One of the great things about Linux is that you have a range of Desktop Environments to choose from. There is the new age Gnome 3, the unique KDE, the more traditional Xfce or the basic provided by any of the *box options and many others. Over the years I have been using Linux I’ve tried several of them including Gnome 2 and Enlightment.
Regular readers of this blog will know I am a fan of KDE. I run the latest 4.7.4 on Kororaa on a couple of machines. What many people may not know is that I also have Xfce 4.8 installed on both of those systems. These are 2 very different environments but I find both work well for me.
This is my Xfce desktop (larger size click here)and despite its performance advantages it clearly can be a good looking desktop.
So which one do I prefer? If you asked I would answer KDE without hesitation. It is the easier to configure, has more powerful options and some fancy effects. However if you asked which one I use the most I would have to say it differs from time to time but lately it has been Xfce. Why? Well it does have a performance advantage especially on my older laptop. It also feels more stable. For all KDE’s attractions it does have the occasional glitch, rarely the same one though. It locks up occasionally but there is no pattern to it so nothing I can report a bug on.
Xfce doesn’t lose much in appearance. It does have a little inconsistency on some screens. It is a little more difficult to configure, more editing of text files. E.g. there is no menu editor. But it has improved a lot over the last few versions. And it is very stable, probably an advantage of the slower update timetable.
I still use the same applications, mainly KDE, on both desktops and KDE apps run well perhaps even better than on KDE. It doesn’t affect my workflow at all as I have similar keyboard shortcuts set up.
Occasionally I try other environments but I always come back to these 2.
I mentioned in the last post that I had problems getting tap to click to work on the touchpad of my netbook. It is running Fedora 16 Xfce 4.8 spin. I found a number of guides on line that required editing of or the creation of various files. These all had the same result, X wouldn’t start. The answer was very simple.
I found that using synclient in a terminal worked. The command was ‘synclient TapButton1=1’. However it needed to be rerun on each restart so a more permanent answer was required. A couple of guides suggested creating a script in ~/.config/xfce4/ but that didn’t work for me. It appeared the script wasn’t being run. So I created a Application Autostart in Session and Startup with the synclient command above as the command and it worked. Problem solved.
Fedora 16 was released earlier this week and I decided to update one of my systems to it. Regular readers will know I usually run Kororaa, a Fedora remix. But I decided it is more than I need on my netbook. I wanted a simple light system with few options. I decided to go for F16 Xfce spin this time. Xfce has come a long way since I first saw it a few years ago. It is now at version 4.8 and is quite a well featured desktop. It has enough to be useful and look good but is still light on resources, at least compared to KDE and Gnome.
Installation was easy. I had previously partitioned my hard drive with a separate home partition and I kept it, saving the hassle of restoring all my data. I had backed up though, just in case.
The one problem I found was that I need to add an extra option to the boot line. Without ‘i8042.nomux=1’ I don’t have a working touchpad. F16 uses Grub2 so I had to learn how to edit the command line. I found a few references to editing /etc/default/grub and then running ‘grub2-mkconfig -o /boot/grub2/grub.cfg’. Both commands need to be run as root. That solved that problem.
The only other problems aren’t related to Xfce. First, I love drop terminals especially on netbooks. In KDE I use yakuake but to install that would pull in most of KDE. I had previously tried tilda on F15 and although basic it worked well. In F16 it crashes with a segfault. A bug report has been floating around for a couple of months. I will look at alternatives, maybe Guake. Any other suggestions?
The other small problem is turning on tap to click. Xfce doesn’t have a touchpad configuration gui so I looked for further information. I found a couple that required editing xorg config files. But each time I tried it X wouldn’t load. Further investigation is required.
Xfce has configuration options for much of the look and operation of the desktop. It even has it’s own compositor which gives basic desktop effects. I like setting inactive windows to be transparent as it makes seeing what is in focus so much easier. Xfce handles this well. It doesn’t have the fancy options of Kwin or Compiz but they aren’t really necessary. One new thing in 4.8 is the option to make the panels transparent without affecting the icons etc. on the panel. With the compositor turned on there is an option to adjust Alpha on the Appearance tab of the Panel settings.
Fedora 16 is the first Fedora to use the 3.* kernel without it using an alias. In F15 the 3.0 kernel identifies itself as 2.6.40 so as not break parts of the system. F16 doesn’t need this.
Overall the update to F16 is good. Kororaa has promised a 16 beta soon so I am looking forward to that.
I have been interested in the idea of a netbook since they first appeared. I can see the advantage of a small portable computer especially since laptops seem to be getting larger. I remember many years ago using a 486 laptop that only ran dos but was small and light. It was the ideal travel companion. So recently I decided it was time to add to my collection of pcs.
The new unit is Kogan Agora Pro from Kogan, an Australian company. At under $500 it is the cheapest netbook available in Australia but despite that is well equipped. It has a 160gb drive and 2 gig ram as well as the standard Atom processor. Graphics are Intel 950 which support 3d, transparency etc. OS is gOS a version of Linux based on Ubuntu with a emphasis on Google.
So how good is it? It is only available online which is a bit of a concern. I like to see and touch before I buy. However there were several good reviews online so I took a risk. It arrived in a couple of days. Just a plain white box with the usual hardware but no manual. That is only available on the website. Kogan proudly state they are a paperless company. It had a Windows XP sticker even though it came with Linux, that went very quickly. My first impressions were very good, it runs well and seems well made.
I was not so impressed with the operating system though. It seemed to be an older version as it contained out of date versions of OpenOffice and Firefox. The getting started guide recommended against updating it too. Seems that causes problems with the wifi driver. To add to that it didn’t recognise my wireless broadband so I couldn’t get online.
My next move was predictable I guess. gOS was gone and Fedora replaced it. Most things worked out of the box including wifi and my wireless broadband. I was surprised how well it ran even with KDE 4.3 installed which is a bit resource intensive. Even the desktop effects worked. It didn’t take me long to have the desktop customised the way I like it. Later I added the Xfce 4.6 desktop and that runs even better. I will give Fedora’s new Moblin spin when that becomes available after the release of Fedora 12 in about a month.
I have used it around home, in meetings and when out and about. It has prove a worthwhile investment and a useful tool.
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