Language Selection

English French German Italian Portuguese Spanish

Xtra Fine Computing Environment: xfce4.4 beta 1

Filed under
Software
Reviews
-s

In my spare time last several days, I've been test driving the latest xfce4.4 beta1 desktop enviroment. It's pretty nice. For those who don't know about xfce4, it's a wonderful graphical interface that I think of as falling somewhere in-between Fluxbox and KDE in ease-of-use and functionality. Many aspects of your xfce4 desktop can be configured by graphical tools with menus, drop down boxes, icons and all. However, many aspects are hard coded and aren't adjustable even through configuration files. But it's getting there and we can see a major step forward with xfce4.4.

Install

There were two methods for the install of their 4.4 b1, either download the tarball and do the ./configure dance or download their installer and let it do all work. I downloaded the tarball first, forgetting how many packages they've split their desktop into. Here's a list:

Terminal-0.2.5.1beta1.tar.bz2
orage-4.3.90.1.tar.bz2
xfce4-mixer-4.3.90.1.tar.bz2
Thunar-0.3.0beta1.tar.bz2
xfce-4.3.90.1.md5
xfce4-panel-4.3.90.1.tar.bz2
exo-0.3.1.6beta1.tar.bz2
xfce-mcs-manager-4.3.90.1.tar.bz2
xfce4-session-4.3.90.1.tar.bz2
gtk-xfce-engine-2.3.90.1.tar.bz2
xfce-mcs-plugins-4.3.90.1.tar.bz2
xfdesktop-4.3.90.1.tar.bz2
libxfce4mcs-4.3.90.1.tar.bz2
xfce-utils-4.3.90.1.tar.bz2
xfprint-4.3.90.1.tar.bz2
libxfce4util-4.3.90.1.tar.bz2
xfce4-appfinder-4.3.90.1.tar.bz2
xfwm4-4.3.90.1.tar.bz2
libxfcegui4-4.3.90.1.tar.bz2
xfce4-dev-tools-4.3.90.1.tar.bz2
xfwm4-themes-4.3.90.1.tar.bz2
mousepad-0.2.4.tar.bz2
xfce4-icon-theme-4.3.90.1.tar.bz2

Given that many packages, I wasted no further time before downloading the installer. This is one of your easier desktop installs. I realize KDE has Construct, but does that really work? Last time I tried it, it didn't really go as smoothly as one might hope and the setup was quite involved. But I've used xfce's installer more than once and it always works good. You just start it up (I did as root, but users can install into their home directory if preferred). It runs some dependency checks and asks for an install location. Default as root is /usr/local and that was a good choice since I have gentoo's version of 4.2 in /usr. Then it does the compiling for you. Easy peasy.

        

Xfce4

One of the good things about xfce4 is its support for twinview and/or xinerama set ups. Fluxbox supports it to a point, but I'm still having to splice wallpapers together for it. KDE handles those setups very nicely and xfce4 isn't too far behind. One of the important settings for a desktop in twinview is the panel/kicker placement. You don't want that thang spawled out across two or three monitors (which is what happens with desktops that don't support twinview). I usually want to place that at the bottom of the main monitor either 100% or whatever. I'm not picky about the size, as long as it's big enough to get the job done. Xfce4 gives you the choice as to which monitor to use, any one of 9 positions around it, and how big it should be.


And the 2nd most important is background/wallpaper handling. It's nice to have a configuration for using the multitude of 1280x1024 wallpapers I've collected over the last 5 years. Even now, it's hard to find 2880x1200 wallpapers. Xfce4 allows you to choose between using a wallpaper on both, a seperate one for each monitor, or stretch one out across both. I usually try to find two wallpapers that go nice together, or sometimes I'll just have to run the same one on both screens. I've only seen one or two wallpapers that looks good stretch out across both.

    

New Panel Configuration

The panel configuration is a bit different for the new xfce4 release. Previously one would click the "add launcher" option to add an application launcher, or some other pre-configured options such as "time and date" or "panel". It was mostly dialogue and had a number to adjust for placement in your panel. It was a functional and adequate add-to-panel configuration tool. But now, it's become quite fancy. For starters, it looks very much like KDE's equivalent that showed up in 3.5 in that you have a nice list with lovely icons and you just highlight your choice and click add or you can drag your selection to the panel if you prefer. Then if it's an application launcher or other item with configurations, it opens that dialogue box. Another nice change is how one moves their panel items around. As stated, once upon a time, you adjusted the number of its placement, but now one right clicks that item, and clicks "move" just as found in KDE.

    

    

New: Desktop Icons are now Possible

Also new in 4.4 is the long awaited support for icons on the desktop. It's still not drag & drop or right-click > make new icon, but there is preliminary support for icons on the destkop. Uniquely, one can set these icons to either show for minimized applications, file launcher icons, or none at all.

