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How (and why) I learned to live with Xfce

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How (and why) I learned to live with Xfce.

 

I will deal with the why first because that is easy to explain.

 

In my Linux life I was 'weaned' on KDE and loved it. That love stopped abruptly with KDE4. I won't go into the reasons for that here, I have said enough on that subject, just suffice to say that for now and I far as I can see into the future I do not want it on my computer in any way, shape or form, not even it's libraries if I can avoid them.

 

That decision left me with a problem because I don't like Gnome either. Granted it is a lot better than KDE4 but still not to my tastes and why anyone considers it to be 'easy' to use is beyond me. I could have stuck with KDE3 of course as it is still far and away the best option, but that is changing rapidly, more on that later.

 

So that meant I had to look very seriously at Xfce. Initially I could not really come to terms with it either, the biggest problem I faced being file management utilities. I have never been happy with any of the default file management utils on any of the main desktop environments (ironically I find the best of a bad bunch to be Dolphin the KDE4 file manager! - every cloud has a silver lining so the saying goes - but even if I were willing to use the rest of KDE4 I still wouldn't use Dolphin by default). My solution to this for a long time now has been Krusader, it is (or was) simply superb. Unfortunately this is no longer the case. In their headlong rush to make Krusader compatible with KDE4 they have ruined it on KDE3. If I install the latest version of Krusader on a KDE3 based system it rather inconveniently erases the contents of every file that I open in root mode (and root mode is one of the best reasons for using Krusader). Thunar is no worse nor better than Nautilus and Konqueror, in my opinion none of them are good enough. So for a while there I was completely stuck. My interim solution was to install Xfce on top of a KDE4 install, which then allowed me to use Krusader without erasing all my files every time I opened them, but that meant I had to suffer all the largely superfluous KDE4 libraries with their massive amounts of updates, 'polluting' my system and I didn't want that.

 

But I found a solution to that particular problem and several others, and that leads me on to the main point of this post, the 'How' part in the title.

 

1) File Management.

 

As I said above this was one of the biggest problems for me. It was solved very simply and easily when someone introduced me to Xfe. Two things to say about Xfe, the first is that it is not the same as 'Xfce' and (as far as I know) has very little to do with it. The second is that Xfe is not as good as Krusader, but it has about 80%-85% of Krusader's functionality, and it doesn't erase your files when you open them so that is a distinct advantage. It takes a little bit of getting used to but it is not that difficult, and it is platform independent.

 

1a) Kdiff3

 

Really part of file management this. Krusader has a function in it's menus that provide a direct link to kdiff3 (or any other compatible differences utility) that enables you to compare the contents of two files simply by selecting them and clicking on 'compare by content'. This is very useful and is not duplicated in Xfe. In order to get a similar functionality I would recommend a program such as tkdiff. It wont integrate into the file manager and will need to be launched separately. However is extremely light weight and fully functional.

 

2) Removeable Media.

 

I cannot understand why everyone else is not as concerned about this as I am. When I plug in a removeable drive I want to be told that it is present - I do not EVER want it to be automounted (because that drastically increases the probability that I will forget to unmount it again later). When I manually mount that drive I want to be told that it is mounted and I want that indication to remain visible for as long as the drive remains mounted (and no matter whatever else I am doing, so desktop icons are worthless, they will be covered by application windows).I also want the opportunity to unmount it again preferably from the same indicator that performs the other functions. KDE3's Removable Media applet did this perfectly and should be the benchmark that all other DE's follow.

 

OK so you are going to ask me "Why is this so essential?" Well, I have already destroyed 2 removeable media devices in my life and I don't want to destroy any more. Let me define 'destroy'. Destroy does not mean 'lose data'(although that certainly happens), destroy means - render totally inoperative, so inoperative that not even low level formatting tools like 'fdisk' are capable of writing a file system to the device - in other words you bin it. Now you might tell me that this is impossible, but I will beg to differ, because I have done it not once but twice, and I don't want to do it again (and after I discovered KDE3's removeable media applet I never did it again).

 

So how to overcome this problem in Xfce? It is a twofold process. First you need the 'Places' plugin. This shows devices that have been plugged in but not mounted in an partly 'greyed out' font, and devices that are plugged in and mounted in a normal font. However it does not visually distinguish when devices are mounted or unmounted without clicking on it first (and this is why KDE4's 'recently plugged devices' is such a worthless waste of space). In order to have that VITAL visual inidication that a device is mounted you also need the 'volstatus' plugin. This does absolutely nothing until a plugged device is mounted, then it presents an icon in the system tray to warn you that you have something plugged and mounted. It also gives you the opportunity to unmount it safely, so all you have to do is to remember to glance at the systray before you unplug devices or shutdown.

