Where are we going?

September 5, 2007 at 8:11 am | Posted in xubuntu | 12 Comments

DesktopLinux.com published the results of their yearly enquiry on Linux on the desktop. (Admittedly, I’m a bit late, but I was on holiday.) There were some remarkable things among the results – de enquiry was taken by twice as much people compared to last year, SUSE grown a lot, Fedora shrunk a lot – but according to me, most remarkable were the results concern the use of desktop environments. And then I don’t even mean the fact that Gnome – for the first time – was ahead of KDE.
No, what struck me most was, obviously, that Xfce was users by 8 percent of those who filled in the enquiry. Now, nobody will deny that, since version 4.4 was released, the number of users of Xfce grew, but 8 percent is a number to take into account (almost one in ten!). And when you then realize that 20% (one out of five!) uses neither Gnome nor KDE, it doesn’t seem too weird to wonder whether there is room for another, third big desktop environment. Heck, it’s already remarkable Xfce isn’t mentioned among “Others”!

Of course, as Xfce added more features its speed deteriorated a bit, and for some this will have been reason to switch to even lighter DE’s like Fluxbox or IceWM (can you even call those DE’s?). On the other hand, Xfce still is a lot faster than Gnome and KDE, and old computers of today are more powerful than old computers of a couple of years ago 😉 And the combination of features and speed (even on less old computers) is a very attractive one for some. Gnome - 45%, KDE - 35%, Xfce - 8%, Anders - 12%

Of course, KDE’s new version, version 4, will attract many new users towards KDE, but I suspect that most of those people will come from the Gnome world (making KDE nr. 1 again). The difference between the two will decrease again, and if Xfce’s user base keeps growing, the three will be quite even indeed.

However, at the moment Xfce has far less developers as Gnome and KDE have, which can slow down growth quite a lot. That’s why, among Xubuntu’s developer, there is currently a discussion ongoing about whether Xubuntu should ship with more Gnome software. The reason for this is that, currently, Xubuntu ships with a few programs of less quality, with Xfburn, the CD-burning software, being the worst of all. In fact: if no alternative software can be found, probably no burning software will be shipped at all! Shipping Gnome software would raise Xubuntu’s quality feature-wise, and also brings the certainty that they are still in development and will continue to improve.

Unfortunately, there are also a few downsides to shipping Gnome applications. Some people are afraid that Xubuntu’s identify will be lost, that Xubuntu will just become “Ubuntu with another desktop environment”. Others fear that Xubuntu’s speed will deteriorate enormously.

Altogether, it comes down to the question of what is more important: speed or features? And this raises the question on Xubuntu’s target. For example, Ubuntu aims at being user-friendly, Edubuntu on use in classrooms, etc. Do we want a lightning-fast distribution, or a distro with a good balance between user-friendlyness and customizability? A question that should not be answered by the developers, but by the users of Xubuntu. You.

This article was previously published in Dutch on Digiplace.nl.



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  1. As a happy Xubuntu user for 6 months now (after Win XP), I love it, and just have a couple of observations/ suggestions.

    Xfce/ Xubuntu is lacking in power management, and wireless management, requiring me to use the Gnome power manager, and wireless applet.

    I am running a thinkpad X60s core Duo 1.8 Ghz.

  2. PS … re importance: I say speed.

    The other capabilities are already covered in other distros. What Xubuntu and XFce bring is speed, and low overhead. I think its time to move on from the target of older PC’s and target new super fast PC’s. I get blindlingly fast response on my Thinkpad using X, including OpenOffice.

    The reason is because X does not get in the way – its just an operating system, and unless you are into graphics in a large way, X thats what is needed.

    Hope that helps.

  3. (NOTE: I want to preface this by saying that I’m not a developer, and I don’t program. I’m just a user interested in the development of Xfce and Xubuntu. Also, these are just my opinions. I don’t claim to know what’s best for everybody.)

    The fact that Xfce has far less developers working on it than either Gnome or KDE is a good thing, in my opinion. Sure, it means a slower development cycle, but look at the upsides: The less hands in the honey pot, the less someone’s likely to spoil it.

    I think one of the reasons projects like Gnome and KDE (and even Firefox) became so monolithic is because too many people are shuffling code into them, and not all of it is properly examined before release dates. Big projects like to have big releases, and big releases have to be on time, whereas small projects (like Xfce) won’t suffer much of a backlash if they decide to postpone a release in order to insure quality. A good example of this is KDE4, which recently had to push back its release, and suffered some bad-mouthing.

    Certainly there are areas that Xfce could improve in.

