02 September 2012

Linux Mint 13 XFCE. Why?

This post is not going to provide any searing insight or anything like that. It's merely a documentary record, for me, if not necessarily anyone else. It's probably only going to appeal to the Linux curios, a diverse group who I can truthfully (and happily) say have completely different ideas about what an operating system should be. So consider yourself warned.

I've just installed LinuxMint 13 (Maya) XFCE onto my aging Eee PC. I have the Eee PC 1008HA Seashell, which is the model (together with the 1008HA) that started ASUS on the path to be a bit more adventurous in their design.

The PC has aged pretty well, although the single core Intel Atom processor and the 1GB of DDR2 RAM hasn't. But after sitting back and watching the bloatware that Ubuntu became with Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (Precise Pangolin), I needed to investigate other options.

I should point out that Ubuntu 12.04 runs fine on my desktop. That's not the issue here. My desktop is a machine that runs rings around most other PCs. It ought to be able to run Ubuntu in its sleep. In fact, it does that too. However, it's just too big and bulky for my little Eee.

So I tried something different. After the success that I had with Linux Mint 12 on my father's little eMachines netbook, I thought I'd try with this on this PC. But where I'd installed the version of Linux Mint that came with the shortlived GNOME shell extensions (MGSE) – which seems to have formed the basis for Linux Mint’s wildly popular Cinnamon desktop, I went the opposite direction for my Eee PC and installed Linux Mint 12 (Lisa) LXDE.

Mint with LXDE went like a dream, but I was unhappy with the look of it. I tried a number of things to improve this, but I had no luck and started looking around for something else.

I have largely ignored Linux Mint MATE to date. MATE is, of course a fork of GNOME 2, but as with all forks, requires a little bit of time first to get the initial kinks ironed out. I might be interested in Mint MATE down the track, but I’m really willing to go there just yet.

It was around this time that one of my tweeps said something about XFCE that intrigued me – it was something along the lines of, “XFCE is improving. You wouldn't recognise it now.”

Those of you with long memories may recall that on my previous Eee PC, which was a 900, I did install a cut down version of Xubuntu that was designed for Eee PCs, more specifically, the 700/701 /2G/4G/4G Surf models that started the whole netbook phenomena. These all have solid state drives and not very big ones at that. So this version of Xubuntu was pretty darn light.

I didn't use Xubuntu very long on that machine – after Easy Peasy Linux came along which used GNOME and an early version of a Unity-like interface, I dropped it like a hot cake. I considered then, as I sort of do now, that XFCE, the desktop environment that Xubuntu uses, was an intermediate technology – a sort of GNOME-lite for those who lacked access to a lighter GNOME environment.

Easy Peasy lacked frequent updates. It was also clear that Easy Peasy was simply serving up Ubuntu's 'Netbook Edition' with some minor alterations in its few updates. So I switched my Eee PC over to Ubuntu Netbook Edition. Which became Ubuntu, when Canonical realised that having their product fragmented into desktop and netbook versions was costly.

Canonical promised to keep Ubuntu within the spirit of the netbook edition, but it really was only a matter of time before you were going to call bullshit on this. Microsoft are going to make the same mistake with Windows 8 and you know that, even though Windows Vista was a monumental fuckup which you'd think Microsoft would have learned from, the expectation from software companies that design operating systems, is for the hardware to keep up with the software. I'll go so far as to say that software companies who say that they are designing sleeker and more efficient OSs for lower-specced hardware are lying out their arses.

So after I cracked and had then gotten over Mint LXDE, I had a bit of a rethink. I had had a look at the Linux Mint (Debian Edition) that was running XFCE and was rather intrigued by this, however I still wanted access to the Ubuntu repositories. I also have this nagging voice questioning why there's even a Debian version of Linux Mint anyway – if I want Debian, and I might, some time in the future, surely I'd go straight to Debian and run theirs, rather than Linux Mint's version of Debian?

But in the end I installed Xubuntu 12.04 LTS (Precise Pangolin) which, as the name suggests, is a derivative of Ubuntu using XFCE in place of Unity/GNOME.

Yes, folks, I was blown away. XFCE has improved a million miles from where it was previously. Xubuntu has improved a billion times on what it was, also. I was happy enough with this, so I happily went about my business. If there is only one criticism I have of Xubuntu, it's that it's starting to get bloaty.

I'm informed that this is common to all derivatives of Ubuntu, with the exception of Lubuntu, but I was off LXDE and not really intending on going back.

But then Linux Mint released their XFCE version of Linux Mint 13.

It was at this point that I did the Mint MATE versus Mint XFCE umming and ahhring. Do I take a chance on MATE, or do I stick with what is gathering respect as a rather nice desktop environment in a much lighter setting than Xubuntu?

In the end, I decided to go with Mint XFCE. In the next post, I'll try to record what I think are must haves and what I did to get mine running to my satisfaction.

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