Saturday, May 14, 2011
XFCE - The Mouse That Works
Like just like three years ago when KDE 4 came on the scene I am finding myself being forced to move onto another Desktop Environment. However, unlike last time many of the alternative environments have matured significantly and this allowed me look them over with a happier feeling that I wouldn't be left to far out where my productivity would suffer.
Three years ago Xfce was decent but lacked in features I needed. Today that's changed with Xfce 4.8. The only real issues I faced was finding solutions to my personal needs and taste that replaced Gnome based functions that required me to basically load Gnome itself. Don't get me wrong here I have several Gtk apps installed, many of which were created with Gnome in mind. What I'm saying is that getting certain functions implemented were not easy unless I was willing to also install Gnome. Being that the idea here is to replace my Desktop Environment I really wasn't willing to do that. Since Xfce is Gtk based I really had no issue with using Gtk based apps but installing Gnome wasn't going to happen.
Thank God for Google as I have been able to find plug ins, and applications that fulfilled the needs and saved me from having to install Gnome alongside Xfce. (I will write about this on another post.)
While there are some things about Xfce that are still in my learning curve I am actually happy with it overall. Though there are a couple of things that I feel need to be addressed.
1. To dependent on Gnome for system settings and functions. Xfce developers may not see a need to reinvent the wheel but use of another Desktop Environment to gain access to system settings, functions and configuration is just not a good idea in the grand scheme of things. Requiring the libraries and tools that force a parallel install of another Windows Manager is just asking for trouble, especially in the event that things become incompatible. Which is very likely to happen with Gnome 3 when it becomes the default Gnome system. (Which is starting to happen now. Main stream distros will soon be replacing Gnome 2, before the end of this year.)
2. I don't mind simplicity but I would like to see more options in the few settings apps that are Native to Xfce. It would also be nice to have a way to install themes, icons and cursors without having to do it manually, or using the Gnome tools.
3. Better integration and by this Xfce developers need to develop the tools for various program hooks like LibreOffice/OpenOffice, Firefox and other programs so that they function correctly within the Windows Manager. This also includes having the system tell applications where the panel(s) are located. For some reason all my tray apps assume the panel is on top where my panel is at the bottom. When I open them again they drop down slightly and it gets annoying. LibreOffice had a whole different issue, the title bar was off the top of the screen. I did get this fixed but its obvious that Xfce is not reporting coordinates to applications correctly. On this note it would be nice to see a Compiz plugin for Xfce. Xfce developers themselves need to take the lead on these or work with others to implement this.
My final gripe was something I saw from an Xfce developer to a user. A user was asking if there was a replacement for Gnome-Applet-Sleep-Inhibitor (By the way I did find a solution to this. Its called Caffeine https://launchpad.net/caffeine) The user was told to use the Gnome-Applet because there was no need to create a separate applet for Xfce. What the developer is not understanding is to use that applet you have to install the Gnome-Power-Manager, which requires that you install most of the Gnome Core features. Since the idea is to replace Gnome and not install it I was more than a bit upset by this statement. If that is the kind of support the Xfce community is giving then Xfce will always be nothing more than an alternative low end Desktop Environment.
Despite the above I find there are a great many things I like about Xfce. Its easy to configure and modify when you finally figure out how. You can make it look the way you want without to many issues. Honestly the only way I can tell the difference between my current Xfce desktop and my old Gnome desktop is the Icons in my Notification Tray and how they act.
One major kudo is the Xfce Weather Applet. I love how it gives more complete data without having to actually open the interface. With the animations turned on it has a nice affect down in the panel. Though I would like to see a radar map added to the interface I do like the forecast window a lot more than Gweather.
If you, like me, aren't happy with where Gnome is going with Gnome 3 and prefer to have the options to make your desktop layout like you want, then Xfce is a good option to look at. Its not a perfect replacement but I do have my system setup and ready for work. Xfce three years ago wasn't mature enough for that but with the recent 4.8 release it is now.