 

My only criticism of it is visibility. It is a greyish icon on a greyish background. KDE3 Removeable Media applet is far superior in that respect, so about 90% functionality compared to KDE3, but acceptable.

 

3)Quicklaunch Toolbar.

 

As I said above, 90% of the time, desktop shortcuts are totally worthless because they are covered by application windows. This is why a quicklaunch toolbar or something similar is, for me, an absolutely essential part of a desktop environment.Yes you can use program shortcuts in your taskbar, but in my opinion they take up too much space.

 

When I was testing KDE4 I spent literally ages trying to get the quicklaunch toolbar to work. It never worked properly and it was one of the many reasons I gave up on '4'. Having said that, the quicklaunch toolbar in Xfce does work, but is obviously so much of an afterthought that it is not much better. Luckily there is an alternative.

 

Xfce (and Gnome as well if you like) provide the opportunity to have more than one panel on a desktop, and also enable you to choose where to put them. I utilised this functionality to replace the quicklaunch toolbar. My solution was to have a second panel on the left hand side of the screen which, by default, was auto hidden. It thus did not occupy any screen space, but was accessible simply by moving the mouse to the left (which is no different to moving it over a quicklaunch toolbar). It is then possible to place as many shortcut buttons as you like (xfce calls them launchers) in this panel, without occupying any real estate on your main taskbar and system tray and they are no more difficult to use than a quicklaunch toolbar.

 

Functionality 100%

 

4)Kshowmail.

 

There are endless Mail clients in Linux, if you use Opera you even get a pretty useful one built into your browser, but none that I could find, with the exception of Kshowmail were capable of reading and deleting mail whilst it was still on the server. In my Windows days I used to use Poptray which has a similar functionality and it is the simplest method of making sure that your machine remains free of email borne viruses whilst ensuring that you miss nothing that a spam filter might wrongly categorise.

 

The method I used to overcome this was to open a googlemail account and then to use the excellent checkgmail utility to access it. You don't actually have to use googlemail much at all if you don't want to, you can simply set up a mail forwarding rule to forward a copy of the mail on all your ordinary mail accounts into googlemail, this has another advantage in that you automtically save your email in two separate places and thus are very unlikely to ever lose it. You will also find the that googlemail is quite an impressive service.

 

Functionality 100%

 

5)Ksnapshot

 

Ksnapshot will run on xfce/gnome although it does not behave exactly the same as it does on KDE (specifically when you want to take a screenshot you do not press enter as the popup window suggests you should, if you do the whole thing will freeze, you have to double click with the left mouse button instead). This is how I was operating for a while. The reason I couldn't use the default xfce-screenshooter? It didn't have a 'region' shot mode, which is the only mode I ever use. However I found out later on that the reason it didn't have a 'region' mode was because the version of screenshooter in all the repos was an older version and in fact the later version (must be 1.4.9 or above) does have this function.

 

Of course there is always a downside. v1.4.9 is only available in a tarball. Now my success rate with installing things from source is no better than anybody elses - about 10% I would think, so I didn't hold out much hope of getting this going either, but in fact it installed quite easily. The only thing to remember is that you must uninstall any previous version of screenshooter first, other wise it won't run. The required file can be downloaded from www.gnomefiles.org.

 

Functionality 100%

 

6)Klipper.

 

I like to run a clipboard utility in my systray. For some reason this does not happen by default in Xfce, in fact it doesn't even include a clipboard utlity. For a little while I was running klipper itself (with attendent cost in unnecessary kde libraries) but I eventually found that the Xfce clipboard plugin is called 'clipman' and you have to download it separately it is not included in a default install. I can't remember if I got it from the repos or from the internet but it is easy enough to find anyway.

 

Functionality 100%

 

7)Clock

 

The standard Xfce clock plugin is naff. Replace it with 'datetime' plugin which is much more configurable and includes a calendar as it should - not quite so easy to configure as KDE equivalents but not that difficult to work out.

 

Functionaliy 100%

 

8)Amarok.

 

OK it is a great program but do you really need all its bells and whistles? I don't. Mplayer plays just about everything you throw at it and is tiny in comparison, so is vlc (although at the moment it won't play the sound from dvd's on my latest version of mandriva 2009). Xmms is there if you just need audio playback. Xfmedia, the xfce media player works perfectly on Linux Mint but won't even load on Mandriva, no idea why, but there are so many alternatives it is not really much of an issue.

 

Functionality 100%

 

9) K3b.

