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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Fri, 11 Jan 2013

Xfce vs. GNOME 3: Where I stand, today anyway

It's been awhile since the last "My Xfce desktop" post, and it's time for an update.

I've been tweaking things slowly since that previous post appeared. If I could definitively solve my screen-blanking problem, that would be nice. I keep thinking I've got it nailed, and then it returns.

One thing you might notice in the above image (click it, or here for a full-sized version) is that I'm back to Debian Squeeze's SpaceFun wallpaper. It's the best Debian theme design ever and is definitely not outclassed by what got picked for Debian Wheezy (in a process that, to me, appeared very, very broken).

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Thu, 27 Dec 2012

New GNOME Shell features in 3.7 and 3.8, plus a couple of development notes

I keep an eye on Planet GNOME and World of GNOME to follow the project, and via the Planet site I noticed GNOME developer Bastien Nocera's post on new features in GNOME 3.7 that will be polished through the 3.8 release. Those features include a search panel (to control search output; I really don't know what this means), a notifications panel to manage and filter notifications on the desktop and, best of all, a privacy panel that, as Bastien says:

... would be the go-to place to ensure your identity isn't leaked on the network, or visible on your system. You can see how some of the features in the two aforementioned panels will also affect your privacy.

On this last topic, GNOME executive director and (FaiF podcaster) Karen Sandler writes more about the increasing emphasis on privacy in the GNOME desktop.

More GNOME: From the As Far As I Know blog, Give a detail this Christmas follows GNOME's Every Detail Matters project and shows some of the new features that developers are bringing to GNOME 3. And there are pictures. Personally I like the little headphone icon that appears in the upper panel when you plug in headphones. (!!) If you want to know more, go to the GNOME Every Detail Matters wiki page.

Sun, 16 Dec 2012

GNOME 3: Lured into the hot corner

I get on any other computer, any other OS (even Windows and Mac OS), or any other desktop environment, and I find myself mousing into the top-left (or "hot") corner to get my application panel and search/launching dialog.

That works in GNOME 3. I do it all the time.

You can also hit the "super" (aka "Windows") key to make the same thing happen. And I do that, too.

But I'm so comfortable mousing into the hot corner that I continue to do it in environments that aren't GNOME 3.

You know what happens when you mouse into the corner in these other OSes/DEs (excepting Ubuntu's Unity, which shares more technology with GNOME 3 than you might care to admit)?


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Thu, 06 Dec 2012

Feeling my way around GNOME 3.6 in the Fedora 18 Beta

Thanks to readers who have helped me, and to the Fedora Project for offering a very solid GNOME 3.x environment in what is now the Fedora 18 beta, I'm getting the hang of working in GNOME 3.6 (as opposed to the GNOME 3.4 version of the desktop environment in Debian Wheezy).

My previous complaints centered on what I thought were the absence of the "Connect to Server" and "Create Empty File" functions in the Nautilus file manager, now pretty much called Files in the world of GNOME.

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Tue, 27 Nov 2012

Set the Xfce Clock the way you want it



Using the Clock app in the upper panel of the Xfce 4.8 desktop in Debian Wheezy, I didn't like the stock way date and time was displayed as just time only in the default:

08:23 AM

Luckily when you right-click on Xfce's Clock in the panel, left-click on Properties and choose "Custom Format" under Xfce's Clock options, you can use anything that the Unix/Linux date command switches offer. Go to man date and study up for every single option.

At first, I used the easy %c, which is one of a few options in date that bring a whole lot of information into your clock:

Fri 02 Nov 2012 08:23:27 AM PDT

That's good but not exactly what I wanted. I spent considerable time looking at man date. This is more complicated but gives me output more like I want:

%A, %B %-d, %Y - %-I:%M %p %Z
Friday, November 2, 2012 - 8:23 AM PDT

I now have the full day of the week, full month, 12-hour time and time zone -- all with no "leading zeroes."

Lately I've wanted to save a little space, so I use %b instead of %B:

%A, %b %-d, %Y - %-I:%M %p %Z
Friday, Nov 2, 2012 - 8:23 AM PDT

Explanation: All of these parameters are explained in man date. You use a minus sign to remove the leading zeroes in dates and times when they are in single digits: %-d and %-I instead of %d and %I

Spending some time with man date is the best way to get exactly the output you want in your Xfce (or any other Unix-based) clock application.

Also: If you want to go from 08:23 AM to 8:23 AM -- removing the leading zero, use this:

%-I:%M %p
8:23 AM

I pretty much included this last one so I'll remember it. But if I didn't, man date is my friend.

Mon, 19 Nov 2012

GNOME 3 update: 'Connect to Server' lives in GNOME 3.5/3.6, I rant about features being moved and removed, and I fix my GNOME 3.4 problem in Debian Wheezy

In my test of the Fedora 18 Alpha release, I was left thinking the "connect to server" feature in the Nautilus file manager disappeared in versions 3.5.x and 3.6.x of the GNOME desktop environment.

