Pardon me, but I would just like to brag about my favorite Linux desktop environment, Xfce.
Okay, it’s not as pretty as GNOME (but beauty is in the eye of the beholder), and perhaps not nearly as configurable as KDE. All conceded. But like anything else you fall in love with, it need not be the best in every category or everyone’s favorite–its unique features made you a silly fanboy and you just can’t help but love that, too.
Maybe I should outline what I like about desktop environments, for starters. I, like most Linux users to be sure, am very much into my user experience on the computer.
So I’ve got my particulars. And they are:
- I lean towards minimalism over busy desktops
- Sleek and streamlined, aesthetically pleasing look
- Fair amount of options for theme, icons and window managers
- A light set of applications that get the job done, but don’t hog resources
- Usually, two toolbars. If one always did the trick, I’d use Windows! Nevermind…
For someone who seems a little fanatical about his GUI, I still swear by the Command Line. Perhaps that’s why I prefer to keep my desktop environment so clean–I don’t need all the GUI apps bringing things down! That said, I think a Desktop Environment (be it KDE, GNOME, Xfce, Fluxbox, and so on) should be just what it says it is. It’s not a necessary evil on top of a text session, but it’s probably not what Microsoft thinks it is. It should be a digital environment in which you enjoy surfing the web, getting work done, and playing media. It should be clean, it should be effortless, and it should be efficient, but it should feel right. Interior decorators have feng shui; I have the Human Interface Guidelines.
What I’m trying to say is: Elegance, and usability. Forget the rest. Consider, my friends, Xfce… It’s light, it’s fast, it looks really good in blue. And it’s gotta be blue or black, by the way. Why would your theme be any other color? Take a look at this snapshot of desktop bliss:
You can obviously tell from the screenshot that I’m running Xfce on Ubuntu. It’s a full Ubuntu 8.04 install–so it’s also packing GNOME, and others. eeeXubuntu is however on my Asus EEE PC, and it’s fantastic with the EEE 701 4G‘s modest specs. Besides downloading Xfce for your distro of choice, it can be found by default on plenty of Linux distros, including:
- Arch Linux
- Gentoo Linux 2008.0 installation
- Gentoo Linux for Playstation 3
- SAM Linux
Some of those are gorgeous distros that make my setup look a bit bland! It’s really your choice, Xfce can be as bare and simple, or as flashy and attractive as you care for. For those of you who are inclined to use Compiz Fusion, you’ll be happy to know that as of the current release, Xfce has a built-in compositor, offering some minor effects like transparency and drop shadow. I’ve found Xfce to be the most versatile, almost chameleon-like environment in that aspect. I’ve made my Xfce desktop look like plenty of other default setups, just for fun and because Xfce simply can! Here’s the rest of a short tour around my Xfce desktop:
Xfce 4’s Orage calendar program is light and fast, yet still provides the same scheduling and time management features you’d expect from Outlook or Evolution. Orage is based on and compatible with the iCal format.
The included Xfce Terminal is–you guessed it–very snappy to start up but it doesn’t sacrifice extra configuration if you like to retool the appearance a bit, like I do. This app starts in the blink of an eye on my EEE PC.
Here’s the no-nonsense Xfce file manager, Thunar. It’s still possible to add a nice touch to your files and folders with emblems, like you see here. My only complaint is that you can’t preview audio files by placing your cursor over its icon, as with Nautilus. Thunar is still faster and more responsive than other file managers, and is also extendable with scripts and plugins. (See this page for a memory comparison among Thunar and other file managers)
Also shown is Xfmedia, a rather bare bones xine-based music player part of the Xfce project. It obviously lacks much of what heavy-hitters Amarok, Rhythmbox and my new favorite Banshee have to offer, but you’ll never find Xfmedia to be the cause of a slowdown with several apps running on multiple desktops. Where it lacks Last.fm support, it more than makes up for it by being the music player you can load a playlist into, hit play and forget about on your fourth desktop. Works for me.
Besides all of that, who can resist that endearing little mouse that is Xfce’s mascot? That’s the face of a light and swift animal who’s gonna help you get things done!