 

Another superb kde program. Xfce has Xfburn although I must admit that to date I haven't tried it so cannot recommend it one way or the other.

 

Functionality Unknown.

 

So that is about that. Or is it?

 

Unfortunately not. There is one more issue that remains unresolved on my quest to ditch KDE. If you don't use money management programs then you need read no further (and congratulations if you have managed to read this far - if you have the patience to do that then you certainly have the patience to succeed with Xfce!). If however you do use money management programs then I need to acquaint you with point # 10.

 

10) Kmymoney2.

 

If you can remember as far back as the fourth paragraph of this epic, you will note that I said I had found a solution to most of my requirements on Xfce, but this is the exception, I cannot replace Kmymoney. I started using this quite a few years ago as a Microsoft Money replacement when I migrated to Linux and consequently I have a lot of data within it that I want to be able to use and refer to.

 

If you have ever used .qif export/import techniques on money programs you will know that there is no such thing as a 100% success rate, it will always fail in some respect or another and this is one of the problems I face, even if I were to select a suitable replacement for Kmymoney I know for sure (because I have tried) that I would not be able to fully and completely transfer the data over. I could start again from scratch with a new money manager program by simply transferring the information in my latest statement into it and carrying on from there, but that would not give me any access to historical information which would all be in Kmymoney format - it is a bit like using proprietary software, you become locked in.

 

I have tested several replacement options and for the benefit of others that may want to try them I will give my opinions here, although I must say that it is extremely unlikely that I will be using any of them. Kmymoney pulls in around 70MB of dependencies on a Gnome system (so I presume an Xfce only system would be about the same) - I guess it is something I will just have to live with.

 

Here are the replacements that I have tried:

 

Gnucash - I don't like gnucash and never have. The idea of having 'accounts' for everything instead of 'categories' is ludicrous besides which after I had imported all my data from Kmymoney it proceeded to tell me that I was £58,000 overdrawn!! I hope not.

 

Grisbi - This one did the best job of importing the data from Kmymoney (although still not 100%) and I thought for a while that I had found my solution. That notion was quickly dispelled when after spending a couple of hours using it, it decided to freeze and had to be forcibly shut down. When I opened it again all the data that I had spent the last two hours sorting was gone. Too unstable to consider.

 

Buddi - The complete opposite of grisbi this one, far and away the safest to use in that it auto-saves a new database at specific intervals, a bit like a decent word processor, so absolutely no way to lose data. Trouble is there is no data to lose, at it steadfastly refused to accept even a single line of data import from my .qif files, so you would have to start from scratch if you wanted to use it, but if you were in that situation it might be a good bet.

 

Jgnash - a java app. Couldn't even get it to run (on 4 different distros).

 

MMex - A Novell/Suse app this (although not originally). Bit of a one trick pony. It doesn't matter what you do with it, all you get is the warning 'Could not write to read only database' (4 different distros including Suse). In each case the database it was referring to was situated in my home folder with my own username and usergroup and 777 permissions. Useless.

 

So that is it. Most but not all requirements satisfied to date. At the moment I am using Xfce as a default desktop but it is running on top of a Gnome install, with Kmymoney tacked on. A bit mixed up but nowhere near as mixed up as KDE4. Sooner or later I will get round to testing an Xfce only system (ie without the Gnome base, but still with Kmymoney) and when I do I will let you know how that goes. In the meantime this post is long enough as it is.

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XFCE4 does have taskbar addons/plugins for both clipboard management and screenshots.

Personally, I use none of them. I prefer parcellite as clipboard manager (IMO much better, and lighter than glipper) and gscrot as screenshot utility.

I don't even use the system sound volume manager of XFCE4, I much prefer a little app written by an Archlinux user. It's named volwheel ( http://oliwer.net/b/volwheel.html ) and it works with most software mixers. It can be very easily compiled for usage in any other Linux distro.

BTW the sound mixer in XFCE 4.4X is rather poorly laid out- the one in the new XFCE 4.6 (due to be released Feb. 6th) uses a better backend (gstreamer) and works much better.

And... if you liked XFCE 4.4X, you will be hooked with XFCE 4.6.

It has all the good functionality of Gnome and almost none of its bad points (...err... excluding gtk, of course...), while remaining clean, stable, easily customizable and totally articulate.

Factly, I've been using XFCE 4.6 svn snapshots since the end of last October, and even the early ones were ages more stable than any of the recent KDE 4.1X "stable" releases... :P

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Crap. I have since demonstrated how Mandriva-linux-Xfce4-one and I am happy. Stable, fast and is the basis for my studies....Lex

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I didn't read all the first post, I gave up about at the third, and I don't wanna play the forum admin here but we have a blog section. IMHO this would better fit there.

