Using Xfce Again

Lately my Slackware 14.2 64-bit MATE desktop has been freezing. Not often but I don’t know why. Most of the time the freeze is temporary. When frozen the MATE window list switcher fails to select a desired app. After a few moments all is normal as though nothing happened.

A few times I returned to my desk to find the MATE screen saver running yet I have no access to the desktop. Just rock hard frozen. I can toggle to alternate consoles, but hen-pecking my way through killing processes is a time waster. Ctrl+Alt+Backspace succeeds, but means lost productivity.

Looking at the Slackware change log I don’t see anything that might have triggered the recent freezes.

I am somewhat disappointed with MATE. There are missing features. The move to GTK3 irritated me.

For whatever reason I have not looked at Xfce in a while. My primary reason probably is I don’t like Thunar as a file manager. I prefer Caja because of expandable directories in the file pane.

The desktop freezing motivated me to rethink Xfce (4.12). As I already have MATE packages installed, I can continue using Caja.

I had to spend time remembering how to tweak and configure Xfce. For example, I wanted a Lock Screen button on my panel. Not obvious but that tool is part of the panel Action Buttons applet.

I needed a countdown timer. I never liked the MATE timer applet because when triggered the timer expands to a full text countdown clock. Additionally, when the timer expires the applet does not restore automatically to an icon. The only way to restore the MATE time applet to an icon is start and stop the timer. I don’t like “extra mouse clicks.” The Xfce timer applet uses a simple thermometer gauge for the countdown. The icon is thin and consumes little panel space.

After dusting the cobwebs, I notice an obvious snappiness with Xfce. I don’t know whether the difference is between GTK2 and GTK3. Regardless, my Xfce 4.12 desktop is more responsive than MATE 1.16. Pleasurably more responsive.

I have no way to test or measure, but Firefox responds faster and page rendering is faster. I have no idea how changing the desktop environment might affect Firefox in this manner.

Other notable differences include:

  • A configurable panel menu button icon.
  • No delay with opening the panel menu for the first time in a session.
  • The xfce4-terminal supports a persistent tab bar.
  • No tooltips when hovering terminal tabs.
  • Mouse wheel cycling is easily disabled:
    • Over the panel icons.
    • Over the workspace switcher.
    • Over the xfce4-terminal tab bar.
  • No dconf, using simple text configs.
  • Desktop icon alignment works.

The menu opening delay in MATE frustrates me. Likewise with the lack of a persistent tab bar in the terminal. When opening a second terminal tab the window size always resizes. I find the resizing nominally disruptive and distracting. The lack of tooltips is pigs rolling in cool mud. I always found mouse wheel cycling way more disruptive than productive. No dconf is like ice cream.

As might be expected I ran into some quirks and nuisances.

  • I have Thunderbird in my autostart. Thunderbird would start with tiny fonts. Often but not always. Closing and restarting Thunderbird resolved the issue. I suspect Xfce starts too fast and hasn’t yet initialized all settings before Thunderbird starts launching. I might have found the cause, possibly related to Xfce session caching. Or perhaps because I rebuilt a new profile from scratch.
  • I seem unable to get the Alt+F2 Application Finder (launcher) to retain any command history.
  • The Application Finder shows no bookmarks. I don’t know what is supposed to be in that list.
  • The Application Finder tries to auto guess. I dislike that feature anywhere, but I can work-around this quirk. Press the Delete key when the auto guessing populates the field beyond the desired string.Doable but “extra keyboard presses."
  • I seem unable to disable the desktop “right-click” popup menu. I have the check box disabled in Settings->Desktop->Menus.
  • Persistent desktop icon placement is broken between sessions. I found discussions online going back several years. Hard to believe such a bug still exists.
  • I have not found a way to accelerator keys in the panel menu.

Another quirk is on my Ubuntu MATE virtual machine. After installing the Xfce packages, when in the Xfce desktop the ssh-agent is not presenting a GUI dialog for my private key password and is not retaining the password for the session. My work-around is in my .bashrc to force set SSH_AUTH_SOCK to /run rather than /tmp.

Overall, in some ways I wish I had continued using Xfce rather than MATE. Xfce is more configurable by a long shot and snappier.

I only hope Xfce 4.14, now based on GTK3, remains responsive and snappy and has not lost features.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: Migrate, Xfce

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