    

For launcher icons, your ~/Desktop directory is used. So, if you already have your desktop icons setup in KDE, they will also show up in the new xfce4. Making new icons can be done in konqueror the way you might already be accustomed. But what if you don't use or have KDE installed? I've found that making symbolic links works as well. There is no configuration of icons with links though. But I also found that the icons set using konqueror or making them from right-clicking on the KDE desktop didn't always show up in xfce4 anyway (probably requires full path). You could theoretically make one from right clicking in the Thunar file manager through the create new document option if you knew what entries might be required. Once in place, the desktop icons can be dragged around the desktop for exact placement. An example for Firefox.desktop might contain the following:

[Desktop Entry]
Exec=/usr/bin/firefox
Icon=/usr/share/icons/mozilla-firefox.png
StartupNotify=true
Terminal=false
Type=Application


New: Thunar

Thunar is their new graphical file manager. To quote the devlopment site, " Its user interface is clean and intuitive, and does not include any confusing or useless options. Thunar is fast and responsive with a good start up time and directory load time. Thunar is accessible using Assistive Technologies and is fully standards compliant." The interface does seem cleaned up and less busy, although I have heard it said that browsing samba shares is now harder or not supported in Thunar as it was in xffm.

    

New: Orage

Another new feature in 4.4 is the Orage calendar. It has some advanced features not found in the previous calendar found in xfce. I have a problem with it in that it starts the week with Saturday, and I can find no way to adjust this*. By default, orage is open and in the way when one starts xfce4, but that behaviour can be turned off in it's configuration. Some features of Orage include:

  • Time-based events
  • Data stored in ical format
  • Recurring appointments
  • Reminder up to 2 days before the event starts
  • Possibility to choose your alarm sound
  • Repeating the alarm sound until you close the reminder window
  • Possibility to duplicate an appointment
  • Archiving system for keeping your history in different files for avoiding overloads in the main working file

    

Misc

It has always amazed me how many window and icon themes are available for xfce4 and even moreso, how many that ship with xfce4.

Some other observations from within xfce4.4 are that I can't locate how to turn the date on at my clock. Although that's a bit of a downer, I've found that KDE application support seem improved. Previously a kde application window would open at precisely the size and position from which it was last used in kde. This usually covered my xfce panel and required resizing of the window. It seems now that kde applications windows are adjusted automagically so as to fit onto the desktop without overlapping the panel(s). That's nice.

In the past I've had trouble with xfce remembering my customization to the panel. That was always quite annoying to spend time getting it just the way you like it, just to log out and back in to find it default. This was actually the main reason I didn't use xfce more. It was suggested that this behaviour could be avoided by starting the desktop in one particular way each time (exact details escape me now), but it was inconvenient given I began using a graphical login several months back. I haven't seen this behaviour since upgrading to 4.4, as all customizations remain after logging out and back in. I might begin to use and explore all the possibilities of XFCE4 more often now.

Conclusion

xfce has always been a capable and viable option for a desktop environment. It was the desktop of choice of many distribution developers as it is light weight, fast, and yet had many nice options and graphical configurations. It has many features of KDE, but can run on older or lower spec systems that KDE can overtax. Things are only getting better with xfce4 4.4. Updated interface configurations, new options, and new applications make this release an exciting prospect. If you've never tried xfce or haven't tried it recently, you owe it to yourself to test it out.

My xfce4 desktop ended up looking like this:


*UPDATE: May 03, A kind reader pointed out that "Orage uses the first day of the week as reported by glibc" and further investigation reveals an upstream bug in glibc en_US locale.

More in Tux Machines

Review: Linux Mint 18 (Sarah)

If you were looking to jump the Ubuntu ship completely, then we recommend taking a look at our recent Review of Fedora 24. It’s equally as good as Mint 18 and equally worthy of your consideration. Between Linux Mint 18 and Fedora 24, we reckon it’s exciting times in the Linux world. With the exception and onset of the boring world of vanilla Ubuntu releases, Linux feels reinvigorated and fresh once again. Jump on board, because it can only get better from here. Read more

