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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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Tue, 27 Nov 2012

Set the Xfce Clock the way you want it

Before:

After:

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:

%c
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.

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.

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.

Fri, 28 Sep 2012

I still need Xfce's Gigolo, even in GNOME

I get why they called it Gigolo. It's the Xfce utility that "mounts anything without complaining."

The things it mounts include ftp and sftp over the network, WebDAV and Windows shares. I'd rather not use it at all, but in Xfce's Thunar file manager, you still need Gigolo to access these remote filesystems.

But since I'm using GNOME and the Nautilus file manager, which is advertised as having baked-in ability to access sftp/ftp and various other networked filesystems, you'd think I'd have no need for Gigolo.

Unfortunately this isn't true.

As often as I create bookmarks in Nautilus to my often-used sftp/ftp sites, they disappear. I don't know why. I've blogged about it recently but find no bug reports.

And though it may be due to the ftp sites I'm using, after a certain period of neglect, during which I don't access a given ftp site after doing so earlier in the session, Nautilus either disconnects or is disconnected from a given ftp server and won't reconnect. Thunar seems to do a better job or reinitiating the connection, but Gigolo is a quick way to "respawn" said ftp connection and get it working again with my file manager, be it Thunar or Nautilus.

But what's really annoying is continually losing my ftp bookmarks in Nautilus. This never happens in Gigolo. It may be awkward, poorly designed and cringe-inducingly named, but it does what it says.