As the release of the next version of Xubuntu, 7.10 “Gutsy Gibbon”, is set to arrive soon, I took a test drive with the release candidate, looking for bugs to be solved just before the final release, and to find out what’s new. This release will bring you many improvements inherited from Ubuntu but also tons of Xubuntu-specific improvements. Prepare for a long read
Oh, by the way, I also made a little screencast giving a quick overview of the new features that you can download in Ogg (recommended) and Avi formats. And yes, it’s kind of random (I didn’t prepare it), but at least you can get a quick peek at the look and feel of Gutsy.
The very first thing you will notice in this release is Xubuntu’s spiffy new theme (MurrinaStormCloud) and the sleek new background image.
To be honest, when I saw it on screenshots, I was quite unimpressed. However, once you actually get to use it, ut just “feels right”. What’s more, this theme uses the Murrine engine. Basically, this means that it will run faster and feel more responsive than the previous theme which used the Clearlooks engine.
In the six months that have already passed since Xubuntu’s previous release, much of the software included enjoyed updates that added a few new features.
For example, Ubuntu’s Add/Remove… application, for easy installation of additional software, has had some minor improvements, mainly in the use of language.
Even though Firefox 3 has been released yet, there are some minor but very useful additions to good ol’ Firefox 2.0, provided by the Ubufox extension, allowing the installation of third-party enhancements to Firefox to be done “the Ubuntu way”.
The first one can be seen when you open the Add-ons window from Tools->Add-ons. At the bottom right-hand side you will observe a link that says Get Ubuntu Addons.
Clicking it opens the familiar Add/Remove… window from which you can browse through some Firefox extensions that are packaged specifically for Ubuntu. Don’t worry about the limited amount of available extensions though, because you can still install extensions the way you used to.
The second one takes over the installation of plug-ins (software that allows you to play certain media, such as Flash, from within Firefox). In opening a website with an element that requires the installation of a plug-in, you are presented with the normal FIrefox placeholder in place of that content. However, clicking it doesn’t open the normal Firefox plug-in finder service you are used to, but a customized Ubuntu one. For example, when you try to open a Flash file, you are presented with two available Flash plug-ins: the official Adobe one, and the open source Gnash. Since Adobe’s one supports all Flash versions up till version 9, that choice is selected by default.
Selecting one of them and clicking Next opens a confirmation window.
The plug-in will then be downloaded and installed the Ubuntu way.
Once it’s finished you can close the window and you’ll be back in normal Firefox, which will know the plug-in to be installed.
And ta-da! You can view the content you so longed to see! (It still says on top, though, that a plug-in is needed, but that will disappear when you leave the page)
Xubuntu Gutsy also ships Pidgin 2.2.0. The reason it is listed under Software updates is because Pidgin is the new name of Gaim, the Multi-Protocol Instant Messaging client (for MSN, Google Talk, etc.) which used to be included in Xubuntu. Pidgin includes support for even more protocols than Gaim used to do, so you can really keep in touch with all of your friends.
Also included is the awesome new Gimp 2.4, which is an enormous improvement over the previous version (2.2), with so many enhancements that it would be one hell of a job to list them all here. Luckily, an extensive overview of new features in the Gimp 2.4 is already available. In any case, I’m loving it already
Apart from the usual software updates, Xubuntu Gutsy features a whole host of new software which will all greatly improve your user experience and does away with under-developed or featureless applications.
The Screens and Graphics application is an Ubuntu application that is part of a bigger effort called BulletProofX, which makes sure that you will never be left without a graphical environment. If it so happens to crash, no longer will you be presented with a blue screen with unreadable text, instead, you will be presented with the Screens and Graphics window allowing you to reconfigure your graphical settings. You can also run it normally, allowing you to easily configure multiple screens.
You can also use it to select a graphics card driver.
You can choose a driver by the name of the driver, or by the model of your monitor.
Also just as Ubuntu, Xubuntu Gutsy ships ntfs-3g. This does not really interest me, because I hardly know what ntfs is, but I still saw it was a Good Thing™ when I got my dad to boot Xubuntu Gutsy, who was delighted that he could delete files from his Windows partition.
Then Xubuntu inherits from Ubuntu the latest Linux kernel (core) that includes dynticks. Again, I’m not too sure what exactly it is, but I read that it makes sure Xubuntu uses less power and makes your computer produce less heat, which should especially appeal to laptop users.
Yet another thing inherited from Ubuntu of which I don’t know exactly what it does: AppArmor. According to Wikipedia, AppArmor is software that provides yet another layer of security allowing for even stricter definitions of what software is allowed to do.
To replace Xarchiver, which was viewed by some as user-unfriendly, Gnome’s file-roller Archive Manager is now included. It allows you to easily create archives, in formats like
It also easily allows you to open compressed archives and view the contained files.
However, it is slower than Xarchiver, and since that one is still being actively developed I am of good hope that by the next release of Xubuntu, it will be considered user-friendly enough to make a comeback.
At first, Xubuntu Gutsy was to include a Places Plugin for the panel, just like Ubuntu has. Unfortunately, despite the usefulness of this panel plugin, it is considered too unstable for inclusion (as in: it crashes when trying to open a certain type of folder) so it won’t make it into the final release. Hopefully it will be stable enough by the time Hardy Heron, the version after Gutsy, is released. And of course, it still is available so you can add it to your panel yourself.
