Remember this?

Edit: Unfortunately, the images originally included in this post are gone, because of hosting problems in late 2009. My apologies.

If you’ve been around Ubuntu for a year or so, you might recognize that as the default desktop for Breezy Badger Xubuntu version 5.10, released in November of 2005.

Now fast-forward to 2007.

That’s the default desktop for Xubuntu 6.10, a year later and markedly different — not necessarily better, but definitely an evolution. And while there have been some improvements, not all the changes were beneficial, in my opinion.

My first forays into Linux were a cross of hardware desperation and licensing issues. I had an old P2-233 laptop (a CTX EzBook 700E, if you must know) that I wanted to use to listen to the BBC World Service streaming audio. That was all; nothing fancy.

Unfortunately, through the aforesaid mixture of hardware problems (wireless cards) and licensing pratfalls (stuck at Win98), I tried out Ubuntu, and was shortly thereafter referred to Xubuntu. (I also tried UbuntuLite and something else that I can’t remember … both projects are dead now.)

5.10 ran fine on that machine. No sense of bulk or system drag, and it was a peculiar enough desktop to keep me interested.

Since then, the creeping Gnomification of Xubuntu has rubbed me the wrong way. Things have become heavier somehow, and what was once a sparse and lightweight starting point for a full-fledged desktop now seems like a bulky, blue-tinted Gnome mockup.

It’s not just a visual change, either. The xubuntu-devel mailing list in recent days has been a hashout between the Thunderbird camp and the Sylpheed-claws camp. The Thunderbirders want ease-of-transition-from-Windows, and the Sylpheeders want lightweight.

At last read, it seemed the Thunderbird crowd had trumped the argument with a “this is the way it’s going to be” answer from a dev.

And so the Gnomification rolls onward, and the weight of Xubuntu grows with each revolution. To me, that’s a death knell for the underlying principle of Xubuntu: to make Ubuntu usable on older machines that lack the speed and muscle of modern rigs.

There’s a tendency to point Xubuntu at mid-grade hardware (which, in my mind, as I’m writing this, is the 1Ghz crowd) when the original manifesto suggested machines even slower.

But I’ve stopped recommending Xubuntu on lightweight machines, because there’s only a trivial difference between Xubuntu on a 1.4Ghz machine and Ubuntu on the same hardware. Maybe you feel differently and that’s perfectly fine, but in my experience both drag on a 750Mhz P3 to the same degree.

For now, I look to the Fluxbuntu crowd to save us from abandoning machines that are only 10 years old, when they still have so much potential.

Edit, Jan. 9: ImageShack might have deleted one or both of the thumbnails by now — probably a bandwidth issue. Sorry. Please use your imagination. 🙂

30 thoughts on “Remember this?

  1. A New Linux User


    I totally agree with you. I really wanted Ubuntu to run on an older laptop PIII 600? or maybe it is a 500 but with 128MB’s of ram. The battery is dead and can not be charged again, but anyways XUbuntu sounded great for this machine. Although due to my lack of experience with linux, I did not like it that much but it ran fast and smoothly. Things like Open Office would work fine. Now a year later when I tried it out again, it feels slow and clunky (pretty much unable to do much.) This laptop still can do a lot, but I need an OS that runs fast like the previous XUbuntu.

  2. Adam

    As a Xubuntu user, agree about the bloat. Need something with the usability of Ubuntu and the footprint of DSL. I love Thunderbird but it is unusable on older machines. Sylpheed as brought by Synaptic doesn’t work properly.

  3. coolblue

    I agree about the unnecessary *evolution*. It was a good idea, but sadly seems to be going the way of win-bloat (aka windoze).

    Why does everything *have* to be KDE?Gnome-ish? Some of us do not want all those unnecessary resource-heavy icons and other stuff.

    So, I have gone back to good old plain Debian, running FVWM window manager and my selection of mostly lightweight stuff, such as mutt for mail.

    The good news is that a simple install of pure Debian will work on older boxes, such as the 450MHz, 128MB, 4.3G box I’m now running (with an old ATI card that has *only* 32MB) to surf, collect mail (and which I’m now writing this on, via Firefox). BTW, I’ve got Netscape 4.8 installed as well, thanks to old Debian libraries (libstdc++2.9-glibc2.1) plus a 2.6 kernel and WiFi.

