Xfce 4.8 Desktop Environment

Although often classed as light-weight, Xfce qualifies as a medium weight amongst the Linux front ends. It's heavier than, say, LXDE or Window Maker but it uses less resources than KDE or Gnome. However, it is a desktop environment rather than simply a window manager, and as such, it comes with a set of associated utilities.

Actually obtaining and installing Xfce 4.8 proved to be a bit of an adventure in itself. At the time of writing, the Xfce devs haven't released any binaries, instead leaving this to the distributions themselves and other third parties. When I looked, all I could find was an Ubuntu 10.10 PPA that was 64 bit only. Compiling from source is daunting as it involves downloading and unpacking a collection of tar files and then building them in a special order. In the end, I installed a beta of Zenwalk, an Xfce orientated distribution. Take into account that I am therefore not basing my observations on plain, stock Xfce 4.8.

Behind the scenes, Xfce has dropped support for some older frameworks such as HAL in favor of GVFS and others in order to offer more modern, comprehensive hardware and networking support.

Thunar, the file manager, is probably the best known of all of the Xfce stand-alone applications, and it's an increasingly popular choice for use within other desktop environments. It is now possible to browse the network resources such as Samba shares and FTP sites, an improvement which will remove a long-standing barrier for a lot of people. It's also possible to eject removable devices from within Thunar. I presume that both of these advances have been made possible by the aforementioned move to a more modern set of frameworks. Progress indication for file operations now makes makes use of a single, shared window to avoid cluttering up the desktop.

The panel, an application launcher that sits at the bottom of the screen has been overhauled. Configuring the panel is now easier thanks to an improved configuration dialogue and the fact that you can now drag and drop applications onto the panel itself. It also has a pop up menu that allows you to browse the filing system in order to open terminals or file manager instances in the desired directory.

Xfce can now do quite a lot of the work of setting up the screen resolution and layout from within its configuration dialogues. It claims to be able to set up even multiple screens on a RandR compatible system. Unfortunately, this excludes systems using the proprietary Nvidia drivers. However, I presume that Nvidia's own GUI utility will work as normal in this case.

Poking around with it, it's clear that this version of Xfce offers a richer experience and better GUI configuration. A full featured but lightweight DE could be in much demand in future. Firstly, even thought version 4 has begun to stabilize and push forwards, a lot of people have become disenchanted with KDE. In addition, the next version of Gnome, version 3.0, is just around the corner, and it's possible that a percentage of users won't like the direction that takes.

For users who don't want to go truly minimalist or tiled, Xfce might be a good place to start when putting together a system. It's also a good GUI for systems that are basically command line setups with an occasional need for a full desktop. It may become an increasingly popular escape route for users who wished that Gnome and KDE had stayed small, and 2011 may become the year of the Xfce desktop for some.

XFCE website.


UK based freelance writer Michael Reed writes about technology, retro computing, geek culture and gender politics.


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afaik so far it's Zenwalk and

Anonymous's picture

afaik so far it's Zenwalk and Calculate Linux are the only 2 distros pushing out 4.8.Not yet full on for Zenwalk though since it's still on RC stage but Calculate already released it on its CLDX 11.0.Curious?How bad is the prevailing bugs (it's that obvious since other Xfce distros at post 4.8 release simply refuse to include it in their releases?) and if it is,how come it's fit to be called a stable release?


Harald Arnesen's picture

Is it really "lighter" than Gnome? I use Xfce, but not because of lesser memory or cpu usage. Numbers, please!

Compiling is HARD

Anonymous's picture

"Compiling from source is daunting as it involves downloading and unpacking a collection of tar files and then building them in a special order."

How are you a writer for Linux Journal if you can't even compile from source? Instead of needing to find a prebuilt binary. I can't and won't take the rest of your post seriously after that statement.

Linux Journal USED to not suck or so it seemed...

I stand by it

Michael Reed's picture

I stand by what I said. The build procedure is super complicated. You have to download a dozen or so tar files and then extract them all into separate folders. You then have to compile them all individually, in a specific order, dealing with whatever problems crop up.

We're probably talking about an hour's work, if everything goes smoothly. I think that my criticism of this aspect of the release is fair.

Not that I'm putting the Xfce team down in any way. They made the decision to focus resources on other areas.

UK based freelance writer Michael Reed writes about technology, retro computing, geek culture and gender politics.

There is a PPA now for 32 bit

slumbergod's picture

There is a PPA now for 32 bit (X)Ubuntu users but it is not offical. It worked fine for me though there are a lot of bugs in the release so unless you need the new features you are probably best to wait for a bug fix release.

It is disappointing that there are no official installers from the devs though to be fair there aren't many of them now and they certainly have their work cut out for them.

It's an excellent release and will be a welcome alternative for those not interested in the new Gnome or Unity environments.

It's Xfce, not XFCE. If you'd

Anonymous's picture

It's Xfce, not XFCE. If you'd read anything about Xfce in the last several years, or even the FAQ on the home page, you'd have written a more accurate article.

Get it right: Xfce. Research, people, research! :)

My mistake

Michael Reed's picture

Corrected, thanks.

UK based freelance writer Michael Reed writes about technology, retro computing, geek culture and gender politics.


Beverly Swanson's picture

DL 3.5 used XFCE as the default DE, while Liquid Lemur Linux - currently under development - will be using XFCE 4.8 While I haven't been able to personally test this distro, I've heard that it will be awesome.

I'm not sure why, but I tend to be a sucker for XFCE DE's..lol Thanks for the read!