As one of the lightweight Linux desktop environments, Xfce is a popular choice for those looking to keep their Linux systems as minimal as possible. But given that there are so many different choices available for Linux, why would you choose something as simple as Xfce? Let’s jump right into this Xfce review and take a look at user experience, performance, some notable features, and see if Xfce is the right DE for you.
Personally, I think the stock Xfce without any customization is difficult to watch and use. There are a lot of distros out there that heavily customize Xfce and make things a little more fun to watch, but I simply don’t care about the vanilla Xfce. systems, Xfce is quite lively and brings old machines back to life. This is generally the idea behind Xfce – fast and light. It cuts down on the fat brought in by certain office environments and aims to keep things thin and mean.
User experience varies greatly depending on the customization of Xfce. With vanilla Xfce, there is a dock with launchers at the bottom of the screen, a system tray with clock, calendar, notifications and network applets, and in the upper left corner there is an Applications menu with access to all your applications.
The experience of using Xfce makes you feel a bit like you are missing out on something because it seems so simple and easy to take at face value. Some distributions customize Xfce in a way that makes things much easier to use.
A good example of this is Xubuntu 20.04, which includes a search feature in the app menu to make it easier to find apps. In addition, some applications integrated into Xfce give it an interesting advantage over other DEs.
Catfish is a file search tool that allows you to search not only for files, but also the contents of files. You can search for all your Bash scripts by typing
#!/bin/bash, or you can search your files for keywords that you know are there. I have created a sample file with the word “Catfish” used several times, and you can see that after checking the box to find the contents of the file, I am able to find this file. Catfish is almost instantaneous and makes finding your files much easier.
Thunar File Manager
Thunar is the default file manager for Xfce. It’s usually pretty straightforward, but there is a lot you can do to configure Thunar. You can change things like single or double click to open items, configure folders in the sidebar, and custom actions to open a terminal or run commands. However, one of the best things about Thunar is all the plugins you can use.
Thunar plugins are designed to extend the functionality of Thunar with convenient features such as calculating hashes, volume management, and Dropbox context menus. Since Thunar and Xfce are so light on resources, the functionality of the plugin is quite remarkable, and it’s a great way to bring more “full” functionality to something so simple.
Xfce is so light that it’s not always immediately obvious how easy it is to customize it. You can control workspaces, window decorations, global themes, icon themes, screen savers, and more right out of the box. Plus, there are tons of configuration options for different apps, letting you configure things like your terminal and Thunar without having to search to find it.
Applications such as Appearances and Window Manager give you the ability to customize the basic appearance, but you can also change panel elements on your system and add, remove, or edit panels and applets within panels.
If you’re looking for more appearance options than what comes with Xfce, there’s a great website dedicated to making things look pretty called Look Xfce. You can download new icon themes and new window themes, and there are plenty of options available. If you can’t find what you are looking for on Xfce Look I would be surprised.
As I said before, Xfce is incredibly skinny. An Xubuntu 20.04 virtual machine with 2 GB of RAM and access to 2 virtual processors runs at 421 MB of RAM and 1% CPU utilization. Xfce is one of the lightest DEs, making it a great choice for older or less powerful hardware. Even in this virtual machine environment, things seem fast and responsive, and configuring keyboard shortcuts to align windows to a tiled position is a great way to keep things close to the keyboard.
Quarter mosaic is also an option, but it doesn’t work quite the same as quarter mosaic in a DE like Cinnamon. You have to define specific keyboard shortcuts to insert tiles in the corners, which is not too difficult.
Overall, performance on Xfce is something I would highly recommend to anyone looking for nothing but performance.
The disadvantages of Xfce
This slim, high-performance nature of Xfce comes at a price. Xfce tends to be a bit too simple. There is no overview of the workspace or exhibit, which is handy when multitasking. the
xfdashboard the command and app technically provide a way to do this, but it doesn’t integrate well with the rest of the desktop and looks clunky.
Plus, for those who don’t feel the need to customize the experience, Xfce can be a mixed bag. Some distributions really take the time and effort to customize their Xfce implementations, but other distributions come with a standard implementation that leaves a lot to be desired. If you are looking for something rather original, Xfce can be hit or miss.
Where to discover Xfce
As stated above, Xfce can be a mixed bag. There are three main distros where I recommend you experience Xfce to see what options are available and what style you like. The first of these is Xubuntu 20.04.
Xubuntu gives a great implementation of Xfce without too many bells and whistles. There is a great elementaryOS style about it, but it maintains a separate Xfce workflow. It’s sleek, simple, and beautiful, while also being easily replicable if you like things. There are healthy defaults, plenty of options available to tweak things, and you don’t mind.
MX Linux is a less common distribution with a strong cult following. It is based on Debian, but it implements a beautiful Xfce desktop which is a bit more personalized than on Xubuntu. MX Linux keeps that light and minimalist air on its Xfce implementation while adding more user-friendly features.
EndeavorOS is a distribution intended for a more experienced user, but it is not unreasonable to use it as a beginner. It’s based on Arch, which is sort of a “trial by fire” distribution, but EndeavorOS adds some useful functionality on top of Arch and creates a great Xfce implementation that stays minimal while putting you in control.
Who should use Xfce
One of the best things about Xfce is that it’s flexible enough for everyone. Whether you’re a GNOME user looking for something lighter, someone with an old machine struggling with heavier desktop environments, or just looking to keep things simple, I can’t recommend enough Xfce. It will serve you well, and with just a little bit of customization and adjustment, it can look and perform the way you want it to.
Now that you know Xfce, be sure to check out our other Linux desktop reviews on GNOME Shell, KDE Plasma, and Cinnamon, and explore some of Xfce’s rich customization options with these five great terminal themes and learn how to configure Xfce on Arch Linux.
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