Xubuntu plus Gnome equals … a metapackage

I’m going out on a limb saying it, but here’s my brief prediction — probably worthless, overdramatic and ill-informed, but my prediction anyway: Xubuntu’s push toward Gnome applications is going to marginalize the distro.

My logic: First, the Xubuntu user base is nowhere near as hefty as the Ubuntu crowd. (Kubuntu is small too, but not as slim as Xubuntu.) The polls — here and here — regarding Gnome applications got only sparse replies. And while the xubuntu-dev and xubuntu-users mailing lists are sometimes active, much in the past week or two has been bickering between developers. It doesn’t suggest a buzz of activity.

Second, if this Gnomeward trend is followed, then the only difference between Ubuntu and Xubuntu is going to be the desktop manager. Even the layout is already the same. Everything else — the session manager, the utilities, the applications and so on — are probably going to be borrowed from the Gnome version.

Furthermore, there has to be a certain cost involved in keeping another “official” version of Ubuntu around. I couldn’t tell you what it would be, or who pays it (Canonical?), but I’m sure there’s some sort of weight attached to the project.

So in total, we have a complete and full distro which has a slim following, that is almost indistinguishable from the most popular version, contains the same software as its bigger brother, and incurs some sort of expense — bandwidth, server space, whatever — to somebody somewhere, probably in an office on the Isle of Man.

So that’s how I arrive at this doom and gloom. If Xubuntu keeps incorporating Gnome-based software into its default structure, then really, the separate version becomes moot, and I would not be surprised if it were demoted.

Oh, I’m sure there would still be a xubuntu-desktop, and probably some unique wallpaper and the prerequisite XFCE structure. But aside from that, will there still be, for example, entire Xubuntu ISOs? Hmm. …

Of course I’d rather be wrong. I still love Xubuntu more than either of its fat sisters, and I’d sooner install Xubuntu on any computer I own than just about any other full distro. I just don’t like the direction it’s headed, and that’s why I’m screaming “Don’t do it!” from my rooftop.

But there are other XFCE-based distros, and some of them are exceptional collections — SLAX Popcorn for one, or Wolvix and Zenwalk, as others. If you need a distro that will make your computer go zoom, and if Xubuntu is really just Gnome with a thin lacquer of XFCE on it, which are you likely you try?

13 thoughts on “Xubuntu plus Gnome equals … a metapackage

  1. Derek

    I had the same thoughts, but with different reasons. I needed a lightweight distro for my laptop and something Xfce based seemed like the perfect solution. Loving Ubuntu, I thought Xubuntu would be what I needed, but it still wasn’t light enough. I tried other Xfce distros: Wolvix, Zenwalk, DreamLinux, but I missed that Ubuntu/Debian base.

    Eventually I settled on the Xfce version of Linux Mint, an Ubuntu derivative, and loved it. It really was perfect. Light, Ubuntu-based, and seemingly better than Ubuntu’s own Xubuntu.

    However I realized that even though I had a lighter desktop I was still running a lot of gnome apps which were included by default in the Mint/Ubuntu distro. Eventually I thought, “What’s the point of this?” so I had a choice of moving to another lighter distro like Wolvix, or getting more RAM and just using Gnome proper.

    In the end I ended up deciding to spend the $60 for extra RAM and moved to the full Gnome version of Linux Mint since I do like the Ubuntu support that’s readily available.

    Xubuntu does seem like the Redheaded Stepchild of the *buntu family, not only for the reasons you offered but from a user’s standpoint it’s not quite light enough to be truly light, and it’s similarity to Gnome is close enough that a minor RAM upgrade made the move to that version worthwhile.

  2. ell

    LoL , i am not even sure if xfce is considered lightweight anymore 🙂 ,

    ubuntu should concentrate on e17 desktop? now that would be the true lightweight desktop.

  3. Hexzenn

    It’s getting ridiculous, and you’re right: soon Xubuntu will be little more than Ubuntu with Xfce thrown over it, and it’s depressing.

