This is a short review of my initial thoughts and impressions of these two Linux distributions.
Note: Since these operating systems are running inside VirtualBox instead of using real hardware, hardware compatibility is not tested.
Installation and Resources
First of all, both offer extremely easy installation. Ubuntu and Xubuntu both installed fine without any problems. Installation was fast (under four minutes each), and the install screens were mostly the same as before with little changes. Those familiar with the installation process will know exactly what to expect.
Hard drive space and memory usage (measured by at idle desktop after boot using df -h and free -h) were both as low as they have always been with Xubuntu requiring slightly fewer resources than Ubuntu. This is to be expected since the Xfce desktop environment is designed to be a lightweight desktop environment. Below is a summary.
OS Kernel Disk Used Memory Used
Ubuntu 13.10 3.11.0-12 2.8G 322M
Xubuntu 13.10 3.11.0-12 2.6G 223M
The low memory usage reported by free -h is impressive compared to other operating systems, but please keep in mind that memory usage increases as programs are opened and the computer is actually used.
Here are few times measured using a stopwatch to emulate end-user, real-world waiting. Times are mostly even and consistent since Ubuntu 13.10 and Xubuntu 13.10 are practically the same operating system.
OS Install Start Login Shutdown
Ubuntu 13.10 3m18s 8s 3s 12s
Xubuntu 13.10 3m24s 8s 2s 12s
(m = minutes, s = seconds)
- Install = Installation time from start to reboot prompt, including text entry
- Start = Cold boot to login screen
- Login = Valid login to usable desktop
- Shutdown = The time from the final shutdown click to full power off
Please keep in mind that these times are measured using virtual machines in VirtualBox. Real hardware times might vary.
Ah, Ubuntu, Ubuntu. Are you still using Unity? Oh, it looks like you are. Pity.
Somewhere, deep down, I was hoping that Unity would disappear in favor of…something. Anything. Just not Unity or GNOME 3.
Ubuntu 13.10 is not entirely bad. In fact, the entire distribution with Unity feels more polished and more responsive than previous versions. It runs well in VirtualBox compared to the sluggish performance of previous Ubuntu Unity-based versions. Desktop effects are instant. The Dash functions without blanking the screen. Menus are snappy. Software has been updated to the latest versions. Ubuntu is definitely better than previous 11.04+ versions.
And this is what stood out the most: Unity now works well in VirtualBox in addition to its overall refinement. If Unity had worked this well in Ubuntu 11.04, then my impression of it would have been more positive.
Sadly, Unity itself is the problem because, for me, it gets in the way of using the computer. It also feels too Mac-like and too iPhone-copied in an apparent attempt to cater to and attract those crowds. The result is a dumbed down interface that is too simplified and takes too many mouse clicks to get from Point A to Point B. Enough has been debated about Unity already, so there is no need to continue discussing it. You either like Unity, or you do not. Those who do like Unity should be pleased with Ubuntu 13.10.
New User Crash Report
The only crash report encountered occurred when attempting to add a new user. After the user was created using the User Accounts windows, the User Accounts window would close and present a crash report.
This was consistent for each virtual reboot. Once the crash happened, creating additional users did not produce further crash reports.
Windows-based laptops and computer bundles are notorious for including third-party bloatware and advertisements, but this is incongruous in the Linux world. So, when it happens, it stands out.
Just like the previous Ubuntu, Ubuntu 13.10 includes the Amazon.com icon in the Launcher, and it opens Amazon’s web site in Firefox when clicked. Nobody can blame Canonical for seeking revenue to help fund Ubuntu, but still…
The Amazon icon can be removed by right-clicking it and choosing to unlock it from the launcher.
After Unity, this is the next gripe I have with Ubuntu that effectively kills the Ubuntu deal. By default, when you use the Dash to search for items on your computer, these search requests are sent to Canonical’s servers to help retrieve related search results from online sources. These results are displayed in the Dash. They could be Wikipedia articles, reviews, or whatever that relate to your current search.
This feature adds a level of integration between the Internet and the operating system in an effort to make the operating system more connected with the outside world. It is not a bad idea and I can see the use for this, but in this age of increasing ISP, corporate, and government snooping of our Internet traffic, it can be a privacy risk for those who wish to keep their AisleRiot Solitaire searches secret. This is nothing more than Ubuntu “phoning home,” and there is no telling who is sniffing those network packets while searching from the Dash.
The social media crowd with their online connection addiction will welcome this feature because you really can find out more information about the programs you run, but those who value their privacy might find it intrusive.
Does Ubuntu really need to relay my Dash search requests to Canonical while I use my computer? Is this absolutely necessary? System update checking and the Ubuntu Software Center are understandable, but that should be all. Anything else feels like a potential feature to exploit by the outside world.
Thankfully, the phoning home of online search results can be turned off by going to System Settings, opening Security and Privacy, and setting the toggle switch to OFF.
To be absolutely certain that Ubuntu will never phone home, turn the toggle switch off and refuse to allow Ubuntu to connect to the Internet. Accidents happen, so it’s easy to think that a switch is OFF when it might be ON.
True, the argument can be made that Dash searching is no different than using a search engine in a web browser in addition to the countless other stuff that occurs when online, but, by default, this is built into Unity as a feature instead of using a browser that I have control over with regards as to what gets sent and retrieved using what method to preserve privacy.
