Xubuntu 13.04 review - Et tu, Brute?


Updated: May 6, 2013

Time to review Xubuntu, a proud member of the Ubuntu family. And it's just had a new son born this spring, named Billy Bob Raring Jr. Anyhow, there are two critical aspects to this article. One, Ubuntu's been offering a fairly bland experience these past two releases, with subpar Nvidia experience and too many bugs. Two, Xubuntu has been on a steady rise ever since Pangolin, and I even added it to my best list at the end of the last year.

So let's see what gives. This time I will be a using a somewhat different approach. Instead of testing on the T61 laptop, which comes with a cheap graphics card and no hardware that requires additional proprietary drivers, I will begin with the HP Pavilion laptop. This machine has both a Broadcom Wireless, as well an Nvidia card. Double jeopardy.

Teaser

Live session - Short, efficient

Fairly fusslessly, Xubuntu loaded its live session, adorned in coal-gray and blue, a solid combination. The icon set in use is fairly standard and could definitely be improved. The bottom panel is hidden by default, and you get two Bluetooth icons in the top panel, which is caused by an overzealous loading of two different applets that control the functionality.

Live desktop

Bottom panel

Extra BT icon

The menu is stylish, and the fonts are crisp.

Menu

Wireless & Samba sharing

Worked well, without any issues. No extra verbiage needed here.

Look & feel

Xubuntu is coming around nicely, and Raring Ringtail is no exception. While the overall look hasn't changed much in the past year or so, you do get tiny improvements and polish that add to the overall impression. For example, the system settings menu has all the options you need to configure the system, no reason to go wandering wildly about.

System settings

Installation

Wait, what? What about all the other stuff, Dedo? After we install the system, because like all Ubuntu flavors, Xubuntu comes fun-free, and you will get perks once it's committed to the system.

Well, let me tell you a bit about the setup. The HP laptop boots Windows 7 and a Linux distro internally. At the moment, it's still Lucid, but we will be amending this, soon. The external disk comes with more goodies, including Ubuntu Pangolin, Kubuntu Quetzal, Linux Mint Nadia, and Fuduntu, so far. I added Ringtail to be the fifth operating system on the external device.

Install

Partitions

The installation was quick and uneventful, although downloads were a bit slow, most likely because of the post-release usage peak. The slideshow is that much improved.

Slideshow

Xubuntu in action! And there's so much of it.

Now comes all the promised fun. The installed desktop looks the same as before, and even the extra Bluetooth icon was retained. The reason is, of course, that under Session and Startup, you have both Blueman Applet and Bluetooth Manager configured to load. The one problem is, it's not easy to know which one corresponds to the black icon, and which one to the more stylish and naturally integrated silver gray one.

Installed desktop

Double Bluetooth icon

Updates & package management

There were just a few tiny updates, and the system was soon upgraded to the max. Like a boss. Other than that, the Ubuntu Software Center is identical to the program that loads on the Unity desktop, so you get a fair bit of commonality here.

Updates

Ubuntu Software Center

Nvidia graphics card setup - The most important thing!

All right. So now, I wanted to install the Nvidia drivers. Remember the fiasco we had with Ubuntu just six months back? As it turns out, you should seek your drivers under Software Sources in the Ubuntu Software Center. It's a stupid choice, but that's how it is.

Anyhow, Broadcom drivers were already in use the moment the distro started. For the X stack, Nouveau was in use. I selected the Nvidia 313 updates option and applied the changes.

Installing Nvidia drivers

Reboot. Some serious shit begins. I did not end up with a black screen. No. I ended with a kernel oops. Here's a snippet of the call trace for those who care about this kind of thing, ever so slightly edited for visual clarity and aesthetics. 

[   14.513756] BUG: unable to handle kernel paging request at ... 
[   14.513923] IP: [<ffffffffa0713820>]
               patch_generic_hdmi+0xe0/0x550 [snd_hda_codec_hdmi]
[   14.514026] PGD 1c0e063 PUD bf7de067 PMD 133fb7063 PTE ...
[   14.514254] Oops: 0003 [#1] SMP

...

[   14.517772] CPU 1
[   14.517820] Pid: 623, comm: modprobe Tainted: PF O
               3.8.0-19-generic #29-Ubuntu Hewlett-Packard
               HP Pavilion dv6 Notebook PC/3659
[   14.517925] RIP: 0010:[<ffffffffa0713820>]
               [<ffffffffa0713820>] patch_generic_hdmi+0xe0/0x550
               [snd_hda_codec_hdmi]

...

