Ubuntu vs Xubuntu

Before I start I would like to say that this isn’t a my distro is better than your distro style article. Comparing Ubuntu and Xubuntu might seem like comparing apples and pears in that they are completely different beasts.

When people hear the term Ubuntu they now instantly think of Unity. The Unity desktop has its fans and it has its detractors. The Unity desktop isn’t overly customisable whereas Xubuntu’s XFCE desktop is probably the most customisable desktop environment available.

At the same time Ubuntu comes with the best applications available such as Rhythmbox and LibreOffice and the Unity desktop is a joy to navigate and it is extremely easy to use. Xubuntu on the other hand is designed to be lightweight so the applications whilst functional don’t necessarily provide all the features that come with Ubuntu.

So when should you use Xubuntu and when should you use Ubuntu? A simplistic view would be to say that if you want a lightweight operating system because you like to keep your system lean and clean or because you are running older hardware then Xubuntu is the way to go but if you want to use cutting edge applications on a cutting edge desktop then use Ubuntu. You might also consider using Xubuntu if you want to be able to customise your desktop experience beyond changing desktop wallpapers and deciding whether the launcher hides itself or not.

I have to say however that the Unity desktop isn’t as heavy as it used to be and it is fairly responsive even on an old Acer Aspire One netbook. There are some systems where Unity won’t work that well because the graphics hardware just isn’t capable of running Unity. At this point you will probably need to use Xubuntu won’t you?

The other thing I have to say is that you may not like Unity and that is fine because Linux is all about choice. So again in this instance Xubuntu it is, right?

A common mistake people make when criticising Ubuntu is that they have failed to separate Ubuntu and Unity. You can actually install a whole host of other desktop environments and therefore you can run Ubuntu with the XFCE desktop.

Why on earth would you bother downloading Ubuntu and installing it only to swap out the Unity desktop to the XFCE desktop? In reality it all boils down to the choice of applications.

If your sole reason for choosing Xubuntu over Ubuntu is because you don’t like Unity then you will probably end up spending time in the software centre or using Apt-Get to install your favourite software packages like Chrome, VLC, Rhythmbox and LibreOffice. The extra download will be in the hundreds of megabytes. If however, you decide to install Ubuntu and then install the XFCE desktop the download of the XFCE desktop environment is under 100 megabytes. The superior applications in Ubuntu are already available.

Again, if your sole reason for choosing Xubuntu over Ubuntu is because your graphics card is not capable of running Unity then you could still end up downloading hundreds of megabytes to install your favourite software as opposed to installing Ubuntu and then installing the XFCE desktop.


Xubuntu XFCE Desktop

The Xubuntu team have worked very hard to get Xubuntu the way it is today and it provides one of the best XFCE experiences there is.

The applications are very lightweight. For example Xubuntu comes with the very average Abiword and Gnumeric. If your use of wordprocessing packages is limited to writing letters then Abiword may well be enough and you may not use spreadsheets at all so having LibreOffice in its entirety is just a waste of disk space.




The gMusicBrowser application is pretty decent but it isn’t Rhythmbox (although there is a template that makes gMusicBrowser look like Rhythmbox).

If you plan to use lightweight applications and want a lightweight desktop environment that is highly customisable then I would recommend Xubuntu. If you want an operating system with cutting edge applications but with a highly customisable desktop environment then you may consider using Ubuntu with the XFCE desktop. Finally if you want an operating system with cutting edge applications using a cutting edge desktop environment use Ubuntu with Unity.

Actually installing XFCE within Ubuntu isn’t as simple as going to the Ubuntu Software Centre and looking for XFCE. The Ubuntu Software Centre really isn’t the best tool for this job.

To install XFCE within Ubuntu follow this guide provided by linuxg.net.

To install XFCE within Ubuntu click the super key (windows icon) and enter “Term”. You should have an icon for a terminal. Click this and a terminal window will open.

For average users the terminal is a fairly scary place. The majority of people have learned how to point and click and therefore typing commands into a command line doesn’t come as second nature.

The basic steps are to add the repository to the sources list:

$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:xubuntu-dev/xfce-4.10

Then run an update:

$ sudo apt-get update

Finally get the software:

$ sudo apt-get install xfce4

You can choose to install the xubuntu-desktop in its entirety but you will then end up with more packages on your system than you actually need.

To actually use the XFCE desktop you need to log out by selecting the last icon on the right on the top panel and then choose log out. Now when you are at the login screen click the little Ubuntu icon next to your username. You should now get the choice of sticking with the default desktop which is Unity or using the XFCE Session.

