Xubuntu 24.04: A minimal install that does what it says on the tin

This nearly Snap-free Ubuntu remix may be about about to win friends and influence people

Xubuntu 24.04 is out, and offers a minimal installation option that is considerably more minimal than the other official flavors.

Look mum! Ubuntu with Firefox and not a single snap package in sight!

Look mum! Ubuntu with Firefox and not a single snap package in sight! (click to enlarge)

The various editions and flavors of Ubuntu 24.04 LTS "Noble Numbat" were released last week, following a shorter than usual beta test period. All the official flavors now include the minimal installation option which débuted in 18.04 and became the default with 23.10. However, the new Xubuntu 24.04 handles its minimal installation a little differently.

Here at the Reg FOSS desk, we suspect that Xubuntu's minimal install option may propel this flavor to becoming one of the most popular. One difference is visible even before you boot Xubuntu Noble for the first time. Although, as with the other flavors, the minimal installation is an option in the installation program, Xubuntu's minimal version is also available as a separate download. This is a mere 2.6GB in size, as opposed to the standard Desktop download which is about 4GB. Secondly, Xubuntu's Minimal install is far more stripped-back than any other we've seen so far.

We think this is significant because in the 24.04 release cycle, Canonical is redoubling its efforts to push its snap package format. This is despite ongoing issues around sandboxed Firefox, as well as considerable user resistance. Like the other Gtk-based desktop editons, a full install of Xubuntu contains Canonical's new App Center software store. This only handles snaps: it doesn't support traditional Debian packages at all. In addition, not only do you get Firefox as a snap, but in Noble, the Mozilla Thunderbird messaging client is also a snap.

Looking at the betas of the Qt-based Ubuntu flavors we noted that alongside their normal and minimal installation options, they also offered a "full installation" with some extras – which of course come as snaps, too. At least with these, you get KDE's Discover app store, which support Debian packages – and with an addon, Flatpaks too.

Xubuntu goes in the opposite direction. Rather than offering extra apps, Xubuntu's minimal install has almost nothing aside from the underlying OS and the Xfce 4.18 desktop. There's no App Center. There isn't even a web browser. There's not so much as a graphical text editor (although you do get Vim and Nano). Generic "Web browser" and "Mail reader" entries are in Xfce's Whisker menu, but they don't point to anything. We counted a grand total of 39 apps in the launch menu, of which the majority are Xfce config tools.

When we tested the Xubuntu Noble beta, we were surprised to note that it didn't even include the snapd daemon that provides snap support. We suspected that might be too good to be true, and sure enough, the last pre-release update added snap support. However, no snap packages are installed at all – so it's possible to remove snap support with a single command, and block it being reinstalled with one more.

You can install Mozilla's native Debian-packaged Firefox directly – the project has full instructions. Then almost any other program that supports Ubuntu is just a copy-and-paste away, and the traditional Synaptic graphical package manager is there for a more point-and-click experience.

It's not a completely snapless Ubuntu, but it's as close as you can get from the official flavors. Normally, snap support requires several snaps to be installed, and you need to remove them first before you can remove the snap daemon, but not here.

Aside from its very stripped-down minimal edition, Xubuntu Noble is plain normal Ubuntu, systemd and all. That means it's not an especially lightweight Linux distro. We compared installing the separate Xubuntu Minimal ISO with the normal ISO and choosing the "minimal" install option, and the results seemed exactly the same. Whichever way we did it, the minimal install occupied 7.6 GB of disk space, as against 9.9 GB for a full Xubuntu installation. In use, the full desktop idled with 771 MB of RAM in use, while the minimal install idled at 591 MB.

We tested all three installation options of Xubuntu 24.04 in VirtualBox, and we consistently noted one glitch. After installation, on the first boot, it crashed when we logged in. However, the second attempt worked fine. Even if we removed the open-vm-tools-desktop package containing the default VMware video drivers, and installed virtualbox-guest-x11 instead, it did the same thing: the initial login fails, but on the second attempt and from then on it works fine.

If you are not a fan of the snap format, then it's is worth taking a look at a minimal install of Xubuntu. We haven't looked at all ten flavors yet, but we couldn't find minimal-edition downloads for Ubuntu MATE or Ubuntu Budgie, for instance. If you prefer MATE or Cinnamon for their more Windows-like desktop layouts, no problem: Xfce's Panel Profiles tool makes changing desktop layouts extremely easy. The minimal install doesn't include it, but all it takes is one command:

sudo apt install xfce4-panel-profiles python3-psutil

We've also heard from people who find the very skinny window borders of Xfce make windows hard to resize. If that sounds familiar, then open the Window Manager settings and change the theme to "Greybird-accessibility", which has thicker, easier-to-hit margins.

Those who know their Ubuntu history may find the new minimal edition reminds them of Xubuntu core, which has been around for many years – but which required significantly more manual effort to install. This new, simpler implementation is a welcome step forward. ®


If you tried to run the "Web Browser" menu entry before you installed one, when you do install Firefox – or your preferred alternative – then you may find the icon doesn't work. If so, just use the Default Applications tool in Settings to choose your app.

For a more versatile approach to snap-free app installation, we like the third-party deb-get Debian software-management tool. This will install the Mozilla version of Firefox for you, as well as a multitude of other programs. This includes both FOSS apps and proprietary ones such as Chrome, Slack, and Zoom. It doesn't support Noble yet, but we're sure it will very soon. We first encountered deb-get in the Ubuntu-based Zinc distro, but it's easy to add to any offspring of Debian. Incidentally, Zinc has been renamed Asmi, and we plan to look at the 24.04 release soon.

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