  4. Juan Camilo Rozo

    I’m not sure I agree entirely with you but because of another reason… Even if the original Xubuntu was lighter than Ubuntu, it’s hardly the choice I would take if I wanted to run Linux on an old computer… If it’s for basic use, why not use Zenwalk? It’s MUCH lighter than Xubuntu (even than the original Xubuntu), it also has XFCE, it has a great collection of packages, and it’s really easy to use…

    Or if not Zenwalk, any other Slackware derivative aimed at novice users… Vector Linux, Kate OS, or even Frugalware would do a much better job on an older PC…

  5. massysett

    For a lightweight desktop, check out Damn Small Linux or Puppy. They have a relentless focus on being small–maybe even too small for what you’re looking for 🙂

  6. christian

    If it would’nt be for the messy drivers setup (especially for the non-ndiswrapper drivers), I’d be always on Zenwalk on my laptop PC. Thing is Ubuntu (and Xubuntu), was the first distro I tried where all the hardware is recognized, no need for additional coding, no forums browsing… Everything works “out of the box”.

    I agree that the Xubuntu team made some weird choices, especially with 6.10. Why that ultra-cool “mouse running in the wheel” splash screen vanished, as an example?

  7. coolblue

    Not everything “works out of the box” on Ubuntu, BTW, as *christian* claimed – certainly not my WiFi which needed to be configured by hand via ndiswrapper.

    One downside of whatever flavor Ubuntu is that if things don’t work as expected, you to have to poke around, beneath the superfluous glossy GUI layers and icons – so you might as well have installed pure Debian in the first place.

    Which brings up in my view an important point – why all the fuss about Ubuntu when you can IMNSHO install Debian and customize whatever you want and have a better distro in the end? Sure, Ubuntu of whatever flavor might help some newbies and might provide a windoze type familiarity with KDE desktop, but at what price? One price is other people deciding stuff for you.

    Having tried Ubunutu of various flavors, I’ve gone back to Debian. It sure is nice to be back with FVWM with my Fn keys set up as exactly the shortcuts I want.

  8. Tazix

    I posted this on Distrowatch:

    As an avid Xubuntu user I have several comments in regards to Xubuntu’s “bloat”.

    So… I’ll start off with the positive… Edgy Eft is just about perfect as far as functionality goes. (Minus having to install codecs, DVD decrypting, and Fusesmb in order to get network shares working in Thunar). As for the “bloat” of it… there’s a ton of KDE and GNOME libs that are not loading… so, it’s still more lightweight to a point.

    What the major bloat is, is XORG. And if you install propriatery binary drivers, like Nvidia’s… between the two, you are defeating the purpose of going “lightweight”.

    My “bloat” concerns on the next release, have more to do with XORG, and enabling 3D Desktop BS. That’s not what XFCE is about.

    On to the negative… XORG shouldn’t be used in Xubuntu. They should use TinyX / Xvesa / SmallX, whatever DSL uses, and definitely NOT have 3D desktop stuff on by default (If that’s the case with the next release). They could probably also trim some fat with a leaner session manager. As for the apps… that leaves more room for the “more functional” applications, even if some are considered to be “bloaty” (Like Sylpheed vs. Thunderbird). However, this doesn’t seem to be the Xubuntu team’s objective (truly trimming fat), which does irk me.

    I want it as functional as possible (sometimes requiring more ‘bloaty” apps), and as lean as possible at the same time.

    As for the “uglyness”… I prefer it’s looks to KDE and Gnome. Simple and functional. I even change the default “gnome look” to (as I put on my asbestos suit), to be more like “Windows” by deleting the bottom panel, moving top panel to bottom, and adding back the task list stuff, tray icon stuff, and view desktop to the panel.

    Anyway… yes, I agree the Xubuntu team needs to trim the fat more… but not necessarily because of the default apps.


  9. Peter

    My first impression of Xubuntu was that it seemed destined to bulkiness when I saw the size of the ISO. 200-300MB should be the philosophy for a lightweight distro, especially for users needing a lightweight download.

    I think a number of good functions like network share support are missing and this makes Xubuntu less useful than it could be. Also, Xubuntu seems closer to Edubuntu than it once was — perhaps the two should merge?

    With webmail services like gmail getting better, mail clients should be less of an issue and lighter should be favoured over better. Perhaps online services should be emphasised and perhaps Canonical could provide.

    I thought the running mouse was great. Why not a frolicking fawn for the Feisty release?