If you have never used XFCE before then I would recommend reading my articles on Xubuntu at my other blog Everyday Linux User (www.everydaylinuxuser.com):

  1. Xubuntu first impressions
  2. Customising the Xubuntu desktop
  3. 4 of the best music applications for Xubuntu
  4. LibreOffice for Xubuntu
  5. 20 applications to improve Xubuntu

It is much quicker to customise the XFCE desktop within Ubuntu than it is to download the software and then customise the desktop within Xubuntu.

At the end of the day you will end up with the same desktop experience whether you install Xubuntu or Ubuntu with the XFCE desktop.

ubuntu1304xfce1 xubuntudesktop

So looking at the above images can you tell which is the Xubuntu desktop and which is the Ubuntu with XFCE desktop. The only real differences are the choice of applications.

There we have it then. Ubuntu vs Xubuntu. At the end of the day it really comes down to the choice of applications. If you like lean and mean then go for Xubuntu. If you like all your mod cons choose Ubuntu.

Thankyou for reading.








10 comments for “Ubuntu vs Xubuntu

  1. steve
    July 25, 2013 at 12:04 am

    SOLE means singular/only soul is a spirit. Once is an oopsie, but twice is just wrong!

    • July 25, 2013 at 9:39 am

      Thanks for pointing that out Steve. Maybe I was in a James Brown kind of mood when writing the article.

  2. Anon
    July 25, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    As an Ubuntu user (Unity and/or KDE), the only thing stopping me from using XFCE is that I keep hearing that XFCE has problems with screen tearing due its compositor not using OpenGL, or something like that. I can confirm there is noticeable tearing when moving windows or watching videos when trying out Xubuntu on my laptop (Intel HD 1000 video card)

    I’ve heard about using Compton as the compositor instead, but that seems to present its own problems, such as no more transparent panels. I’ve tried Compiz as well, but that seems to break the panel autohide feature.

    Does anyone know if/when the tearing issues will be fixed in XFCE’s compositor, or how to replace XFCE’s compositor while maintaining the full functionality of the XFCE compositor?

    • IgosDuIkana
      July 25, 2013 at 7:34 pm

      I use openbox with compton and it works fine with transparency. The original project that Compton was forked from did not have native transparency support, but the subsequent forks, compton being the culmination of the fixes implemented in the other fork and even more improvements, do have really good transparency support. I am running on an arch system and am using pretty mid range hardware and was using KDE but decided that I wanted to try something new and I love the simplicity of my desktop experiance now. So how about giving compton/xfce a try as I tried the xfce panel in openbox and it worked with transparency.

  3. rijnsma
    July 25, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    I use Xubuntu 12.04 LTS for a year now day-to-day and I have no complaint.
    That is the first time a Linux-version succeeded the full 100% here at once.
    (For years I did use more distro’s.) It is fast and it does a great job even after one year after all updates.

    In former days there was always a tiny thing at least wrong with Ubuntu, but not this time. I’m looking forward to test Xubuntu 14.04 on another partition out of curiosity. :big-smile:

  4. Al
    July 26, 2013 at 12:31 am

    There is a link for ‘Customising the Xubuntu desktop’ but it goes to Xubuntu first impressions. I’d like to read about customising. Searched for it but couldn’t find it.

    • July 26, 2013 at 10:40 pm

      Sorry about that. I have updated the link in the article but here it is as a reply to your comment as well

  5. Albin
    July 26, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    Not liking Unity, I’ve recently tried Raring Ringtail versions of both Xubuntu and Mint XFCE (8gb persistent live USB), and while Xubuntu is the most mature I’ve seen it and works quite well (weak little Acer One netbook) I like the preinstalled software in Mint better, and that saves a lot of set up time on these 9 month installations. Just spent a lot less time getting the system I want to use.

  6. LanManT
    July 27, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    I am using Xubuntu 13.04 themed with, nvidia 325 drivers, compiz, emerald and conky

    I have absolutely no problems with my system.

    Extremely lightweight and what i like about xfce is the fact its so customizable. the updates are few and far between

    I only install the applications i actually use, nothing more nothing less

    i have exactly 79 apps installed,

    no screen tearing

    i also have several PC’s running unity which is also beautiful

  7. TheDestroyer19
    August 10, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    There’s an app called Unity Tweak Tool in the Ubuntu App Store. It adds a lot of flexibility to Unity, however I do not know how it compares to XFCE’s customization because I have not used it. Unity Tweak also fixed some graphical issues on my macbook1,1, namely the background for the dash menu and shut down dialog.

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