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Xfce 4.10, the Sane Linux Desktop

Xfce 4.10 is the latest release of the excellent Xfce desktop, full of useful incremental improvements and no shocking surprises.

Workflow and efficiency are everything. I want my Linux graphical environment to be the way I like it, and not an obese system hog. I have a lot of favorite Linux desktop environments (Fluxbox, KDE4, Ratpoison, E17, Razor-qt) and Xfce is always near the top.

Xfce desktop

Xfce 4.10 was released on April 28, and Linux Mint 13 Xfce was released on July 21 with Xfce 4.10. After beating up Linux Mint 13 Xfce for a few weeks my executive summary is Xfce 4.10 is Pretty Darn Good, and a worthwhile upgrade from 4.8. There isn't anything radically new, but more of a nice bit of polish and finishing touches.

To me XFCE is a useful blend of the best of GNOME 2 and KDE: It's fairly easy to configure, it uses middle- and right-click menus and it handles GNOME and KDE applications without freaking out. Some Linux users prefer pure environments and have only pure GNOME, or pure KDE, or whatever their favorite is. Not me -- I want it all. I install whatever apps I jolly well feel like installing, and mix software repositories: different distros, official and unofficial, third party and different versions. It's a testament to how good Linux package management has become that I can do all this crazy stuff, and suffer dependency conflicts only once in a great while.

A Perfect Blend

Xfce deskbar

In appearance it's nothing radical, and that is fine with me (left).

I put my panel at the bottom. It contains the system menu, a launcher with my most-used applications, a pager for fast switching between virtual desktops, a window menu button so I can quickly see all open applications in all desktops, audio control, a systray (called "notification area") and a clock and calendar. This is a fair bit of complexity handled nicely and in a user-friendly way. For example, the clock/calendar is Orage, which is also a scheduler, task manager, and reminder, all just a click away. I can manage a giant mess of open apps and virtual desktops with one or two clicks. This is what useful simplicity looks like: managing a complex workflow with the least hassle, not removing functionality wholesale.

A nice upgrade to the panel is Deskbar Mode. This aligns everything horizontally, and supports multiple rows, so it looks good in a vertical orientation. And this nice new feature, which is friendly to wide screens, was rolled out without a lot of heartburn, is fully-configurable and just works.

 

There are a number of functions that I expect the computer to handle. When I connect any kind of removable media I expect it to be automatically recognized and managed according to how I've configured it. I've gotten used to Network Manager, which does a nice job. Though I'm still bugged it is incompatible with the traditional networking configuration files, so you can only use one or the other. I don't want to be pestered with endless notifications like in GNOME 3, Unity, and KDE4. Xfce handles these mundane chores without drama.

Speedy Shortcuts

I work on a 24" widescreen, and I like to tile two documents side-by-side. In Settings > Window Manager > Keyboard there is a gaggle of useful configurable shortcuts, like tiling windows to the left and right, or top and bottom.

The newfangled desktops like KDE and Unity have invested a lot of resources into application search. I'm fine with browsing system menus and package managers to see what's on my system, and creating a special menu or launcher with the apps I use the most. Xfce still doesn't have a built-in graphical system menu editor, but it's very easy to create a custom launcher for the panel (below). Just right-click anywhere on the panel, then click Panel > Add New Items.

Xfce launcher

The Application Finder is new to Xfce 4.10. This has two modes. In collapsed mode it's similar to the alt+f2 run command dialog, and in expanded mode you can browse by categories (below).

Xfce application finder

This has some useful Preferences options such as remembering the last category you looked at, and you can create a library of custom commands. You can also drag program icons to the panel to automatically create a launcher.

The Session and Startup manager is a great tool for controlling which apps run at startup. Nothing weird or convoluted, just nice easy checkboxes. On the Application Autostart tab, it even shows you the exact command for each item (below). Non-Xfce apps are in italics. This works in concert with the logout/shutdown dialog, which has a "save session for future logins" option. You can create multiple sessions that open different programs at startup, and use the Session Chooser to manage them.

Xfce session manager

The Settings Editor has a couple of very useful and time-saving improvements. One, it won't close until you actually click the Close button, so you can make giant batches of changes quickly. Two, it has a live monitor for all settings so you can see what's happening as you make changes.

