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Voyager 14.04 LTS Review

Voyager is a Xubuntu based distribution from France developed to make the user's time working on a computer a pleasant one, by making it a showcase of photography and graphic design and providing convenience tools to improve general usability. The developers achieved their goal, making Voyager, in my opinion, the best looking Xfce desktop distribution, if not the best overall. Some of the customizations include a pre-configured drop-down terminal, multi-tab terminal based system monitor, a second panel -- pre-configured to access its custom tools, a customized Firefox with almost twenty custom start pages, some with many convenient links -- although they need to be edited by non French users -- among others. But the most impressive of its custom features is one that addresses a shortcoming of Xfce, the optional ability to switch from an Xfce shell to a Gnome shell -- allowing a peek at all open windows and a way to switch to another virtual desktop -- in the running system without requiring the user to log out. If you already like the Xfce desktop or you appreciate photography and graphic design, and don't mind some French here and there, you should try this distribution.

Review

Voyager builds on Xubuntu and Ubuntu's strength of a stable, reliable and easy to use system with a great infrastructure and a great ecosystem. The Xubuntu base uses the Xfce desktop, which uses relatively little memory and processor resources, the reason the developers chose it. There are other desktops that also use very little system resources but they don't have Xfce's modularity, leading to a system that is flexible in its configuration, and its customizability in appearance and modes of user interaction.

Voyager fixes the major flaw in Xubuntu and most distributions using the Xfce desktop which is that it is very plain, if not ugly, out of the box appearance. Many distributions also install by default very few of the GTK theming components that Xfce can use. Voyager provides six exclusive GTK styles, icons, and window decorations, the popular Numix style and window decorations, some fonts that work well with the selected themes, as well as some of the old and common GTK elements.

This video, produced by the Voyager developers, available on the Voyager Live website and posted by the developers on YouTube illustrates the attention to the aesthetic quality of Voyager.

Preview video from the Voyager Live website.

and the convenience and usability features, as well as some of the installed programs.

Besides the basic theming elements there are:

desktop background customizations
many photographs and graphic designs, some grouped in themes such as music, travel, and nature, among others
Some of the included backgrounds
Voyager has 176 desktop backgrounds, including 6 from the default Xubuntu base.
customized panel that works well with the other theme elements
some of the items pre-configured on the main panel are the Xfce Whisker menu plugin, a Slingscold app launcher launcher plugin, Kupfer search launcher plugin, Tilda dropdown terminal launcher plugin, Unity indicator plugin, and a Weather Update plugin
a second customized panel with script-based custom launchers
the launchers in this panel can be used to switch to another desktop, launch the Ranger terminal file browser, launch a terminal, launch the impulse music visualization background,
The second panel

launch the equalizer, launch the terminal multi-tab terminal based system monitor, launch the Music on Console player, launch the FreeTux TV application, lock the second panel, and hide the window title region of windows that are maximized or maximized vertically

Eighty-one preconfigured conky
Voyager provides many prefconfigured conkies with a great tool to activate and set display locations
One of the pre configured conky
One of the pre configured conky
One of the pre configured conky
Plank dock
The very simple plank dock is provided,
The plank dock
The icon set does not include an icon for the geany text editor.

Many users will appreciate that a dock has been provided by default, although I prefer the more powerful and configurable Cairo Dock to the Plank dock chosen by the developers. They may have opted for the Plank dock over Cairo Dock, which uses the most resources of any running process when there are no applications running, in their desire for creating as lightweight a system as possible.

Firefox, the default web browser in Voyager, has also been made more pleasant to use with the addition of 19 custom start pages some with very appealing art as backgrounds.

Not only does Voyager provide the elements to make Xfce's appearance very appealing, but provides some tools to manage these elements -- Voyager Box, Voyager Wall and Conky Control.

