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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Tue, 17 Jul 2012

Giving Xfce a try in Debian Wheezy

I'm not saying that GNOME 3 is driving me to it, because there's a lot I like about the GNOME Shell environment and still a lot I like about GNOME applications like the Nautilus file manager, Gedit text editor and others.

And while the system on this laptop, which began life as a post-freeze, then-Testing Debian Squeeze in late November 2010, has never run Xfce but instead stock GNOME (then version 2) and Fvwm, the latter of which I never used much.

Due to its reliance on 3D acceleration, the stock GNOME 3 environment is necessarily heavier on resources than GNOME 2 or Xfce (version 4.8 is what's in Wheezy; 4.10 is in Experimental at this point). And yes, I'm aware of the GNOME Classic mode in GNOME 3, which I've used (and may in fact go back to if I stick with Wheezy). That GNOME is doing away with GNOME Classic is something I'm not happy about. Absent GNOME Classic, I don't know the status of GNOME 3 without 3D.

I just installed the xfce4 package, and right now I'm rolling in xfce4-goodies to get all the extra bits.

After a few weeks in GNOME 3, I keep mousing into the "hot corner," and to the right side of the screen for virtual desktops. So you might say GNOME 3 retrained me a bit over the past few weeks.

One of the things I like about GNOME 3 is the font presentation on the desktop. Everything looks great, and stock Xfce doesn't look nearly as good. The panel, menu and application fonts aren't as nice. Maybe I'll be able to figure out how to make it look better.

But so far, it sure is faster and less resource-intensive.

Later: I've already changed fonts in Xfce (I have a LOT of fonts installed on this system).

I did manage to get Thunar to work with the sftp protocol to write directly to my web server, but the only text editor that is playing along is Gedit. That means going through Thunar and using Gvim, Geany or Mousepad doesn't work. I can live with that. I'm very comfortable using a mixture of GNOME and Xfce apps in this environment, going so far as to use Nautilus as a file manager if that's what works for me.

Even later: GNOME Shell does tap a lot of resources. On a higher-spec machine, the extra CPU it takes to run could very well be worth it. The Chromium web browser is eating a lot of CPU in any environment I use, but the added speed in Xfce -- just due to the absence of GNOME Shell -- is something you can definitely feel.

For now I'm using Thunar as my default file manager and Gedit as the default text editor. One thing I discovered (and which holds for this system in GNOME or Xfce) is that I can access servers via ftp/sftp in both Thunar and Nautilus but can only open files on those systems with Gedit. For some reason I can't use Gvim, Geany or Mousepad. I don't remember this being a problem in CrunchBang, Fedora, Xubuntu, or even other builds of Debian. There's something going on here that I should be able to fix, if only I knew how. Note: Adding gvfs-fuse did not help.