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A Tour of the Xubuntu Xfce Desktop

 A Desktop Tour of Xubuntu Linux 12.04

The Xubuntu Graphical User Interface (GUI)

Xubuntu is a fork of the standard Ubuntu distribution which features an Xfce based GUI/desktop instead of the default Unity one. The Xubuntu aim is is to provide an Ubuntu O/S that is lighter on resources and more suited to older/low specification hardware.

Xubuntu is a fork of the standard Ubuntu distribution which features an Xfce based GUI/desktop instead of the default Unity one

When you boot Xubuntu - at least in Live CD mode from a USB Stick - you will notice that the boot time is much slower than for Lubuntu, although this may be down to the different boot process used. The response time to commands is, however, excellent compared to the standard distribution, running directly from a hard drive.

Note: the screenshots in this chapter were taken from the Xubuntu 12.04 Beta release

Default Applications

The applications that come pre-installed with Xubuntu naturally reflect the low-resource ethos of the distro; there is still the usual spread of applications - it's just that they have been chosen for their low-resource usage and integration with the Xfce libraries. Here is a taster of some of the applications that Xubuntu 12.04 is currently shipping with:

..Xubuntu naturally reflect the low-resource ethos of the distro; there is still the usual spread of applications - it's just that they have been chosen for their low-resource usage..

ApplicationPackage Used
Word Processor AbiWord
Image EditorGIMP
Email ClientThunderbird
Media PlayersgMusicBrowser,Parole
Video EditorN/A
Internet BrowserFirefox
CD/DVD WriterXfburn
Web SupportN/A
Package ManagerUbuntu Software Center

In addition, it comes with all the system tools you would expect - as well as the ability to customize the look and feel should you so desire.

Note that even if an application is not in the default installation, it can be easily downloaded using the Ubuntu Software Center within minutes.

In summary, Xubuntu is aimed at Ubuntu users with older or low specification hardware that is unable to run the standard distribution. If you are an Ubuntu fan but find that Unity runs too slowly, then Xubuntu is for you!

The Xubuntu Desktop

Xubuntu uses the Xfce desktop - which is light on scare resources but delivers a perfectly usable desktop: it perhaps lacks the glitz/slickness and polish of Unity - but that is, after all, just eye-candy!

When you boot Xubuntu, the desktop will display:

The Xubuntu Xfce Desktop

As can be seen, the default desktop is a fairly spartan one - with several icon shortcuts in the top left (-to install the O/S and access various directories) and the Top Panel along the top of the screen. The desktop background can be customized as desired, using the "Desktop Settings.." option in the Context Menu.

Open windows and applications display in the main desktop area.

Xubuntu allows files and shortcuts to be saved to the desktop, by simply click-dragging the desired file to the desktop from the File Manager window then releasing the mouse button. An icon will then appear on the desktop, which can be dragged around or renamed / deleted as desired.

The Xfce Top Panel

The bulk of your desktop interaction with Xubuntu will be through the panel at the top of the desktop:

The Xubuntu Top Panel

This can be divided into four main parts:

  • Icon for the Xubuntu Main MenuClicking on the Xfce logo (-it's supposed to be a mouse!) in the top left hand corner of the screen displays the Main Menu, which allows the user access to all the Xubuntu functions

  • In the middle part of the panel, the thumbnails of all open applications are listed: click on these to jump directly to that window -or to restore it to it's former size if it was previously minimized (iconified)

    Xubuntu Application Minimized

  • On the right hand side of the panel is a number of icons. What appears here depends on what you are doing and what is running on your system but, by default, the icons are as follows:

    Xubuntu Package Mgr Icon

    The next icon (if you are running on a laptop) shows the state of the PC battery if you hover the mouse over it. Right-click the icon to display the power menu:

    The Xubuntu Power Level Indicator

    The Xubuntu Power Menu

    Xubuntu Mail Icon

    Clicking on the mail icon allows you to access your email and chat clients:

    The Xubuntu Calendar

    Xubuntu Alert Icon

    The icon immediately to the right of the application area is the Volume icon. Click this to mute or alter the sound volume:

    The Xubuntu Volume Slider

    Xubuntu Calendar Icon

    The next icon is a display of the current system time. If you double-click this, a display of the current month pops up. Unlike the Lubuntu, clicking on the dates in this accesses the calendar application (Orage):

    The Xubuntu Calendar

    Xubuntu Workspace Switcher IconThe two icons immediately to the right of the iconify icon are the Workspace Switcher icon(s). Click one of these two rectangular icons to switch between the available workspaces
    Xubuntu Shutdown Icon

    Clicking the "xubuntu" icon (-oddly, not the Xubuntu logo) brings up the Shutdown menu

    The Xubuntu Shutdown Menu

The Main Menu

  • The Main Menu allows users to access to all the Xubuntu functions. This can be likened to the "Start" menu in Windows:

    Icon for the Xubuntu Main Menu

    From here you can access sub-menus such as:

    Menu OptionUsage
    SettingsClick this icon to customize the desktop and configure the system as you desire
    AccessoriesVarious small tools for making the most of your system
    GamesA few basic games to keep you amused
    GraphicsLists programs for dealing with images
    InternetList programs for accessing the internet and the network
    MultimediaList any applications for audio / video viewing
    OfficeList any applications commonly used for business purposes, usch as word processing and spreadsheets
    SystemClick this icon to access various Linux system administration tools
    Log OutOptions to close the current session, power off, restart, etc

Note: most options will themselves have sub-menus off them

The Application Launcher Bar

Xubuntu also features a hideable bottom panel, which acts as a shortcut launcher for your applications. This appears when you hover the mouse near the bottom of the screen:

Xubuntu App Launcher Panel

By default, the Xubuntu application launcher panel includes the following icons:

Xubuntu App Launcher Panel

These map to the following functions (-from left to right):

  • Minimize all open windows and show the desktop
  • Internet Browser
  • Email Client (Thunderbird)
  • Command Line (Terminal)
  • Access the "Settings" menu, where you can configure the O/S
  • Application Finder
  • Software Center
  • Word Processor (AbiWord)
  • Media Player (gMusicBrowser)
  • GIMP
  • File Manager
  • Open the trash can / rubbish bin

Note: these options can be modified or expanded if desired

The Thunar File Manager

Xubuntu uses the Thunar File Manager, which is the Xfce standard. This works very much like that of it's Gnome counterpart with only superficial differences (-mainly the general Xfce look and feel).

The File Manager can be accessed directly from the icon in the Launcher - or via the "Accessories" option on the Main Menu. Both will open up a window to your user home directory, similar to that below:

Xubuntu Thunar File Manager

Left-click any item to select it -or double-click a directory to navigate down into it. Double-click a file to either open it or run it (-depending on whether it is executable or not). Right click a file to access the context menu - which allows you to rename, delete, copy the file, etc.

The Context Menu

If you right-click on any blank area of the desktop, the Context Menu will display:

This allows you access to some basic options, such as to create a new file or customize the desktop (e.g. to alter the fonts used and set background wallpaper).

The Firefox Browser

If you select the "Firefox" option in the "Internet" category of the Main Menu or directly from the Launcher, then a window to the Firefox internet browser will open up:

Xubuntu Firefox Browser

The Xubuntu Workspace Switcher

Workspaces in Xubuntu operate in a similar way to their Gnome equivalents. If you click on one of the Workspace icons in the Top Panel, the desktop view will flip to show all windows currently open in that workspace:

Xubuntu Workspace Switcher

This allows you to neatly partition your desktop so that it does not get too cluttered - for example, by allowing you to keep personal and work applications in different workspaces.

Exiting Xubuntu

When you have finished with Xubuntu, select the "Logout" option in the Main Menu or click on the "Shutdown" icon in the Top Panel. A dialogue box will display from which you can select from a number of options:

Xubuntu Confirm Shutdown


  • Logout : log out of the current user session
  • Restart : power the PC down, then back up
  • Shutdown : power down the PC, losing everything in memory
  • Suspend : save the current state in RAM and go into power-save mode
  • Save session for future logins : save the current session to disc and restore it at next logins
  • Cancel : quit the shutdown menu

Simply choose the desired option in order to carry it out. If you decide you wish to continue with the current session, simply select the "Cancel" option.

References and Further Reading:

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