I had decided to try setting up a Linux system that would serve primarily as a workspace in which I would run virtual machines (VMs), within my dual-boot system with Windows 7. Previous posts describe abortive efforts to use Linux Mint 17.3 Xfce, KDE, and Cinnamon in that capacity. I decided at this point to try Ubuntu 16.04, in hopes that its relatively wide use would minimize the number of funky problems that I might have to deal with.
Which Ubuntu Flavor?
I was leery of the risk that, as in that Cinnamon exploration, I might once again get myself into a backwater where I would have weird problems and hardly anybody to help me. This encouraged me to go with mainstream Ubuntu. But I did want to consider, at least in passing, the possibility that another of the several Ubuntu flavors would be better for my purposes.
Given my interest in preserving system resources for the VMs, I was particularly intrigued by the Linux.com suggestion that “a multimedia production system . . . should use a lightweight desktop environment so that . . . CPU and RAM are used sparingly by the system itself.” In that view, Ubuntu Studio was ideal because it used Xfce. But they evidently larded Studio down with “a broad range of audio, video, and image editing applications.” I didn’t need all that.
So why not just go with Xfce, in the form of Xubuntu? A search for recent commentary led to these impressions:
- A MakeUseOf article said that Windows users would probably find Lubuntu, Xubuntu, and MATE desktop environments (DEs) more user-friendly than some other alternatives. In that article’s test of the operating system’s (OS) use of system resources, Lubuntu used 209MB RAM, while Xubuntu and MATE used about 300MB.
- WikiVs reported that Lubuntu had a recommended minimum of 384MB RAM, while Xubuntu had 512MB. On the other hand, WikiVs said, “XFCE seems to be stable since mid-2014, while LXDE is in active development and is being ported from GTK2 to Qt.”
- Quora discussions (1 2) offered the opinions that XFCE included quite a few more native apps than LXDE; LXDE would be more compatible with older hardware; XFCE used larger software packages; and XFCE was more customizable and perhaps better-looking.
- LXer views included these: while there was not much difference in resource usage between LXDE and XFCE, there was quite a difference in resource use between Lubuntu and the heavier Xubuntu; XFCE was “rock solid”; XFCE made it easier to launch programs (though possibly this would be less of a concern for Lubuntu following its switch to Qt).
- An lxle post said XFCE “has an absolute ton of nice features, options, polish and manages to be more friendly for the new user” whereas “LXDE is about speed.”
- An AskUbuntu discussion said that LXDE was faster, XFCE was easier to use; “Xfce uses more RAM because Xfce caches things aggressively, giving it responsiveness”; Xfce has a larger community; LXDE might require more manual configuration; Lubuntu was much faster than Xubuntu; the Lubuntu transition to LXQt was only now in the works.
Based on the foregoing, I decided to try Xubuntu.
Installing Xubuntu and Basic Software
I downloaded the 64-bit version of Xubuntu and put it onto my YUMI drive, and then rebooted and used that to install Xubuntu into the space on my solid state drive (SSD) most recently occupied by Cinnamon Mint. This Xubuntu installation process was virtually identical to what I encountered in the Xfce, KDE, and Cinnamon installation efforts described in the posts linked above.
Once the installation was done, I booted the system and installed a few items that I wanted or needed. I started with Synaptic Package Manager, VeraCrypt, PeaZip, and Opera, all of which I installed as detailed in another post. I liked that VeraCrypt in Xubuntu (unlike in Cinnamon Mint) did not pop up an irritating File Manager session each time I mounted a drive. Using Synaptic, I installed gdebi, exo-utils, and gedit. (Note: some parts of the following discussion would not work without installing those packages.)
During installation, there seemed to be a problem related to language files. When I clicked Reload in Synaptic, I got an error message saying, “W: Target Packages . . . is configured multiple times.” As described in another post, I resolved that issue by commenting out the active line in the /etc/apt/sources.list.d/opera-stable.list file.
I was pleased to see that, while Xubuntu was supposedly lightweight, it recognized not only my wi-fi hardware but also my Brother DCP-7065DN all-in-one printer, whose installation in Linux Mint Cinnamon had cost me a bunch of time. Unfortunately, Xubuntu was not so good with the scanning function of that multifunction device. (I needed only printing and scanning; rarely copying or faxing.) After printing the test page successfully, I clicked on the button in the upper left corner of the Xubuntu screen (which I will be calling the Start button) and went to Graphics > Simple Scan > click on the Scan button. That failed. The scan button on the Brother multifunction unit was likewise nonworking. I tried the installation steps for those two features, as described in that other post, but they did not work. I was willing to do my scanning on another computer and then transfer the scans to this machine, for at least a while, but over the long term this would probably have to change, either by using something other than Xubuntu or by getting a more Linux-friendly printer. If the latter, various (1 2 3) recent sources leaned heavily toward HP.
