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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).

I am seriously considering a long-term trial of Fedora 18 with Xfce, or Xubuntu. Just to shake things up. Most desktop environments tend to be better-configured in distributions that offer them as the default. I'm not saying that Xfce isn't ready for immediate use in Debian, but it comes through in "vanilla" form without almost any tweaks.

Developers of a Linux distribution tend to pay a lot of attention to their default environment, making the initial experience as good as it can be. That's the idea, anyway.

GNOME 3 vs. Xfce 4: If you're not sick of me talking about what Linux desktop I'm using on any given day, I commend you. I'm still pinging between GNOME and Xfce looking for the right combination of best workflow and least annoyances.

At this point:

Xfce 4.8

Good:

  • I like having a traditional application menu (especially one that isn't a shitty afterthought)
  • Configurability isn't a dirty word
  • Better application dock
  • Speed -- both at login and on the desktop
  • Better Screenshot app

Bad:

  • Worse handling of Lenovo G555's awful Alps touchpad
  • Can't figure out screen-blanking problems (this is kind of a Debian problem, but GNOME 3 fixes it)
  • Traditional screensaver app xscreensaver not as seamless as what GNOME 3 ships
  • Sometimes I miss GNOME's alt-tab behavior (though I know most users don't agree with me)

GNOME 3

Good:

  • Fewer tweaks needed out of the box in Debian Wheezy
  • Handles Lenovo G555's awful Alps touchpad well without need to tweak
  • I kind of like the whole GNOME Shell paradigm
  • I like that alt-tab extends across all desktops and pairs with alt-` to move within windows in the same application
  • I like integration of screensaver into overall settings
  • GNOME seems more "complete" and unified than Xfce
  • GNOME Shell performs well, even with 3-D acceleration in play
  • GNOME 3 is under fairly rapid development and is improving with every release. If you don't disagree with the underlying concept of GNOME Shell (and I don't), it's an exciting project to be a part of as a user

Bad:

  • Excessively slow first login after boot is extremely annoying
  • While I like keyboard access to applications via the "super" key, getting to apps is not as quick or seamless as it should be; GNOME Extensions that restore a menu aren't satisfactory
  • GNOME 3 is so relatively young, lots of features are half-baked and nearly useless -- Documents and overall desktop integration with mail (unless you're using Evolution) is poor
  • When you put too many apps in your dock, the icons get too small to be useful
  • General lack of configurability; while overall settings UI is limited but well-done, GNOME Tweak Tool is a mess, and Extensions are hard to discover and manage
  • Discoverability in general, and especially of applications and settings, is poor in GNOME 3 and GNOME Shell -- this is a UI flaw
  • FTP/SFTP in Nautilus is kind of broken (and has been since the GNOME 2 days) -- I'm using the Gigolo filesystem mounting tool, usually associated with Xfce, even with Nautilus to get around bugs in GNOME's file manager

I'll expand these lists as I go, but my guess right now is that I'll continue to jump between GNOME and Xfce. I haven't tried Cinnamon recently, and I might want to get behind that wheel soon.

Application notes

  • Even in Xfce, I use GNOME's Gedit text editor and would continue to do so even if I moved fully to Xfce. Xfce's Mousepad is too primitive. Despite my preference for Gedit, I'm working on improving my Vim skills.
  • I'm also using VLC instead of Totem most of the time to watch video. I need the volume-boost feature that VLC provides, and the "can't pause the video while in full-screen mode" bug in Totem annoys me.
  • I do use Xfce's Terminal when I'm in Xfce and GNOME's Terminal in GNOME.
  • I prefer Xfce's Ristretto image viewer over what GNOME ships, and I use Ristretto even in GNOME.
  • As I noted above, the Screenshot utility in Xfce is light years better than the screenshot functionality in GNOME 3.
  • I also mentioned that I use the Gigolo filesystem-mounting tool even in GNOME because Nautilus isn't terribly reliable in terms of keeping connections going and restarting them once they've dropped.
  • Dropbox works well in both GNOME and Xfce. That I like.