A Week With Cub Linux 1.0
The tagline says “Chromium + Ubuntu = Cub”. My TL;DR take on it is, “XFCE + OpenBox + Ubuntu = Xubuntu”.
I don’t want to knock the efforts of RichJack, as he has done more with a Linux distro than I could hope to do, but from what I can tell, Cub Linux is just Xubuntu with a pretty face and some built-in conveniences.
I’ve never been a fan of XFCE, as far as performance-minded desktop environments go, and the additional frills and touches in Cub Linux don’t make XFCE’s retro awkwardness go away at all. Yes it’s a reasonably attractive desktop at first glance but as soon as you crack the cover, XFCE rears its ugly head.
There is more to being a Chrome OS clone than just a themed desktop environment.
Cub Linux did not load as fast as I would have expected. On my older laptop, boot-up time was about 30 seconds — not as good Solus OS. Once booted though, the desktop environment gets out-of-the-way and is fairly responsive. Applications load reasonably well and the system could handle a load of multiple movies streaming at once while doing other work as well.
Chrome OS Conveniences
As said earlier, there is more to being a Chrome OS clone than a theme, and this is where Cub is trying to do that little bit extra, by facilitating a little extra integration with Chromium. In the plank, Cub has some of the default Chrome apps — Gmail, Drive and YouTube — pinned as site-specific-browsers, making them feel like their own applications.
While this is a nice touch, it doesn’t do much for me. It has a good feel at first but then when you go to create a new tab in the “YouTube” app, it spans that tab next to the Chromium tab you likely had open. So what’s the point?
And in the app switcher, they are all just marked as YouTube apps anyhow.
Power of Linux
One of the supposed advantages of Cub over Chrome OS is that you have the full power of Linux at your finger tips. OK. To me that means access to a terminal. But if this is it, then no thanks.
As of writing, Cub is currently on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS. This means that the underlying OS is already 2 years behind and the kernel — at 4.2.0-34 — is even older. This may not bother you if you’re on an older system already as there is likely plenty of support for older hardware baked in. However, combining the older OS with the older kernel and putting the Xfce desktop and OpenBox window manager on it and you have a truly antiquated feeling system that no amount of flashy wallpapers and dock themes can help with.
Plank/System tray oh my
One of the centrepiece of the entire Cub experience is the bottom “panel”. It’s the bit that gives Cub the look-a-like edge over Budgie DE for instance. While it’s a neat trick of placement and styling, what that bottom panel actually is, is a carefully organised and positioned plank and system tray over lapping each other.
Given the relative bulk of the two I was hoping to be able to hide the combination but to no avail. You can set both the plank and panel to auto hide but doing so will decouple their positioning and all cohesion is lost between the two.
Something else that bothered me is that not all running apps get visible space in the plank. Only by using the app switcher do you realise what applications you have open.
Natural scrolling doesn’t work. You can configure in mouse and trackpad settings, but it doesn’t have any effect. This bothers me as I am natural scroller.
And lastly, typing in Cub is terrible as the pointer hops all over the place, even with palm detection enabled. The only way to prevent typing all over the place is to disable tap-to-click all-together. It’s been a while since I’ve had this much trouble typing in any distribution.
Clearly I’m not an advocate of Xfce. It’s been my least favorite desktop environment since it’s inception. With that said, I applaud the efforts of Cub to look like Chrome OS, but looks don’t tell the whole story.
Solus OS, which I review here, is far more innovative in that they’ve built their own Linux OS, their own package manager, their own desktop environment… Cub on the other hand, doesn’t do anything you couldn’t do yourself with Xubuntu.