22 January 2010

One day with Xfce

After Cristoph commented on the yesterday's post about my likes and dislikes with LXDE I learned a lot of my complaints are going to be solved in the upcoming version of PCManFM, that's nice to hear and it looks like it will be worth spending a day with it again with Fedora 13.

I imagine some people think my complaints are minor, just cosmetic stuff: well, they may be, but this is the thing making you more or less productive. If you learn the content of a file from its desktop thumbnail, then you can open it right away, not waste time trying to discover its content. The same about placement of files or launchers on the desktop or panel: you are a lot more productive when you know where to click and don't have to hunt. An ideal desktop is supposed to not stand in the way, it should make you easier to work with your applications and get the work done (bad news for the desktop developers: people are using the desktop for the applications, not for its desktop environment), one that for example allows to witch two open windows with one click of the mouse, not 3 clicks and 2 animations (oh, I am still traumatized by the GNOME Shell experience).

But enough with the ranting, after a day with LXDE, it was the time for a day with another alternative desktop, Xfce. My day was quite busy, full of video transcoding and publishing but I still managed to do it with a somewhat unfamiliar desktop.


The install i just as simple:
yum groupinstall xfce-desktop
It weighted about 14MB, small enough (again, I already had a full GTK+ stack from my GNOME install), but after that I found and installed from the repository a number of other useful applications and plugins, for a better experience.

Things to like:
  • ages ago I briefly used CDE, not enough to grow fond of it, but is not to customize Xfce to look like something you are used to
  • mature, having a lot of applications, plugins and settings but still fast enough
  • no-nonsense, a familiar environment
  • built-it "Open In Terminal" for the current directory, I need plugins for this with GNOME
The dislikes:
  • the same lack of integrated gvfs, making hard the work with remote file systems, but a bit of googling reveals a new version of Thunar is out and has the feature, so just like LXDE is a desktop to revisit for Fedora 13
  • it also suffers in customizing the panels, to put a launcher exactly where you want, you have to fiddle a lot with spacers
  • not only not showing the content in the file thumbnails on screen, but also very ugly, opaque, background for icon captions
The review is quite frugal as my day was busy, but as a conclusion: would I use it instead of GNOME 2.x? No. Would I use it instead of GNOME Shell? I am tempted to.


  1. Now will you also give KDE a chance for a day? :-) Let us prove you that it is not the "Vista wannabe" you think it is. ;-)

  2. @Kevin: too many dependencies... I would try it if it was a comparable install. So it would be easier for me to try KDE from a live image, but that would kill my productivity for the day.

  3. Absolutely love XFCE, - it's still something I go back to when I just need a plain and simple DE that doesn't get in the way of what I need to do. You raise some valid points for things you don't like, but as a general light-weight DE, - it's superb for speed and responsiveness.

    While KDE 4.0 was evolving, I went back to XFCE for a while, and it made a world of difference to day to day work.

    Kudos for giving the other DE's some light.

  4. I have recently replaced metacity on my Gnome Desktop with XFCE's xfwm4. Prettier default theme, a bit quicker, and more predictable focus behavior (not so much "focus stealing prevention" when I don't want it).

  5. From the 'lighter' DEs, I think Xfce is the most advanced, but of course with the downsize of not being the lightest.

  6. Just as with Thunar, a new version of xfce4-panel will also be included with the new version of Xfce that allows you to drag and drop launchers. (Unfortunately spacers are always a problem, I think.)

    Also, doesn't it show file thumbnails? It should definitely do this for pictures and I think for text documents too.

    Finally, I seem to recall something being done about the icon label captions, but I don't know for sure what. It's possible to remove them by fiddling in a gtkrc file or something but of course, this is not ideal.

  7. @Vincent: it didn't show thumbnails for me, see the screenshot. I looked in the preferences, googled... and found nothing.

  8. Hmm, looks like a problem with xfdesktop, as Thunar in your screenshot does show thumbnails. I really do seem to recall to also have thumbnails on my desktop, so I'm guessing it's a bug.

  9. I do love Xfce but I'm such a minimalist that I'm still using WM. I just can't seem to find a reason to move away from it. :)

  10. xfdesktop doesn't show thumbnails, only Thunar can. A long term goal is to get rid of xfdesktop and let Thunar manage the desktop (just like nautilus or pcmanfm do).

    For the desktop icon label captions see
    Similar tweaks exist for the panel:

  11. Thanks for the tip, Christoph. Yeah, it looks like duplication to not have Thunar take care of the desktop, like everybody else is doing. At one point I started Nautilus for a gvfs operation and for a short while Xfce became more usable :p (but the point was to not use GNOME...)

  12. I'm with you about Gnome 3. I use Gnome 2, for me the better desktop for now.

    Gnome Shell may be the next crap after plasma in KDE. I fear Gnome 3 will be the next big failure after KDE 4... although since 4.3 KDE seems to be more usable.

    Xfce is probably the best choice to use in place of Gnome 3... or use a RH clone, they have still Gnome 2.16, many years of support and there is little chance they change for Gnome 3 in the next future, I guess. ;-)

  13. @HAL: but I use Fedora because I want the latest and greatest on the desktop... I use CentOS on the server, but would be unhappy with in on the desktop and it would be useless (bad hardware support) on the netbook.

  14. xfce 4.8 thunar will use gvfs