Security Leftovers

GNU News

Leftovers: OSS

  • Mozilla Firefox 47.0.1 Is Now Available in the Arch Linux and Solus Repos
    Mozilla quietly delivered the first point release of the Mozilla Firefox 47.0 web browser to users of Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X operating systems on the day of June 28, 2016. However, because the built-in updater of the Mozilla Firefox web browser doesn't work on GNU/Linux distributions, users have to wait for the latest version of the software to be first pushed by the maintainers of their operating systems on the main repositories before they can upgrade.
  • Questions loom about the future of open source at VA
    The CIO for the Department of Veterans' Affairs sought to reassure stakeholders that the agency was committed to open source in the future, but with Congress pressuring the agency to give up the homegrown health record system VistA, the open source community is a bit perplexed.
  • Watch out for job offers from Google after this open source course
    Over five lakh polytechnic students from 500 colleges across Tamil Nadu would begin training on open source software from Friday, learning more about the nitty-gritties of ‘free’ software under a programme run by the Indian Institute of Technology – Bombay along with the Tamil Nadu government.
  • Bombay Stock Exchange: Open source is a mindset
    Open source is still gaining momentum in the industry worldwide. Despite naysayers, open-source software and hardware are making believers out of a broad array of users. In the case of Bombay Stock Exchange, LTD (BSE), the transition has been cost efficient, as well as has improved order processing power. By switching from proprietary hardware to open source, Kersi Tavadia, CIO of BSE, reported going from being able to process 10 million orders a day to 400 million. Even with the increase, the new open-source hardware is only using 10 percent capacity.
  • GitHub releases data on 2.8 million open source repositories through Google BigQuery
    GitHub today announced that it’s releasing activity data for 2.8 million open source code repositories and making it available for people to analyze with the Google BigQuery cloud-based data warehousing tool. The data set is free to explore. (With BigQuery you get to process up to one terabyte each month free of charge.) This new 3TB data set includes information on “more than 145 million unique commits, over 2 billion different file paths and the contents of the latest revision for 163 million files, all of which are searchable with regular expressions,” Arfon Smith, program manager for open source data at GitHub, wrote in a blog post.
  • How one company is using open source to double its customers’ mobile business
    Most retailers today stay a step or two behind when it comes to modern technology, especially on the mobile side. Sawyer Effect, LLC, a consultant for J.Crew Group, Inc., has been using Red Hat, Inc.’s open-source product Ansible, an IT automation engine, to get its customer’s mobile business up to speed and greatly improve its business.
  • Can Capital One change banking with open source, mobile apps, and NoSQL?
    Oron Gill Haus of Capital One came to MongoDB World to present on Hygieia, an open source DevOps dashboard built on MongoDB. Behind that dashboard lies an ambition to change the customer banking experience – no small feat. Prior to his keynote, Haus shared his team’s story with me.
  • How bank Capital One developed an open source DevOps visualisation tool based on MongoDB
    In order to keep up with customers' expectation of a proactive service available 24x7 on many devices, US bank Capital One moved to an agile DevOps structure and a year ago released its own DevOps dashboard. While visualisation tools were available for continuous integration, scanning and testing, Capital One's development team was unable to find one that provided a complete overview of the whole production process. The dashboard they developed, called Hygieia, was open sourced to encourage rapid development. It is currently in version 2.0. VP of engineering Gil Haus explained some of the thought processes that went into the creation of Hygieia.
  • What is DC/OS?
    What if we could take the total amount of power in any cloud computing datacentre and provide a means of defining that as one total abstracted compute resource? This notion has given brith to DC/OS, a technology base built on Apache Mesos to abstract a datacentre into a single computer, pooling distributed workloads and (allegedly) simplifying both rollout and operations.
  • What's holding your conference back
  • Airtel Leverages Cloudera Enterprise to Improve Customer Experience and Product Personalization
  • Airtel adopts Cloudera for business intelligence
  • Airtel moves customer data on an open source platform
  • ​RightScale can help you pick out the right public cloud
    For example, let's say you need a local cloud in Australia. With the tool, you'll see that Google can't help you while the others can. Or, for instance say you've tied your business to Oracle and you want Oracle Linux as your operating system. The program will quickly and easily tell you that AWS and Azure are the clouds for you.
  • The Apache Software Foundation Announces Apache® Bahir™ as a Top-Level Project
    Apache Bahir bolsters Big Data processing by serving as a home for existing connectors that initiated under Apache Spark, as well as provide additional extensions/plugins for other related distributed system, storage, and query execution systems.
  • Bahir is the Latest Big Data Project to Advance at Apache
    Recently, we've taken note of the many projects that the Apache Software Foundation has been elevating to Top-Level Status. The organization incubates more than 350 open source projects and initiatives, and has squarely turned its focus to Big Data and developer-focused tools in recent months. As Apache moves Big Data projects to Top-Level Status, they gain valuable community support and more.
  • MongoDB launches Atlas, its new database-as-a-service offering
    MongoDB, the company behind the eponymous open source database, is launching Atlas today, its third major revenue-generating service. Atlas is MongoDB’s database-as-a-service offering that provides users with a managed database service. The service will offer pay-as-you-go pricing and will initially allow users to deploy on Amazon Web Services (AWS), with support for Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform coming later.