Thanks to readers, I learned that "connect to server" has moved to a separate application that you call from the shell with the not-so-friendly name Nautilus-connect-server, as seen in the image above.

You can still get to ftp, sftp, secure and unsecure webDAV and Windows shares via this application. Again, it's a separate application from Nautilus proper. And when you do call it and go to a server, Nautilus is the application that opens. It's like using Gigolo with Thunar in Xfce, though Thunar has recently added the ability to go to remote servers without Gigolo's help.

Yes, GNOME is separating a feature from its file manager while Xfce is adding that same feature to its own file manager.

What do you think of that?

I am happy that "connect to server" remains in GNOME 3, but I do have something to complain about:

One thing that seems to be missing from Nautilus in Fedora 18 is the ability to create an empty file from within the file manager with the "Create New Document" feature. I do this all the time: I create an empty file, open it in Gedit and then write the file and name it. It's already in the exact directory where I want it. Without this feature, I have to open Gedit, start the file, name it, then navigate to where I want it to be and finally save the file.

It's not a huge deal to create the file in Gedit, then save it where I want it. But this is another case of a feature ("Create New Document") disappearing in Nautilus because the developers feel it's no longer needed. It's absence adds an extra step to my workflow.

I use "Create New Document." I will miss it. It's absence is not a huge inconvenience. But this removal of functionality doesn't help me, or anybody else, in any way.

In this same vein, I'm glad you can still "connect to server" in GNOME 3, but why take the functionality out of Nautilus proper and put it in a hard-to-find, poorly named Nautilus-connect-server? The feature didn't die, but it's harder to access. How does that help?

Heading back to GNOME 3.4.2 in Debian Wheezy, I did fix my problem with not having a desktop at all when I logged into the system. After countless reinstalls of gnome-session and gnome-panel, which sometimes worked for a brief time but usually didn't at all, I followed some advice:

  • I created a new user account in my system.

Surprisingly (or not), that account had a working desktop. And a much faster desktop. When my original user account worked, logging in used to take a full minute or more. Now I could log in and have a working desktop in a few seconds. And the shell responded faster to commands. Or so it seemed.

With this knowledge in hand, I went into my original, non-working account in a virtual console using ctrl-alt-F2, logged in and got rid of the entire .config directory in my home directory:

$ rm -r .config

OK, that wasn't the first thing I did. First I tried to get rid of everything in ~.config that might have had something to do with GNOME. That didn't bring back my ability to log in and use GNOME Shell.

Only killing out the entire .config brought back my GNOME 3/Shell desktop -- and with all the speed that my "new" account had.

Sure, I lost more than a few settings. But I now have a working, seemingly faster user account in GNOME 3 in Debian Wheezy.

Yeah, I thought GNOME 3.6 had a lot of speed improvements over GNOME 3.4, but I think cobwebs in my ~.config ~/.config directory -- possibly due to changes over the Debian Testing cycle -- were killing my desktop performance. In any event, I'm happy enough with GNOME 3.4.2 as implemented in Debian Wheezy to stay there for a good long while.

And despite all the amputations in Nautilus, GNOME 3.6 is looking pretty good -- but not good enough to dump Debian Wheezy for it.

Note: My Chromium browser settings were also in ~.config ~/.config, but since I do sync them over privacy-robbing Google I was able to log in and get all of my bookmarks back in seconds. I lost all of my gPodder settings, which was more of a pain because my sync with gPodder.net was old and incomplete. I also lost my Gigolo setting (that sounds worse than it is).

Now that I've had time to think about it, the way to go about this is to change the name of .config -- maybe to config (with no dot). Then log out and log in. Then you haven't lost anything. GNOME will generate a new .config, and you can then move back in things like your Chromium, gPodder, Gigolo and other configurations that I lost in my haste to fix this GNOME Shell problem.

Another note for command-line newbies: In case you're not on board with all of the bash shell conventions, The "~" in ~.config ~/.config means that what follows it is in my home directory, e.g. /home/steven/.config, since my user name is steven. The ~ is a shortcut for "my home directory" that you can use in the shell to get there:

$ cd ~

is the same for me as:

$ cd /home/steven

Correction note: Thanks to reader Thor in the comments for fixing my syntax with "~" -- you always need a "/", which I have done above, striking through the original type and underlining the new. I should have tested this out before posting it. Like some or many of you, I'm still learning all this.

Sat, 17 Nov 2012

Xfce in the Fedora 18 Alpha

I'll get the disclaimer out of the way early: I'm very aware that Fedora 18 is currently in alpha, that we're more than a week away from the beta, and that Fedora 18 won't see a release until 2013.

Those are all things I'm aware of.

But the state of Nautilus in the Fedora 18 alpha's "main" GNOME 3 edition sent me scurrying to the Xfce build, where -- in contrast to the fail of Nautilus -- I'm already using Xfce's Thunar file manager to work directly over FTP and write onto a web site with the Leafpad text editor.

Except that Leafpad isn't cooperating and saving the file back to FTP.

