Xubuntu 13.10 … first impressions

So, I downloaded Xubuntu 13.10 within a few hours, if not minutes actually, of the release going live. Xubuntu 13.10 was released on Oct 17, 2013.

I decided to install it on my brand new Fujitsu Lifebook AH-532. This is a 15″ notebook with Core i3, 8G (upgraded from factory installed 4G) RAM and 500G hdd. The notebook seemed fairly priced for its configuration, especially when compared to other notebooks from popular brands like HP and Dell. Just a side NOTE: I am typing this blog post on an “almost” similar notebook that came with Windows 8 installed. 🙂

Anyway, the reason to talk so much about the hardware is that the Lifebook comes with Fastboot “disabled”, CSM “disabled” and SecureBoot “disabled” in its BIOS, but, … and that’s a big but … Xubuntu 13.10 consistently wanted me to install in EFI mode. That wouldn’t have been a problem if the installer didn’t fail every time I tried it. What essentially happened was this: I would let the Xubuntu installer go ahead with its default partition scheme and then, it would happily say partitions created … copying files … installing … and then BOOM! The installer would say something along these lines “grub2 failed to install grub-efi to /target/ … blah, blah, blah”. After the first installation failure, I tried playing around with the BIOS settings. I enabled CSM in one try, enabled and then immediately disabled Secureboot on another try and so forth. But, the Xubuntu 13.10 installer wasn’t happy with all of my goofing around. I figured while I was at it, I would also try out my usual partitioning scheme with 8G of swap and the rest of the HDD put into an ext4 partition mounted at /, but, that partitioning scheme was a complete no-no. The installer didn’t like that partitioning scheme and it repeatedly warned me that an EFI partitioning scheme was necessary on this notebook.

So, I was almost ready to give up … when I cursed the Gods … and then I decided to try one last thing. So, I went through the following steps:

  • I reset the BIOS through “Load Setup Defaults”
  • I made sure Fastboot and SecureBoot were disabled
  • I enabled CSM in the BIOS. The Compatibility Support Module (CSM) provides backward compatibility for OS that need it
  • I saved the BIOS and boot from my USB pen drive that had the Xubuntu 13.10 installer
  • I configured and enabled my home wireless network on the notebook so it was connected to the global net
  • During the installation, I chose to create 3 partitions: (1) EFI partition of 100MB instead of the ~500MB partition the installer was creating by default (2) Swap of ~10G (3) rest of the HDD formatted as ext4 and mounted at /

With those changes the installer ran like a happy puppy and completed its work! No complaints this time through!!! Since it was connected to the Internet, the installer (probably) downloaded a few updates during installation, but, I am not sure of that.

(UPDATE 2014/03/28 – Today I did the following with the Fujitsu laptop that came with Windows 8.1:

  • I removed the Windows 8.1 hard drive from the notebook.
  • I installed a new 500GB hard drive into the notebook.
  • I did NOT change any of the UEFI BIOS settings. This was important, because if and when I decide to or need to go back to Windows 8.1, I do NOT wish to worry about what the BIOS settings were. I just want to pop-in the Windows 8.1 hdd and reboot the laptop.
  • I started installation of Xubuntu 13.10 on the new 500GB hdd.
  • On first attempt the installation failed with the same grub installation failure notice.
  • On the second attempt I connected the laptop to my home Wifi network and chose to update the system.

With update enabled, the installation succeeded! So, at this point in time I am fairly certain that at least for the original Xubuntu 13.10 install image, you MUST enable “update the system” at installation time to ensure that Xubuntu 13.10 installs on your UEFI BIOS based system. No BIOS changes should be necessary.

Old post continues …)

So, after about 3 hours and multiple attempts I finally got Xubuntu 13.10 installed and running on my new laptop. A quick look around Xubuntu 13.10 tells me that there are no major changes. Sure there’s Gimp installed by default, but, I like Gimp, so that doesn’t bother me. There’s also Abiword and Gnumeric installed, but, again, I don’t care.

