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

today's leftovers

  • SUSE Linux Enterprise 12 Service Pack 5 is Generally Available

    As you know, SUSE Linux Enterprise service packs are released on a yearly cadence. Service Pack 5 is the next service pack since the release of Service Pack 4 in Dec 2018. In addition, Service Pack 5 is also the last service pack for SUSE Linux Enterprise 12 release. With the release of SUSE Linux Enterprise 12 Service Pack 5 on December 9th, general support for SUSE Linux Enterprise 12 Service Pack 4 will end on June 30th, 2020. Customers wishing to maintain support of their SUSE Linux Enterprise 12 Service Pack 4 installations after June 30, 2020 can continue support through the purchase of Long Term Service Pack Support. [...] If you are currently running SUSE Linux Enterprise 12 SP4, you can migrate to Service Pack 5 as part of your active subscription until June 30, 2020.

  • Developing Leaderboard for GNOME Hackers

    After completing my Google Summer of Code assignment, I had an idea in my mind for a project where the hard-working people on GNOME, known as GNOME Hackers, could be appreciated based on the amount of work they do for the FLOSS community. In the quest for the same, I wrote a leaderboard web app, GNOME Hackers. It was an awesome experience and I utilized my weekends very well by learning many new things. I will give a brief of them below.

  • Counting down the days using bash

    Need to know how many days there are before some important event? Let Linux bash and the date command help with that!

  • How to Boost Your Programming Skills

    Anyone with an old computer that they don't use anymore should install Ubuntu on it in order to improve their programming skills. It's a free Linux-based operating system that can run on a wide range of hardware. Successfully using Ubuntu will require you to learn more about Python, which is considered one of the most simplified and beginner-friendly programming languages in use today. - Bryce Welker, The Big 4 Accounting Firms

  • Canonical sponsors WSLConf at Microsoft HQ [Ed: Mark Shuttleworth donates money to Microsoft's attacks on GNU/Linux]

    Canonical is announcing today it will be a featured sponsor of WSLConf, the first conference dedicated to the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) platform. WSLConf is scheduled for March 10th-11th, 2020 and is being held on the campus of Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington. The conference brings together developers, start-up founders, academics, enterprise, community members, and teams from Microsoft and Canonical around Windows Subsystem for Linux. The conference will include two densely-packed days of presentations and workshops on the latest developments on the rapidly evolving platform.

  • Mozilla Addons Blog: Secure your addons.mozilla.org account with two-factor authentication

    Accounts on addons.mozilla.org (AMO) are integrated with Firefox Accounts, which lets you manage multiple Mozilla services from one login. To prevent unauthorized people from accessing your account, even if they obtain your password, we strongly recommend that you enable two-factor authentication (2FA). 2FA adds an extra layer of security to your account by adding an additional step to the login process to prove you are who you say you are. When logging in with 2FA enabled, you will be asked to provide a verification code from an authentication application, in addition to your user name and password. This article on support.mozilla.org includes a list of supported authenticator applications. Starting in early 2020, extension developers will be required to have 2FA enabled on AMO. This is intended to help prevent malicious actors from taking control of legitimate add-ons and their users. 2FA will not be required for submissions that use AMO’s upload API. Before this requirement goes into effect, we’ll be working closely with the Firefox Accounts team to make sure the 2FA setup and login experience on AMO is as smooth as possible. Once this requirement goes into effect, developers will be prompted to enable 2FA when making changes to their add-ons.

  • Embracing digital transformation with containerisation and Kubernetes

    While digital transformation is creating new business opportunities, it is also bringing a host of challenges and technological barriers with its wave of progress. With changes ongoing and always around the corner, organisations are having to re-evaluate how they can modernise their often-out-dated digital infrastructure in order to keep up. Is there any way to make the transition simpler? Enter Kubernetes. The word is taken from ancient Greek, where it translates as ‘helmsman’ or ‘pilot’. So, it makes sense that your IT business strategy can be guided, not through the Aegean, but through the waters of digital transformation towards stability and efficiency. What began life as Google’s original open source container-orchestration system, has now paved the way for a reliable precedent to automating, controlling and extending modern IT applications.

  • Datacenters Are Hungry For Servers Again

    Server consumption is a pretty good proxy for how enterprises of all shapes and sizes feel about their particular business. And judging by the number of machines and the aggregate revenue they drove in the third quarter – despite all of the uncertainty in the world – they must be feeling pretty good.

Devices: Btlejack, I2C, Congatec

  • Sniff, jam and hijack Bluetooth Low Energy devices with Btlejack

    Bluetooth Low Energy Swiss-army knife or Btlejack is a small software client designed to be used with the BBC Micro:Bit mini PC and can be used with one or more devices running a dedicated firmware. Once installed you will be able to sniff, jam and hijack Bluetooth Low Energy devices. Current version of this tool (2.0) supports BLE 4.x and 5.x. “Btlejack relies on one or more BBC Micro:Bit. devices running a dedicated firmware. You may also want to use an Adafruit’s Bluefruit LE sniffer or a nRF51822 Eval Kit, as we added support for these devices. The BLE 5.x support is limited, as it does only support the 1Mbps Uncoded PHY and does not support channel map updates.” “You need a UNIX based system (for example a Raspberry Pi). If you use the BBC Micro:Bit, you will need one to three Micro:Bit devices (three devices recommended) and for each device one free USB port. The power consumption of a Micro:Bit is rather low, so you can use a single USB port and a passive hub for powering the three recommended units.”

  • I2CMini is tiny USB to I2C Bridge for your PC or SBC (Crowdfunding)

    Last year, we wrote about Excamera Labs SPIDriver tool to control and monitor SPI devices from your computer, but this year the company launched another similar product for I2C: I2CDriver.

  • Congatec Conga-SMX8-Nano SMARC 2.0 CoM Features NXP i.MX 8M Nano Processor

    Congatec Announces Ultra-Low-Power SMARC 2.0 CoM Congatec has come out with a new CoM, the Conga-SMX8-Nano that carries up to 4x ARM Cortex-A53 and 1x Cortex-M7 cores with a full spectrum of options...

China orders officials to remove foreign tech from computers

China began building its own operating system to replace Microsoft Windows or iOS in 2013, with the help of a British company Canonical. Canonical was founded by South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth to market commercial support and related services for Ubuntu, a Linux-based operating system which is open-source and not owned by an individual or company. Canonical provided technical support to build Chinese users an Ubuntu open-source operating system named Kylin, at the request of the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. Earlier this year the US banned American companies from doing business with Chinese telecommunications company Huawei. Google, Intel and Qualcomm stopped working with the technology company. Prime Minister Boris Johnson hinted that the future of Chinese technology companies in the UK could be on the line after vowing not to involve Huawei in upcoming 5G networks if it would create a rift with security allies like the US. Read more

Android Leftovers