Xubuntu (Pronounced: /zù’búntú/) is an official Ubuntu-based operating system. Xubuntu uses the Xfce desktop environment because it works well on older machines. Xubuntu is intended for use on less-powerful computers or those who seek a highly efficient desktop environment on faster systems. It mainly uses GTK+ applications.

Xubuntu, although based on Ubuntu, is a somewhat different Flavor of Ubuntu. At the heart of the system it is Ubuntu but for the Desktop it uses Xfce.

  • Ubuntu uses the GNOME Shell desktop environment, while Xubuntu uses Xfce
  • Xubuntu runs more efficiently on older hardware
  • Xubuntu and Ubuntu include different applications to fill the same role (ex. Thunar vs Nautilus)
  • Xubuntu features GTK+ apps that are designed to use fewer resources than their GNOME counterparts


The first Xubuntu release appeared on 2005, alongside the Ubuntu 5.10. It was avalible only to install package “xubuntu-desktop”.

The first official Xubuntu release appeared on June 1, 2006, alongside the Ubuntu 6.06 line (including Kubuntu and Edubuntu) code named Dapper Drake.

System Requirements

  • 512MiB for i386, 1400MiB for x86_64.
  • 5-7 GB of free disk space.
  • 1 to 2 GB of Memory

About Xfce

Xfce is a lightweight desktop environment for UNIX-like operating systems. It aims to be fast and low on system resources, while still being visually appealing and user friendly.

Xfce embodies the traditional UNIX philosophy of modularity and re-usability. It consists of a number of components that provide the full functionality one can expect of a modern desktop environment. They are packaged separately and you can pick among the available packages to create the optimal personal working environment.

Another priority of Xfce is adherence to standards, specifically those defined at freedesktop.org.

Xfce can be installed on several UNIX platforms. It is known to compile on Linux, NetBSD, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, Solaris, Cygwin and MacOS X, on x86, PPC, Sparc, Alpha…


Xfce contains a number of core components for the minimum tasks you’d expect from a desktop environment: Window ManagerManages the placement of windows on the screen, provides window decorations, and manages workspaces or virtual desktops. Desktop ManagerSets the background image and provides a root window menu, desktop icons, or minimized icons and a windows list.PanelSwitch between opened windows, launch applications, switch workspaces, and menu plugins to browse applications or directories. Session ManagerControls the login and power management of the desktop and allows you to store multiple login sessions.Application FinderShows the applications installed on your system in categories, so you can quickly find and launch them. File ManagerProvides the basic file management features and unique utilities like the bulk renamed. Setting ManagerTools to control the various settings of the desktop like keyboard shortcuts, appearance, display settings etcetera.

Besides the basic set of modules, Xfce also provides numerous additional applications and plugins so you can extend your desktop the way you like, for example, a terminal emulator, text editor, sound mixer, application finder, image viewer, iCal based calendar and a CD and DVD burning application.

Major reasons for using Xfce

1. Lightweight construction

Xfce has a very small memory footprint and CPU usage compared to some other desktops, such as KDE and GNOME. On my system, the programs that make up the Xfce desktop take a tiny amount of memory for such a powerful desktop. Very low CPU usage is also a hallmark of the Xfce desktop. With such a small memory footprint, I am not especially surprised that Xfce is also very sparing of CPU cycles.

2. Simplicity

The Xfce desktop is simple and uncluttered with fluff. The basic desktop has two panels and a vertical line of icons on the left side. Panel 0 is at the bottom and consists of some basic application launchers, as well as the Applications icon, which provides access to all the applications on the system. Panel 1 is at the top and has an Applications launcher as well as a Workspace Switcher that allows the user to switch between multiple workspaces. The panels can be modified with additional items, such as new launchers, or by altering their height and width.

The icons down the left side of the desktop consist of the Home directory and Trash icons. It can also display icons for the complete filesystem directory tree and any connected pluggable USB storage devices. These icons can be used to mount and unmount the device, as well as to open the default file manager. They can also be hidden if you prefer, and the Filesystem, Trash, and Home directory icons are separately controllable. The removable drives can be hidden or displayed as a group.