There were various ways to configure Ubuntu and Linux Mint installations, so as to make it more suitable for my purposes. These configurations included the following:
- Replace Default File Manager. After a bit of use, the default Linux file managers did not seem so much alike. Consistent with a prior discussion, I wanted to replace thunar, the default Xfce file manager, with nemo, the default Cinnamon file manager. My conclusion, after an hour or two of screwing around, was that there was merit to the advice against installing a second full-blown file manager: if I wanted the many features of “full-blown” Linux file managers (as distinct from a more limited tool like GNOME Commander or Midnight Commander), I should just choose a different flavor of Linux. For posterity, my tinkering included the following: After installing nemo via Synaptic, in thunar, as advised, I ran sudo gedit /usr/share/applications/defaults.list. The lines in that file appeared to be arranged in alphabetical order. I went down to the one that said “inode/directory=nautilus-folder-handler.desktop” and changed it to “inode/directory=nemo.desktop.” (I had gone to File System > /usr/share/applications to verify that the Nemo file did exist. To verify its full “nemo.desktop” name, I right-clicked on that “applications” folder > Open Terminal Here > ls nemo.desktop.) Further down, I had to add a line: “x-directory/normal=nemo.desktop.” I saved these changes. Unfortunately, they did not work; it appeared the advice was bad. Alternately, that page advised me to go to File System > /home/ray/.local/share/applications (where “ray” was my username). But there was no such applications folder. I uninstalled nemo and ran these commands to clean up:
sudo apt-get clean sduo apt-get autoclean sudo apt-get autoremove sudo apt-get -f install
- Move the Taskbar. In Windows, the bar across the bottom of the screen was known as the taskbar. In Linux, it was called the panel. I found the latter ambiguous because in fact Linux (e.g., Mate, KDE, Cinnamon) offered the possibility of multiple panels, including the Control Panel and other spaces “also known as docks or trays.” For clarity, especially in the minds of former Windows users, this post refers to the bottom panel as the taskbar. In Xubuntu, unlike Linux Mint, that panel actually started out at the top. Right-clicking on it > Panel > Panel Preferences > gave me some configuration options, but moving it to the bottom of the screen was more problematic. An AskUbuntu discussion seemed to say that solutions here included using Lubuntu or installing gnome-shell and choosing “gnome classic desktop.” But when I installed gnome-shell, the only options were lightdm or gdm3. A search led to the impression that the “gnome classic desktop” option may have died with the switch to gdm3.
- Pin Taskbar Icons. In Windows, I could right-click on the taskbar icon for a running program and select Pin Tab. That would make the icon always accessible on the taskbar. A search led to the solution: Start > right-click on the program’s icon > Add to Panel.
- Remove Title Bars. Initially, in Linux, I felt that the title bars at the top of most windows were unnecessarily big and coarse-looking. A search led to the Hide Caption Titlebar Plus add-on, as a solution for Firefox. Unfortunately, in a previous installation, that add-on did not work well for me. I had also seen that, in the Chrome browser (which I was not using here), the option for Settings > “Use system title bar and borders” was already turned off and, thus, the title bar was not a problem. In Opera, I could change this with a right-click on the tab bar > uncheck Show Border. But that was buggy: it made the window full-screen and removed the option to resize it by grabbing and dragging its edges. For other windows, I tried installing the Maximus program, via Synaptic, but was not pleased with the results. Others said that Compiz offered a solution, but apparently it had compatibility and stability problems in various Linux distributions. Ultimately, it seemed I would not get my preference in this regard.
- System Tray Clock. To configure this, in a previous try in Linux Mint, I right-clicked on the clock at the top right corner of the screen and chose “Configure.” This opened an applet, and when I clicked the Show Information button it gave me a webpage. The Reference tab on that webpage was particularly helpful. I wound up using this formula to display time and date in the desired format: %a %b %e, %I:%M:%S %p. In Ubuntu, by contrast, the sequence was right-click > Properties > Clock Options > Custom Format > paste in those same codes.
- Make gedit Remember Preferences. In Xubuntu, the gedit text editor would not save the changes that I would indicate in its Edit > Preferences window. Among various suggested solutions, I went to Start > All > Software > search for gedit > Launch > save preferences there > exit. Then sessions opened elsewhere would observe those saved preferences. It would have been easier to follow the advice to go to Software Manager > search for gedit > Remove > reinstall, but Xubuntu did not have the things needed to implement that or other suggestions in a LinuxMint thread or a search.
- Create Shortcuts. In Windows, I could right-click on a file and choose “Create shortcut.” To create a shortcut to a file in Linux, I had to right-click in the empty space in that folder (when viewing it in the Linux file manager) > Open in Terminal > ln -s filename shortcutname.
- Configure a Standard User. In a previous post, I struggled with the idea of copying the same user (ray, in my case) to different computers. That concern seemed to have passed. For posterity, there was the concern that a Linux installation might have issues when run on different hardware, and the possibility of using Aptik to copy user information.
I had decided that going back to Ubuntu might avoid some of the problems I encountered when attempting to use Linux Mint Cinnamon 17.3 as the operating system for the basic installation on which I hoped to run my virtual machines (VMs). On the way to Ubuntu, however, I stopped to see if Xubuntu would have the advantages that had previously persuaded me to try Linux Mint Xfce, without the disadvantages that ultimately persuaded me to try something else.
This post describes a few issues that I would rather not have to deal with. These included the inability to use my scanner, the limits of the thunar file manager, and the taskbar that could not be moved to the bottom of the screen. Unlike the wifi connection problem I had encountered in Cinnamon, none of these had to be deal-breakers.
I noticed, though, that I seemed to continue in a Windows mentality, in the sense that I wanted to be able to do everything my way. This was not necessarily bad; it was just running up against constraints in this relatively limited version of Linux. It seemed that, at least in the early months of my transition to Linux, I would probably be happier with a more fully developed and perhaps bulkier version of Linux. As described in another post, then, I continued on to a full Ubuntu 16.04 installation.