After two years of development, the new series of the lightweight Xfce desktop environment recently became available.
Xfce 4.6 is closer than ever to changing the perception that common free software desktop environments are limited to a bipolar world of just
GNOME and KDE.
Xfce 4.6 introduces a new set of features and improvements which push its limits to a new level.
Installing Xfce 4.6 is as easy as it has been in the past, thanks to a
graphical installer which simplifies the process. The GTK and GLib
development libraries are required in order to run the graphical
The installer then lists the rest of the libraries which need to be
installed in order to proceed with the Xfce installation.
Using an Ubuntu test system, satisfying the required dependencies
turned out to be a relatively easy job, as all of the required packages
were one aptitude install away.
This is the same case for Debian installations.
RPM-based distributions, especially Fedora, should have the necessary
libraries available as development packages.
At a certain point in the installation process, the GUI installer offers a
choice for enabling optimizations, debugging and display manager setup. The
first option applies to compile time optimizations, which should improve
performance. Despite some warnings, Xfce compiled on mainstream x86_64
hardware and performed perfectly well. The third option is something that
the most of users should probably check (except those who like to set up
the display manager by hand, of course).
It adds Xfce to the list of available sessions in the display manager,
which was successfully tested with GDM.
This installation step will only work if Xfce is installed by root.
It is important to include the bin and sbin directories inside the
$PATH variable in order for Xfce to start properly.
An Important part of Xfce is its
which is a package of plugins that extend the desktop's usability and
The Goodies graphical installer is not listed on the main download page
for some reason, but it is available in the installers directory under
Goodies requires a few additional libraries.
The most of popular distributions will likely include Xfce 4.6 in the
near future, so waiting might be the best solution for those who find manual installations difficult.
The new improvements to Xfce's usability are immediately visible on
This version of Xfce has reached the point where it now offers many
of the same intuitive functions that are available on other advanced
desktops, such as selection and manipulation of multiple files.
The Xfce desktop menu is also improved.
Users can now create files, directories and launchers, start the file
manager, and access a desktop configuration GUI from the menu.
One shortcoming, though, is that moving multiple selected files on the desktop
doesn't work yet.
Speaking of files, Xfce's
file manager has received cosmetic and functional updates.
Thunar is now XDG
compliant and adds support for encrypted devices. This enables users to differentiate between mounted and unmounted devices and set wallpaper from the file manager window.
The development team claims that newest version of Thunar is now faster,
and it includes many bug fixes.
Improvements to the panel include bug fixes and new plugin functionalities;
some of those changes were introduced during the
XFCE 4.4 rewrite.
Panel changes in version 4.6 include speed and resource improvements
to the clock plugin. A new keyboard plugin adds new layout selection
capabilities, and a notification area allows users to show or hide icons. Unfortunately, it still isn't possible to drag launchers from the Xfce
menu to the panel.
The Xfce audio mixer was also rewritten and now uses the
Gstreamer multimedia framework,
which adds an installation requirement for the Gstreamer libraries.
It is now possible to manage multiple sound cards using the improved interface. The mixer starts with no channels enabled, which might give
a bad impression to users who are not aware of this behavior.
The mixer panel applet adds the ability to change the volume
with the mouse scroll wheel.
Xfce 4.6 brings serious improvements to the session manager, which should guarantee smarter management (automatic restart of environment processes like the desktop, panel, etc.), process manipulation, and
suspend/hibernate logout dialog support out of the box.
The window manager also became smarter, adding the ability to detect
non-responding windows and allowing users to terminate such windows.
The window action menu now provides handy moving and resizing
options. Usability of the fullscreen option turns out to be questionable,
since there is no obvious way to return to the non-fullscreen state, except
by closing the window.
Configuration tools throughout Xfce are now more polished and functional, allowing users to tune the environment better than before.
The major highlight in this area is the new Settings Manager,
which groups configuration dialog launchers in one place, making them more accessible and easier to activate via a single mouse click.
KDE and GNOME, look out
The first impressions of Xfce 4.6 is that the system has had
a number of significant improvements, the progress line has been pushed
much higher when compared to earlier releases.
New Xfce 4.6 features are visible and will improve the user's experience
during everyday use.
With this release, Xfce has managed to overcome a number of usability
issues which, in the past, have kept it out of the leagues of the
"big" desktop environments.
Staying true to its original design goals, Xfce remains lightweight and
fast, while adding new functions which make it almost as usable as KDE
or GNOME from the average user's perspective.
For those who have tried and rejected Xfce in the past, this latest
version has overcome enough shortcomings from previous releases to
justify another look.
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