The Xfce project has just announced the release of Xfce 4.4.0. For those who are unfamiliar with the project, Xfce is known for two things. First, it’s built on the GTK toolkit, but is extremely light-weight. It takes a fraction of the required memory that a full Gnome install takes. Therefore, it’s been dubbed by the Slackware folks as the “Cholesterol Free Desktop Environment.” The second is that it was the first desktop environment to have a solid and non-buggy composting manager. Since Gnome runs dog slow on this laptop, I decided to give it a spin.
There weren’t any pre-compiled SuSE 10.2 binaries that I could find, so I just downloaded the graphical installer. One thing you might want to note when compiling and installing on older hardware is the full requirement list. The graphical installer has a dependency check, but it doesn’t seem to check for everything correctly. For instance, I had ALSA installed, but not alsa-devel, causing the installer to fail due to compile errors. This probably isn’t a big deal on newer hardware, but compiling takes a very long time on this slower box.
Once I resolved the dependency problems, installing was a breeze. The process was: sudo to root, run the installer, hit next a few times, take a (long) break, log-out and when I logged in again, I was in my shiny new Xfce desktop.
There are a few subtle differences between 4.2 and 4.4. The default theme is a little snazzier, and the default panel doesn’t invoke memories of CDE anymore. Out of the box, it feels a little more like Gnome than the older version did. Since I’m running Xfce with as much as I can turned off, my personal screen-shots aren’t that exciting. The official ones are pretty neat looking.
Thankfully, this release also addresses what I disliked the most about previous versions of Xfce: the file manager: xffm. Not only was it useless, but it was ugly as well. All my attempts to try and make sense of it failed, and I resorted to switching back to Nautilus for my file browsing needs. Of course, this somewhat defeated the point of not running Gnome.
Thankfully, the new file manager Thunar is much better. It looks like a file browser, works like a file browser, but doesn’t take up 100% of the CPU and crash all the time. Which means that I might actually use it over the command line on occasion.
Xfce also comes with it’s down Terminal emulator, which is similar to gnome-terminal, but less bloated and a iCal capable calendar app. There are other projects which provide more goodies for the environment, and these are also available from the xfce project site.
Since Xfce 4.2 I’ve been a big fan of Xfce and this version is no different. It’s very light-weight and runs well on older hardware. However, it’s not for everyone. Another word for light-weight is bare-bones and Xfce does not do everything that Gnome and KDE do. If you want something that’s clean and simple, Xfce is an excellent alternative to the more traditional choices, such as FVWM95 and WindowMaker.
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