    Xfburn is woefully underfeatured and buggy, and there are no GTK CD/DVD burners to replace it (Graveman is no longer maintained). Even the official Gnome CD/DVD burner, GnomeBaker, has apparently stalled development, leaving Brasero the only maintained CD/DVD burner for Gnome. Xfce users could make use of things like BashBurn or PyBurn (or go the non-Free route with NeroLinux), although less advanced users could be at a loss with apps like these.

    Xarchiver has left a bad impression on some users, although it’s currently being worked on, so hopefully improvements are forthcoming.

    Do we want a lightning-fast distribution, or a distro with a good balance between user-friendlyness and customizability?

    I don’t understand why these things are seen as mutually exclusive. How will Gnome packages make Xubuntu “user-friendly”? Xubuntu is supposed to be lighter than regular, Gnome-based Ubuntu. Once you’ve decided to throw in any Gnome packages you feel like, it *does* becomes Ubuntu with Xfce installed over it.

    Zenwalk has been making strides to simplify and lighten their distro recently, while still being rather user-friendly (especially for a Slackware-based distro). Their devs seem dedicated to creating a desktop that’s easy to work with, but not sacrificing speed and performance for perceived “user-friendliness.” And they do all this while minimizing the use of Gnome components whenever possible.

    Right now, some of the Xubuntu devs don’t seem motivated to create a distro of that sort. I think they’re irked by the lack of devs, and the lack of attention and support Xubuntu receives from Canonical. I could be wrong, but I really don’t think Canonical cares all that much about Xubuntu, which makes it a third-party community project more than anything. I think they’re afraid that, if they don’t do something to get more official support, they’ll die off like a few other community-based Ubuntu derivatives (despite plenty of word-of-mouth, Fluxbuntu seems like it will never make an official release).

    In a way, I wish Xubuntu would look at what Zenwalk is doing, and essentially become something of an “Ubuntu-based Zenwalk,” although that seems unlikely to happen until more devs get interested in Xubuntu.

  4. Kadath mentioned Graveman. Why not install that even though it’s no longer in development. It works very nicely. That’s all people care about.

  5. On the topic of programs: I think that Graveman, Grip, and catfish are the three programs that most need to make it into the next Xubuntu release. The default Ubuntu install has decent equalivents to these, while Xubuntu has none.

    In fact, even throwing gnome-games in there could be useful…just so you could have SOMETHING to do after tweaking your Xubuntu.

  6. It would be nice if Graveman were still being worked on. It’s missing some important features, like on-the-fly burning of data discs, burning BIN/CUE, etc. Grip and Catfish are both lightweight and would certainly be welcome. I really wonder how many people actually play the gnome-games regularly, but I guess adding them wouldn’t hurt any.

  7. I want a lean and efficient system that provides GUI conveniences for the typical activities and cuts corners on the unusual stuff. I want this system to be responsive and bug free.

    For example, I like a good quality GUI based text editor for programming.
    And to reduce bloat, I’m willing to manually hack my xorg.conf, and interfaces files every once in a blue moon.

    I think Xubuntu development efforts should be focused on polishing what we already have. ( Such as the rendering glitches with xfce4-terminal. )

    P.S. I miss the running mouse splash screen.

  8. My vote is the latter, and yes, bring back the running mouse screen!

  9. A simple, clean, efficient os can run well on older hardware, can be very fast on newer systems, and can be adapted to specific needs or desires by adding components which are easily available.

    My interest in xubuntu is to have an inexperienced-user friendly, adaptable, efficient os for “obsolete” computers and “tech-not” users. A good target for xubuntu might be running comfortably on a pentium ii with 64 mb of ram. A great feature would be an installer and package manager that only installs components and features that are appropriate for the given hardware environment (ie – would not add a program that requires 128 mb ram to a system with only 96 mb).

  10. I don’t see why distributions instead of contemplating what software to have installed by default or to leave out, just instead include an extra step in the install process that lets the user choose what applications they want to install on their own.
    I would much prefer it if Ubuntu gave me a check list of things to install when setting up my system. An option not to install games or Open Office for instance just makes sense to me.
    I also see Xubuntu being able to position itself as a median between being usable like gnome, while at the same time being easy to get into and customize either like KDE is or even like how Fluxbox does it.
    If Xfce could cut the fat and limitations on customization that Gnome has instead of only branding itself just as a desktop environment for slow machines, I could see the interest in it growing.

  11. @malcolmb …. I disagree. Experts already do that. Quasi geeks like me, want a OS thats fast and efficient, but don’t make me get too involved in command line and customization. Xubuntu’s appeal is speed and efficiency, but if you narrow it down too much, then you are down to just CLI people and they alrady know how to do what you describe.

    I see Xubuntu as a way to appeal to xVista/XP users with an efficient OS. Those folks can’t relate to what you describe.

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