The main windows of the Voyager customization tools.
Upper left: Voyager Box, Lower Left: Voyager Wall, Right: Conky Control
Voyager Box
Box allows access to to configuration of the Plank dock, Voyager selected software management, a very nice backup tool, a system restore tool to reset the Voyager customizations to their default settings.
Voyager Box
Voyager Wall
Wall allows selection of the preconfigured set of desktop backgrounds, where each background applied to a virtual desktop is part of a unified theme such asAsia, andHeros. (The Heros theme has on its first desktop a graphic of Ironman taking off, on its third Batman sitting on a bench feeding pigeons, and on the fourth Flash getting a speeding ticket.) Voyager Wall also permits the user configured set of backgrounds to be saved as a personal theme.
Voyager Wall
Conky Control
Conky Control allows the activation and quick placement or precise -- to the pixel -- placement of the eighty-one preconfigured Conky.
Conky Control
The left window is the main window with the menu for selecting which Conky to activate visible. The window on the right is the placement control, activated by one of the menu items on the main window.

Voyager Box is available through one of the launchers on the second panel and the right-click menu, the others are only available through the right click-menu. First there are are the additional menu items in the right-click menu

Right Click Menu on Desktop
Right clicking on the desktop opens a menu allowing access to the Voyager custom tools.

Unfortunately, for non French speakers most of the text in all of these tools are in French. The developers do, however, provide English translations next to the French where it is essential.

A unique feature not available, in any ditribution I am aware of, is of a way to switch to and from a different desktop environment without logging out and logging back in. This feature was probably designed to address a failing in Xfce that other DEs like KDE and Cinnamon, do not have in the least, which is that Xfce does not have an easy and visually appealing method of quickly seeing what windows are on each of the virtual desktops. (Voyager HD 14.04.02 addresses this failing by integrating the KWin window manager into Xfce.)

Some details of the distribution follow, but at this point we know that what makes Voyager unique are the great visually appealing customizations, the usability customizations, and the unique shell switch feature.

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Quick Facts

Some aspects of the distribution warranting more information are covered in later sections, but I will give some quick facts here for those that don't want to read this entire post.

Download

Various versions of Voyager -- all live so you can run them from a DVD or USB drive, are available from the Voyager website. The featured distribution is the one based on Xubuntu 14.04 LTS, offering update support for three years with an interval of two years until the next LTS release. Currently version 14.04.02 of this releae is available. (Note that when I visited and downloaded this Xubuntu based distribution, 14.04.01 was the available distribution.) There are links to a Sourceforge download

The Voyager Live website showing download links.
Voyager 14.04 LTS has been updated regularly with new ISOs available for download with each update.

of both 32 and 64 bit live isos, in addition to links to torrents for both architectures.

A variant of this featured version called Voyager HD, which alows the user to switch from the default Xfce window manager, Xfwm to KWin -- the KDE default window manager -- has been released since the initial Voyager 14.04. This is also available for download in both a 32 bt and 64 bit version. I will be replacing this installation with that one, so check back for a review of the changes.

Two pure Debian versions, one based on Debian 7.3 (Wheezy) and one based on a development version of Debian 8 (Jessie) are also available with the Xfce desktop. However, potential users are warned that if an uncomplicated user experience is desired, they should only use the Xubuntu based version.

Desktop Environments

Voyager only uses the Xfce desktop, by default on the Xubuntu based versions and by preferene on the Debian versions. This choice of desktop, I assume, was made by the developers because they appreciate a light and flexibile desktop environment that still allows all aspects of its interface to be customized.

If the optional Switch Gnome-Shell / Xfce component is activated the shell can be switched from Xfce to Gnome without logging out. This feature was probably created to provide a feature missing in Xfce -- the abiity to view and manage all windows on all desktops. A better solution, in my opinion, is provided by the Voyager HD version.

Package Management and Included Software

The distribution, being based on Xubuntu (Ubuntu) uses all of Ubuntu's infrastructure, a definite strength of this distribution as any software a user may want will be available and any software that needs to be downloaded from an external source (like the Opera 2X series) will have native versions available.

An update availability notice
One of Voyager's strengths is that it uses Xubuntu/Ubuntu as a base and uses its infrastructure for package management.

Ubuntu Software Center is installed by default as well as Synaptic Package Manager and Gdebi Package Installer. Unfortunately for non-French speakers, the titles and sub-titles in Ubuntu Software Center are in French, but descriptions are in English.

One of Voyager's customizations is a tool to install or uninstall certain packages that, I assume, the developers assume are useful.

