Migrating from MATE to Xfce — 3

Part 1: Migrating from MATE to Xfce — 1

Part 2: Migrating from MATE to Xfce — 2

I updated my Slackware 14.1 systems to Xfce 4.12 using two personal repositories. If my moving to Xfce 4.12 proves beneficial, then that will be one less item to consider when updating to the upcoming Slackware 14.2. Unlike my short distro observations, I now would be starting from scratch.

Starting Xfce for the first time with no settings results in a dialog asking the user whether to use a default config or an empty single panel. This is a nice gesture but falls short of meaningful usability. Newbies have no idea what a default config might me. They probably do not even know what a panel might be (in Windows the entire panel is called the task bar). Choosing the former results in a top panel and a bottom dock panel. Something unfamiliar to Windows users.

I never liked top panels. I logged out, deleted config files, and began again with an empty single panel. Choosing an empty single panel results in just that, but the empty panel is located at the top and does not stretch across the desktop. Missing in all of this is a basic option to choose a setup resembling the traditional desktop with a single bottom panel. That third option would be useful to many new users, especially Windows converts.

This initial dialog would be a good place to ask the user about mouse button switching. All that would be needed is a simple check box within the dialog.

The default desktop includes wallpaper with the Xfce mouse logo and a boat load of hard drive partition icons. On my office system I have many partitions used for testing. I do not want any of those icons appearing. I also do not want wallpaper. Yeah, I am boring.

While similar to MATE there are differences too.

  • Clipboard manager? +1 Xfce. For MATE I had to install Parcellite.
  • App finder? +1 Xfce.
  • Disable workspace switching with the mouse scroll wheel? +1 Xfce.
  • Disable window button switching with the mouse scroll wheel? +1 Xfce.
  • Persistent terminal tab bar? +1 for xfce4-terminal, although editing the config file is required.
  • Disable icons in the menu? +1 Xfce
  • Menu search box? +1 Xfce.
  • Directly modify menu button icon? +1 Xfce.

After a some nominal configurations and using Xfce I was intrigued. Xfce is more responsive than MATE. Snappier. While there is a momentary delay the first time I use the menu, there are no delays thereafter.

After this short experience I can offer a short wish list for Xfce. All things considered, I found that Xfce offered more options than MATE to customize. There are some exceptions for my use case.

  • No native menu editor. I use custom menu options rather than desktop shortcuts. Manually editing menu files is not fun.
  • Thunar lacks the ability to expand and collapse folders in the file pane.
  • The Alt+F2 launcher dialog tries to guess my intentions. More often than not the guess is wrong.
  • The Alt+F2 launcher dialog does not support a simple keyboard method to browse the history.
  • The default desktop icon text uses a background color, which I find distracting and want to disable.
  • Desktop icon text is truncated.
  • Control center options? Does not include system apps such as config-system-date. Fixable with an updated xfce-settings.menu
  • There is no Settings applet to configure the date/time or locale.
  • There is no Settings applet to configure sound or test speakers.
  • The sound mixer insists upon always starting at 100% volume.

Some of these shortcomings are Slackware related.

There are three menu editor options. Manually edit config files, which is unacceptable to non technical users. Use the Whisker menu, which has a built-in editor. Use MenuLibre.

Thunar cannot be removed without removing the core of Xfce. Yet substitutes are possible. Caja can be installed with minimal overhead with respect to dependencies. Caja lacks features too but is more configurable than Thunar. Evaluating file managers is on my to-do list.

Thunar allows direct editing of desktop files rather than treating as an executable like Caja.

Despite decent documentation at the Xfce web site, there is no offline local help. The presumption of 24/7 online availability is a usability issue. To demonstrate, while I was testing, the Xfce web site was down for a couple of days and I could not access any help at all. I understand that many developers loathe spending time with help files and documentation, yet there is no excuse for not packing the HTML web files into the packages for local access in /usr/doc.

Xfce developers suffer a flawed definition of “removable device.” I suspect this is a flaw in GTK design. To most people, a removable device is a device external to the computer, not internal. Treating internal disk partitions as “removable” creates clutter and confusion with multiple internal disk partitions.

Disabling the option to not show “removable devices” means no desktop icon for USB flash drives. MATE is not designed this way.

Although documented, there are too many hidden options. At least there is the Settings Editor to access all Xfce options. Strangely, I found no search feature in the Settings Editor.

One reason I never gave Xfce much of a chance in previous years is the overall experience for me was less than I desired. The latest version 4.12 fills many missing voids. I have been using Xfce for several days. I am not yet convinced to migrate fully from MATE. While I have indeed traded one set of paper cuts for another, I seem to be bleeding less.

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

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