Xubuntu 12.10: Tips on making Xubuntu a lean mean Linux machine

My slightly modified Xubuntu 12.10 desktop. Faenza icons and rearranged panels. I actually really like the default wallpaper. Dark blue works best with Xubuntu’s default theme.

I’ve used every desktop environment out there. From Cinnamon and Gnome shell to KDE, E17 and LXDE. All have things they are good at. None of them has been as absolutely bulletproof for me as XFCE. I have never suffered a graphical glitch or a screen tear. I’ve never had a UI lockup at all.

So a few weeks ago, when 12.10 was released, I had a decision to make. I really wanted the latest Ubuntu goodies under the hood – especially the 3.5 kernel and the latest packages for for software like Openshot, LibreOffice and GIMP. But I wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of dealing with a glitchy and slow Unity. I tried the Gnome Shell remix, which was fast but full of odd glitches and bugs. So I decided to give Xubuntu 12.10 a shot and I’ve been really happy with the results.

Xubuntu obviously isn’t for everyone. XFCE has a dated feel that’s hard to get over. I had a hard time getting over it, but Xubuntu makes XFCE about as attractive as it can possibly be. It has a very attractive theme in the latest Greybord, nice looking notifications and handles fonts perfectly (I like the default Droid Sans typeface). To begin, I remove the home, trash and file system icons from the desktop (I got a dock for that)  and added Faenza icons and got a great looking desktop. (Some of my screenshots below were taken before I moved those icons.)

Plus XFCE handles GTK applications very well, so if you use it in Ubuntu, it will likely look the same in XFCE. There’s no glitter, but there’s plenty of awesomeness available to make it a super fast desktop that can get things done without ever going down. Here are some tips for anyone who wants to give Xubuntu a spin, especially if you’re feeling like Unity is just a little too sluggish.

Get Synapse

Synapse in action. You’re never more than a few keystrokes away from you files and apps.

Synapse is an application launcher and file browser that can be launched with a keyboard shortcut. It’s available right in the Ubuntu Software Center, which is exactly the same as what you get with regular Ubuntu and unity.

After you install it, run I from the applications menu > Accessories and be sure to set it to launch on startup. The default to launch synapse is control + space. I like mine set to super + space. Once installed, it will give you a super fast way to launch any application or grab a file that leaves Unity’s dash in the dust. It works the same launch it and start typing. As soon as you see what you want in the window, hit enter. It’s a must for anyone who’s grown accustomed to browsing and launching in the dash.

Pro Tip: There are a lot of cool shortcuts in XFCE you won’t be used to, for example, super + t opens the terminal, not ctrl + alt + t. To check out the rest open Settings Manager > Keyboard > Application Shortcuts to see all the others or to add and edit.

Set up window snapping

A look at Windows Manager settings set for maximum window snapping action.

The windows manager in XFCE is simple. It has not nifty compositing effects, though you can install and run compiz if you want. I chose to leave the windows manager alone. I’m striving for speed here, after all.

While you can’t get effects, there are a couple things I always do. First in the settings manager and select windows manager where you’ll find under the advanced tab that snap windows to screen border is selected by default, but so are the settings for wrapping work spaced. Wraping lets you move windows between work spaces by dragging them, but I prefer to make those edges static and get aero snap when I drag a window to the edge. So I un-click both options.

Another option here, also under windows manager, is to enter the keyboard tab and set key bindings to “tile” windows to each edge. I set super + the corresponding direction arrow to snap my windows to the edge. Now you won’t even have to pick your fingers off of the keyboard to snap windows.

Pro Tip: I also like to set my windows to become transparent while I move them. This can be simply accomplished by going to the settings manager > windows manager tweaks, selecting the advanced tab and slide the lever of “Opacity of windows on move” a few clicks towards transparent.

Edit your panels

With XFCE, you control just about every aspect of your panels.

The coolest thing about XFCE is the ability to customize the hell out of you desktop. Editing panels here is key, and you can do a lot.

The default panel setting is nice, but I’m not a fan of the layout. I move panel 0 from the top to the bottom (keeps the top of my windows looking cleaner) and the bottom “dock” panel number 1 I swap to vertical and place at the left edge.

Panel editing works by unlocking the panel, sizing and dragging it to where you want it. You can set panels to autohide or not. You can set their transparency and color and overall appearance. And you can add or subtract any items you want. I add specific applications to the dock panel and move the items in the bottom panel around just a little bit. Every item can be moved easily by right click > move and then just dragging the applet where you’d like it.

Pro Tip: XFCE’s weather update applet is excellent. Add it by right clicking the panel and selecting Add Items. Move the applet where you’d like it, open it to set your preferences and it works great.

Add your favorite applications

Xubuntu comes with lightweight applications but there are many you’ll want. I added Synaptic Package Manager and used it to grab LibreOffice, Shotwell OpenShot, Gparted and the Disk Utility (now Disks). GIMP, nicely, is standard. I also added DropBox and Ubuntu One, which both work perfectly.

Pro Tip 1: Unless you like it, uninstall AbiWord and Gnumeric. Otherwise you’ll have difficulty setting LibreOffice to work seamlessly as a default word processor when opening files from Firefox. Nothing against either application, but LibreOffice works better for me

Pro Tip 2: Before you go crazy looking for Gparted or Disks in the menu, check the Settings Manager. Both are automatically added to the manager.

That’s it, at least without getting into anything that would end up book length. This will help get anybody used to Ubuntu a head start with a leaner and meaner desktop. Any pro tips for Xubuntu? I’d love to hear them what you’ve done to make Xubuntu or XFCE work for you.

Xubuntu 12.10: Tips on making Xubuntu a lean mean Linux machine
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  • shadowguy14

    Do you like Lubuntu 12.10? I haven’t tried Xubuntu yet but I like LXDE better

    • http://profiles.google.com/pmazz04 Pete Mazzaccaro

      I’ve used Lubuntu and Peppermints 2 and 3, which are based on Lubuntu. What I like about LXDE is its simplicity. However, I’ve had issues with icons moving around and experienced poor printer support. LXDE is really, for me, just too spartan. XFCE is easier to configure and offers tools that are light but not too bare bones.

  • monsterplanet

    Greybord -> Greybird

  • toro

    man the tip about Synapse is pure gold

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