Voyager's Own Software Installer
Voyager includes its own custom tool to install/uninstall some common software and packages, such as VLC, Clementine, and xubuntu-restricted-extras, which provides proprietary codecs.

If a user does not see a need for the preinstalled programs this is an easy way to uninstall them by simply unchecking the boxes. This tool is accessed by right-clicking an empty area of the desktop, selecting Voyager Box, and then selecting "Logiciels - Softwares" in the dialog box that opens or through some of the other methods of accessing Voyager's custom tools.

The dialog item that launches Voyager's custom software installer/uninstaller.
This tool is accessed by right-clicking an empty area of the desktop, selecting Voyager Box, and then selecting "Logiciels - Softwares" in the dialog box that opens or through some of the other methods of accessing Voyager's custom tools.

Ease of Use or Challenge Level

Difficulty in using this distribution will not be an issue for almost everyone, as it is not the very different and innovative {cms_selflink ext='http://nixos.org' text='NixOS'}

or {cms_selflink ext='https://wiki.qubes-os.org' text='Qubes OS'}

, an unstable rolling release with the potential of breaking, or a highly technical distribution with developers that purposefully make changes to discourage novice Linux users.

The only difficulties may be that most of the custom tools have interfaces in French with only very basic English translations alongside the French and that a couple of minor fixes need to be made for full functionality.

What Works and What Doesn't

Almost everything works out of the box, the exceptions being the backlight control -- which is a very common issue with all Linux distributions that is easy to fix, and that hibernation is not enabled by default -- which is by Ubuntu design. There was an issue with hibernation after I enabled it, specifically that when I resumed that the speakers were unavailable and that the system incorrectly assumed headphones were plugged in. This may be because I did not restart after enabling hibernation and hibernated when finishing my session. After this initial issue suspend and hibernate have worked reliably. Even the Targus Bluetooth dongle attached to my laptop works. The fixes I performed for the hibernation and backlight are described in a later section.

I did notice some bugs in some of the scripts that control some of the custom features. For example, when activating some of the custom launchers on the second panel, the desktop background is changed to something appropriate for the launched tool -- when activating the Ranger file browser, a background with a "Ranger" graphic is activated. The background does not change back when the tool is closed however.

Codecs for playing mp3 and mp4 media was installed by default along with software to play and manage such content, including Clementine, VLC Media Player, and Parole Media Player. The Transmageddon video transcoder was installed by default and VLC is capable of transcoding video, neither of these were able to convert an MP4 to FLV.

Firefox -- customized with methods that are transparent, so that the customizations are modifiable and extensible is installed by default. Flash video capability is enabled, along with various multimedia codecs by selecting the option to install third party software in the first page of the installer. Flash is downloaded and installed automatically, separately from the other multimedia codecs, on the first boot if a network is available.

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Installation

Installation is managed by the standard Xubuntu installer which is the same as the Ubuntu installer, so you will see exactly what you would see when installing the stock Xubuntu.

Installation Tips

There are no special considerations to be aware of during installation, unlike issues with other distributions which vary in severity depending on the distribution. The only minor things are the following:

  • Be sure to choose the "Something Else" option on the disk partitioning method page of the installer and partition manually if you intend to dual-boot or multi-boot.
  • On a following screen when existing partitions and unallocated space is listed, select the unallocated space then the "+" to create a new partition. I suggest that you also create a swap partition equal to the amount of RAM of your system for proper hibernation, if you don't already have one, and a separate home partition.
  • When asked to choose a location for the bootloader installation location, choose the disk device name and not a partition device name (/dev/sda and not /dev/sda10)

Bootloader

The installer will automatically recognizes an EFI system and install the Ubuntu version of GRUB to the EFI partition. At boot GRUB will recognize other installed Linuxs and Windows and list them in its menu, if the installation tips were followed.

After Installation

Although this is a great distribution where some components or features that do not work or are unavailable -- such as Bluetooth -- in other distributions are available in Voyager, not everything does. And I have found certain minor adjustments are necessary for me. These are addressed here.

Making Everything Work

Backlight Control

Immediately after installation backlight control on my Lenovo V570 with an Intel integrated graphics card was not available. The Xfce panel plugin for brightness control was not installed by default, which would not work anyway, had it been installed. The keyboard volume controls worked but the analogous keys for backlight control did not work, and the OSD for backlight control did not appear -- the display appears indicating a change in the backlight level without the level actually changing in some distributions.