The new MIME type editor is a fast and easy tool for managing which applications open which file types.

Pretties

Xfce doesn't have the vast roaring tsunamis of appearance configurations like KDE4, but it does let you make a number of useful tweaks. You can put your open, close and minimize buttons in whatever order you want; put any photo or image on your desktop background; create a slideshow on the desktop background; drag pictures to the desktop to create clickable thumbnails; control colors and gradients; have as many panels as you want wherever you want; and there are always nice reliable text configuration files if the graphical configs don't do you what you want, or for easy copying.

I can't pick a single favorite Linux desktop, but Xfce is definitely in my top five because it doesn't hide things, it manages complex workflows sanely, and it does it will without putting on a big show.

 

Comments

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  • Nick Said:

    With a few mods... Conky, Compiz, Cairo etc XFCE is a fully fledged, efficient and attractive desktop environment. http://en.zimagez.com/zimage/screenshot-010912-095408.php

  • Ken Starks Said:

    I will admit publicly that I am a shallow, shallow man. In the past, Xfce has not possessed the physical attraction needed to get my attention. Admittedly, I have not tried it for a while but if I remember correctly, it was butt-ugly the last time I did. Will give it a second shot to see if there is that spark from across the room.

  • Yo Said:

    Sorry , but it's plain and ugly. It's not just about bling, visual effects add usability. That's what I like Ubuntu's unity.

  • The Advocate Said:

    If the way it 'looks' is your problem, then you have bigger issues than a Desktop Environment. There are thousands of themes and tweaks to make XFCE look any way you could ever possibly want it. If you are going to hate, atleast have a valid reason, thanks.

  • jediafr Said:

    I agree with Carla on this one, after a bit of theming and customization i left my Kde for it. I'm not looking back cause Xfce is fast & reponsive, compatible with compiz and get out the way. Icing on the cake, for users of the Linux mint 13, is 2 years worth of updates from the PPA !

  • vasilito Said:

    @jediafr If you've left kde for xfce, you should revisit kde 4.9. It's performance jas been vastly increased. For the first time I can say KDE is as fast or faster then other DE's. Now it is a real pleasure to use and unlike XFCE it is really beautiful.

  • istok Said:

    I'm a KDE user myself (of a few months but very happy), but I recently put XFCE on my old computer that I gave away. I liked 4.10 well enough, but the GKT2-3 problems affecting some programs were rather disappointing.

  • bogen Said:

    @Yo: Well, I would not know on the "visual" effects making the Desktop UI more usable. Any Desktop UI that I use that has on those by default if I can't figure out how to turn them off in a few minutes (they are very annoying) then I stop using that Desktop UI. Several years back I "played" with Compiz for quite at while. Keyword "played". The effects in my opinion do nothing to make the UI more usable, they are just cutesy "oh wow" glitter. I don't see many people trying to add sound and visual effects to the doors and locks in their house and car. True, those naturally have their own "effects", but to do that in artificial environment like a Desktop UI is contrived and annoying after a while for some types of people (who may have found it amusing and entertaining at first). Xfce by default does not have those so I don't have to waste time trying to disable features I don't want. KDE up through 3 were tolerable, Gnome 2 was tolerable, but since KDE and and Gnome have moved pased those, Xfce fills the void quite well. Unity would take a long time for me to get use to. Since Xfce (and not the Xfce setup from the likes of newer Xubuntu releases, where they try very hard to ruin Xfce's simplicity, but the regular latest Xfce), is likely not going to be ruined anytime soon (like what happened to KDE and Gnome), I won't have to look for another Desktop UI for quite a while. And yes, I know, there are many Desktop UI's far less complex than Xfce.

  • vasilito Said:

    Still, if you haven't tried KDE 4.9, you really should. It's horrible performance up to 4.8 was what made most people dislike this DE. But at 4.9 KDE surpassed version 3 by leaps and bounds visually, feature and performance wise. There is a reason why KDE now is the single most popular DE according to linuxquestions.org

  • Alan Said:

    I like the ability to set window to go behind the panel in 4.10. That's a great feature for a laptop. My only complaint now for xfce is the panel. You can change the panel background color easy enough but not the foreground color (font). To do that you have to use hex numbers in some obscure text file.

