KDE Dev tries XFCE

KDE Dev tries XFCE

Ok, so, in my channel I tried a lot of different desktop environments, but I actually don't remember ever trying out xfce; which is terrible, considering that I think it's one of the most commonly used desktops, but also one of the most interesting ones. What am I looking forward, in particular, when trying xfce? Well, I do know that it's quite customizable (e.g. in the concept of panels and widgets) and I'd like to compare that kind of functionalities with what KDE offers, to see if there's anything to learn.

So, I booted up Xubuntu with the latest xfce, version something dot 18. As I usually do, let me start with the completely useless remarks: the default wallpaper looks pretty damn nice. No idea if it's a wallpaper from the xfce project itself itself or xfce, but actually I do think that they're an important part of making something feel more modern; and this stylish, minimalistic wallpaper does the trick.

I also see, by default, icons on the desktop. To be fully honest, I really love KDE's approach on the whole "icons on the desktop thing": we do not disallow them by default like GNOME does, however we don't really include any by default to keep things simply by default, yet powerful when needed. Personally, I would take off the (few) default icons that xfce includes. So, how easy are them to remove? Ok, fair enough, that wasn't too hard, and it's nice that you can just tick checkboxes to customize which icons you'd like to see.

Let's keep looking at the desktop settings for a bit more, maybe there's something interesting. Wallpaper-selection wise this window looks very similar to KDE's, though I will say that I'm proud that KDE displays also the name of the author, along the name of the wallpaper (both are missing on XFCE). You can do solid color, a slideshow, but that's about it; it seems like XFCE is lacking any kind of third party plugin for more complex wallpaper types, like "picture of the day". However, there is a function KDE does not have, and that is often requested: the ability to only apply the change to the current wallpaper.

And, now that I finally stopped bashing XFCE to praise KDE, let me also say that the "Window List Menu", that XFCE exposes on middle click, is pretty darn cool. It's quite customizable from the "Menus" section, and it shows the various workspaces and the windows open in all of them; this makes it a bit easier to switch between open windows and - though I would probably never use it - I appreciate the feature.

Let's get looking at the default application launcher. I'm actually easily pleased here: whatever app launcher allows me to just press "meta" and start typing for an app name, I'm happy with it. And I'm happy with XFCE's. Putting that aside, it looks like a completely normal application launcher with no particular additional functionality; though it does lack stuff that KDE Plasma has like recent files and frequently used applications, I actually never use those options anyway in KDE, so maybe it makes sense for XFCE not to spend time on them.

One thing I found interesting is that the settings buttons, instead of opening a settings applications, directly shows you all the settings sections within the application launcher itself; even including some like text editor settings. I'm not sure if I prefer this approach over just having a system settings application, but it is surely worth considering. Note, though, that technically KDE Plasma also exposes all the system setting sections in the app launcher if you e.g. search for them.

The top panel is slightly transparent, which makes me happy, but it does not seem to be blurry, which makes me less happy. Overall I'm positively surprised by the look of the desktop itself - wallpaper, panel, etc - but as soon as you open a window or a dialog the style still feels too outdated for me to like it - sorry! KDE Plasma used to feel extremely outdated to me as well when I first started using it, but since then it has improved a lot.

I'll move to the system tray now. The calendar it useful but quite minimalistic, and I do prefer the one included in KDE Plasma which does also show events. However, the month and year selection elements seem to be a bit more intuitive compared to KDE Plasma's.

I highly appreciate how XFCE managed to keep the volume, battery and notification applets extremely simple and yet hasn't sacrificed on features like other desktops have. You can still control the playback of applications per-application, and switch between audio input and outputs; and I do se the battery of my linked devices. Thumbs up on those.

I do not, instead, like the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth applets. They provide a lot of options and elements, with no visual hierarchy at all, and they just feel too confusing to parse visually. I would've preferred something that looks like less a menu and something that looks more like an applet. However, going with a brief look, it does seem like they might be slighly more powerful in feature compared to KDE Plasma applets.

Let's get to the thing that interests me the most: panel settings. What's in there? Firstly, right clicking any applet we immediately get a context menu option to remove that item. In KDE Plasma, instead, you have to get to the panel's edit mode and then hover (not right click!) on the applet you want to take off. Which is not as easy, but at the same time, you could argue that you really don't want to make accidentally removing widgets too easy. A similar discussion applies for the move button: it's exposed directly in the context menu in XFCE, whereas in KDE you first have to get to edit mode, and then you get to drag and drop things around.