3. File management

Thunar, Xfce’s default file manager, is simple, easy to use and configure, and very easy to learn. While not as fancy as file managers like Konqueror or Dolphin, it is quite capable and very fast. Thunar can’t create multiple panes in its window, but it does provide tabs so multiple directories can be open at the same time. Thunar also has a very nice sidebar that, like the desktop, shows the same icons for the complete filesystem directory tree and any connected USB storage devices. Devices can be mounted and unmounted, and removable media such as CDs can be ejected. Thunar can also use helper applications such as Ark to open archive files when they are clicked. Archives, such as ZIP, TAR, and RPM files, can be viewed, and individual files can be copied out of them.

The Xfce desktop with Thunar and the Xfce terminal emulator.

Having used many different applications for my series on file managers, I must say that I like Thunar for its simplicity and ease of use. It is easy to navigate the filesystem using the sidebar.

4. Stability

The Xfce desktop is very stable. New releases seem to be on a three-year cycle, although updates are provided as necessary. The current version is 4.12, which was released in February 2015. The rock-solid nature of the Xfce desktop is very reassuring after having issues with KDE. The Xfce desktop has never crashed for me, and it has never spawned daemons that gobbled up system resources. It just sits there and works—which is what I want.

5. Elegance

Xfce is simply elegant. There are many advantages of simplicity, including the fact that simplicity is one of the hallmarks of elegance. Clearly, the programmers who write and maintain Xfce and its component applications are great fans of simplicity. This simplicity is very likely the reason that Xfce is so stable, but it also results in a clean look, a responsive interface, an easily navigable structure that feels natural, and an overall elegance that makes it a pleasure to use.

6. Terminal emulation

The Xfce4 terminal emulator is a powerful emulator that uses tabs to allow multiple terminals in a single window, like many other terminal emulators. This terminal emulator is simple compared to emulators like Tilix, Terminator, and Konsole, but it gets the job done. The tab names can be changed, and the tabs can be rearranged by drag and drop, using the arrow icons on the toolbar, or selecting the options on the menu bar. One thing I especially like about the tabs on the Xfce terminal emulator is that they display the name of the host to which they are connected regardless of how many other hosts are connected through to make that connection, e.g., host1==>host2==>host3==>host4 properly shows host4 in the tab. Other emulators show host2 at best.

Other aspects of its function and appearance can be easily configured to suit your needs. Like other Xfce components, this terminal emulator uses very little in the way of system resources.

7. Configurability

Within its limits, Xfce is very configurable. While not offering as much configurability as a desktop like KDE, it is far more configurable (and more easily so) than GNOME, for example. I found that the Settings Manager is the doorway to everything needed to configure Xfce. The individual configuration apps are separately available, but the Settings Manager collects them all into one window for ease of access. All the important aspects of the desktop can be configured to meet my needs and preferences.

8. Modularity

Xfce has a number of individual projects that make up the whole, and not all parts of Xfce are necessarily installed by Ubuntu. Xfce’s projects page lists the main projects, so you can find additional parts you might want to install. We will talk about this in Customization guide for Xubuntu

There is also a documentation page, and a wiki called Xfce Goodies Project lists other Xfce-related projects that provide applications, artwork, and plugins for Thunar and the Xfce panels.

In Conclusion

The Xfce desktop is thin and fast with an overall elegance that makes it easy to figure out how to do things. Its lightweight construction conserves both memory and CPU cycles. This makes it ideal for older hosts with few resources to spare for a desktop. However, Xfce is flexible and powerful enough to satisfy my needs as a power user.

I’ve learned that changing to a new Linux desktop can take some work to configure it as I want—with all of my favorite application launchers on the panel, my preferred wallpaper, and much more. I have changed to new desktops or updates of old ones many times over the years. It takes some time and a bit of patience.

I think of it like when I’ve moved cubicles or offices at work. Someone carries my stuff from the old office to the new one, and I connect my computer, unpack the boxes, and place their contents in appropriate locations in my new office. Moving into the Xfce desktop was the easiest move I have ever made.

To install Xubuntu please follow our Xubuntu install guide to see the step by step installation process.