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I found the post very useful, I think it fits very well in the Tips and Tricks section, it will save me a lot of research time if I decide to pursue the Xfce route with mdv 2009.1 (that's if I decide to pursue the mdv 2009.1 route rather than the PCLinuxOS 2009 with KDE3 route...)

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5)Ksnapshot

 

I never managed to get the xfce-screenshooter plugin to bind to the prt scrn key

 

8)Amarok

 

Exaile and Banshee are good gtk alternatives for amarok; Exaile' s aim actually is to be one day gtk' s amarok

 

In my Linux life I was 'weaned' on KDE and loved it. That love stopped abruptly with KDE4. I won't go into the reasons for that here, I have said enough on that subject, just suffice to say that for now and I far as I can see into the future I do not want it on my computer in any way, shape or form, not even it's libraries if I can avoid them.

 

Same here as you know but 4.2rc1 is bringing some of that love back and xfce won' t even run currently in cooker :sad:

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QUOTE (scarecrow @ Jan 14 2009, 06:29 PM)

XFCE4 does have taskbar addons/plugins for both clipboard management and screenshots.

Personally, I use none of them. I prefer parcellite as clipboard manager (IMO much better, and lighter than glipper) and gscrot as screenshot utility.

I don't even use the system sound volume manager of XFCE4, I much prefer a little app written by an Archlinux user. It's named volwheel ( http://oliwer.net/b/volwheel.html ) and it works with most software mixers. It can be very easily compiled for usage in any other Linux distro.

BTW the sound mixer in XFCE 4.4X is rather poorly laid out- the one in the new XFCE 4.6 (due to be released Feb. 6th) uses a better backend (gstreamer) and works much better.

And... if you liked XFCE 4.4X, you will be hooked with XFCE 4.6.

It has all the good functionality of Gnome and almost none of its bad points (...err... excluding gtk, of course...), while remaining clean, stable, easily customizable and totally articulate.

Factly, I've been using XFCE 4.6 svn snapshots since the end of last October, and even the early ones were ages more stable than any of the recent KDE 4.1X "stable" releases...

 

 

I look forward to seeing that scarecrow.

 

 

QUOTE (dexter11 @ Jan 14 2009, 10:40 PM)

I didn't read all the first post, I gave up about at the third, and I don't wanna play the forum admin here but we have a blog section. IMHO this would better fit there.

 

 

There was a massive clue in the title there dexter.

 

 

 

QUOTE (ffi @ Jan 15 2009, 08:42 AM)

I never managed to get the xfce-screenshooter plugin to bind to the prt scrn key

 

I haven't actually tried this before, but just for you I just have tried it now and it works. This is how I did it.

1) Right click your xfce desktop, select Settings/Keyboard/Application Shortcuts/Add.

2) A box pops up asking for the shortcut command which is 'xfce4-screenshooter'

3) Enter this and another box pops up asking for the required shortcut - simply press the 'Print Screen' Button and the shortcut is registered and on my system it works faultlessly.

 

Hope that helps.

 

 

QUOTE Exaile and Banshee are good gtk alternatives for amarok; Exaile' s aim actually is to be one day gtk' s amarok

 

As I said there are a lot of options in this field although I haven't tried either of those. (btw I got vlc to work today, I just needed the vlc-plugin-a52 which is available from the repos)

 

 

QUOTE Same here as you know but 4.2rc1 is bringing some of that love back and xfce won' t even run currently in cooker

 

I have xfce running on cooker, not sure why it won't work for you.

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I haven't actually tried this before, but just for you I just have tried it now and it works. This is how I did it.

1) Right click your xfce desktop, select Settings/Keyboard/Application Shortcuts/Add.

2) A box pops up asking for the shortcut command which is 'xfce4-screenshooter'

3) Enter this and another box pops up asking for the required shortcut - simply press the 'Print Screen' Button and the shortcut is registered and on my system it works faultlessly.

 

Ah I see, it used to be a panel plugin now it' s standalone app; I also see one of imho most annoying thunar bugs: not being able to paste in detailed view, is fixed

 

I have xfce running on cooker, not sure why it won't work for you.

It worked for my old user but I decided to clean out my home and then stuff broke, new users don't work anymore either...it's supposedly the update process to beta3, I can run the apps but not a session :sad: 

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I don't think I can help you with that, but if it is any consolation Cooker is unstable for me as well, in particular I cant get my Nvidia graphics to work. I am just waiting for a CD iso to be produced and I will replace the lot and start again. The DVD edition is much too big to download.

