9 Sep 2012

Xubuntu and the 11z - Lightweight and Low Voltage

It was time to upgrade my 2nd laptop (netbook). The Dell Mini 9 was (is) a superb little unit for 'here & there' mobile work and I can't praise it enough, however I needed something more suited to all day working and my 17" MacBook is a brick to lug about, it was also time to dump the daily Hackintosh in favour of a Linux desktop. Other tick boxes included a nicer keyboard, better screen & res (@11" with 1366 x 768) and (if possible) better battery life, all with similar portability as offered by the Mini 9. Possible? Yep, for sure, enter the Dell 11z.

The Mini 9 went for £150 on eBay and I managed to purchase a nice 2nd user 11z for the same price. It came with the 1.3 Celeron 743 ULV CPU which was apparently good for about 6 or 7 hours battery life (in use it's close, maybe 5 or 6). After being spoilt by SSD performance in both my MacBook and the Mini 9 I thought I'd better keep the vibe going and sourced a 60GB OCZ for £33, the 11z already had 2GB of DDR fitted and as I'd be running Linux on it I felt no need to upgrade, even less so after finding out a 4GB chip is still about £50 for this unit. The next upgrade cost me £15 but was an essential purchase, a replacement trackpad. The older style 11z trackpads have a dual pad/mouse button which is reported to be the worst laptop trackpad ever. Fortunately Dell have realised this and newer models come with an older style pad + 2 button setup (like the Mini 9). I was lucky to find a refurb one on eBay and it slotted right in.

Everything arrived (eventually, thanks Royal Mail - NOT) and with the new SSD in place it was time to choose a flavour of Ubuntu to install onto it. First choice was the standard offering (v12.04LTS) which comes with the somewhat controversial Unity desktop. Unlike many I quite like Unity and would have no qualms using it, in fact I think some of the slick features it offers are extremely fresh and intuitive with applied thought toward a smoother method of desktop icon and menu navigation as oppose to just popping up a tired old start menu. But it wasn't to be, even with an SSD the 1.3 ULV is just a touch underpowered to deliver snappy Unity. Ok, Xubuntu then?

Xubuntu indeed. I hadn't looked at Xubuntu for a while and previous exposure to it had been limited at best, but with 12.04 they've really nailed it, it's a joy to use, looks great and the lightweight XFCE desktop is super snappy on the 11z. I replaced the 2nd (bottom) menu bar with Docky, added a few select programs and have been enjoying it for the past few weeks.

Fig:1 - My Xubuntu XFCE desktop on the Dell 11z.

Although I'm on the Ubuntu server CLI daily, desktop Linux hasn't been a place I've actually spent much time. OSX has been my regular 'workplace' for many years and it's been nice to be surprised by how much things have come on since my last visit. XFCE on Xubuntu 12.04 really is a smooth and coherent experience.

Above the desktop I was forced (?) to re-visit a couple of old friends, and acquaint myself with a few new ones. Mozilla Thunderbird is the only viable email client for Linux these days and I'm so impressed with the refined v15.0 I've actually dumped Sparrow on the Macbook and installed it there too to for 'cross-platform' cohesion. DropBox is, well, DropBox and for FTP/SFTP it had to be Filezilla. I love Transmit on the Mac but it seems there's nothing as stylish and slick for Linux yet, which is a shame but I can live with Filezilla, even if it is a bit old school and clunky.
Another pleasant surprise was discovering the Remmina RDP client. I'm a staunch CoRD user on the Mac and wasn't sure what would be available for Ubuntu but Remmina is superb and a perfect drop in for CoRD.

And that's that really, the 60GB SSD has about 45GB free and road tests have been nothing if not enjoyable and productive. Recommended....!

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