Ubuntu 9.10 (karmic Koala) on Netbooks - Part 4 (Xubuntu Xfce)

In Part 1 of this series I looked at some general netbook concepts, and the "standard" Ubuntu distribution. Part 2 I looked at the Ubuntu Netbook Remix, which is probably the best known of the netbook-centric versions.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor on

In Part 1 of this series I looked at some general netbook concepts, and the "standard" Ubuntu distribution. Part 2 I looked at the Ubuntu Netbook Remix, which is probably the best known of the netbook-centric versions. Part 3 was devoted to Kubuntu Netbook, which is the new kid on the block, and is based on the ongoing KDE Netbook development. For this final part I will look at Xubuntu, the Ubuntu distribution based on the Xfce desktop.

While Xubuntu is not a specifically netbook-oriented distribution, I have been happily using it (or other Xfce distributions such as Linux Mint Xfce Community Edition) for quite some time now. Its advantages are that it is generally lighter weight and faster than either Gnome or KDE desktops and I find it to be generally a little bit easier to configure. The Xubuntu distribution seems not to be regarded within the Xfce community as one of the best, but it is certainly good enough to be a good starting point to see if you are going to like it. It is also worth mentioning that both the Xubuntu and Kubuntu distributions are in fact more than just the standard Ubuntu distribution with whichever alternate desktop package installed. There has been significant additional work done to fully integrate and customize the desktops with Ubuntu, so you can't get the same "experience" by just installing the standard Ubuntu distribution, adding the KDE/Xfce packages and then selecting the session on login.

When you first log in to Xubuntu, you will see top and bottom panels on the screen, somewhat similar to the standard Ubuntu/Gnome panels. I choose to customize them in a way similar to what I described in Part 1 for the standard distribution, but as even a bit more extensively. The changes are based on my basic feeling that there is more space horizontally then vertically on a netbook screen, so you are generally better off with side panels rather than top/bottom panels.

Customizing Xfce panels is done by right-clicking anywhere on a panel and choosing "Customize Panel" (Duh). The interesting thing is that once you are into the Panel applet, you can customize any of the panels, not just the one you click on - and add or delete panels as well, for that matter. My goal was to end up with a panel at the bottom of the screen with whatever icons had text associated, meaning the menus, task bar and digital clock; a panel on one side with the "status" icons, such as the notifier, audio and desktop selector, and a panel on the other side with application launchers, such as Firefox, Thunderbird, GIMP and such. Each panel is set to a fixed position at the center of its edge of the screen, is "normal width" rather than full width, and Autohide is enabled. Rather than bore you with the details of doing that, I'll leave you with one tip - you can move icons between panels by simply right-clicking, select Move, and then drag them to whatever panel you want. I find the end result of those three panels very pleasing; the only part that I might eventually change is not Auto-hiding the application panel.

The default Xubuntu desktop contains icons for Home, Filesystem and Trash, which I find unnecessary and distracting. Have we become such slaves of reproducing the Windows desktop that we feel we HAVE to have a trash bin on the desktop? In any case, you can right-click on the desktop, choose "Desktop Settings...", then select the Icons tab, and un-check the Home, Filesystem and Trash in Default icons. I leave Removable Devices checked, so that I have convenient access to USB drives.

Xubutnu comes with a somewhat different set of applications and packages preinstalled than either standard Ubuntu or Kubuntu. One obvious difference is the absence of OpenOffice.org; I find this a bit of a pain, but since I'm talking about netbook installations here, one could easily argue that to be a good decision. For that, or whatever else you might decide you need and can't find, you can always go to the Synaptic Package Manager and get what you need.

I think Xfce does a good job of giving you what you need, and staying out of your way so you can work. Although Xubuntu is not targeted specifically at netbooks, with a few simple changes it becomes a very good fit.

jw 9/11/2009

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