Ubuntu 13.10 Summary
On the surface, Ubuntu 13.10 is not noticeably different from Ubuntu 13.04. The bug fixes, improved Unity, and added features sprinkled throughout the operating system are good, but Unity is still used and the privacy issue remains.
If you enjoy Ubuntu 13.04, you will probably enjoy Ubuntu 13.10 even more. However, after using many versions of Ubuntu since version 6, Ubuntu 10.10 remains the best that I have ever used due to its speed, simplicity, ease of use, and compatibility with Compiz and Emerald. These advantages put Ubuntu 13.10 to shame, and I would prefer Ubuntu 10.10 over Ubuntu 13.10 any day.
To its credit, Ubuntu 13.10 has a slick-looking user interface with improved eyecandy. The Launcher is transparent to allow the background wallpaper to show through, menus fade in and out, and even the Logout/Shutdown dialog is styled with an attractive transparency. Unity looks as good as it always has while performing better.
Xubuntu is better than ever!
Compared to Ubuntu 13.10, Xubuntu has made strides in the right direction, and I found it to be much more agreeable than Ubuntu 13.10. All of the dislikes regarding Unity and Ubuntu 13.10 are nonexistent because Xubuntu uses the tried and true Xfce desktop environment. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, Xfce only improves itself for the better.
These features might be small, but the little tweaks make Xfce easier and more reliable to use. Xubuntu 13.10 runs perfectly in VirtualBox. Menus are fast and snappy. There is no “phoning home” with search results since the Unity Dash does not exist.
My favorite improvement is the new login screen that seems more refined. I like this version better than the previous versions.
(By the way, an easy way to create the user icon shown in the login screen is to copy a 1:1 ratio PNG image to your home directory and rename it to .face. The image shown above was copied from /usr/share/pixmaps/faces.)
Keep in mind that if your user home is encrypted (an option selectable during installation for both Ubuntu and Xubuntu), then a generic user icon will appear instead of your custom icon. Until you log in, your custom icon cannot be read by the system. After logging in, your custom icon will appear on the login screen and screensaver password entry dialog.
The initial desktop is clean and uncluttered. The most immediate difference is the icon set. The Xfce default icons have been slightly redesigned with a lighter skyblue appearance, and they look much better and less blocky than the previous versions. You can never go wrong with improved eyecandy no matter how small the change.
New User Crash Report
Just like Ubuntu 13.10, Xubuntu 13.10 exhibits a crash report when a new user is created. The conditions for appearing are exactly the same, and it is consistent upon each reboot despite the ExecutablePath being different.
Xubuntu 13.10 Summary
While Xubuntu 13.10 does not flash the eyecandy of Ubuntu 13.10 and Unity, it is far superior in my opinion. It is fast, reliable, and works superb in VirtualBox with minimal overhead. This makes Xubuntu a good choice for a virtual server where a GUI is needed. Xfce is plain and simple. Because of this, I find Xfce to be far more usable than Unity, and I can accomplish the fun with less clicking and in less time.
After Linux Mint 15, Xubuntu 13.10 is a close contender for “favorite Linux distribution.”
After a few days with Ubuntu 13.10 and Xubuntu 13.10, I have come to the conclusion that it is time to drop Ubuntu yet continue with Xubuntu. The glory days of Ubuntu 10.10 excellence are over, and they are apparently not returning due to Canonical’s obsession with the whole cellphone integration craze that is sweeping the world. I want a computer that looks like a computer, not a cellphone/desktop/tablet hybrid OS.
Ubuntu 13.10 was fun to experiment with, but I would never use it because, again, its Unity user interface gets in the way of using the computer. This is ironic because Ubuntu is what made me switch to Linux in the first place. Ubuntu 13.10 has lost everything that made Ubuntu great for me. Innovation often produces good things, and some people might like the new Ubuntu, so by all means, give Ubuntu a try and decide for yourself.
On the other hand, Xubuntu 13.10 is a definite winner, and it continues to perform well with the familiar Xfce simplicity. Xubuntu makes a great virtual Linux and desktop Linux, and its improvements truly improve. On the other hand, Xubuntu might be a challenge for new Linux users to grasp due to the sparse Xfce interface. It takes a little time to adjust to Xfce. Power users should leap for joy with Xfce, but new users might throw up their hands in frustration at first.
As good as Ubuntu and Xubuntu have become, in my experience, Linux Mint is still better due to its variety of Cinnamon, MATE, Xfce, and Debian offerings combined with its eyecandy-attractive ease of use and superb hardware compatibility. In the end, I would still recommend Linux Mint to new Linux users, since I find it to be the most user-friendly Linux distribution currently available.
As always, Linux is versatile and offers infinite customization. For example, if you prefer a certain desktop, such as Xfce, KDE, or Cinnamon, over Unity, then you are free to install and use it in Ubuntu 13.10. Yes, other desktop environments besides Unity work with Ubuntu. So, if you like the hardware compatibility and support that Ubuntu offers but you dislike Unity, then you can swap parts and mix and match to your liking.
With Linux, you are usually never stuck with a certain arrangement. If you do not like something, simply change it! If Ubuntu and Xubuntu both seem lacking in some areas, then combine the best of both worlds to create the system you like. This requires knowledge, time, and experimentation, but your imagination is the limit and you will definitely become a more skilled computer user from the process, and that is what makes Linux so much fun.