Distro/desktop (s)hopping, part 2: XFCE

So since my Ubuntu installation was behaving idiotically I decided to stop delaying the unavoidable, and made a fresh install of Arch Linux on an spare disk. I completed the installation of the basic system in a couple of hours, but I could have finished way earlier if the neighbours didn't create so much interference with my Wi-Fi.

Even if people are tempting me with GNOME 3, arguing that it's not that bad!, I want to test by myself the other alternatives and see if I can work with them.

Since I can choose what I install, the system is a sort of lightweight Frankenstein:

  • ext3. Recent Ubuntu versions use ext4 by default, and I did use it for a while, but stopped doing so when I discovered that if the system crashed, some files got reduced to 0 bytes (that is: their contents were lost). Not nice! So I'm opting for the tradition here.
  • LightDM as login manager. This is the same that Ubuntu uses, and is based on WebKit so I can customise its appearance by editing HTML if I want to. But what is really interesting is that it's super fast, so the login screen shows up almost immediately after the X are started. Win!
  • I have only installed ALSA, and not PulseAudio, for the time being. I also set its daemon to load up asynchronously, so that speeds up a little bit the load process.
  • I'm using WiCD for managing my wireless connection. In the past I used NetworkManager but I wanted to try this one. It's slightly ugly compared to NetworkManager, but does its work spotlessly so I won't complain!
  • XFCE. It's very fast but also a bit rough, compared to GNOME2. Semiwin, read on for more on why!
  • Nautilus as File Manager. Thunar (XFCE's 'native' file manager) is very fast but doesn't have tabs. I also tried pcmanFM which does indeed have tabs, but it was slightly buggy.
  • Firefox. The current version packaged in Arch is 7, whereas the builds from source are already on 10. I used to build my own version with Ubuntu, every week or so, and I tried to do the same but it failed. Since I'm not yet used to the build process in Arch I decided I would just use the repo version for now. In any case, it starts up almost instantaneously. Win!
  • Chromium. The Arch repo doesn't include Chrome, but Chromium. It therefore doesn't have a Flash plug-in--but that's OK. I'm going to try and avoid using Flash as much as I can; the only problem I've found so far is that Google's StreetView requires Flash. I demand a WebGL version!
  • Talking about WebGL, I'm using the nouveau open source nvidia driver. I thought it was going to be problematic just by looking at their compatibility table, but so far I just got a WebGL issue, and I'm not sure if it's because of Chromium or because of the driver itself. We'll see when I experiment more with WebGL.
  • Graphics stuff: I installed GIMP (2.6) and Inkscape. I also installed the Save for web GIMP plug-in, which is pretty useful as you can choose to strip EXIF data, adjust the output size based on the compression level, etc... This is packaged in a set with more plug-ins in Ubuntu, but I had to compile it from source here, as it's not in Arch repositories. It wasn't difficult though, and allowed me to submit a documentation patch too, which is already merged into the project! I love github! ^^
  • For video, I'm using VLC, and for audio, Audacious. I learned today how to compile the XMP plug-in for Audacious straight from the GIT tree, so I can listen to tracked music (modules) with Audacious too. Yay!
  • For quick image viewing I installed Mirage. It's super fast but doesn't show EXIF data, so when I want to browse/view images with more detail I use gThumb, which I already used in Ubuntu. But the default is to open images with Mirage.
  • I also installed GNOME terminal, as I'm used to it. xterm was a bit too basic! Win if only because of the tabs!
  • And VirtualBox. I want to experiment with having a couple of virtual machines for certain things such as web development, so I can just fire it up when I need it, and the rest of the time I won't have an Apache daemon process waiting on the background (you can replace Apache with MySQL, nginx, etc... you get the idea). That way the system is very lean, and also I can copy the virtual machine to another computer and keep working without having to set up another environment! Therefore... double win!

So what do I think of XFCE after using it for a couple of days? Well, it's good that it's sooo fast, but it also feels excessively rough sometimes. Specially when editing or customising things such as panels I find myself right clicking on things and not really getting the sort of contextual menu I would expect to see.

I guess I've been spoiled by the Ubuntu eyecandy and now everything else feels ugly. The problem is that as these interfaces are GTK-based and whoever designed GTK themes apparently was high when doing it, making custom GTK themes is just so complicated that I guess you need to be on drugs too if you want to create a GTK theme. It's so unnecessarily confusing. So after trying to install the Ambiance theme from Ubuntu and not getting too far, I decided to just look for a very simple XFCE theme and see how it would work. At least is not punching my face every time I look at the screen, unlike other themes that I saw :-)

However I think I'll succumb and test GNOME 3 soon, because of two reasons:

  1. I found about about tint2, a GNOME panel. That alleviates my initial G3 reluctance.
  2. In theory G3 can be customised using Javascript. So maybe, only maybe, I could tweak it to my tastes (centered window titles, excessively padded windows and huge icons, I'm looking at you all!)

Meanwhile I've noticed my computer is way quieter than usual. Specially I hardly hear the hard disk--I literally have to look at the led to see if it's working or not. With Ubuntu it was considerably noisier, but it could be because it was fragmented --don't know! It's just a random fact that I've observed.

Previously on the Distro/desktop (s)hopping "saga": KDE. Next: we'll see! I'll update when it happens.