This problem was easily solved using {cms_selflink page="backlight-control" text="this method"}. Although, it does not appear that the backlight level is not set to its previous level afte a power cycle, I can live with this. I also installed the package providing the panel brightness control, xfce4-power-manager-plugins.

Sleep and Hibernate

Hibernation is an available feature on this Xubuntu based distribution, with the command sudo pm-hibernate entering the system into hibernation. However it is not available in any of the menus where it would normally be an option, such as the Session plugin control or the Power Settings dialog. {cms_selflink ext='https://help.ubuntu.com/14.04/ubuntu-help/power-hibernate.html' text='This page'} on the Ubuntu 14.04 documentation provides a solution to this problem, which involves a simple edit of a configuration file.

  1. Create the file /etc/polkit-1/localauthority/50-local.d/com.ubuntu.enable-hibernate.pklaVoyager makes this easy to do graphically, just navigate /etc/polkit-1 using Thunar, the file manager, right click in the folder and select "Administrator".
  2. This will open a new file browser window with sudo rights. Navigate to /etc/polkit-1/localauthority/50-local.d/com.ubuntu.enable-hibernate.pkla.
  3. Right click and select "Create Document">>"Empty File". Give the file the name com.ubuntu.enable-hibernate.pkla
  4. Right click on the file in the administrator window and open it with one of the listed editors. Or open the file in an editor of your choice with administrator privliges.
  5. Add the following lines to the file and save.
    [Re-enable hibernate by default in upower]
    Identity=unix-user:*
    Action=org.freedesktop.upower.hibernate
    ResultActive=yes
    
    [Re-enable hibernate by default in logind]
    Identity=unix-user:*
    Action=org.freedesktop.login1.hibernate;org.freedesktop.login1.hibernate-multiple-sessions
    ResultActive=yes

Minor Adjustments

I found the placement of the second panel on the middle right screen edge to interfere when trying to use the vertical scroll bar. Moving the mouse pointer to the screen edge to access the scroll bar, brought the panel out of hiding. I found locking this panel to the bottom left edge of the screen worked best. A quibble, but this was the only thing that annoyed me about this distribution. I would also modify the workspace switcher to one row to, change the window button plugin to show button labels, add a show desktop plugin, and add a window menu plugin. I find these main panel modifications allow easy desktop and window navigation and management, without having to use the Gnome Shell Switch.

Voyager Extras - Gnome Switch

The feature that impressed me most was the shell switch from Xfce to Gnome without logging out.

Gnome Shell switch is a solution to an important missing feature in the Xfce desktop.

Here is a video from the Voyager Live Gnome Shell - Xfce page and Youtube that demonstrates it in use.

Preview video from the Voyager Live website.

The page also shows how to activate it; the steps are reproduced here for your convenience.

  1. Select and copy the following lines together:
    cd ~ && wget https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/81072819/Switch Voyager-01.tar.gz && tar xvzf Switch-Voyager-01.tar.gz && sudo ~ / Switch-Voyager-01 / install .sh
  2. Paste the lines into a terminal, making sure the terminal sees this text as one line. I am recommending this because when copying the text in a small terminal the text was broken into several lines and there was an error. When I copied this text into the screen-wide Tilda drop-down terminal, {cms_selflink ext='http://voyagerlive.org/index.php/switch-gnome-shell-xfce-voyager-14-04/' text='as the developers instruct'}

    , the entire text fit on one line, and the commands were executed without error.

  3. Restart the session, when the restart dialog opens.

When this process is finished and you log out, you will find you now have the option to log into a Gnome session, in addition to Xubuntu and Xfce sessions. But this is just an added benefit of this feature; the real benefit is being able to right-click

Switch Shell is now a right-click menu item.

on the desktop and select "Switch Shell" to use the expo like features of the Gnome shell.