I'm also looking for distributions that handle my Lenovo G555's squirrely touchpad without random cursor leaps, text highlighting and subsequent accidental deletion.

Is that so much to ask?

Add to that a new cupful of fail in Debian Wheezy's GNOME 3 desktop -- that fail being that I'm not getting a desktop at all half the time in the 3D version of GNOME 3. I just get wallpaper. And I can log out with alt-F4.

That's it. GNOME Classic works just fine. But regular GNOME Shell? It's gone half the time. I can reinstall gnome-panel and gnome-session and everything returns, but am I going to be happy doing that every day or so?

So I'm testing everything I can get my hands on in hopes of finding a Linux-distro port in what has become a very turbulent storm. (Or I could just reinstall Debian and hope my problem disappears.)

My first impressions of the Fedora 18 Xfce Alpha -- knowing, again, full well that this is only an alpha -- are that the desktop is slow to redraw, the FTP in Thunar only half works (this is a problem I've experienced before), and Gigolo is not in the default.

I'll hope that these problems will be fixed before the final release next year. Otherwise Fedora 18 with Xfce is looking pretty solid.

My new, old WordPress blog

Update: "Connect to Server" isn't gone, it just moved. Thanks go to readers who led me out of a non-networked Nautilus desert.

Here is the original post before I was brought to my senses:

If this is what awaits users of GNOME 3.6, I don't blame Ubuntu for sticking with Nautilus 3.4 and Linux Mint for forking the file manager and creating Nemo.

The GNOME developers have got to be kidding.

They take a file manager and REMOVE perfectly good features? They could have HIDDEN the features but left them intact.

Right now I can't figure out how to get the Nautilus in the Fedora 18 Alpha to open an FTP site. This is basic Nautilus functionality that this particular file manager has included for years and years.

And now it's gone?

I know this is a Fedora Alpha, but will the ability to browse FTP/SFTP and WebDAV be gone in future versions of Nautilus?

You can go to other machines on your network (which I never do, by the way) but not to FTP/SFTP and WebDAV (which I do all the time)?

Words fail me.

Even if the feature is really, really hidden, the fact that as a longtime GNOME and Nautilus user I can't find it -- and I do believe it's completely gone -- is so very, very wrong.

Will Gigolo allow me to browse networked files in the "new" Nautilus? Even the Thunar file manager doesn't need Gigolo anymore in Xfce 4.10 -- you can go directly to an FTP site and work directly in the file manager.

Unless I'm missing something, GNOME is screwing the pooch pretty good here.

Again, I know this is the Fedora Alpha, and right now it looks like it's running the development version of GNOME -- i.e. 3.5 instead of 3.6. But this is my first exposure to what Nautilus is supposed to become in 3.6 and thereafter, and I'm stunned. Not in a good way, either.

Thu, 15 Nov 2012

An essential GNOME Shell extension -- Impatience

So I'm testing the Ubuntu 12.10 GNOME Remix and notice that the Shell is more responsive in GNOME 3.6.0 than in the 3.4.2 build in Debian Wheezy, the system I'm using day-to-day.

I write about it and wonder if the performance boost is worth making an entire distro switch.

Later the same day I'm looking at my GNOME Shell Extensions via the extensions.gnome.org website (where you can find, install, configure and manage your GNOME Shell Extensions from either Firefox/Iceweasel or Epiphany/Web) and I come across Impatience.

Here is the description of Impatience:

Speed up the gnome-shell animation speed. By default it's sped up by a factor of 0.75 (i.e 25% faster), but this is configurable if you have gnome-shell 3.4 or later.

I install it, and boom -- hitting the "super" key and typing in the first few letters of an application brings up the icon as quickly as it does in the Ubuntu/GNOME 3.6.0 live environment.

Another problem solved in Debian Wheezy's GNOME 3.4.2. And a GNOME Shell Extension you must try right now.

Tue, 23 Oct 2012

I spent the day in Xfce

I've got no beef with GNOME 3. But I still have two desktop environments installed on this Debian Wheezy system. Today I used the other one, Xfce 4.8.

Nothing to complain about. Xfce in Debian is always a little rough around the edges, most of which I've smoothed out at this point. I'm looking at Xubuntu and Fedora's Xfce spin as potential candidates for my next install.

About the only thing that's not working great in Debian Wheezy with Xfce is the touchpad on this Lenovo G555. In Wheezy with GNOME 3, the touchpad is preconfigured in such a way that it doesn't randomly delete text like it does when running Windows 7 (or previous Linux systems, for that matter). Something in this GNOME setup is taking care of the terrible Alps touchpad on this laptop, and I wish I knew exactly what.

That's because in Xfce, the touchpad defaults to not working at all. That's not much of a problem because I rarely use it. But sometimes -- pretty much when I'm watching video -- I like to use the touchpad.

I've seen xorg hacks (thanks Linux Mint Debian users!) to turn on the touchpad for Xfce, but once I do this, I get the same poor touchpad performance in Xfce AND GNOME.

So right now I'm settling for great touchpad performance in GNOME, none in Xfce. Until I figure it out.