With Ubuntu 20.10 and it’s flavors recently released, I decided to take a look at Ubuntu Budgie. The Budgie desktop has always been a favorite of mine. I am a fan of top panels in general and Budgie does a perfect implementation of that. It’s a modern lightweight environment that doesn’t stray too far from tried and tested user interface paradigms.
The Budgie desktop was originally started by one developer: Ikey Doherty who developed it for his own Linux distro from scratch: Evolve OS which later “evolved” into Solus OS due to trademark issues. Ikey has since left Solus and is now working on his new Linux distro: Serpent OS, a project in it’s early stages but surely one to watch out for.
Back to Ubuntu Budgie. It started out as an unofficial remix of Ubuntu 16.04 and got accepted as an official flavor a year later. I’ve downloaded the 2.6 GB ISO and installed it to my external SSD.
Installation and first boot
Grub is a bit problematic when handling multiple operating systems. If it can see my internal drive, it will overwrite my boot entries and basically force me to have the external drive attached in order to boot anything. The way around that is to disable the internal SATA connections in the BIOS settings so only the external drive is visible during installation the installation process.
I had previously flashed Ubuntu Budgie to a USB thumb drive and started the process from there. The installation went very smooth. I could simply use the “erase everything” option – very convenient.
Upon first boot we are greeted with the Budgie welcome app. It is one of the most comprehensive welcome apps I have come across. One could almost argue that it is too extensive. It is distinctly geared towards beginners and OS switchers with the first two sections offering a general overview of what Linux, Ubuntu and Ubuntu Budgie are all about. The third entry is the most useful one for the average Linux user. It has three sections: The first let’s us choose our favorite browser, customize our desktop and explains our keyboard shortcuts. The second section offers post installation options like checking for updates and installing additional drivers. The third section is a simple but neat presentation of the overall system, both hardware and software.
Also on the welcome app, apart from the usual links to forums and donations, we are offered to install additional software. It’s a bundled entry with links to the software center, online Snap and Flatpak stores as well as the option to install budgie applets. We will get to those again later on. Despite it’s vastness, all in all a well done welcome app.
First thing I did was go to settings, enable fractional scaling and choose factor 1.25. The change is instant, no need to sign out and back in again. It’s either this or use 1600 x 900 on my 12.5 inch screen instead of my native full HD resolution. Unfortunately this resulted in several issues as we will see further below.
Next I changed the wallpaper. The default is OK but a bit too tacky for my taste. The offered choice is a bit limited. I went for the material design option. The system settings layout is just like Gnome’s so if you’re used to that you’ll feel right at home.
System resource usage is very frugal. After installing htop (only available as a Snap) and rebooting we get the following figures:
- RAM: 696 MBs
- Tasks: 106
- Threads: 233
Budgie gives us a top panel and a bottom dock by default like a classic MAC OS layout. On the top right we have our system tray. It is a bit too crowded for my taste. There is the Raven side panel toggle and shutdown/logout icon on one side of a separator. On the other side we have no less than 9 icons in an odd order: Bluetooth, then sound, then battery, then WiFi, then notifications, then places, then QuickNote, then attached devices and finally the workspace indicator. I do like the QuickNote applet which as the name implies lets us jot down some thoughts without a fuss. In the center we have the clock and on the left we have the menu. The menu didn’t take the fractional scaling well – It appeared cut off. This was quickly fixed by logging out and back in again. The standard menu is a simple affair. We can have it displayed as a grid with sideways scrolling that needs some getting used to. We can also have it displayed in a more traditional list form with categories. Type to search worked perfectly well but doesn’t use memory to display often used apps first. For example, as we start typing for the Screenshot app the menu always produces Screenlock first. Gnome does a better job at that.
The dock at the bottom is Plank and is on auto hide by default. It works fine but only reveals itself when you the cursor hits the actual dock area. If you’re a bit off to the left or right nothing happens.
I found multitasking uncomfortable with the basic set-up. You can either use the dock at the bottom to switch apps or use the Alt+Tab key combination. Being used to Gnome’s hot top left corner overview function, I decided to try enable the same with Budgie. Turns out there is an applet for that which needs to be added to the Top Panel in the Budgie Desktop Settings. Doing so, however, warns us we need to enable “Window Previews” for it to work. How to do so is not clear. I could not find any options so I looked online for help and it turns out that an invisible applet called “Preview” needs to be installed. It was already installed but I still couldn’t activate the top left hot corner. A bug maybe? Next I tried the Night Light applet. I set it on manual but couldn’t get it to work either. Fractional scaling could have been the culprit here again but I didn’t investigate further. In any case I found the whole applet interface a bit convoluted. Once you clicked on an applet in the settings you cannot clear the selection anymore and the “add applet” then feels out of place in it’s location.
