Why I’m considering switching to xfce

The recent release of Fedora 15 with the new Gnome 3 “Shell” has given many pause to think about the trajectory of the Linux desktop. Over in the Ubuntu community there are rumblings about the shortcomings of the Unity desktop environment meant to replace Gnome. Now the Fedora community has their own controversy over Gnome 3.

After thinking about it for awhile, I’ve decided to get ahead of the curve and begin experimenting with the lighter weight xfce as an alternative to Gnome on my current desktop.

So what is all the commotion about? I think it can be summed up in one new “feature” introduced in Gnome 3: the elimination of the minimize button. The developer’s purpose is not unreasonable, they want to promote the use of alternate desktops. Most distributions are set up out of the box with at least 4 desktops selectable using the “Pager” applet. If your workspace gets crowded you could just pop over to a clean one and open additional windows there.

But that isn’t how I, or apparently many others, work — and therein lies the problem.

This actually reminds me of a similar issue that came up in the transition to Gnome 2. The defaults for Gnome 2 eliminated the Terminal application from the (”right click”) Context Menu. This generated enough negative energy among users that it gave way to a modification that restored the functionality. Red Hat Enterprise Linux users were spared by things being sorted out before the next major release. I only became aware of the issue when I did a deep dive into Ubuntu for several months, and was happy to leave it behind upon returning to CentOS.

Although I was used to the enterprise version of Gnome, I continued to miss the convenience of being able to select all my applications from the context menu as I had when running older X desktops like fvwm back in the “good old days”. I had tried xfce, which had this feature, when CentOS 5 came out. But I stuck with Gnome mainly because I really wasn’t in the mood to master yet another desktop environment well enough to customize it to my taste.

Of course for some of us, the whole point of going to Linux on the desktop was to be able to do just that. The chance to learn something new and make our systems behave the way we preferred was the raison d’être for the Linux desktop to begin with.

And so I’ve now installed the xfce4 rpms from the CentOS Extras Repository and am now in the process of learning how to configure it.

Where things go from here remains to be seen. Be assured I’ll let you know when I get there.