I found some very useful and surprisingly delightful programs included by default in Voyager, for example the Slingscold and CoverBloobus. However certain ones that I think are much better than the default were missing, probably in the interest of maintaining a lightweight system, although the "Logiciels - Softwares" tool has an easy way of installing some packages users may want. Some of the applications I installed are:

  • Cairo Dock, a much more powerful and configurable alternative to Plank dock
  • the Geany text editor/IDE, which is much more powerful and configurable than Mousepad or even Gedit.
  • the much more powerful and configurable Cairo Dock over Plank.
  • Chromium and its Pepper flash plugin as an added option to the defaults, Firefox and Midori
  • the new Opera (Opera 2X), which was first available as a native application for Ubuntu, in its developer and beta forms
  • ffmpeg, installed from the ppa pointed to at {cms_selflink ext='http://ffmpeg.org' text='ffmpeg.org'}

    , which accesses a more complete set of codecs than anything available from the official repositories

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Software and Package Management System

As described above the package management systems are the command line apt program, common to all Debian based systems, and the standard Ubuntu Software Center, Synaptic Package Manager, GDebi Installer, and the custom "Logiciels - Softwares" component of Voyager Box.

Included Software

The list of included software seems to be very thoughtful and everything installed -- which is available on the main Voyager Live site will be useful or surprisingly delightful, as some of the software was to me, to most people. For example, you get not only the Clementine Music Player,

Slingscold launcher showing installed multimedia programs.

but other programs that work well with a music program and enhance the experience, like the Cover Gloobus desktop widget. I also liked the Slingscold Launcher, which was thoughtfully added to the panel with a custom auncher, and the GDebi Package Installer. I used GDebi to install the Opera 26 browser (Developer Version) -- which I like as a good addition to Chromium and Firefox -- after downloading it from the Opera Website.

I also greatly appreciated the inclusion of the backup program, Simple Backup Suite,

One of the screens of Simple Backup Suite
Offers many scheduling, inclusion, and purging options.

a very easy and capable program with a standard user and administrator mode. I did however install my preferred applications, some listed above , as anyone would.

As mentioned before, the default browser is Firefox, which like the rest of the distribution has been customized with attention to its aesthetic qualities and user convenience. The following video shows the extent of the customizations,

Firefox in Voyager, with many custom startpages which include convenience links.
Fortunately, the customizations can be edited relatively easily to change the links to those more relavant to users outside of Franc.

with nineteen separate themed start pages with some nice photographic or vector graphic backgrounds and animated groups of links. Unfortunately, for non-French-speakers, some of the links are not relevant. However, these startpages, located in /.startpage, with a directory for each startpage, can easily be edited, and the developers indicate this in the actual HTML files that generate the startpages.

Documentation and Help

As this distribution is based on Xubuntu 14.04, the documentation provided by Xubuntu is applicable for the base elements of Voyager, as are the Ubuntu documentation and help pages, which you may have realized when reading this. These resources, however, do not cover the custom elements of Voyager.

Voyager Specific Documentation/Help

The developer refers users with problems to the {cms_selflink ext='http://forum.ubuntu-fr.org' text='Ubuntu Francophone forum'}

, but does provide some guidance on the Voyager site on the customizations in Voyager. The general preview video shows what Voyager customizations are available and how they can be used. The shell switch videos show how these specific components can be activated and used after installation. The developer also provides instructions where necessary, for example on installing Gnome Shell Switch. There is also a link entitled {cms_selflink ext='http://voyagerlive.org/index.php/tuto-voyager-14-04/' text='Tuto Voyager 14.04'}

which provides instructions for unusual scenarios and solutions to common issues.

All of these resources are in French but Google translate is embedded in all of the Voyager pages. In most cases anyone who has some experience with Linux will not even need to visit the Voyager site except to view the videos and if they want the Shell switch, to find the the one command to activate it. (If prospective users have read this article in its entirety, they may not need to visit the site even for that, but only to get the download link.)

Recommendation

I like this distribution very much, especially the Kwin variant Voyager HD. The Xubuntu (Ubuntu) base is very reliable and has a great infrastructure and ecosystem. On top of this, the aesthetic and usability customizations are very appealing. Anyone who likes Xfce or wants a reliable, easy to use, and nice looking system should try this. The only caveat is that all of the distribution's specific online resources and and some user interface elements of the custom components are in French, a trait that some won't like.