Who might care? I don't know who might. Like, maybe developers? Anyhow, the crash was caused by the loading of a module into the memory, which speaks of bad coding, naughty, naughty module.

At this stage, I did not even have a virtual console to login. Hard boot, try again. Same thing here. After maybe three or four reboots, the system went past this stage, and I could login to one of the consoles and do some basic investigation, but soon enough, the distro presented me with a black screen. Unusable, undebuggable. And I also hate that output above, because it splits across multiple lines in an ugly manner, and you're hurting my OCD. Damn it.

Reinstall

Much like my Fuduntu experiment, but for all the different reasons, I had to reinstall the box. So I redid the process, and here's the funny thing. This time, the installation was different. One, after the initial install, I had all the updates as well as the Nvidia drivers, out of the box. Two, there were no crashes, no problems, and things were going smoothly. So not only was the issue resolved, it was resolved in a whole different manner, and this pisses me off the most.

A message to Ubuntu developers

So I tell you thusly:

I am beginning to lose confidence in you, in distro developers everywhere. Consistency and predictability of response are the two most important components of a system and its upgrades. Once upon a time, installing Nvidia drivers was a smooth, painless process. Even since you killed Jockey and introduced the Additional drivers tab into the Software Center, problems started piling up like goat turds. I have reached the point where I dread messing up with the system, because it might irrecoverably crash, because you do not bother to do proper QA and test your shit on more than one laptop. And for this, I hate you and despise you, because you do not give me the peace of mind that I can ever leave Windows behind. Moreover, we have Steam now. People who want Steam use proper graphics cards. Do you expect them to debug kernel crashes because you're too busy combing streaks in a pile of shit instead of doing real work?

After the reinstall

Here's the system, purring nicely along, with the Nvidia drivers, as if nothing bad has happened, whatsoever. Only I had that bitter taste of betrayal in my mouth. It's the taste prisoners feel when they are initiated to their new and happy environment.

Nvidia works now

Nvidia drivers loaded

If you look for the Nvidia settings panel, it is tucked away nicely in the System settings menu, so it's quite handy, this kind of arrangement, but it might confuse people.

Nvidia settings

And I also fixed the Bluetooth thingie:

Fixed Bluetooth icon

Multimedia

You get your codecs, and it's all good. Gmusicbrowser remains a phenomenal piece of software that can morph and shift into any which layout form, so it's like you have a dozen different players. Anyhow, MP3 and Flash, ok.

Music, MP3 playback

Youtube, Flash

Steam

Installed without any problems, although the installation procedure is a little quirky. We will have a separate article to address this, and the Flash thingie still remains. But you have your client running happily. Jolly good.

Steam installing

Steam running

No Flash on 64-bit installs

Applications

Xubuntu Raring Ringtail comes with a solid combo of programs. By default, you have Firefox, Thunderbird, Pidgin, Transmission, GIMP, Abiword, and a few others. It's not a startling collection, but it is decent enough, well balanced and functional.

Apps

Stability, resources & speed

Apart from the initial involuntary procreation effort forced upon me, there were no other problems. Suspend & resume was quick, even from an external USB disk. Everything worked well. The resource usage is a bit high, but nothing too dramatic. The CPU is phenomenally quiet, at around 1% all the time. The memory usage is 650MB, which is on the heavy side, but the responsiveness was just phenomenal. After CentOS, this is probably the fastest desktop I have ever used, even without SSD. Indeed, like Jeremy Clarkson likes to say, speeeeeeeeeeeeeeed! If only my back orifice did not hurt so much from alien probing.

Resources

Beautiful desktop

Remember my pimping session, well I achieved much the same here.

Nice desktop 1

Nice desktop 2

Nice desktop, with Nvidia settings panel

Almost final looks, with Steam icon

Final looks

Conclusion

Had it not been for the crash, this would have been a PERFECT desktop environment. Really, it would. But no, alas, I cannot give it that grade. Not after being molested and not paid for it. Not after losing another notch of confidence with Linux, and Ubuntu in particular. Just as we make progress with Steam, we lose something else. The law of universal conservation of crap.

Anyhow, Xubuntu 13.04 Raring Ringtail almost has it all. It's stylish, elegant, ultra fast, stable, and comes with a good focus on efficiency and productivity. You also gain the seemingly solid Ubuntu base, except the associated feces with the kernel crash that was induced, most likely, by my innocent attempt to install the Nvidia driver for my hardware, which I paid for, you know. So, had it not been for that, Xubuntu 13.04 would have gotten a beautiful perfect round 10/10, the third time I ever gave it to any distro. But the reality dictates a lower grade, much like Fuduntu, 9/10. Shame, real shame.

Cheers.

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