I’m listening to Brahms and writing this review. A good start. Indeed, this distro testing season has had a very reasonable and promising beginning. Firstly, Ubuntu 17.04 behaved very nicely, redeeming itself somewhat and infusing hope into a bleak, Dystopian landscape of open-source code. Then, Kubuntu Zesty followed with an even more impressive performance. Stylish, professional and rad. Awesome.
It’s time to test the third in the holy triumvirate – like Rush the band, only different and less progressive – Xubuntu. Once again, you must admit my naming convention is better than the original. But for the sake of it, Zapus it is. Recipe: G50, UEFI, 16 partitions, a complex setup of Windows and Linux, let us begin.
The live system booted just fine, no problems. The default Xubo comes with removable devices shown on the desktop, and in my case, this amounts to some half a million internal partitions, which clutters the workspace unnecessarily. There’s no hidden, pop-up bottom panel, only the top stripe of fun. Blue colors all over the place, a staple stamp of recognition for Xena the Warrior Linux in the recent few editions.
We’ve already seen my Realtek card behaving nicely in both Ubuntu as well as its Plasma-flavored sibling, Kubuntu, and we can thank kernel 4.10 for this small but crucial improvement. So on that front, we were just fine. Swell.
Bluetooth disappointed – and even in Xubster Yakkety Yak, which was altogether a really decent offering, it was gimping. I was able to pair it with my smartphones, but then I was unable to send files, and this triggered a nice little crash. Nor was I able to browse the devices, which triggered an ugly, badly formatted error prompt. All in all, this is quite bad, in stark contrast to the poetically beautiful support that Kubuntu offers.
Samba sharing worked just fine – you get timestamps correctly preserved, unlike the KDE sibling – and printing also works fine, both Samba and Wireless. So it’s only the dental problems what we need to fix.
Speaking of music, Xubuntu comes with MP3 support out of the box. This does not align with the rest of the family, and I’ve already mentioned, more than once, that inconsistency is one of the worst things you can have in the software world.
Parole played songs well, there’s some basic, rudimentary system area integration, nothing as fancy as the Kubuntu stuff or the really colorful Gnome indicator we’ve seen in Fedora 25. You get metadata and cover art for internal disk files, not so for smartphones. Indicator wise, the previous and next buttons do not really work for some reason. HD playback was also all right.
Other observations, small problems
The system menu is activated by a weird key combo, not the Super key as one might expect. Moreover, the touchpad was way too jittery, and I had to disable the tapping to be able to use the laptop without going mad.
Overall, no snags. Well, it took forever for the initial partition discovery to complete. Then, LVM and encryption are grayed out, so I’m wondering why even bother showing them to the users. I was forced to spend some more time waiting after selecting the root partition, because the system chose to do another round of slow discovery. The rest of the installation was fine, but it took another pinch of infinity to finish. Most notably, the setup of the GRUB2 bootloader is uber-slow.
The Mask of Zesty
The boot sequence is fast – about 2x faster than either Ubuntu or Kubuntu. The desktop loads with its usual share of shyness, blandness, removable icons aplenty, and no Wireless configuration preserved from the live session. Moreover, the partitions all had transparent icons, and I struggled re-arranging some of the defaults about. For instance, the filesystem icon refused to be placed below either Home or Trash.
Speaking of Trash, I used EN (US) as my default language, and yet, I still had Rubbish Bin on the desktop, while the system settings menu reads Wastebasket. This is not an exercise in who knows the Thesaurus best.
The default set is all right. Not too good, not too bad. Firefox and Thunderbird combo, check, LibreOffice, Parole, Pidgin, Transmission, some others. However, what surely does not help is the mediocre presentation layer, too much gray gray gray everywhere, and the window decorations just aren’t sharp enough. I had to subject my Zapus (sounds naughty) to some immediate aesthetics treatment, but also add new software.
To be able to install everything you want, you should enable the Partner software. This is done the traditional way, using the Software Center. But there’s a problem. The new Gnome Software Center is too abstract, not useful enough. It also comes with oversized Adwaita window decoration that does not respect the system defaults. The functionality is just meh, and it’s not inviting enough to warrant use. Moreover, speaking of software repos and other settings, they all come using the old USC layout from five years ago, which was not only more detailed, it was also superior in every way, so much like Discover in Plasma, the new generation of GUI package managers suffers from a serious case of mediocrity. However, I was able to install the needed extra programs, updates and such. CLI for the win.
Look & feel
Some mandatory make-up was applied, including new icons, window decorations, wallpapers, small tweaks to the top panel and the Whisker menu, and a few other minor details. Much better. Top that with some additional software, and Zorro’s your uncle.
Hardware support, suspend & resume
Behaved well. The laptop purred without any issues, although I did need to enable Intel’s microcode firmware through the Drivers utility. Only Ubuntu ships with this configured by default. There’s also reasonable power management plus auto-dim functionality on battery power. The notebook was quick to sleep and wake, no problems observed.
Stability, performance, resource usage
On paper, Xubuntu 17.04 is wewy quiet. It rarely upset the CPU, and memory usage is about 700 MB. Not too low, but that on its own does not make any impact on the overall responsiveness. However, while it was fast, it wasn’t as fast as Kubuntu. This is a sort of a surprise for me, as Xubuntu usually takes the lead in this field. But there seem to have been some enormous improvements in the Plasma framework lately. No crashes apart from what we’ve seen with Bluetooth earlier.
I guess another facet of the desktop usage is battery drain. With 20% of the cells dead more or less, the laptop still indicated about 2.5 hours of juice time, slightly less than this on full brightness and a bit more with the brightness set to 50%. Okay figures, but nowhere near as good as Kubuntu. For those wondering, Kubuntu was tested under similar conditions and battery wear just a week or so back.
Overall, I was pleased with the workflow and the sharpness of the experience. Much like the Plasma test, one of the notable improvements is the graphics stack. Videos load and play more smoothly, and browsers are more responsive in general. The best word that can describe the functionality is rounded.
There were still some small bugs and niggles here and there. For instance, how does one go about reshuffling the side pane elements in Thunar? Can you have Places above Devices? Font clarity is good, but not as good as Ubuntu or Kubuntu. The brightness slider, once moved left from its max (100%) position never quite goes all the way, and this annoys me so.
Xubuntu 17.04 Zesty Zapus is a pretty good release. It comes with a fully functional live session, and even the installed system offers a foxy, fair and balanced experience. You have your codecs, media support, printing, great performance, stability, and whatnot.
On the down low, the Bluetooth stack is one big disappointment, and the default looks can be improved. There were a few small issues throughout, but nothing major. What makes Xubuntu less glamorous than it should be is its brother, Kubuntu. I was so impressed with the Plasma release that I just don’t have sufficient fanboyase – that’s the enzyme that makes nerds go wild – in my noob glands to feel all giddy. It’s a case of not being able to fall in love on the account of already being taken, so to speak.
Well, if you ignore me and my mood swings, as a standalone product, Xubuntu Zesty is a nice free offering. It’s mature, robust and fast. Battery life can be better, it sure can shine more on its own without extra pimping, and Bluetooth, we go back to Bluetooth. Anyway, as far as Ubuntu and its kin go, the spring season is a pretty good one. This one gets a very juicy 9/10. And that would be all. Off you go. Play play, test test.