  • Kan Said:

    I love XFCE, it is where Gnome 2 left off, only faster. If you want a great distro that really shows off XFCE visually and includes some nice extras, check out Voager; http://voyager.legtux.org/

  • MightyMoo Said:

    Hands down the best desktop environment for my desktop (home) and laptop (work) needs.Trucks along like a champ and things are much better organized and simpler to use then in Gnome 3 or Unity. KDE4 would be my only choice if XFCE wasn't available.

  • Lou Said:

    I enjoy using XFCE, it was my desktop environment for a while,. Considering that many of those that use it are Gnome-2 expatriates I have to expect that the amount of users will increase. As of late I'm using more plain window managers than complete desktop systems, I rather spend the cycles in application execution than in window management. @Yo If you are happy with Unity, good for you. I think that it is bloated for what is supposed to do.

  • Gyffes Said:

    I lurv me my xfce. KDE is too Windows-y, gnome2 too irritating (would it KILL them to put all the settings in one spot??), gnome3 and Unity (and Metro and, to a lesser extent, OSX 10.7 & 8) enrage me (I have very different computing needs 'tween my 2.5" phone and my 27" monitor! Do not force them to operate alike!). E17 and LXDE feel half-baked, black/openBox are a bit minimal even for my spartan tastes.. Yep. I find myself very OS-agnostic as long as I can either install xfce or configure the system to be as much like it as possible (hide all/most panels and icons, click anywhere for a menu or use keyboard-based launchers like gnome do or Quicksilver, configure settings from one location..). Yep, xfce just gets out of the way and lets you work.

  • mike Said:

    I can't agree more with you about my needs on a 2.5" phone and my 27" monitor, nor on the "xfce gets out of the way". I don't turn a computer on to play with settings and icons and eye candy...I turn it on to run applications (chrome, chat, whatever). The DE should not be a stumbling block to work/play/whatever.

  • dashesy Said:

    @jediafr You should also try Cinnamon it is sane AND very pleasant-looking.

  • Shaun Hunter Said:

    If they can upgrade to GTK3 without changing their style and making people irrationally crazy I'll agree with Carla but if they stay with GTK2 their just obsolete but won't accept it yet. I don't understand how people get bent out of shape over changing a desktop UI yet will learn a new phone or web site UI without a murmur.

  • Kan Said:

    Easy to answer....productivity. A new phone or website UI has very little to do with how I work, or play on the computer. Getting to applications with less amount of clicks and thought (Gnome3/Unity/OSX all fail here) and how applications spaces are used is key. I agree with the phone OS translation to the desktop OS is a huge issue, and the cause of my frustration. The desktop operating systems (Gnome3/Unity/OSX) seem to make everything more complicated, and they use to be so simple. Who is driving the bus? It all boils down to productivity and usability, not dumbing down to icons and fancy finder windows. (What happened to OSX's finder? Do I need scrolling icons? No)

  • Mark Larson Said:

    I like Linux Mint 13 XFCE as it's supported until 2017 and it has that easy Software Manager. If it wasn't for those features I would not touch Linux.

  • Ed Said:

    After using Gnome 2 for many years, now I am using XFCE after moving to Debian Wheezy. I think it is such a great desktop. However, I needed to tweak it a little. I wrote a simple tutorial explaining the changes I did to adapt it to my own taste: http://cosmolinux.no-ip.org/raconetlinux2/xfce_wheezy.html I wish it is useful to someone else.

  • Oscar Frank Said:

    edit /etc/xdg/autostart/and either: remove the NoDisplay=true lines; or make those same lines comments by adding # in front of them; or replace true by false in those same lines. The third solution can be easily done in three steps: Summon the terminal with Ctrl + Alt + T. Type the two following commands: cd /etc/xdg/autostart/ sudo sed --in-place 's/NoDisplay=true/NoDisplay=false/g' *.desktop After changing anything you want, you can go back to the previous state by typing this into the terminal: sudo sed --in-place 's/NoDisplay=false/NoDisplay=true/g' *.desktop source: http://namhuy.net/388/how-do-i-addremove-the-hidden-startup-applications.html

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