  10. KIHARA

    Am just beginning own experimentation with Xubuntu and am already nodding head at so much of the aforementioned.
    Will be trying Zenwalk, but if that fails it may be that it makes more sense to “fall back” to an early edition of Mepis or some other distro.
    I also want to experiment with the “big” version of Damn Small to see if that’s most effective trade-off of size vs ease of use & customisation. (My own most recent difficulties have been wrestling with a no-name wintel NIC. Mepis did not recognise, DSL did & Puppy also did not. *s*
    But — and this seems a distressing observation — if Ubuntu is to succeed in its proclaimed aims to offer a “3rd world” computing os should it not ALWAYS run on older or less obviously expensive machines? Have always been of the opinion that what a developing country’s villager more likely wants is clean water, access to a medical clinic & perhaps a tractor. What is the good premise behind the Ubuntu project is that it offers a viable computing OS to that hoped-for medical clinic. (Or school, or agricultural agent, or whatever.)
    After writing that it behooves me in fairness to also suggest that such a program is needed for inner city & barrios of “post-modern” societies, where computers are more likely gifted or scavenged or re-built from scrapped parts.
    A better program would be to offer an xfce linux distro similar to the old RISC os! Basic applications (but including a browser & im, newsreader & emailing softwares, basic wordprocessing & numerical apps) coupled with more-than-basic plug-ins & drivers, that’s the ticket!
    Cordially, KIHARA

  11. Pingback: XFCE made GNOME clone in Xubuntu… EEEKS! « Tryst with Linux and other Alternatives

  12. Scattershot

    Adding to Juan Camilo Rozo’s earlier comment, SLAX and its variant distributions exist in a middle ground between DSL/Puppy builds and Xubuntu. My SimpleSlax version is built for the older hardware mentioned, and one of the greatest strengths of any SLAX derivative is the ability to add modules to your taste, Slypheed or Thunderbird or something else entirely. SimpleSlax also has dpkg functionality so that you can convert Ubuntu or Xubuntu Debian packages and add those on to the base image as easily as you can Slackware .tgz packages.

    SimpleSlax homepage with notes and iso download can be found at:

  13. Vibranze


    You can try dreamlinux, I feel it quite lightweight and at the same time has all the functionality in place. It is based on debian and use XFCE if I not wrong.

    My 2cents.


  14. escapenguin

    Even though it doesn’t explicitly aim to be light, rather aiming toward security and correctness, I’ve found OpenBSD to be one of the most efficient operating systems I’ve ever used. It runs great on a Pentium 90mhz with 16MB of RAM. You can use Sylpheed or Thunderbird too.

    It has an installation you won’t be accustomed to, but there are plenty of how-tos scattered about. It’s supremely stable. Package installation and configuration is a snap. Upgrades between releases and very simple to do as well.

    This is all just a suggestion. I use it after having used Linux as my personal OS for years in hundreds of incarnations, and it has served me well.

  15. steveoc

    Similar problem here – In the course of my work, I have to knock up a new linux machine every couple of weeks on average.

    Each time a linux box is built, it is built for a specific turnkey purpose – sometimes its as a point of sale terminal (boot straight into the POS software, no logins, no desktop icons, etc) .. or as a database/mail/web server .. or an alarm monitoring console (again, no logins, no desktop icons – just boot into a single GUI and run forever).

    Sometimes the machines that I need to convert are brand new 64bit machines, which is good, but sometimes they are old clunkers dragged out of someone’s scrapheap. Point is, I dont know beforehand what the exact hardware config is going to look like, how much free disk is going to be avail, or how much RAM the thing is going to have.

    It is NOT unusual to have to do low-level kernel hacking / module patching on any given install just to get a unique combination of things running.

    Ubuntu was good for a while, since it gave me a good base to quickly boot a machine up to and then start customising. I think its great what Ubuntu have acheived so far, and I really hope thay make some ground in the desktop PC market.

    But when you have a specific turnkey requirement, Ubuntu loads way too much stuff that doesnt always fit on older equipment. Then there is the added hassle of having a precompiled kernel – its a nightmare to try matching any module changes. You always end up grabbing a new kernel source tree and building it with your latest compiler version.

    Anyway – at the end of the day, the only SENSIBLE way for me to do my job is stick with a source based distro, and build each system up with just what I need, no more, no less. I WANT Gtk 2.0 and cairo, but I dont want base level gnome libs, I WANT X but I dont want a desktop manager, I want mysql and PHP and postfix and mingetty for answering phone lines, but I dont need postgresql or oracle or backwards compatibilty … etc, etc.

    Gentoo is absolutely perfect for this, and is often the EASIEST and QUICKEST way to get from bare machine to finished turn-key product. Im no gentoo fanboy, but its true that going from source is the easiest method in this situation .. which is kind of ironic in a way, but it makes sense when you think about.

