Migrating from MATE to Xfce — 1

While MATE has much to like, my MATE wish list provided me a foundation to explore alternatives. I have found no fix for certain elements of MATE, such as the slow opening menu or the lack of a Run option directly in the menu. Other “paper cuts” are wearing me down too. Desktops should not get in the user’s way or distract users.

I had not meaningfully looked at Xfce in several years. I read many favorable reports about version 4.12. I read such reports with caution because fanboyism tends to permeate such reviews. Seldom are constructive detailed reviews written, instead web site owners and reviewers opt for feel-good cursory click-bait reviews.

I accept that in the end, moving from MATE to Xfce is little more than trading one set of paper cuts for another. The trick is to select which paper cuts to live with and to reduce the blood flow.

Although I had Xfce user configuration files populated from previous versions, I decided to start clean with no such remnants. That included temporarily renaming user and system gtk2 and gtk3 rc files. I decided to use one of my testing accounts. After customizing I later would compare the results to my normal user account settings.

My first attempt was with the existing Xfce 4.10 installed with Slackware 14.1. I am using Slackware on my main office desktop. I ran into several hurdles.

As I already knew that Thunar did not support expandable folders in the main file pane, I configured Caja as my default file manager. Running Caja in Xfce resulted in the app restarting 6 times. A little digging into the web found a bug report discussion along with a patch. Nice to see coordination among desktop developers.

The next glitch was launching apps as root or super user. I do not use desktop icons to launch common programs or files. I use custom menus and have been doing this since my Norton Desktop and Windows for Workgroups days. Generally in Linux systems this works with a combination of app and directory *.desktop files and some kind of menu editor. Once the app and directory *.desktop files exist, the missing element is a menu editor.

To this day Xfce has no preinstalled menu editor. I manually massaged my own Xfce menu to provide my custom menu options. Yet the menu options for launching apps as root using pkexec all failed. They worked fine in all other desktops and distros I use. My .xsession-errors log revealed a typical unhelpful message of Refusing to render service to dead parents.

Digging into this revealed a Red Hat bug report where users discussed adding the StartupNotify=true option to the affected app *.desktop file. I added that option and that indeed solved the problem for me.

My next toe stubbing was a proverbial pebble in a shoe. I dislike the idea of using F10 as a menu bar accelerator. While the keyboard shortcut is configurable in the Xfce terminal configuration, which I always disable to avoid conflicts with midnight commander, I found no such GUI option for general apps. Browsing the web revealed possible solutions through editing gtkrc files, but those solutions all failed for me. Xfce seemed to be its own beast with respect this shortcut. Eventually I discovered the shortcut can be changed in the Xfce Settings Editor: xsettings->Gtk->MenuBarAccel.

Next I got frustrated because buttons in the panel Window Button applet seemed to sort in some order I did not configure and did not like. I do not like buttons reordering themselves. I also could not figure out how to use drag-and-drop to reorder the buttons.

Then, no matter what I tried from various Xfce docs, I could not get desktop icon text to center under the icon.

At that point I decided I had best update to Xfce 4.12. The pain points were starting to remind me why I never dug deep into Xfce. Hopefully, many of these problems would disappear with 4.12.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: General, MATE, Xfce

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