Also, is this a bug? When I'm moving some applet around, the widgets I'm hovering keep blinking with blue colors. At first I thought it was some kind of grouping feature, but it seems like that's just the hover indicator for applets that either turns on accidentally or that should alway but on but turns off accidentally. Weird.

You also get a button to add new items (err, yeah, I keep saying applets and widgets, but XFCE calls them "items") to the Panels. When I do that, the whole panels gains a red outline that changes over time to kindly remind me what panel I'm editing (makes sense). The various items I can add are listed within an application, and I can select one and just click "add". I actually do prefer this approach of having a "normal" window compared to the sometimes-a-bit-shaky KDE sidebar, and you can even just drag-and-drop from the new items window to the panel itself. This is very nicely implemented.

Finally, we get to actual panel settings. We're able to create new panels, and delete them; for each panel, we have "horizontal", "vertical" and "deskbar" modes. The distinction between "vertical" and "deskbar" is actually quite interesting. "Vertical" preserves text and just draws it sideway, whereas "deskbar" switches to icons-only both for the task manager and for the system tray. Fair enough! However, I do not see any way to move the panel on the right or bottom side, which is quite weird. I don't know if I'm blind, or if it's not possible, or if it's not well exposed.

Oooh, there's a "Lock panel" button. Ok. Hear me out. Let me make a criticism of the desktop here. "Lock panel" doesn't really tell you what's going to happen. What that option used to do in KDE is that it stops you from being able to move items around, or remove them, and locks all panel properties. I think that makes sense. Here, however, the panel is locked by default - even though I just changed lots of stuff - and unlocking it makes a draggable thingy appear on the sides of panels. If I drag it, I can indeed move it to the bottom... or anywhere on the screen! I'm impressed by this ability of having "floating" panels - though to be fully honest I don't see the usecase - but the basic functionality of "moving the panel from a side to another side" is, as a result, extremely confusing.

We have auto-hide of the panel, which is nice, and you do have intelligent hide, which is yet another feature that KDE Plasma is missing and that is often requested by users. So, thumbs up for that! And, given how, uuh, not optimal KDE's auto-hiding is, I'm sure XFCE's auto hiding is better. You also get the option not to reserve space on the borders, and then you change the size of the panel, and then you can change the number of row - very interesting, since KDE doesn't have that. I had actually done a proof of concept implementation of multiple rows in KDE Plasma panel, but upon further discussion with the VDG we decided it was not worth it. Finally, you can change the "length" of the panel, along with a quite confusing "Automatically increase the length" option.

Overall, I think it's clear that XFCE panels are actually slightly more powerful compared to KDE Plasma's, but personally I did find their settings to be a bit too confusing for me; after playing with it a bit I could understand what the various options did, but many weren't intuitive as they - in my very humble opinion - should be. I'll admit, though, that it's quite fun to play with "floating panels" like this.

Finally, let me look at windows. I've alredy mentioned that I'm not a super big fan of the style, though I guess there are third party themes and such. I don't quite have the time to go through that today. Along the normal buttons to minimize, maximize and close windows, we also have a dropdown button that opens a menu of the window manager. Inside of it there are various options, some completely standard, some worthy of note: "Minimize other windows" is a nice feature that I never thought I'd need but I actually do, we do get "roll window up" and "roll window down" (called Shade in KDE), and you can move the window to different workspaces. There's no such thing, here, as the "KDE Window Rules" (a neat feature, if I may).

I went on to check some other stuff, like the actual settings and the appearance section, but I didn't see anything else that I think was particularly worth discussing. However, I'm surely wrong and I think lots of you people watching this video could tell me other XFCE staff that you think I, as a KDE dev and such, should be looking at. So, I leave XFCE with some mixed opinions: they do implement many nice features that KDE Plasma does not have, and we're talking about KDE Plasma, so it's a big deal; at the same time, I did find some places of the UI confusing and I stil feel like the look is too outdated for my tastes, though that's surely subjective (to make a more specific example, I cannot live with colorful icons in application toolbars and context menus. I just can't). Not bad, overall, really.

Of course, I mainly focused on the desktop and the panel because that's actually where I do most of my dev work. Oh, and about that, turn off ligths all of this - the channel, the kde involvement, and such - is really thanks to your support. I memberships with tiers on ko-fi and paypal, and you can donate through paypal or liberapay as well, all of that; and lots of you do, so thank you so much; same goes for Mal-uh-bull, who's also sponsoring the channel, and all of this makes sure that I can actually pay my bills regularly. I have big plans for this channel, and all of your support is making that possible.