Hardware

Smitten with Xfce 4

It's taken Jack Wallen nearly 12 years to give the Xfce desktop the time of day. He finally did and his reaction is, as you would expect, fairly strong. Read on to see what Jack thinks of this "old-school" Linux desktop.

If you've read me long enough, you know I am a desktop junkie. Much to Jaqui's chagrin, I do love my desktops. So much so I could have a different desktop every day and still not be completely happy. During my trials and tribulations with the Linux desktop I have, surprisingly, missed the whole Xfce train. Why? I have no idea. I've known of it, I've used it briefly, and never really thought much more about it. That is, until recently.

On another site I write for (a daily Linux article) I decided to do a series on alternative desktops. The first desktop I decided to cover was, oddly enough, Xfce. The first thing to do? Get to know Xfce. I did..and I was really impressed. If you've never experienced Xfce you might install and, without giving it much of a chance (like I originally did), you might say, "Eh, so what? Big deal. It has a panel, some icons; it's a just a typical Linux window manager." Ah but you have let many things pass you by. First and foremost, it is not a window manager. Xfce 4 is a full-blown desktop environment. Xfce does have a window manager (xfwm) that can even be replaced if you like. But Xfce 4 is quite a bit more than that.

Let's take a quick look at what Xfce 4 has to offer.

Features
  • Very lightweight (especially for a full-on desktop environment)
  • Panel with numerous plugins
  • Session management
  • Composite manager
  • Autostart applications
  • Numerous common applications
  • Desktop menus
  • Compiz and Emerald support

and much, much more.

Why I like it

For the longest time, one of the attractions of Linux was the fact that it could breathe new life into old hardware. That is not nearly as important these days as the cost of hardware has dropped dramatically. I understand, however, there are plenty of places on this wondrous globe where old hardware IS a necessity. So the likes of lightweight window managers and desktop environments IS still a great selling point for the likes of Xfce 4.

But even though that selling point doesn't have quite the kick it once had, seeing the speed of a DE like Xfce 4 respond on modern hardware is truly amazing. In a landscape used to the likes of KDE 4, GNOME (soon to be 3), and Window 7 seeing what a lightweight environment can do is simply mind-blowing.

You think that bazillion-core CPU is fast using KDE 4.5? You've not seen anything until you've seen it running Xfce 4. Yes, I can configure a Fluxbox desktop to work even faster, but you won't find nearly the amount of features in Fluxbox as you will with Xfce 4. Let's examine some stats — simple, real-world stats.

On the same machine it takes GNOME 2.28 7.18 seconds to log in, vs. 3.69 seconds for Xfce 4. For OpenOffice Writer the times were much closer with GNOME at 2.23 where Xfce 4 at 2.15 seconds. Okay, okay...so my point isn't really made with stats like this. Both are fast. But when you see Xfce 4 in action you will instantly know you are working on a desktop that, overall, blows away the competition when it comes to speed.

...and stability.

So far, in my Xfce 4 explorations, I have yet to have a single issue with the desktop. Even when adding both Compiz and Emerald into the mix, it just works. Let me say that again with clarity.

It...just...works.

For the first time, in a long time, I can say a desktop environment became totally transparent to my work. This may sound like an insult at first, but I didn't even notice it was there. That is the mark of a truly efficient desktop.

Will this love affair last?

That's a tough question. What with GNOME 3 coming out full force in September, and KDE 4.5 now enjoying serious speed and stabilty, it's tough for the alternative Linux desktop to gain any traction. But Xfce has been around for awhile and will stay around. I will say that Xfce will probably be my new "go to" desktop when working on lesser-powered machines and when I grow bored with GNOME or KDE (which I do - frequently).

For anyone looking for something different, something that embodies the qualities of Linux that have made it what it is today, you need to give Xfce a try. I'm shocked it's taken me this long to finally getting around to giving this desktop some love. But, as you can read, I do have lots a love for this insanely fast, incredibly flexible, highly stable desktop environment.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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