I have been playing with couple of distros in the past week. I tried Linux Mint, Fedora 16 and openSUSE (Gnome as well as KDE). I found each distro to be the leader in its own class. For disclosure, I am a long time Ubuntu user and have been switching between Fedora 16 and openSUSE 12.1 ever since they are out. Apart from a few issues there is no major hurdle that keeps me away from any of these distros.
However, there is no denying the fact that Ubuntu is the most suitable distro for average home users – reason being its support for various hardware (GPUs) and ease of installing devices like printers – which can be a challenge for an average user on openSUSE or Fedora.
Interestingly a lot of Ubuntu users have now started complaining about Unity. They are also not very comfortable with Gnome 3 Shell (no, I am not talking about Linus Torvalds or Greg KH). I am talking about quite a lot of users in my Google + circle.
I wanted to suggest openSUSE or Fedora to such users, but as I stated above, these two 'beast' distros demand some skills to tame them – I am still struggling to make my HP Photosmart Printer work under openSUSE or Fedora. So, I dropped the idea of recommending these to my friends. While these users don't like Unity, they also prefer Ubuntu's ease of use. So I looked at Ubuntu flavors which while offering the same 'out-of-the-box' support, don't come with Unity.
I considered Kubuntu, but two of my users have Android tablets and KDE can't detect Android tablets. So, I looked at Lubuntu and Xubuntu. I found Lubuntu to be of interest as it is light-weight and is known for resource efficiency. That doesn't mean I dropped Xubuntu. I installed both distros so that I can see which Ubuntu is more suitable.
In this review my focus will be on the regular/home user.
First experience with Lubuntu
The installation of Lubuntu was a typical Ubuntu installation -- easy. Once installed I found the OS to be booting faster than the regular Ubuntu boot. The home screen is simple, not jazz or eye-candy. There is a panel at the bottom – the good old KDE/Windows experience. No Unity, no Gnome 3 Shell. Plain, simple desktop. I started using Lubuntu.
My only grips with Fedora and openSUSE were the difficulties I had to face connecting my hardware. Lubuntu, being an Ubuntu, detected my HP Photosmart pre c410 printer in 2 clicks. It automatically detected the Scanner as well. [Note: I have still not succeeded in making openSUSE KDE detect my printer].
As usual, Lubuntu worked flawlessly on my Dell XPS which doesn't have any proprietary hardware. When I tried it on my main PC Jockey offered to install proprietary drivers for my Nvidia card. Its running painlessly on my Dell Mini which has proprietary WiFi chip, but Lubuntu offered to install the proprietary drivers for the chip – thanks to Jockey. So, all three machines are running fine with Lubuntu without any problem whatsoever.
Lubuntu can talk to Android tablets while Kubuntu can’t
Android tablets use MTP and there are some issues with MTP under Linux. Gnome can mount the tablet, you can create folders and drag and drop data from your PC to your tablet but from within Nautilus you can't see anything inside the folder. That means if you have taken pictures from your tablet you can never copy those pictures to your tablet using Linux. The situation with KDE is even worse, it detects the tablet as a camera and can't write anything to the tablet.
To my surprise Lubuntu, just like Gnome, can not only mount the Android Tablet but also allows to drag-and-drop content and create folders. It can, however, not see any content inside folders. So, from hardware support point of view there is nothing in Lubuntu that is a deal breaker. On the contrary, considering its a lightweight DE, the hardware support goes in its favour.
Accessing data over the network
I wanted to access data from the other PC connected to the network. Under Nautilus of Ubuntu you can find an option called “Connect to Server” and then just enter the IP of the machine and you are done. Under Lubuntu, there is no such option. I asked on the mailing list -- and there are quite a lot of helpful folks who suggested solutions. One that I tried myself, before I got any solution was to type ssh://[IP of the machine]:[PORT]/[Location].
The point I want to make is – it's not Gnome so things may not work the way they do in Gnome. They work, that's what is important.
Show me the apps
Under Lubuntu you can install any app you want which is available in Ubuntu's repository. Then you have PPAs which allow you to install apps developed by independent developers as well.
Lubuntu comes with quite a lot of useful apps, which means you can start working immediately. By default Lubuntu comes with AbiWord -- a lightweight word processor, Chromium, the open source version of Google Chrome and other useful apps. AbiWord will do almost everything that an average user would do with a word processor.
However, if you do want more than that, you can easily install LibreOffice using the Synaptic Package Manager. In order for LibreOffice to have greater level of integration with the desktop, you may want to install a package called 'libreoffice-gnome'. I installed ThuderBird, the mail client, GIMP, VLC, Clementine, LibreOffice and Arista for my work. So, using Ubuntu doesn't mean you will be deprived of the massive application repository Debian/Ubuntu has.
Missed Unity, Gnome Shell 3
Using Lubuntu made me realize the advantages of Unity/Gnome 3 shell. To find an application under Lubuntu was quite a task – first I needed to know where the application could be and then go for drop-drop-drop down menus. Under Unity/Gnome 3 Shell just hit the windows key and start typing the name and open the app.
You can also add the app to the Launcher or Favorite this way they will be one click away. I find this method quite useful as you can list all your often used apps. Unfortunately, I was not able to do that under Lubuntu – you can't just drag and drop icons and add apps to the panels in Lubuntu.
I installed AWN so as to be able to add apps to it and access them easily. Alas, I was not able to drag and drop app icons to the AWN dock as well.
So, the bottom line was, there is not much I can do to add favorite apps in the panel or to the dock. Which leaves me with the situation similar to Unity where I was crippled to some extent. If you can live with that then there is no problem. On the other hand, since I am a new Lubuntu user I don't know it very well – maybe there is an easy way to do it.
Fortunately the Lubuntu community is extremely helpful and I was getting answers to my questions within hours. So, if you do come across any problem you can rely on the Lubuntu community.
As far as pinning to panels or dock is concerned, that's me. Maybe you don't want to do that and you're perfectly fine with drop-down menu.
Personally, I will continue to use Ubuntu/Fedora/openSUSE as my main OS as I do want to stay updated with the latest technologies – I am excited and curious about how Unity, Gnome and KDE progress further. Lubuntu will run on my netbook which is a bit power consious. I will also install Ubuntu on the machines of those users who are finding it hard to use GNU/Linux due to Unity or Gnome 3 shell.
Lubuntu is what it is intended to be: a light weight Ubuntu-based OS. While Lubuntu is targeted at low-powered devices, such as netbooks, I found Unity to be more appropriate on devices with smaller screens. Global Menu gives more space to work. At the same time Unity + Global Menu is a recipe for disaster on Desktops – making Lubuntu more appropriate for main Desktops and laptops.
Lubuntu can be a perfect choice for those who are not comfortable with Ubuntu's Unity or Gnome 3 Shell. In my opinion there is no need to fork Gnome 2 and invest resources on it when we already have XFCE and LXDE. Investing resources in LXDE and XFCE may make more sense as it will help polish these two DEs instead of keeping alive a dying horse called Gnome 2.
I heavily recommend Lubuntu. It brings all the goodies of Ubuntu -- it’s fast, it works out of the box, it supports hardware, it gets the benefits of a huge reservoir of packages and PPAs. Lubuntu offers almost everything that is good in Ubuntu, eliminates some of the drawbacks such as Global Menu.
Do try Lubuntu if you dont like Ubuntu’s Unity. This, I think, is the beauty of the GNU/Linux word. There is something for everyone. There is Fedora, openSUSE, Ubuntu, GNOME, KDE and LXDE. Choose your color and enjoy.
All is well that runs on Linux!