Integral Part of the Budgie desktop is the Raven side panel. This is where notifications are displayed and where some applets reside. It’s a bit like invoking Gnome’s top center notifications area. That’s not surprising as Budgie is closely related to Gnome. It just does things a bit differently and uses less resources.
Ubuntu Budgie looks pretty good out of the box. The Budgie desktop comes with it’s own settings page allowing for a high degree of user customization. Everything from widgets to icons to the top panel and menu can be modified by the user. For those who like their panel on the left hand side, Budgie does a great job at that.With the “Budgie Theme & Layouts” app one can easily change the whole look and feel of the desktop with complete options resembling Windows, MAC OS and Ubuntu’s Unity available – Similar to what Ubuntu Mate offers. For the rest of the review I stayed with the Unity look which comes complete with global menus. I enjoyed this setup very much but I did have some issues.
Upon reboot, the log-in screen appeared as it should but after entering my details I was presented with an empty desktop. There was no panel, no dock, just the moving cursor. Invoking shut-down by hitting the power button darkened the screen but did not fully shut down. I had to force the shut down. After rebooting, everything was back to normal. The next issue I encountered was with the lock screen. It caused the display to go crazy switching between two resolutions in an endless manner. After unlocking the screen I would find all windows shrunk to their minimum size and the left dock panel overlapping the top panel, causing the Menu icon to be covered – see photo below. I had been taking screenshots for this review and noticed that all of them were cut off and needed to be retaken. At this point my patience was wearing thin but I already had my suspicions on what was causing the problems. I decided to turn off fractional scaling, switch back to 100% and instead use the 1600 x 900 screen resolution. This resolved all of the above issues. I am now curios whether Ubuntu’s fractional scaling misbehaves the same way. If anyone can enlighten us please use the comments section below. Another minor inconvenience I encountered was when taking screenshots. After taking a shot, the window to save the photo file disappears behind other open windows on the desktop. You have to bring it back to the front in order to save it.
On a more positive note: The desktop works very well with a touchscreen. I was able to launch apps, move around windows, resize them and scroll in documents with ease. Well done.
One of Budgie’s highlights are it’s applets. A bit like Gnome’s extensions, these little programs add functionality to the desktop and will be appreciated by many users. I tried out a few with various degrees of success. As already mentioned, the hot corner applet didn’t work. The screenshot applet, however, installed nicely and was very helpful. It saves shots directly without asking. There is also a Lightpad menu applet that resembles Gnome’s grid view. It installed fine and showed all programs yet refused to launch some of them. I could look up Cheese, click on it and nothing would happen. Reproducing the same action in the normal menu launched Cheese just fine. Same happened with the Screenshot app. Another annoyance with the applets system is that they get lost when switching desktop layouts.
If you choose the normal installation option, Ubuntu Budgie will come with the following main programs by default: Firefox for web browsing and Geary for emails. The full LibreOffice suit and a document viewer. For multimedia there is Celluloid and Rhythmbox. There are also some utilities and casual games to round off the package. Overall, a sensible choice although I suspect few will ever use LibreOffice’s Math module.
To install new software we have Ubuntu’s usual software center. I have to say it was very laggy. It took fairly long to download the software list, although that had already been done earlier in the day and was unnecessary. As a test, I tried searching for Abiword and VLC but both got stuck with the turning wheel and never returned a result! Using the online Snap store, VLC was installed without a problem but it was a large file as is common for all Snaps. Both apps could also be installed just fine using the terminal, so why didn’t the software center work? I tried looking at Ubuntu Budgie’s release notes but got a server error! In fact, the whole site was down!
Since I had checked the box to include restricted software during installation, Ubuntu Budgie nicely played all my media files. The overall desktop experience despite the mentioned issued was fluid and elegant.
This was a review I was really looking forward to and I was pretty sure I would be happy with what I would find. Unfortunately, my experience fell short of expectations. Fractional scaling is still a mess. The software center was a disappointment and there were little issues here and there that added up.
Still, I am a fan of the overall look and feel of the OS, especially using the Unity layout with global menus. Budgie is a great desktop and Ubuntu is a great base so hopefully things will go a bit smoother with the next release.
If you had a different experience, please share with us in the comments section below.