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United for Unity alternatives

I love Brussels sprouts, and I’m blessed with the ability to eat fields of them in one sitting. Some people hate them to the point of legislating against them.

Some people crave eggplant. I would rather eat dirt and will only eat eggplant at gunpoint, which of course makes for some interesting dinners at my household. But I digress . . . .

Having said this, allow me a Captain Obvious moment to say that folks have different tastes, likes and dislikes, which in the final analysis boils down to a subjective smorgasbord of opinion rather than any resemblance to objective fist-bearing, knuckle-bashing fact.

I loathe Unity with a heat of a nova, but some people absolutely love it to the ends of the earth. And that’s great, but it’s not for everyone. What about those Ubuntu users who don’t like Unity because it’s a brain-numbing, unintuitive desktop environment that’s has a my-way-or-highway range of tweakability (or do I overstate it?), or what about an Ubuntu user who can’t use it because they’re using older hardware?

What’s an Ubuntero to do?

Use another distro is always an option — I’m beating Fedora‘s Juan Rodriguez to the punch here (touche, Nushio!) — but if you’re truly a dyed-in-the-wool, adjective-before-animal-loving Linux user, you have Ubuntu options that don’t include Unity, and for this many of us are truly thankful.

In my order of preference, they’re:

Xubuntu: Ubuntu with the Xfce desktop environment is probably my favorite ‘buntu; it was my first Ubuntu distro several years ago, and you never forget your first distro. Or maybe you do. But anyway, I have always had an affinity for Xfce’s smaller footprint, especially since I am usually using hardware that is not — how can I put this tactfully? — the latest model. My sincere hope is that with GNOME fumbling away much of its user base with GNOME 3, Xfce can pick up users and developers. But of all the ‘buntus, Xubuntu is probably the best of the pack in performance. Of course, if you have hardware old enough (in computer years) to occasionally scream out, “Get off my lawn,” then Xubuntu is ideal if you have to use Ubuntu.

Kubuntu: I have an interesting story that I always tell when the issue of KDE and Kubuntu come up. Years ago, the principal at my daughter’s school was inspired so much by using Kubuntu that she wanted to convert the computers at the school to the distro. She didn’t succeed — a lot of inside baseball was at play there — but if a woman just introduced to FOSS and Linux is that inspired by a distro, then it’s speaks volumes on its behalf. I have a love/indifference relationship with KDE — on the odd-numbered Fedora relases, I use the KDE version and I’m generally happy with the 4.x version of KDE, even though I probably only scratch the proverbial surface on the desktop environment’s abilities (the even-numbered Fedoras? Now, Xfce, but previously it was GNOME until I was unable to use GNOME 3 due to hardware restrictions).

But wait, there’s more:

Lubuntu: OK, Lubunteros, don’t flame me. To be honest, I’ve never tried LXDE. I’ve seen it, it looks nice, everyone I talk to who uses it loves it, but the reason I have had neither the chance nor the inclination to use it is because the Xfce desktop environment seems to be my go-to DE when it comes to hardware with, um, limitations (yeah, that’s it, limitations). If anyone would like to give me a compelling reason to try it, I will.

One more thing: A few years ago, there used to be a fledgling distro on the runway called Fluxbuntu, which had the Fluxbox window manager atop Ubuntu. I used it briefly when I had a larger computer lab and loved it, and while it looks like they’re still going, they’re probably going to need a little help there, if you’re so inclined.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)

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  1. October 26, 2011 at 12:03 pm | #1

    It is ironic that Xfce, originally intended to be a lightweight alternative, now seems to be the up-and-coming desktop superstar in the Linux world. Ubuntu has jumped the shark with Unity, a user interface consistent with the GNOME3/Apple/Microsoft trend of trying to turn our computer desktops into overgrown smartphones. This trend is alienating existing users, and we all seem to be turning to Xfce in response. Canonical’s response has been one of self-righteous indifference.

    I’ve been an Ubuntu user since 2006, but now, what’s the point? If the desktop is going to be Xfce then we might as well just be running stock Debian — and I’m thinking about doing exactly that.

    • October 26, 2011 at 2:50 pm | #2

      Self-righteous indifference – that’s about right. Debian’s a good choice — though I’m a Fedora guy now, I started out with Debian and I still use it from time to time. It’s good to go to the source — Debian instead of Ubuntu.

    • October 27, 2011 at 7:01 am | #3

      I agree Debian is going to be the way to go. Ubuntu does not want users, it wants consumers. Because the difference between Debian and Ubuntu is proving to be the consumerization of Linux users.

      -UbuntuOne Cloud Based Storage, needs $$$ upgrades $$$ to be useful.
      -UbuntuOne Music Store
      -Ubuntu Software Center. Now with books and magazines!!! As well as commercial software
      -Unity Music Lens allows you to search for music on your computer AND will show results from the Ubuntu One Music Store.
      -Firefox Custom Search. Proceeds going to Ubuntu

      From what I can see, Unity is a custom interface designed for plugging in more money making opportunities for Canonical.

