Ubuntu without the 'U': Booting the Big Four remixes

Raring Ringtail without the OS X/Unity stuff


Review It's the end of April, so that means that there's a new release of Ubuntu. Well, actually, no - it means that there are eight of them. Don't like standard Ubuntu's Mac-OS-X-like Unity desktop? Here's where to look.

There are umpteen "remixes" alongside the eponymous distro. These mostly differ by having a different desktop - and therefore overall look and feel - but also in some cases different preinstalled apps. There are more than one hundred - many moribund, very specialised or otherwise of little interest - but seven enjoy official recognition. I'm going to look at the "Big Four" - Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Lubuntu and Ubuntu GNOME. All have a different interface from the standard distro, meaning something for everyone.

There are three other "official" variants, too, that are special-purpose editions: Edubuntu, Mythbuntu and Ubuntu Studio. These focus on particular niches and if you're not into that area then they're not of any great interest. Edubuntu targets education and uses the standard Unity desktop with a bundle of software for kids. There's also the distro with the slightly odd name of Mythbuntu - so called because it's based around MythTV - it's a version of Ubuntu with a "ten-foot user interface" for a converged PVR/home-theatre PC.

Ubuntu Studio, meanwhile, is aimed at media creators, with a low-latency kernel and suites of tools for people working with audio, graphics, video, photography and publishing. Mythbuntu and Ubuntu Studio both use the same Xfce desktop as Xubuntu.

Under the skin, though, all the "buntus" are the same OS - so they all have much the same compatibility requirements and will run the same applications. The main differences are how they look, how you control them and (to a degree) how powerful a PC you need. All come with pleasant touches like system-update monitors, something rival distros often miss - and unlike some other distros, upgrades from one version to the next are easy and supported.

Kubuntu

Kubuntu is the oldest and biggest of the general-purpose editions. It is Ubuntu with KDE 4.10 instead of Ubuntu's GNOME-based Unity. KDE and GNOME have rather different philosophies, and admirers of one tend to dislike the other. As soon as Ubuntu came out, KDE advocates protested Canonical's decision to use GNOME, and Kubuntu appeared along with Ubuntu's second release, 5.04.

The Kbuntu Desktop1

The default Kubuntu desktop features a strange columnar launch menu and a floating desktop folder

KDE is more Windows-like than even GNOME 2 was: at the bottom of the screen is a taskbar with a launch menu, a few quick-launch icons, text-labelled buttons for each running app and a notification area for tray icons and so on. Everything is very colourful and shiny: buttons are surrounded by a glow effect, windows cast shadows and go transparent when moved, and there's copious translucency, soft blends and so on everywhere. I found it overpowering, busy and confusing.

As well as a desktop, KDE includes a whole suite of apps - indeed some of its fans refer to it as the KSC, the KDE Software Compilation. This includes KDE's own web browser, email and chat clients, office suite and so on - almost all of them with the letter K wedged into their name somewhere. Kubuntu favours the KDE apps for almost everything; its sole concessions are LibreOffice instead of KOffice and a menu option to install Firefox. All the standard Ubuntu apps are in the repositories, though, so if you prefer, you can replace Rekonq with Firefox, Kmail with Thunderbird and so on.

The Kbuntu Desktop2

You can customize and tweak the original Kbuntu desktop with a couple of strategic clicks

If you like KDE, Kubuntu is a pretty decent 'buntu, but I wouldn't recommend KDE for a novice. Its developers' fetish for configurability means that it is festooned with options to twiddle, and some of its behaviour is a bit odd. For instance, desktop icons are held in a special folder that floats above the actual desktop. The desktop can be augmented with "Plasma widgets", as can the panel, and instead of virtual desktops there are "activities", allowing you to put windows and plasma widgets into functional groups. In an era where computer interfaces are growing simpler, KDE is complex - but if you want something basically Windows-like but extremely customisable, it's a good choice.

Xubuntu

The next oldest 'buntu, Xubuntu, uses Xfce 4.10. The Xfce desktop started out as a FOSS clone of CDE built around Xforms, but it has moved away from that. It now resembles a lighter-weight GNOME 2 - it's even built on Gtk2 - but with the task-switcher panel at the top of the screen by default and the bottom panel tweaked into an app launcher in the style of an auto-hiding dock. It's easy to rearrange this into GNOME 2's classic two-panel arrangement, though, or into a Windows-style single taskbar.

Xubuntu desktop1

Xubuntu's default desktop has a top panel with an app menu and a switcher, and a bottom panel configured as a dock-like app-launcher.

Xfce is lighter than the big-name desktops and so Xubuntu needs fewer resources - and is a bit nippier - than its older siblings. It also uses the more basic Abiword and Gnumeric office apps rather than LibreOffice, but the latter's easily installed. Xfce's window manager also spurns fancy 3D desktop effects, and is sprightly on 2D hardware or in a VM.

Xbuntu desktop2

After a few changes to the Xbuntu desktop Xfce can do a better impersonation of GNOME 2 than GNOME 3

If you miss the GNOME 2 look and feel of Ubuntu prior to 11.04, Xubuntu's your the best option out of the officially sanctioned editions.

Next page: Lubuntu

Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022