Xfce: the Third Man

If you thought the only desktop options were KDE and GNOME, think again. Xfce provides a full-featured desktop that's lightweight enough to run on old hardware.
Even More Programs

If you want to play music, Xfce includes Xfmedia (Figure 7). It provides basic playlist functions and is easy to configure. You can randomize the playlist, set diverse “repeat” options as well as provide “visualizations” to accompany the music (not fully developed yet). Xfmedia also is touted as a video player, because of its Xine usage.

However, for DVD playback, it's seriously lacking in command options, such as menu navigation, choosing subtitles and the like, so you're better off sticking with Totem (Figure 8), which is the default application for DVDs.

Xfburn provides CD and DVD creation with a simple interface (Figure 9). Xfburn still is in the early stages of development, but you can burn ISO images or data to CDs or DVDs. The ability to create audio CDs is currently lacking, but it's promised for a future release.

Figure 7. Xfmedia

Figure 8. Totem for Video

Figure 9. Xfburn provides CD and DVD burning, but it can't create audio CDs yet.

Instead of more resource-hungry office suites like OpenOffice.org or KOffice, Xfce provides GNOME's Abiword and Gnumeric. Of course, you can use the other suites if you prefer. For simpler text-editing tasks, Mousepad is the standard editor. It offers basic functionality, and in fact, I used it to write this article.

For messaging purposes, Pidgin also is provided. Pidgin is a good choice, because it can work with multiple protocols (AIM, Google Talk, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo and more), and it integrates well with the desktop.

Finally, as an agenda and calendar, Orage (previously known as Xfcalendar) provides a system-tray clock (right-click on the panel to make it appear) and a personal agenda. You can store events and get alarms. You can schedule repeating, periodic events and full-day events (like birthdays or holidays). Orage even can work across different time zones (Figure 10).

Figure 10. Orage provides clock and calendar functions with alarms and notifications.

Summary

In the movie, finding the third man proved to be a disappointment to the main character, but with Xfce, that won't be the case. With low requirements, high performance and an easy interface, you can be productive in little time. Although it's not quite as packed as KDE and not as simplified as GNOME, it's a balanced desktop environment in terms of power and ease of use. No matter what kind of machine you use, you'll find it worthwhile.

Federico Kereki is an Uruguayan Systems Engineer, with more than 20 years' experience teaching at universities, doing development and consulting work, and writing articles and course material. He has been using Linux for many years now, having installed it at several different companies. He is particularly interested in the better security and performance of Linux boxes.

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