choose that one. Click the button near the bottom that says Add, and your screen should look a lot like this (if you have trouble reading this image, click on it and you’ll get a full-sized copy):

To add a compose key hotkey, give it a name like, uh, ComposeKey (duhhhh…), and where it asks you for the command, type in (or paste from this page):

setxkbmap -option compose:lwin

That’ll make your left Windows key a compose-key trigger. You can also use, for example, rwin for the right Windows key—the one with the context menu on it—or lalt (left Alt key), ralt, lctrl (left Ctrl key), rctrl, or even caps (Caps Lock key). For the life of me, I can’t find a complete listing of these things anywhere.

If you rarely use international characters or for whatever reason don’t want to add that script to your startup, the Gnome character map 2.32.1 is available by default and may suit your purposes just great.

If you have a touchpad and you want to disable it, run the command

xinput list

You’ll see a list of input devices and numbers. The one on this laptop reads:


(What’s up with that master/slave crap, anyway? Some of the heroes of the technological revolution had tin ears.) Here is how to disable it permanently. Go to Settings | Settings Manager, Session and Startup again, like above. Add something with a name like TouchpadOff, and where it asks you for the command, type in (or paste from this page):

xinput set-prop 12 “Device Enabled” 0

Change the number 12 to whatever number is on the appropriate line in what you saw when you ran xinput list. (Ye gods, that’s an awful sentence!!)

I set up a printer: System | Printing, then Add. In my case, the printer (which is on a network) appeared in about 10 seconds, and I activated it with a couple more clicks. Installing printers in that other operating system always entailed trips to boring vendor Web sites to get patched printer drivers and fuddling around with mounds of .inf files. Installing printers in Linux—at least HP printers—truly is luxury you can afford!

Bloatware for n00bs
Xubuntu has been criticized for not really being “lightweight”; I am finding, mayhap, that there is a quite noticeable difference in resource consumption between it and Kubuntu. Here are some numbers:

Load time on my laptop, from GRUB-ho! to where it’s sitting there ready to use
Kubuntu: 48 seconds
Xubuntu: 32 seconds

RAM usage with Firefox open to my Postcrossing page, and Uncle Jim’s Master’s thesis loaded as a 115 KB LaTeX document in Emacs (LaTeX is known for being a bit of a porker in the resource department)
Kubuntu: 361-380 KB MB (Thank you, Prince Cruise!)
Xubuntu: 189-210 KB MB
(CPU usage was pretty minimal in each case)

RAM usage with nothing opened, the system just sitting there waiting for me to stop picking my nose
Kubuntu: 320 KB MB
Xubuntu: 146 KB MB

I’ll have more to say about this in a future post. Again, I don’t have any significant experience with pre-11.04 Xubuntu, and my experiences with pre-4.8 Xfce are back there with Goddess-worship and contacts between the Inca and extraterrestrials as far as being able to give you any verifiable data, so to speak. But I’ve got a couple of lovely Xfce installations and a couple of equally charming KDE installations going on now, so I hope to come up with some data that transcends individual hardware and installation quirks. I hope for a lot of things.

So did they get it right?
I can’t give an unqualified “yes”, for the following (possibly churlish) reasons:

First, leaving out gvfs-backends apparently doesn’t affect that many people, but it was an oversight—one that, according to the Launchpad talk, has already been rectified in the planning for 12.04, which will be a LTS release and probably really dynamite.

Second, so far, I haven’t found a way in which Xubuntu 11.10 is a great leap forward over Xubuntu 11.04. To put it in a more positive (or less creepy) manner, there may be substantial improvements in the underpinnings, and it may also be that Xubuntu 11.04 was so good that a great leap forward was simply not in the cards. I’d buy that. In other words, this may be as good as Xfce and Linux get in the year 2011. In that case, Xubuntu 11.10 is about as close to an unqualified “yes, they got it right” as reality will permit.

If you looked at Xfce in the past and found it lacking, give Xubuntu 11.10 a few hours. You might well find that your dissatisfactions have been addressed. It is a versatile environment that has come into its own in a big magnificent way.

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16 Responses to Xubuntu 11.10: go, little ‘Buntu, go!

  1. Dave says:

    Great write up! I can’t believe the search engines found this page already. I’ve recently switched to Xubuntu and was just embarking on fixing the smb mounts when I got to your page. Saved me a whole load of time. Thanks.

  2. Seventh Reign says:

    Pre 11.04 Xubuntu would use about 300-500 megs of Ram at Idle, with nothing open. It was actually worse than Kubuntu. 11.10 uses about 130-160 at idle. Its a remarkable improvement.

  3. Prince Cruise says:

    Nice review, but….
    Did you just mention those memory usages in KB? ;)

  4. Pingback: Links 30/10/2011: GNOME 3.3.1, GNOME User Survey | Techrights

  5. John says:

    Broadcom solved:

    Problems with > 3.0 kernels
    ===========================

    A problem has appeared with recent 3.X.X kernels where the wl.ko driver loads but is inoperable.