To replace the user-unfriendly Gxine, the Totem media player is now included by default. Unfortunately, it is named a bit odd in the Applications menu (Movie Player) because it will also play your audio files with ease.
However, as opposed to Ubuntu (which uses Gstreamer), Xubuntu uses xine behind the scenes to play your files. This is mainly motivated by the fact that, by using xine, Totem has better support to play DVD’s (Gstreamer for one has problems displaying the menu). The downside of this, however, is that it does not include support for automatic lookup of suitable codecs to play your files. This means that it will produce and error when trying to play files restricted by legal issues, unless you have installed the suitable codecs yourself. If Gstreamer were used, it would ask you whether you’d want to install the required codecs and then automatically look them up and install them for you.
Brasero replaces the redundant Xfburn, which was no longer in development and missed a few important features. The choice of a burning application for Xubuntu was a difficult one. Most of the settled applications where either no longer in development, missed important features or were specifically made for KDE. Brasero, however, seems like a good choice.
To replace and complement xfce4-taskmanager, Xubuntu now includes Gnome’s System Monitor. When you open it, you will be presented with the Resources tab open, displaying the current load on your system.
There is yet more though. Take the System tab for example. This tab is amazingly simple yet invaluable because it is the first graphical way of seeing which version of Xubuntu you are running (and yes, for now, if one has this application installed, you already know he’s running Gutsy). The System tab also displays your host name (the name of your computer), the version of the kernel, the amount of memory and type of processor, and the available disk space.
But lets not forget the Processes tab, which displays all running processes just like xfce4-taskmanager used to do. However, System Monitor displays a bit more information than xfce4-taskmanager (most importantly: it has icons next to the processes and an easy button to force an application to quit).
Finally, there is the File Systems tab, which I think is supposed to display information about your different partitions, but (probably because I was working from a LiveCD) it was empty for me.
Enabled by default in Xubuntu Gutsy is Update Notifier, which, surprisingly, notifies you when updates are available and allows you to easily install them.
Network Manager is an excellent application that makes it extremely easy to switch networks, which is very useful for laptop users often using different networks (e.g. one at work, another at home). It is represented by an icon in the system tray.
Clicking the icon pops up a list with available networks which take a single click to configure. Once you’ve configured your networks, it will be able to connect automatically next time it finds it. Unfortunately, I am on a computer that only has a wired connection (with which, by the way, it automatically connected), so I cannot show it to you.
Clicking Manual Configuration opens Network Admin, which was already present in previous Xubuntu versions. You can still use it to configure your network without using Network Manager (yes, I find the names confusing too) by disabling roaming mode. Both methods support WPA encryption if your hardware supports it.
Gutsy also ships Character Map, a simple applications that makes it easy to look up special characters like é, á or even Æ, õ and ø!
Automatic printer configuration should automatically configure your printers when they are plugged in (you can’t get it easier than that!). Unfortunately, I do not have a printer so I could not try it out.
The next one in fact concerns not one, but seventeen (!) applications, but since it’d be a lot of work to discuss them all I’ll just mention them as one: Gnome’s Games! I can tell you that, at least for me, this is a very welcome addition. And the quality of these games is excellent!
One of the included games is the hyped Sudoku puzzle game, which my mother greatly enjoys
The little things
Apart from all these big improvements, there are also a few subtle little changes that make the whole experience just that tiny bit more pleasant.
As every default application now has an icon in the menu, the key combination Ctrl+Alt+Esc couldn’t lag behind. This key combination allows you to click a window that might have crashed in order to force it to close. However, in previous versions, the cursor would change to an ugly black skull. Now, however, it is an elegant cross that fits in with the rest of the cursor theme.
In order to make Xubuntu even easier to get used to, and so as to prevent people from missing the documentation that was crafted with such care by all those superb volunteers, Xubuntu now by default has a help icon in the panel.
When saving or opening a file, you can now view Recently Used documents and Search for them.
Instead of displaying six buttons in a row like done in previous versions of Xubuntu, the Logout dialog now displays the buttons in two rows.
And you can still remove either or both the Suspend and Hibernate buttons which will neatly resize the buttons on that row to make it of equal width to the row above.
In previous versions, when shutting down, you would first see scary console text flying by for a bit until it switched to the easy-on-the-eyes logo with the progress bar. Well, that still happens, the scary text isn’t visible as long as it used to.
As you might have noticed from the screenshots, the machine I tested this on was quite a high-end machine. However, for those of you worried about the speed, Carrie offers reassurance in the comments:
I just installed Xubuntu 7.10 over the weekend on a PII 400 Mhz, 384 MB RAM test computer I have. I love the new look default theme on it. I was highly impressed with everything I saw as I clicked around in the menus and different settings. I enabled the effects as well and they worked beautifully.
One thing I noticed right away with the 2.6.22-14 kernel is everything is much more responsive than before. A very happy surprise. Including booting up. Instead of a two minute start up time under Feisty, it takes about a minute and a half.
That was a long, long read
I think this may well be considered the most important release since 6.06 “Dapper Drake”, which was Xubuntu’s first official release. Just as Ubuntu’s, Xubuntu’s goal has always been to be a user-friendly distribution, and it took a giant leap forwards and is even more so with this release. It will also be a good base to build on for the next Long Term Support version, 8.04 “Hardy Heron”, slated for release in April 2008.
Have you also tried Gutsy, and did you find it as awesome as I did (or perhaps you found it to be the worst release ever), or have I missed anything? Do not hesitate to use the comment form below!