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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Sat, 05 May 2012

Xubuntu 12.04 with Xfce 4.8 - one giant leap and a mighty attractive desktop (revised)

So I'm in the live environment for Xubuntu 12.04, which aside from the ugly wallpaper (including every alternative wallpaper on the ISO image) is a great-looking and -working Xfce 4.8 desktop.

My main mission in running the live distro from a USB flash drive: Checking networked-filesystem support in the Thunar file manager.

So far I'm using FTP in Thunar to write this post. And I didn't need the Gigolo helper program to open the FTP site and create and save the file.

That's a win.

After a few false starts, I also got Thunar working for sftp connections.

Another win.

What I "forgot" to do originally when trying to start an sftp:// connection in Thunar was to specify the port number when I opened it up. Here's how I did it:

  • In Thunar, go to "Go" in the menu, then select "Open Location."
  • In the Open Location dialog, enter this:

sftp://yoursecureftpsite.com:portnumber

In my case, that port number is 2222, so it would be something like this (I'm using a "fake" URL for demonstration purposes; use your real URL and real port number to make this work -- I can verify that it does work -- and you don't need Gigolo!):

sftp://yoursecureftpsite.com:2222

  • Once you enter the sftp address with port number following the colon, you'll be prompted to OK the SSL certificate of the server.
  • If you trust that certificate, OK it. Then Thunar will open a window to your server via secure FTP, and you can use the file manager to treat that server like a native filesystem, sorting the files in Thunar and editing them with the application of your choice. I used Leafpad, as it is the default text editor in Xfce (and in Xubuntu).

As an aside, if there's a free-software application with a worse name than the GIMP, it has to be Gigolo. Awful.

While I was successful using Thunar to begin, use and maintain both FTP and SFTP connections, I couldn't start a WebDAV connection, secure or otherwise, with either Thunar or Gigolo. To solve this problem, I'm extremely confident that I could take care of it with the davfs package (which I'm using successfully in Debian Squeeze).

And Xubuntu sure looks good (excepting the awful-but-replaceable wallpaper).

I've looked at Xfce lately in Debian and Mint, and the menus and fonts don't look anywhere near as good as they do in this Xubuntu system.

I've also been impressed with Xfce in recent Fedora releases. Both Fedora and Xubuntu have been getting this particular desktop environment "right" from a design standpoint for years.

I only wish Xfce looked this good in Debian. I vaguely remember trying Xfce 4.6 on a Debian Wheezy system (very vaguely; I need to try it again), and it doesn't look as polished as it does here in Xubuntu 12.04.

How many of the cosmetic advantages in Xubuntu are due to this being Xfce version 4.8 rather than 4.6 I don't know. But I'd like to find out because this is a very, very nice desktop.

You can bet I'll be trying Xfce 4.10 when I see it in Debian Wheezy (if it makes it, and it probably will) and Fedora, not to mention the next Xubuntu release.

And for those Unity and GNOME 3 refugees out there, Xubuntu -- and any Xfce system, for that matter -- offers an actual application panel on the bottom of the screen. It's hidden until you mouse over it, but you can right-click on the panel itself and set it to persist on the desktop. I did this immediately. The application panel looks great with its nicely done transparency. And -- for me anyway -- it works better than what Unity and GNOME 3 are offering (that being poor and no panels, respectively).

Nice-looking menus, panels and fonts -- attention to detail -- make for a pleasant desktop experience. And not needing to do all the tweaking myself to make it happen is also, shall we say, pleasant.

Just to make sure I wasn't showering Xubuntu with too much praise, I loaded up Ubuntu 12.04 from a live USB flash drive. It's just not as nice as Xubuntu. I still don't have much love for Unity. It's awkward. I miss a real application menu. And why the file menu for individual application windows is stuck on the upper panel, I don't know.

Xubuntu addresses many of these problems.

Talking about applications, I'm a Thunderbird user, so seeing it as the default mail client in Xubuntu and Ubuntu is something I'm very much in favor of.

I also applaud inclusion of the Gthumb image editor in the Xubuntu default. I use it daily as my main photo-editing application, and it's nice to see it as the default in more than a few Linux distributions.

Though Abiword and Gnumeric support the "lightweight" philosophy of Xubuntu, one of the first things I'd do is ditch them and add the full LibreOffice suite. Debian manages to shoehorn LO (and formerly OpenOffice) into its Xfce and LXDE default desktops. That works for me, and I'd do the same here.

I'd also probably add Rhythmbox (as GNOMEish as it is) because it treats my 2005-era iPod so well.

One thing I like about the way Xfce is presented in Xubuntu and Fedora's Xfce spin is that there's enough GNOME in there to keep you from pulling what's left of your hair out. By that I mean you have a decent display manager (I'm partial to LightDM these days but have nothing against GDM), the essential-to-me NetworkManager, Synaptic Package Manager (in the case of Xubuntu) and other, smaller bits that I can't remember at the moment.

It generally takes a lot more tweaking to get things where I want them in Debian where Xfce is concerned. Not so with GNOME (which is why that's what I'm running in Debian Squeeze).

Again, this Xubuntu system is quite well-appointed. Give me FileZilla, OpenShot, Geany, Inkscape and Gpodder, and I'd be more than happy to stay in Xubuntu's world.