posted by Rahul Gaitonde on Mon 10th May 2004 18:41 UTC

"XFce review, Page 3/3"

7.) The File Manager, XFFM

XFce comes with its own file manager, xffm. This is one unusual animal. Although vastly improved from its predecessors in XFce versions 3.x, it's still raw. It gives the feel of being a cross between the Rox file manager, and Midnight Commander. To be fair, it's got a few nifty features. The first one is the ablility to browse your local Windows network. It displayed all Windows computers on my LAN accurately, but was unable to list/browse any share. The impressive part was, neither did I configure my workgroup name, nor was smb/nmb running!

Another cool feature which actually works, is the ability to browse the entries in your fstab file. Just click the fstab icon, and mount/browse your CDROM, floppy, Windows partitions, and more. Very innovative feature, I must say! There's a built-in find feature and a bookmarks area (called "Books").

Xffm can also find differences between files, switch between icon/columnar view, display disk usage by a particular file/directory... in short, it's got a lot of features that are scattered in numerous places - on toolbars, in menus; there's no consistency and it gives me the feeling of being a patchwork of features rather than a complete application. Xffm is very promising, but needs a lot of polishing before it can match Konqueror (which I personally feel is the God of all file managers), or even the "spatial" Nautilus from Gnome 2.6.

8.) Keyboard shortcuts

Here is another area which is very important to me - keyboard shortcuts. Like most users of UNIX and its derivatives, I use the keyboard a lot, and prefer launching common applications and changing frequently-changed settings via the keyboard. I've also been spoilt by IceWM, which had great built-in support for keyboard shortcuts.

You might be put off initially by what the XFce FAQ has to say about its support for keyboard shortcuts:

"Although xfwm4 was not designed as a general keyboard handling application you can define 10 keyboard shortcuts. If you need more consider using a specialized application like xbindkeys".

For window-manager-specific settings, such as maximising/minimising/restoring windows, moving them about with the keyboard, I did what XFce's FAQ told me to, but also accepted their suggestion to use xbindkeys. Just how I went about installing, configuring, customising and using xbindkeys is another issue altogether!

I accept their argument about xfwm4 not being a keyboard handling application. Strictly speaking, that's not part of what a window manager's supposed to do. But then I wish the developers would come up with a keyboard-handling component, say, xfkeys4 or something like that, which could be started up from within the initialisation script. Something that mimics the functionality of, say, bbkeys. Having some rudimentary keyboard handling capacity in xfwm4, and imposing an arbitrary limit of 10 shortcuts is not the way to go.

The XFce FAQ describes how to create a personal key theme:

$ mkdir -p ~/.themes/xfwm4/custom.keys/
$ cp /usr/share/xfwm4/themes/default.keys/keythemerc ~/.themes/xfwm4/custom.keys/
$ vim ~/.themes/xfwm4/custom.keys/keythemerc

The file format is pretty simple: a number of name=value pairs, one pair per line. The names for the shortcuts are pretty descriptive, like maximize_window_key. So are the names for the keys. Watch and learn is the mantra.

Then open the window manager settings dialog, go to the 'keyboard and focus' tab and choose your new key theme.

9.) Eye-candy!

XFce looks good! It comes with over 60 window decorations and over a dozen GTK2 themes, including a GTK2 XFce theme engine. Choose "Window Manager" from within the XFce Settings Manager to change the Window Decorations, and "User Interface" to change the theme (for all GTK2-based apps - which is why gnome-panel blends in with XFce). There are also a few icon themes to choose from, most notably the Bluecurve, Gnome, Crystal and Freeicon themes.

10.) Getting Help

The folks developing XFce have done a fine job with their documentation. The local docs, installed with the XFce4 Fedora RPMs, are in file:///usr/share/ XFce4/doc/C/index.html. There is an XFce4 User Guide plus manuals for each of the XFce4 components. These same docs are available online here. If you really like XFce and want to stay in touch with any new developments, you've got two options - join one of their mailing lists, or read the developers' weblog.

11.) Concluding...

So there you are. I hope this article's got enough in it to get your started on your own Quest of Discovery of XFce 4. The XFce developers have now put together an API for programming XFce applications. Let's hope that this matures enough so that XFce develops a wider developer base, and consequently (due to better, more integrated applications), a wider user base.

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Table of contents
  1. "XFce review, Page 1/3"
  2. "XFce review, Page 2/3"
  3. "XFce review, Page 3/3"
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