Distro Hopped Again - Hello Xubuntu and XFCE

Like all things, my hardware keeps getting older, but nothing's stopped working yet so until things go bang let's make the most of what we have.

KDE and Kubuntu were fantastic, I do really enjoy that desktop environment, and it shows as I have been hopping between that Gnome (and Unity) since 2007. Out of curiosity over December I installed Xubuntu onto a Live USB to give it a test ride. It is one of those things I have kept putting off for a few years now, just kept telling myself that my hardware is not old enough for XFCE yet, but just like me it really did benefit from this change.

XFCE.org describes the desktop environment as;

"Xfce is a lightweight desktop environment for UNIX-like operating systems. It aims to be fast and low on system resources, while still being visually appealing and user friendly."

Xubuntu also says;

"Xubuntu is perfect for those who want the most out of their desktops, laptops and netbooks with a modern look and enough features for efficient, daily usage. It works well on older hardware too."

My slightly personalised Xubuntu desktop

Let's be honest, that sums up exactly what I need and would like. KDE is less of a resource hog than Gnome, but XFCE is in a whole different ballpark. Since installation my PC feels brand new, everything happens straight away when I click, with the only lag being when opening the web browser (Brave) for the first time. Using menu to search for an application usually means it is racing ahead of me rather than trying to keep up. Under KDE that sluggish feeling would remain while the browser was running but that is not the case with XFCE, things remain snappy and quick. When Kup would run for a backup the system would slow right down, but I am using Timeshift under XFCE and when it runs without me noticing a drop in performance.

I did look at Manjaro XFCE, albeit briefly. I have used Opensuse in the past, and more recently KDE Neon (which is not a rolling release, but is bleeding edge with respect to the KDE software). I always enjoy the getting the latest software, but if something goes wrong when I need the computer then I end up reaching for a Live USB with a Ubuntu LTS installed as it's quicker than searching for a solution online. Ubuntu based distros do benefit from a very large community of users and chances are whatever issues I have bumped into have already been solved. Do not misunderstand me, I have always been able to find an answer to a problem with any other distro I have tried, but the Ubuntu based distro's just seem to been more front and centre. 

Fedora even offer a 'spin' of XFCE, actually chances are whatever your favourite distro is there is probably a XFCE desktop environment available. So at least that way you can remain within a familiar eco-system of getting things done.

There was an issue, I could not get Xubuntu 20.10 to install. I kept getting an error at the end of the installation saying Grub experienced a fatal error and the installation would end. I tried downloading from a few different locations, but just could not get it to finish the installation. Next I tried going back to the previous various, but since that is a LTS then it's also around and fully-supported for several years. 

*Update* - It looks like I was affected by bug #1893964. So it may just be an issue for those manually partitioning. I have marked myself affected. Comments #8 & #9 suggest a workaround for those wanting to complete the process with 20.10

With Xubuntu 20.04 LTS it installed first time, no problems. LTS versions are probably the safer choice versus the 6 monthly interim versions if you are looking for stability, and do seem to be by far the preferred choice for users. I probably should have started with that first, I may try to upgrade to 20.10 on the laptop as it is less in demand.

Installation, with 20.04 LTS, went smooth partitioned my normal way;

  • /swap - sized at 8GB as that's twice my RAM
  • /root - sized at 20GB, which is overkill, but I have the space
  • /home - the rest of my HDD space
Partitioning manually is obviously optional, you can just let the installer do all the work for you and not think about it. I prefer having a /home partition as I do like to try other distros and it acts like a 'soft' backup always having it there. I always make sure I have an up-to-date backup and do make one before doing anything like this!


Plank just needed to be added to the startup options


After installation, I used the panel profiles to change the look to the Ubuntu 18.04 option. Then installed the 'Plank' software to have a simple dock. Installing Plank does add it to the startup applications, so I just had to add it to the list myself. Very simple, a new entry called Plank and command is plank. Then it is just a process of installing my favourite applications, the only ones that take any work installing are the Brave browser, Tutanota desktop and Minecraft as I have to go online and download. Everything else can be found within the included Xubuntu store. I tend to uninstall the Mozilla software (Firefox and Thunderbird) then my top applications are;

  • Evolution (still the best groupware suite IMO)
  • Synaptic package manager (still the most transparent way to find packages for me)
  • Bitwarden (password manager)
  • Authy (2 factor authentication)
  • Timeshift (for backups - simple rsync backups)

My favourite applications

It has taken me 14 years of using Linux to finally arrive at XFCE, but since this PC is going 12 years old, and the laptop 6 years, it is probably time. Xubuntu has given this hardware a new lease of life and I can keep working away without needing to upgrade or replace. My user case does not require much more than day-to-day basics, no heavy graphics or gaming. But that's most of us I would suspect.


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