Review: Xfce 4.13 Desktop Environment – A Noticeable Difference From Its Predecessor

Updated Apr 3, 2017Reviews
Featured Xfce 4.13 review

Other than that Xfce’s team appears to have done a marvelous job as to maintaining the current feature set, even during the process of migrating to a different underlying code base.

While other D.E.s had usually thrown away features, temporarily or for good, during their move between major toolkit versions, Xfce so far appears to have a different approach where porting their applications from GTK+ 2 to 3 isn’t detracting the features of the D.E..

Hence, every trait that was credited to Xfce’s right, up to version 4.13 is thus stands true in regards to 4.13 as well – Xfce’s speed and responsiveness are as good or even better than they used to be.

Nonetheless, with all the compliments it deserves, Xfce isn’t free from drawbacks and in the following section I shall address those.

Where Xfce Still Struggles

Deal Breaking Issues

Configuration per directory [mentioned in 4.12 review] is unfortunately still missing from Thunar file manager.

The ability of Thunar to “remember” that your Pictures folder, for example, should be displaying “icon view” with thumbnail sizes of 128×128, and your Documents folder should be displaying “detailed list” with thumbnail sizes of 48×48 – this feature has yet to be implemented.

Perhaps what’s even more discouraging than the fact that this highly useful feature is still missing from Xfce, is that there’s actually a bug report submitted to the developers about ten (10) years ago and yet, no progress has been made regards it so far.

Another issue that’s hard to swallow, again related to Thunar, is that Thumbnails are too small [mentioned in 4.12 review]. The default thumbnail sizes that goes with “icon view” mode by default are around 32×32 pixels.

Xfce 4.13: Thunar still isn't doing thumbnail previews properly

Xfce 4.13: Thunar still isn’t doing thumbnail previews properly

This makes thumbnails so tiny one has to use a magnifying glass in order to make anything out of the previews. On the other hand, increasing icon sizes to their maximum, which is about 128×128, makes all files and folders that has no valuable preview seem ridiculously large and taking up too much space out of one file manager’s row.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a bug report filled against thumbnails sizes too, yet so far, to no avail.

Lastly, I’d like to bring up the issue of search in Thunar file manager. Although I’ve disregarded it in the last review, and even though there is a way to circumvent it, I currently feel that the workaround no longer cut it and that a more standardized solution, in the form of a plugin or a built-in search feature in Thunar, must be present.

All modern file managers already incorporate a search function for years now and it’s becoming high time that Thunar shall get one too. Especially in light of the current solution relies on the aging catfish tool.

Niche Shortcomings

Mousepad support for SSH editing is simply not good, it’s especially noticeable when opening and editing 2 or more files on a remote server.

On the other hand, “The Mousepad Mission”[2] specifies that it isn’t meant to be used as a “development environment”, while at the same time Xfce does not have another tool in its code-base that do supplies a development environment.

Only the default theme actually adheres to modern design principles such as Fitts’s law for instance. If you’re using any other theme besides the default Xfce theme, here are a few good design points you can check it for:

  1. Does a resize handle exists in all 4 corners of a non-maximized window?
  2. Are all these handles are relatively easy to grab?
  3. When a window is maximized, can you click on the extreme edge of the screen, at the corner where the window’s close button is, and close the window that way? Or do you need to move the mouse a few pixels towards the screen’s middle area in order for the window to close?
Xfce 4.13: Arc theme's bottom left corner is hard to grab

Xfce 4.13: Arc theme’s bottom left corner is hard to grab

These points may all seem like trifles, however, when encountering them on a daily basis they can easily amount to having a significant impact.

Moreover, if you’ll take the time to test all these points in other modern desktop environments, Linux ones: KDE Plasma, GNOME Shell, and non Linux ones: Microsoft Windows, Apple’s Mac OS, you’ll find that all accommodate the above.

And besides, every successful design paradigm is based on the foundations of both visual appeal and usability are equally important.

Final Thoughts

Xfce 4.13 is definitely an improvement over its predecessor, the added opengl implementation to xfwm compositor, removes at least one “deal breaking” blocker off of the venerable D.E.. Hence users who have loved Xfce so far has no reason to shun from 4.13. And users who have shunned it thus far, might finally find that they have a good reason to embrace it.

Having said that, Xfce’s weakest point remains, still, its feature set, especially in comparison to other modern desktop environments (not necessarily Linux ones either), whereas the softest spot in that regards is Thunar, which must receive some urgent love.

Users who have strong preferences towards performance – note that in this regards performance doesn’t imply merely being low on resources, rather, it’s the combination of being lightweight and fast while still providing with a usable working environment – this type of performance seeking users might find Xfce to be the embodiment of efficiency and usefulness at their finest.