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WONDERFUL! that works!

 

I have been wrestling for weeks with that, I have lost count how many times I have reinstalled the Nvidia drivers, and such a simple solution as well.

 

Thanks a million ffi.

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Following on from my experiments with xfce4 on top of KDE and Gnome, I can now present my findings based on an XFCE only install - I'll only mention the differences this time, so don't worry it won't be as long as the last post!

 

Previously I added task-xfce onto an existing installation. This time I downloaded the Mandriva 2009 xfce edition and burnt it to disk with xfburn then installed that. I haven't used xfburn before, but it worked well so no immediately obvious problems with that particular program. I then attempted to set up xfce with exactly the same programs that I had running on my other installations. As these extra programs would not have the benefit of the gnome or kde libraries that the previous installs did have, I was expecting to have to add a few extras. This is what I needed to do.

 

First the obvious differences.

 

Clipman was installed by default, I only had to add it to the taskbar. On my previous install I had to download it first.

 

Exaile was installed by default, it is not installed if you use the task-xfce package. As ffi said in an answer to my last post it is a very good music player and has definitely become my default choice.

 

The volstatus icon was not only installed by default but set to autostart as well. Good news this, previously I had to discover and install it myself.

 

Pinot, a search tool, is included by default. Again I haven't used this before, but once it has built its index it works very well.

 

There is no calculator tool installed by default, a surprising omission to my mind. It is not something I use regularly but it is always useful to have. I installed xcalc to make up for this deficiency, about the lightest example I could find.

 

And now the things that wouldn't work without extra help.

 

Xfe will not work in root mode unless it has a terminal of some sort present. Unfortunately telling it to use Xfterm4 for that purpose will not work, it just doesn't seem to recognise it. I had to install xterm as well.

 

Checkgmail requires two extra libraries to run - perl-crypt-SSLeay and perl-gtk2-trayicon. They are available through the repos.

 

Maybe I am missing something here, but the default install does not seem to have any program for launching a root instance of a program. I had to install gksu to cover this surprising oversight.

 

I never seem to have much luck with Totem as a movie player, it just doesn't work. Obviously a codec problem but I am not sure which one is missing. It is not much of a bother to me as I prefer to use vlc and that always works (although it does require the 'a52' plugin as well.

 

The biggest problem this time around came with the screenshooter program. If you remember from last time I said that you have to have version 1.4.9 or later if you want to get a 'region' capture mode. Last time I successfully installed it from source, this time I drowned in my usual dependency hell(gcc and make are not installed for starters, but it runs much deeper than that). I was just about to give up on this one when I decided to take a look on rpmfind.net, and what should I find but a Mandriva compiled binary of 1.4.9 which required about two clicks to have installed and running. I can't help but wonder why, when distro specific binaries of a completely stable and superior version already exist, that the repos are still using the older version? Still never mind at least I know how to deal with it.

 

And that was all that was needed to have a fully working xfce only system. I did install other programs that I like to use all of them are available through rpmdrake (although you plf need the plf repos for some of them). All of them work perfectly (with the exception of gnome-do where not all the plugins work, but gnome-do plugins don't work on any other version of Mandriva either).Here is the list:

 

Opera, gparted, googleearth, keepassx, gtkdiff, unison, thunderbird, gnome-do, adobe flash player, vlc, and of course my old favourite kmymoney. They were mostly fairly light in the amount of libraries they required with the exception of the latter which pulled in around 80Mb.

 

The xfce only version of Mandriva boots about 10 seconds faster than the gnome version and 35 seconds faster than the kde version (although my kde version was a bit screwed up in fairness), the biggest surprise however is that it is not any smaller than the gnome/xfce version. They both weigh in at 3.4Gb, not a lot I admit but very surprising when you consider that one has two desktop environments and the other only one.

 

But all in all I am perfectly happy with my xfce only version of 2009 and I have used it to replace my kde version as my default Mandriva boot.

 

I hope somebody finds this useful.

 

EDIT. I found the reason for the size anomaly. On xfce the Pinot search database is 1Gb. It isn't running on gnome, so if I installed it on gnome/xfce then it would be about 1Gb larger than now.

Edited by viking777

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Thanks viking777,

 

This evening, I install XFCE on my main PC ("sedentaire", put back together yesterday evening after a change in hard disks). I'm sure your posts will guide me well.

 

Yves.

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Thanks viking777,

 

This evening, I install XFCE on my main PC ("sedentaire", put back together yesterday evening after a change in hard disks). I'm sure your posts will guide me well.

 

Yves.

 

Bon chance!

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