At this point in time the major question I have in my mind is if I really want to upgrade the rest of my notebooks from Xubuntu 12.10 to Xubuntu 13.10. And I don’t have a firm answer for that. Sure, Xubuntu 13.10 comes with a newer kernel and with an updated Xfce. There’s a newer version of Thunar, the Xfce file manager, that supports multiple tabs. But, frankly most of those are minor improvements from my perspective. A lot of the complaints I had in 12.10 are still unresolved in 13.10. But, even more importantly, I have made so many modifications to /etc files on my 12.10 systems that it’s not going to be easy to start all over again. And this is the fundamental reason I really hope, wish and pray that Ubuntu and all of its derivatives like Xubuntu would move to a rolling release model. The 6-months release cycle and having to start all over again every few months is just plain painful. But, all that is only applicable to people like me who already have a few machines running older versions of Xubuntu and are happy with that installation.

So, if you are coming from a different world and now need to use Linux in some form, should you try Xubuntu? My short answer: ABSOLUTELY. Among all the Ubuntu variations out there, I feel that Xubuntu is probably the best. Let me qualify that statement.

I was introduced to Ubuntu sometime back in 2005. Since then all the way through Q3-2012 I always had some or other machine, and more typically all of my machines, running Ubuntu. But, I always hated the Ubuntu experience. The problem, for me, was very simple: Ubuntu was installing way too many packages that I really didn’t want and/or care about. Also, it was trying to be a hipster OS by adding all those “cute social features” in which you could add your Facebook and Twitter and other accounts and get instant updates notifications, etc. I mean seriously dude, if you need those features go get yourself a Mac Book or some Windows notebook. Now, all those packages and all those “cute” features wouldn’t have been a problem if Ubuntu’s package dependency tree wasn’t so messed up. Although it has been some time, if I remember it correctly, trying to uninstall something as useless and as trivial as Tomboy mandated that I uninstall the entire Ubuntu. Or a significantly worse package: GNOME Evolution, the mail reader. Jesus! That’s one messed up piece of code with messed up dependencies and messed up naming. And having lost my entire mail through Evolution, I never ever wanted it ever on any of my systems. But, Ubuntu, in trying to be cute and all that, wouldn’t let me uninstall Evolution completely. Also, Ubuntu’s kernels and drivers were always behind the curve so there was some or the other device in my laptops that would not be supported. Finally, there was Unity. With Unity it became obvious that Ubuntu was trying to compete with Mac OSX and unfortunately, Ubuntu was miserably failing at that attempt.

Please realize that none of this is to say that Ubuntu is a bad distro. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee you that if you have never used Linux before, then Ubuntu is one of the better Linux distros out there. It is fairly easy to install on most standard Wintel hardware, and if you can live with the cruft that it installs and updates regularly, you would never have to worry about paying a single dollar, euro or baht for any piece of useful software. And best of all, Ubuntu has a HUGE community of people always willing to help out others.

So, anyways … with all the frustrations I had with Ubuntu … starting in early 2012, I decided to try other distros. I decided to go back the Redhat way by downloading and installing Fedora. That let me try the new GNOME 3.x and although I liked GNOME 3.x, I have never been a fan of Fedora because it comes with SELinux enabled.

So, after trying a few other popular Linux distros and not being happy with any of them, I figured it was time for me to give up on computers altogether! (Not kidding.) But, then I decided to give one more distro a try … and that was Xubuntu. The rest is history! Within moments of installation I realized that Xubuntu 12.10 was the distro I had been looking for all my life. (Please don’t mess it up Xubuntu guys and gals.) There was no GNOME, there was no Evolution, there was no Tomboy and there were no fancy social notifications. The misery that is Open/Libre-Office suite was pleasantly absent from the default installation. Xubuntu felt like a plain simple Linux kernel with a basic, but functional UI slapped on top of it … just the way I wanted it. Within hours after the first install, Xubuntu 12.10 found its way onto all of my other computers, except one. And I have been happily using it as my primary OS for the past year or so. Sure, I had to make a few modifications and almost all of those modifications had to be done through the command line, but, I can assure you that most average users don’t need those modifications.

So, with that background, I don’t see a significant change in Xubuntu 13.10. And to me, that’s a good thing. The only thing that would really make Xubuntu better would be to transform it into a rolling release, but, that is probably asking for too much from a derivative distro.

So, in some ways I am happy with the new Xubuntu 13.10, but, I am just not convinced, yet, that I want to switch all of my other machines running Xubuntu 12.10 to the new release just yet. But, I guess its gotta happen … sooner than later.

I like Xubuntu 13.10. It continues to be the clean, good, simple and functional OS that most of us really want and desire. Try it, you will like it.