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Xubuntu — putting the zip back in Ubuntu

By: 19 December 2011 2 Comments

My, but the people over at Canonical — the group responsible for the Ubuntu Linux distribution — don’t mind a bit of controversy, do they?

For those who are late to the party, Ubuntu’s decision to promote and solely support the Unity desktop has been met with everything from joy to hostility among users. In Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal), people who upgraded to that distro were met with the Unity desktop by default but could go back to the more familiar Gnome desktop by selecting “Ubuntu Classic” at the login screen. When 11.10 (Oneiric Oscelot) came out in October, the ability to move to the default Gnome shell was gone.

There does seem to be some anger out there over Unity in some circles. Frankly, I’ve found the Unity desktop to be mostly fine and wrote up my impressions of it here. The desktop is significantly different from the Microsoft Windows XP-like environments that have become familiar to Linux users. The time-tested drop down menu used to run programs has been replaced with a strip of icons on the right hand side of the screen that primarily serves as a program launcher and can be configured to run whatever applications the user so chooses. Instead of accessing a list of all programs on a system, users must use a search feature that is reminiscent of the one Apple iPhone users know well — if you can’t remember the name of an application, head to the search feature and hunt.

Of course, users are free to install the Gnome desktop — or whatever desktop they want — under Ubuntu or, really, whatever flavor of Linux they so choose. Clearly, desktops are heading that way and Canonical’s vision of the next generation of graphical environments should be isn’t half bad. Clearly, Unity needs some work and Canonical will likely improve the environment in the months and years to come — the rapid improvement of Unity from Ubuntu 11.04 to 11.10 is proof of that.

Still, Unity does have some problems. The most glaring of which is that it is slow on low-resources computers. I ran into that with my trust Compaq Mini 110, which is the computer on which I’ve had Ubuntu running for over a year now. Unity does work well enough on better hardware, but I’ve not made that switch on my more powerful desktop for one simple reason — I need to keep Windows XP on that one because I’ve got Adobe InDesign on it and that program doesn’t run under Linux. Yes, there’s an alternative out there in the form of Scribus, but InDesign is dominant in the publishing industry and those of us who do some journal design had better know that program if they don’t want to see business go down the street to people who do own and use it.

Again, it is very possible to install another desktop under Ubuntu and I wrote about slapping Xubuntu on top of it last month. That works OK, but there’s a problem with that method — Ubuntu was still a lot slower than it used to be. Also, there were some strange goings on graphically as my screen would simply scramble from time to time, thus forcing me to power down the system totally and start over.

Still, I stuck with it and used Xubuntu until something went haywire and my netbook simply refused to boot. It was time to do something different, so I made the decision to move to a fresh install of Xubuntu and I’m glad I did. It’s significantly faster than Unbutu, uses the familiar XFCE desktop, uses the Ubuntu Software Center (making adding programs a breeze) and installing it involves around an hour.

Of course, doing a fresh install of Xubuntu means wiping out all of your files and settings. That shouldn’t be a big deal, assuming you’ve got those critical files backed up with Dropbox or a similar cloud service and your passwords either memorized or saved to Evernote or something similar. Assuming your files are backed up, installing Xubuntu can be achieved in five, simple steps:

1. Get a thumb drive with at least one gigabyte of storage and format it to Fat32.

2. Head to on a Windows machine and download that application.

3. Go to on the same Windows computer and download the latest version of that OS.

4. Run the application downloaded from PendriveLinux and follow the prompts. Wait for the thumb drive to flash.

5. Put the thumb drive in a free USB port on the computer on which you want to install Linux, reboot and make sure change your BIOS so that it will boot first. Exit out of the BIOS setup utility and the install will start. Follow those prompts and, when the process is over, you’ll have a very fast operating system that is, quite simply, Ubuntu without any elements of Unity lurking in it at all.

That’s all there is to it. If all goes well, you’ll have a faster OS than the Ubuntu/Unity combination while retaining everything that makes Ubuntu great. Have fun!

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email =


  • Ron said:

    I have switched between KDE, Gnome, and XFCE for the past 10 years. The Unity desktop is very nice and I have had no problems with it, but I rarely use Ubuntu.

    Currently I love XFCE and have been using it for about 3 year. When Gnome 3 came out I tried it and I wanted to love it but when I had real work to do I kept going back to XFCE.

    XFCE is simple, fast, and intuitive so I will probably be using it until KDE or Gnome lure me to them.

  • Ron said:

    I guess I should make it clear that I have nothing against Ubuntu, but I have used Fedora for so long that Ubuntu is unfamiliar territory…

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