    Just goes to show that if the job is challenging and varied enough, then there are no magic shortcuts. Just stick to first principles. Someone once said, ‘You are never a true petrol head until you have owned an Alfa Romeo’ – presumably a back handed compliment at the quirky, fragile, but ultimately fast and lovable little red italian things they used to build between 1910-1980’s

    To which I would like to add in the same vein : ‘You have never started to use Linux (or Unix or BSD, or whatever) .. until you have built one from scratch’

    This is the really strong point about open source that others like Microsoft & friends will never come close to – its not a product or some sort of magic box solution – its a collection of neat things that you are FREE to assemble in whatever order you want, in order to create something that exactly fits YOUR needs.

    So there you go – as much as I hate MS (and I hate them a real lot) – I choose to use linux at the end of the day, because when it comes to making a pile of computer hardware do what I want it to do, MS has nothing to offer at all.

  16. Robin

    A couple of months ago someone performed (and published on the net) an exhaustive test of resource consumption with KDE, Gnome and XFce, and while after booting XFce was indeed less hungry, this effect vanished the moment applications were loaded which were based off either gtk or qt. And who can live without such applications? Therefore it seems that if you want to go really lightweight a Fluxbuntu (I haven’t been aware of such a project even existing) would be a better idea, whereas XFce really is pointed at what you call ‘mid-grade’ more or less.


  17. Sean

    I agree with coolblue. Use Debian and configure your machine exactly how you want it, without all the bloat. X/K/Ubuntu are very similar to Debian. If you’ve been using Ubuntu for some time, you’ll be right at home.

  18. Pingback: NetBSD: An alternative to Xubuntu and Ubuntu Lite for machines with low specs.

  19. Chris Lang

    I read Juan’s comment a couple of days ago and installed Zenwalk on my laptop. Thanks Juan for introducing me to Zenwalk! – it’s just what I needed. It’s up and running, looks good and its fast and light. Before that, I’d struggled with Ubuntu and SuSE, probably because they are just too bulky for this laptop.

  20. Chris Lees

    I’m a distribution developer, working on the community preview version of Copland (PowerPC distribution, based on Xubuntu).

    The first thing I noticed is: Ubuntu 5.10 Live CD was slow on my old iMac, but at least I could open applications. Xubuntu 6.10 Live CD uses more memory than Ubuntu 5.10, and so any attempt to even add an applet to the panel results in the computer swapping backward and forward between RAM and CD.

    I’m too far ahead with Copland to change DEs now; I’m hoping to make the Ubuntu base lighter before release. But I’m seriously considering switching the distribution’s DE from XFCE to a custom Fluxbox.

  21. cueprodigy

    The mention of Fluxbox got me to thinking I should mention grml.

    I wouldn’t know where to start but in a nutshell the distro grml is by far the best unknown distro in Linux and it’s not even a secret. Fluxbox is one of the built-in window managers and the grml customized copy is awesome!

    grml 0.9 is an absolute linux hacker’s delight. I download and play with literally dozens of distributions just for grins and have had more fun with grml than any other. Some of you might want to take a look at

  22. Some user

    I recently fetched our old 450MHz box from the basement, put some more RAM into it and sold it to a friend whose old Pentium II broke.

    Well, now he has XP running on it, but before I tried Ubuntu, and Xubuntu (both 6.10). The memory was fine, but the CPU was too sloooooooow for Gnome. Xubuntu ran great, in my opinion. Ok, maybe Firefox and Thunderbird are a bit slow, but for users that really care there can always be Sylpheed and whatever faster browsers exist out there (I don’t know). I think even on old machines the extra 200MB (probably greatly exaggerated) disk space are available.

  23. Pingback: Xubuntu's crisis of identity « Motho ke motho ka botho

  24. Vincent

    One of the main reasons for me to use Xubuntu is because it’s “snappy”. My hardware may not be very modern, but it’s capable to run Ubuntu. However, there is a little lag before opening the menu that I do not have with Xubuntu, so it definitely still is faster. However, it may no longer be the distro of choicer on extremely old hardware.

    Why that ultra-cool “mouse running in the wheel” splash screen vanished, as an example?

    I agree that it was very cool, but a splash screen on startup only made it slower. Login would be faster with no splash screen at all, that’s why there was decided against it.

    1. Denis

      I’ve just installed xubuntu 9.04 and I am REALLY DISAPPOINTED with exactly this text sad: the Xubuntu is not light any more, not at all :`(


  25. Pingback: The revolution beckons you « Motho ke motho ka botho

  26. Pingback: My brother has a good idea, and Sylpheed rocks « Motho ke motho ka botho

  27. Pingback: NetBSD: An Alternative to Xubuntu and Ubuntu Lite for Machines With Low Specs : Pain and Glory of the IT World

  28. Pingback: Fleshing out XFCE in Ubuntu « Motho ke motho ka botho

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s