    Most people (“regular” users) consider Zenwalk and Xubuntu to be the best Xfce-based distros around, and it’s sad to see some of the Xubuntu devs pushing for more Gnome components. It seems like their justification is that there will be more support from Canonical if apps overlap as much as possible. This is ridiculous thinking. Canonical seems to care very little for Xubuntu, and as Derek said above, Xubuntu is the red-headed stepchild of the *buntus. Xubuntu’s continued existence is solely up to the Xubuntu devs and community. If it died tomorrow, I’m willing to bet Canonical wouldn’t bat an eyelash.

    I want to point out that I’m not trying to slag off Canonical. Xubuntu does have a much smaller userbase than Ubuntu and Kubuntu, so it’s understandable that they’d pay less attention to Xubuntu. I just think it’s flawed logic to think that Gnome-ifying Xubuntu will somehow make Canonical all of a sudden start caring.

    I’m eagerly awaiting 7.10, but if things get any more Gnome-ish than they already are, Zenwalk 4.8 is coming out soon, and the Zenwalk devs actually care about Xfce and maintaining a light, user-friendly distro.

  4. trans

    Maybe embrace the change? I mean ultimately, isn’t it good that Xubuntu becomes one with Ubuntu? Don’t get me wrong, I like XFCE for it’s lightness too, but in the end I’d rather that developers enhance Gnome to be lighter-weight.

  5. Spike

    Using GTK applications is good. Using GNOME applications is not. Xubuntu needs to look long and hard at its application choice, and make a firm commitment to being lighter and not tied to gnome.

    Using GTK applications as much as possible makes sense, given that is the toolkit of the DE.

    I hope they figure out their identity, and fast. This should have been figured out when the project started, not three releases into it, or however many it has been.

  6. wariola

    There’s only 1 reason I use Xubuntu over Zenwalk and Vector: Wireless Driver. But it is just heavy and put a big load to my old notebook. Besides theres no support for SAMBA.

    If the direction that xubuntu is going is more gnome-ish, well count me out.

  7. Jose Catre-Vandis

    I am a bit round the other way 😉 My install of Xubuntu requires many apps from gnome in order to fulfil all of my needs (starts flame war on not having to do this but use GTK apps!) Fact is I “grew up” on Gnome with Ubuntu but have now switched to xfce for speed and fun, but have to install plenty of the mainstream Gnome/KDE apps to get where I want to go every day.

    Would be best to have a great stripped down, functional and speedy desktop you can build your own with – Ubuntu from Scratch starting with xfce of course.

  8. Ian

    This could also work out opposite to what you expect.

    Gnome is evolving in a direction likely to alienate many Gnome users in the near future. In particular Gnome is about to make itself incompatible with Compiz. The Gnome developers (in their insufferable arrogance) think they can do 3-D better and have written their own integrated window manager ‘muddle’ to run the new gnome-panel. Consequently you won’t be able to run compiz with gnome. Early previews look clunky extremely boring and surprisingly ugly.

    Now your opinions may vary. Maybe you are going to think the new gnome-panel is the coolest thing ever. But I suspect there will be heaps of people like myself who are going to look at it and go … blech! OK – I know the new gnome-panel is only alpha. But I have absolutely no confidence that the release version will be any better because the approach is just all wrong. There is no understanding at all about what people find cool currently about Compiz. Compiz is all about ultimate configurability, fun and extreme over the top graphic effects. The Gnome people obsess about a consistent user experience (it is going to be mostly inconfigurable you can bet) and expect us to jump up and down and wet ourselves in excitement when a window minimises smoothly to the task area. No cube. No wobbly windows. No goldfish. And deprecating comments about “bling” on the part of the gnome developers indicate such things are likely to be regarded as frivolous and extremely low priority.

    So in about a year there will be a lot of seriously pissed off Compiz loving Gnome refugees running around the place who will find the similarities between xfce and gnome (and the fact that it plays nice with Compiz) may make it exactly what they are looking for.

    1. Eric

      Well, it’s 2011 and I’ve used Gnome 3 now (I think that’s what the post above is referring to). I’ve also used Ubuntu’s Unity now too. Needless to say, Xfce seems to be the cream of the crop right now. It’s similiar to Gnome 2, which I like, and it feels a little more compact in a good way, which I also like.

      I’d rather switch to Windows again than use Gnome 3 or Unity, and I was seriously considering it, but now that I’ve discovered Xubuntu I’m feeling right at home.

  9. Pingback: Can Lubuntu hold the line? « Motho ke motho ka botho

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