Hands-on: fat-free Xfce 4.6 has nice new features

Posted on March 4, 2009. Filed under: Tech News | Tags: , , , , |

By Ryan Paul, arstechnica.com


GNOME and KDE reign supreme on the Linux desktop, but there are many lesser-known desktop environments that are increasingly popular among users who are looking for lightweight alternatives that deliver more streamlined interfaces and a functional user experience with less overhead. The Xfce project, which produces one of the most polished lightweight desktop environments, recently announced the release of version 4.6.

Xfce is widely used on legacy hardware and systems that lack the resources to run more comprehensive environments. It has also recently gained a large following on Linux-based netbook devices where its fast start-time and slim profile are highly valued. Xfce is also a favorite among Linux users who prefer simpler and less intrusive software. It requires few dependencies and is built with the GTK+ toolkit. It is often praised for its high modularity, a characteristic that reflects a strong affinity with the component-oriented UNIX philosophy.

The new version of Xfce brings some significant improvements, including rich support for session management and several new configuration utilities. These enhancements demonstrate that Xfce can provide the most important accoutrements of a modern desktop environment without compromising its low-fat design goals. I tested Xfce 4.6 on openSUSE 11.1 with the new packages from the build service. For details about how to install the packages on openSUSE, check out the blog entry by package maintainer Pavol Rusnak. So far, it seems to be working pretty well and I haven’t run into any problems with it.

The improved session manager makes it possible for core components of the environment, such as the panel and the file manager, to automatically restart in the event of a crash. The session management preference dialog has also been improved to provide users with greater control. This release also introduces official support for suspend and hibernate—features that are particularly important on netbook devices.

Xfce’s window manager, which is called Xfwm, is moderately customizable and has advanced features like shading and edge snapping. It also has its own robust compositing engine which is used to support window transparency and shadows (it’s worth noting that Xfwm can do compositing quite well without hardware-accelerated graphics and proprietary drivers. It even works in VirtualBox). In the 4.6 release, the compositing feature has been leveraged to reduce flickering. The window manager also gained support for allowing users to easily terminate unresponsive windows.

The environment’s current file manager, which is called Thunar, was first introduced in the 4.4 release to replace the aging Xffm (nobody agrees with me, but I still think that Xffm’s slightly convoluted dual-tree interface is pure awesomeness). Thunar uses less memory



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