I’m reading Jono Bacon’s The Art of Community (I know—a lot of Jono Bacon lately). I’ve barely started it, and it’s more about online community building in general, rather than Ubuntu-specifically, but I’ve just gotten to a brief discussion of Xubuntu that I found very interesting.
“One difficult aspect of this process is when people disagree on direction. You may get some people who believe that Approach A makes sense and some who feel that Approach B is more appropriate. Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to this problem.
An example of this problem occurred in a derivative distribution of Ubuntu called Xubuntu. The Xubuntu community took the underlying Ubuntu system and swapped out certain components to make it more lightweight and suitable for lower-powered computers. Some time ago, the community unfortunately hit something of a roadblock when deciding in which direction to move forward. They not only disagreed on the direction of the project, but also disagreed on who should coordinate the strategy.
To resolve this, I stepped in and scheduled a public online meeting and invited the entire Xubuntu community to attend. My first goal was to focus on what the community agreed on. Much of the meeting was gathering everyone’s feedback and collating the recurring themes together into a broad, high-level direction.”
The direction Bacon coordinated became the Xubuntu mission:
Xubuntu will provide an easy to use distribution, based on Ubuntu, using Xfce as the graphical desktop, with a focus on integration, usability and performance, with a particular focus on low memory footprint. The integration in Xubuntu is at a configuration level, a toolkit level, and matching the underlying technology beneath the desktop in Ubuntu. Xubuntu will be built and developed autonomously as part of the wider Ubuntu community, based around the ideals and values of Ubuntu.
This is where I really disagree with the Xubuntu leadership. Xubuntu is an alternative desktop. It has its strengths and its weaknesses, but basically, it’s an alternative for people who don’t want to use KDE or GNOME. I don’t know why Xubuntu continues to position itself as an OS for older, less memory rich machines. For one thing, it undervalues the beauty of Xfce and Xubuntu. It makes it seem like something your hardware forces you into, rather than something you choose.
For another thing, I’m not sure how great Xubuntu is on low-memory hardware. There are certainly lots of distros with a much smaller footprint.
So maybe it’s time for the Xubuntu community to re-position Xubuntu as just another desktop environment — but one that’s simple. Where KDE and GNOME are moving toward a rich, graphical, almost cinematic desktop experience, Xubuntu can position itself as something simple for people who want a relatively sparse OS environment.
Reading Bacon’s book, it seems pretty obvious the community has struggled with how to position Xubuntu as compared to Kubuntu and Ubuntu. At the time, the lightweight hardware angle probably made a lot of sense. But given the popularity of so many other, lighter desktops/windows managers, like Fluxbox and LXDE, it just doesn’t make sense for Xubuntu to act like something it isn’t.
Xubuntu is no longer the best option for older hardware, but that doesn’t make Xubuntu any less important a distribution.
I just wish the mission reflected that sentiment.
NOTE: I know an obvious way to remedy this is to get involved in the Xubuntu community. It’s something I’m working on. They actually had a meeting last week, but I missed it due to my inability to properly understand time zones. I’m hoping that mental inadequacy doesn’t count against me.