The Meerkat Is Here... A Review of Xubuntu 10.10

At 10:10 and 10 seconds on Sunday 10/10/10, the latest version of Cananical’s Ubuntu Linux operating system (Ubuntu 10.10, codenamed Maverick Meerkat) was released, along with it’s derivatives, Edubuntu, Kubuntu and Xubuntu. Now I’m a big Xubuntu fan and run it on both my netbook and desktop, so I quickly grabbed the netbook and set the upgrade going. Two hours (or so) later, my netbook was all Meerkat-ed up. Pleased with the results, the desktop was upgraded next. Because I ran upgrades, my desktop wallpaper and a lot of my existing settings were kept, so my observations below might not be reflected on a stock install.

I’ve spent the last week investigating the new features and improvements of Maverick Meerkat and here’s my review.

The Good…

  • Faster boot time: OK, I don’t have any metrics for this, but it definitely feels faster.
  • Panel icons: The new Elementary Xubuntu Dark icon set is very nice. A lot of the panel icons (such as the battery, sound mixer and network manager applets) have been updated to really cool monochrome icons – the Mixer applet in particular is much improved. Empathy now has person-shaped icons that reflect your status, rather than a big coloured circle. The logout icon has also been updated from the “door” icon to the standard “on-off” icon.
  • Menu icons: The menu icons of the icon set also look a lot nicer than the previous set (well, those that have changed do!). A bit more colour has been added to some of them, giving them a bit more contrast. The application menu icon has also be updated from the old “Circle of Friends” Xubuntu logo to the new “mouse in the moon” logo, which again provides a better contrast on the dark panel.
  • Xfce Task Manager: Version 1.0.0 now shows application icons next to the task names, plus each task is shown with the command arguments it was started with. The layout is improved and once run, the task manger goes in the notification area. Hovering over it here shows the number of processes running, plus the CPU, memory and swap usage.
  • Ubuntu Software Centre: The Ubuntu Software Centre now shows the full history of installs, updates and removals on the machine not just since my upgrade but going right back to the install of Lucid on April 29.
  • Ubuntu One support: I’m not sure if the previous release of Xubuntu supported Ubuntu One, as I’ve never used the service, but this release does, although not by default – you need to install the Ubuntu One package to enable it. According to Charlie Kravetz at the latest Ubuntu Open Week, Exaile now supports the Ubuntu One Music Store via a plugin, but I’ve not found it yet. I’ll keep you posted ?
  • Better notifications from Exaile: The notfiy-osd notifications that Exaile produces now look a lot nicer and don’t hang about after you move the mouse off the tray icon (unlike the previous version which hung around for ages).

The Bad…

  • Reinstalling uninstalled software: I’ve customised my Xubuntu installations a bit by installing extra software and uninstalling some of the default programs. Why then, when I’m upgrading, does (X)Ubuntu think it appropriate to reinstall them? OK new stuff (like Parole), that’s fine, but must I really go through and uninstall Orage every 6 months? And since I’ve already got Gnome Screensaver installed, why does it insist on putting Xscreensaver back on my machine?
  • Software Sources removed: Managing repositories used to be as simple as selecting “Software Sources” from the applications menu. This option has been removed, so the alternative is to launch Synaptic and go to Settings -> Repositories. Not a great hardship, but more work than it was.

The Ugly…

  • Login screen theme: I’m not keen on the “light” theme for the login screen. Yes, the background does look better than the previous one, but the light panel at the bottom doesn’t contrast enough with the background and, in my opinion, should have been left as the dark panel.
  • Bluebird theme: The new desktop / window theme is a weird sky blue colour that doesn’t fit well with the dark panels and has strange icons for the window buttons. I kept it for 5 minutes, then switched the desktop back to the Albatross theme, and the window theme back to Sassandra. I’m glad I saw the new theme, so thanks, but no thanks.

And the rest…

  • Parole: Parole is the new default video player in Xubuntu. I’ve not had much of a play with it so far, but it seems to be a bit more stable than SMPlayer, which I was using before. The downside is that it’s lacking quite a lot of the features that SMPlayer offers – play, pause, stop, forwards and rewind are all that’s currently on offer. This is a new app, so I look forward to seeing how it develops, but I’ll be keeping SMPlayer as a backup for this release cycle.
  • No Hibernate or Suspend options: When shutting down / logging out, I’m now presented with just three options, Log Out, Restart and Shutdown. Gone are the Hibernate and Suspend options. I’m ambivalent about this – I never used them while they were on offer and their removal does make the dialog look a lot cleaner, but I still feel that I’ve lost out on something.

All in all, I’m very impressed. This is one impressive distribution and I’m eagerly awaiting news of what Natty Narwhal could bring. In fact, I might just be inspired to join the community and help shape the next release – what this space!

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