    The issue is related to the new bcma driver which is incompatible with this driver. The bcma driver
    is analogous to the old ssb driver and bcma needs to be removed and/or blacklisted before wl
    can function properly:

    See if any relevant drivers are loaded:
    $ lsmod | grep ‘b43 \| bcma \| wl’

    If any of these are installed, remove them (as root):
    # rmmod b43
    # rmmod bcma
    # rmmod wl

    Now load the new wl driver:
    # insmod wl.ko

    wl.ko should now be functional.

    To blacklist the bcma driver and prevent it from loading in the future:
    # echo “blacklist bcma” > /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.conf

  6. John says:

    and fglrx failed to install for me :( (( 4 years with GNU/Linux exclusively (Nvidia, though) and now Windows :( (. I don’t know a squat and everything sucks. Massively.

  7. kneekoo says:

    @John: If I’m not wrong, one “>” will rewrite the whole content of file, while “>>” adds the text to the file’s end.

    Shouldn’t it look like this?
    # echo “blacklist bcma” >> /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.conf

  8. Alex Dorser says:

    I am going to give Xubuntu a chance. My second comp for traveling is just not good enough to run newer Ubuntu with Gnome.

  9. ernie says:

    I switched to Xubuntu 11.10 after using Ubuntu 11.04 and 11.10 since they were both introduced. I have a great fondness for Ubuntu, but cam to Xubuntu for a greater ability to customize. I have found my true love in Xubuntu! My system is not a slouch either, 2nd gen i5, 6gigs ram and 640gig hd. This os is just plain fast!!
    I have discovered a problem in Ubuntu 11.10 due to the Kernel. My wifi has not been working since the original install of Ubuntu 11.10 back on the release date. I noticed the changes to Broadcom that you had to make, could this be my problem also? If so, I did not understand all of the changes that you made, I still consider myself new to Linux. By the way, my computer is a ASUS U56, which I believe is plagued with this know wifi bug.
    Can you give me a step by step instructions on how to accomplish the patch to restrore my wifi?
    Thanks,
    Ernie

  10. Eddie says:

    Ernie,
    I just looked up the Asus U56E, and the specs I saw have:

    Sierra Wireless MC8355 – Gobi 3000
    Ericsson F5521gw Mobile Broadband Module

    I don’t know if that is accurate; there are more laptop review sites than there are hot dog vendors in Fenway Park. At a command prompt, type

    lspci

    and see what it says under “wireless”. Post back and we’ll take it from there. I’ll try, but quite honestly, if it’s not a Broadcom, I’m pretty much out to sea. (This Compaq is the only laptop I’ve ever owned that had wireless.)

    If you can’t get an answer on the Ubuntu forums, I recommend Bruno’s All Things Linux, a smallish but mature and affable place (the word “noob” and its variants are, if not banned, at least strongly discouraged), most of whose denizens are smarter than I am :) .

  11. gatton says:

    Hello fellow Postcrosser. Thanks for the Xubuntu review. I’ve been a fan of xfce distros for a while. I used to run Zenwalk and sidux but never warmed to Xubuntu. I will give the live disk a spin. Take care.

  12. Fred McKinney says:

    Eddie, many thanks for providing instructions on getting computers with Broadcom wireless cards working. My wife’s laptop, a Dell Inspiron 6000, which we’ve had since soon after getting married in 2005 on which she insists on continuing to run Windows XP (I still have yet to convert her to Linux…) has one of those, and I hate it, as there are only a handful of Linux distros I’m aware of that support it right out-of-the-box.

    I did, however, run into one little snag while typing in the commands above in blue for getting Broadcom wireless drivers to work When I tried typing:

    sudo b43-fwcutter -w /lib/firmware wl_apsta_mimo.o

    I got the following error message:

    Cannot open input file wl_apsta_mimo.o

    In my case, I’m trying to install this onto a live persistent USB drive. That wouldn’t have anything to do with it, would it? If it does, do you know of a way around this?

    Thanx in advance for any help you can provide.
    Fred in St. Louis

  13. Eddie says:

    Fred,

    I have to say that I’ve never run Linux off a USB drive. I don’t know why the command sequence wouldn’t work on a flash drive, but it’s eminently possible that it doesn’t. Neither can I find an option to run b43-fwcutter in verbose mode and possibly throw exactly where it is going wrong. First thing I’d do is run locate wl_apsta_mimo.o to find out if something went wrong in the unpacking of the firmware. Other than that, I could only suggest to search the Ubuntu forums or ask on Bruno’s All Things Linux. Sorry….

  14. darkduck says:

    I liked Xubuntu 11.10 in Live session.
    Never tried it before, so have nothing to compare, except for other XFCE systems (Salix, Fedora, Saline).
    Will now try to install and compare my thoughts with yours.

    http://linuxblog.darkduck.com/2011/12/xubuntu-unbelievable-easyness-of.html

  15. jeff says:

    ernie
    The Asus u56e that I have uses an Intel N1030 for wireless.
    I have not found a driver for it in Ubuntu’s repo
    I use Debian and there is a package in Debian non-free for the firmware it needs, firmware-iwlwifi.

  16. arif says:

    how can i install gedit in xubuntu 11.10?

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