      Also you will have to live with XFCE 4.6 when you make the switch to Debian. 4.8 is not even on the horizon yet.

  2. October 26, 2011 at 12:22 pm | #4

    It’s worth pointing out: You don’t have to actually install a different distro to use one of these other desktops. Just install the corresponding virtual package from the repositories over your Ubuntu installation, e.g. “apt-get install kubuntu-desktop” gives you what you’d get by installing Kubuntu.

    As for Lubuntu, LXDE is significantly faster and lighter than XFCE in my opinion, and has a very simple interface that reminds me of what was good about Windows 2000′s desktop (if you don’t remember anything good about Windows 2000′s desktop, ignore that remark). It’s not as complete as XFCE, especially in terms of panel applications, but I’ve found it to perform better on very old (P3 or older) computers.

    • October 26, 2011 at 2:57 pm | #5

      Actually, that’s a good point and I should have mentioned that. Thanks for bringing that up. As for LXDE, its small footprint is one of LXDE’s main points. And I do have some PIII boxes here, so maybe I’ll give it a shot. Interestingly, I don’t know Windows 2000 at all: The Windows boxes at the newspaper for which I work still run Windows XP

  3. Paleoflatus
    October 26, 2011 at 1:14 pm | #6

    I’ve always considered the *buntus a good choice for newbies, in whatever flavour they like. After travelling a little up the learning curve, I’m right up there with IGnatius T Foobar in favouring stock Debian, with your choice of desktop somewhere between Xfce and KDE. The easiest way to set that up is probably via the ridiculously easy installation of aptosid, followed by running the excellent smxi script into whatever level of Debian and whatever choice of desktop you desire. After that, periodic running of smxi will maintain and upgrade your system without the hassle of periodic re-installs.
    The wait for periodic new releases in most distros is too much like the queue outside your Apple store for me.

    • October 26, 2011 at 2:51 pm | #7

      Paleo — Don’t get me started on the six-month release cycle. I think Debian gets that part right: Release when ready.

  4. October 26, 2011 at 2:06 pm | #8

    I would definitely vote for Kubuntu.

  5. omgdz
    October 26, 2011 at 4:04 pm | #9

    Why not use Ubuntu and just install gnome-session-fallback ?
    You get the old-style Gnome desktop with panels just like before, all the strengths of Gnome3 and Ubuntu, and no Unity or Gnome-Shell

    • anonym
      October 28, 2011 at 2:28 am | #10

      gnome-session-fallback is unusable piece of cr4p

      • omgdz
        October 28, 2011 at 7:32 am | #11

        Your opinion is based on what? Gnome-session-fallback works for me and gives me a desktop and interface I’m used to. I’m not criticizing the other solutions posted here, just giving an additional option that doesn’t require jumping ship on Gnome.

    • October 29, 2011 at 2:11 pm | #12

      omgdz — You’re right, that’s an option. But I’ve mentioned the following in earlier blog posts. I’ve used Fedora 15 alpha/beta with GNOME before it was released and I had to use the “fallback” version — the only one my hardware would handle. While it may work fine, it’s sort of a “consolation prize.” Or, worse, it can be akin to penalizing those who don’t have adequate hardware by making them sit in the back of the proverbial FOSS bus.

  6. jsp722
    October 26, 2011 at 4:10 pm | #13

    Hi, I’ll give you some rather compelling reasons to try Lubuntu (or LXDE for that matter):
    it offers a fully functional desktop, complete with nm-applet & power manager, while taking only 65MB of RAM (YMMV); it starts instantly; it has a highly configurable and flexible panel: I have just everything in only one left panel 68 pixels wide (or less in netbooks and 4:3 screens) with icons displayed in 2 columns, which gives me full vertical space, even more than Unity; it offers the most amazing, eye-catching visual effect available on the market: when you click something, instead of some fanciful, resource-eating fluffy, the intended effect just happens, immediately, even before you have the time to raise your finger from the mouse. I did not measure, but power consumption seems better than with Gnome2, which is where I came from as a refugee to find joy with LXDE. And last, but not least, LXDE features advanced computing techniques such as no zeitgeist, no pulseaudio, no evolution and no mono. I strongly recommend Gnome-(s)hell to my enemies, but to my friends I recommend LXDE (such as in Lubuntu or in Linux Mint Debian Edition).

  7. Grub
    October 27, 2011 at 12:01 pm | #14

    Enlightenment E17 on Bodhi Linux? Lightweight and flashy!

  1. October 26, 2011 at 12:54 pm | #1
  2. October 26, 2011 at 9:40 pm | #2
  3. October 27, 2011 at 6:32 am | #3
  4. October 28, 2011 at 12:20 am | #4

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