Fedora 20: Hands on with five different desktops

Fedora 20: Hands on with five different desktops

Summary: I've been exploring Fedora Heisenbug in five different guises - Gnome 3, KDE, Xfce, LXDE and MATE


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  • Fedora Xfce

    This is the Fedora Xfce spin.  

    The first thing I noticed about it was that it does not include the Whisker Menu that is becoming popular with a lot of other Xfce distributions. The philosophy here seems to be about the same as I explained for the KDE spin - if you want Xfce, you get Xfce, and if you want more on top of that, it's easy enough for you to add it.  

    The second thing that I noticed was that the content of the Xfce panels has been grouped in the way that I have always preferred it on my netbooks. Large items with incorporated text are in the top panel, which spans the entire display; more compact items, strictly graphic icons with no text, are in the bottom panel and it is set to minimal size and auto-expands as necessary when items are added.  

    In the screenshot above, I have gone one step further and changed the icon panel to vertical orientation, and moved it to the side of the screen. Netbooks have limited display area (that's one of the things that makes them netbooks, duh), they have more horizontal space than vertical, and users tend to feel "cramped" or "limited" vertically rather than horizontally, so why not make the best possible use of the screen, give up horizontal space for the panels rather than vertical space.  Of course, the other thing I always do is auto-hide both panels, so they are not always consuming so much screen space.

    I also made a couple of other changes to the default Xfce desktop. First, I don't display desktop icons for removable filesystems.  This is a preference that is driven by my specific situation, because my systems tend to have anywhere from five to fifteen disk partitions (for other Linux installations), and that makes for a very cluttered desktop, which I really don't like.

    However, this means that I don't get desktop icons when I plug in USB sticks and such, so my second change is to add the mounted devices icon to one (or both) of the panels, so that I can still easily unmount/eject USB devices. Third, I add a shutdown icon to the side (originally bottom) panel, because I don't want to have to remember which one has that when I want to shutdown or reboot.

    Another useful functional difference with Xfce is that you can not only get to the menu hierarchy through the top panel Applications Menu button, you can get the same thing by right-clicking on the desktop background, as shown in the screenshot above.

    As for the specific content of this spin, the focus is obviously on keeping everything small and light:

    • Xfce 4.10
    • Midori 0.5.5 (lightweight web browser)
    • Claws Mail 3.9.2
    • Abiword 3.0.0
    • Pragha Music Player
    • Parole Media Player 0.5.2
    • Ristretto 0.6.3 (Image Viewer)
    • Geany 1.23.1 (Editor/IDE)
    • Yum Extender 3.0.13 (Software management)
    • Thunar 1.6.3 (file manager)

    That certainly fits with the "lightweight" philosophy, besides having minimal versions of pretty much everything, there's not even a spreadsheet or PDF viewer included in the base distribution! Of course you still have the option of adding what you want - LibreOffice, Firefox, PDF viewer, whatever, they're all available in the Yum Extender. So start with the base, and make what you want.

  • Fedora LXDE

    LXDE is another "lightweight" desktop, and like Xfce it has benefited from the recent turmoil in Linux desktops.  

    While Xfce has slowly added at least a few "bells and whistles", LXDE seems to have stayed much closer to its hard-core lightweight roots.  I have loaded this version on my Samsung N150 Plus, and I can tell you first hand that even on that old and rather underpowered (by today's standards) netbook, LXDE is still quite snappy.  As with the other spins, the base distribution that Fedora has put together also respects the lightweight philosophy:

    • LXDE
    • Midori 0.5.5 (lightweight browser)
    • Sylpheed 3.4.0b5
    • Abiword 3.0.0
    • Gnumeric 1.12.8
    • LXMusic 0.4.4
    • GPicView 0.2.1
    • Yum Extender 3.0.13 (software management)
    • PCmanFM 1.1.2 (file manager)

    As always, you can add whatever else you might want via Yum Extender (or yum CLI of course).

  • FedoraMATE

    Finally, this is the latest addition to the Fedora spins — a MATE desktop version, for those who still prefer the Gnome 2 desktop. This one strikes me as a bit odd, because it is so minimally equipped with additional packages. 

    I suppose that I see the difference as particularly stark because I was just looking at Linux Mint 16 MATE last week, and that is nearly identical to the Cinnamon distribution, whereas this one has almost nothing beyond the minimums necessary to get it running and useable:

    • MATE 1.6.1
    • Midori 0.5.5
    • Claws Mail 3.9.2
    • eye of Mate 1.6.1 (Image viewer)
    • Atril Document Viewer 1.6.1 (PDF)
    • Yum Extender 3.0.13

     As always, pretty much anything else you might want or need is available from the repositories via Yum Extender.

    Further reading

Topics: Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems

J.A. Watson

About J.A. Watson

I started working with what we called "analog computers" in aircraft maintenance with the United States Air Force in 1970. After finishing military service and returning to university, I was introduced to microprocessors and machine language programming on Intel 4040 processors. After that I also worked on, operated and programmed Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8, PDP-11 (/45 and /70) and VAX minicomputers. I was involved with the first wave of Unix-based microcomputers, in the early '80s. I have been working in software development, operation, installation and support since then.

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  • Thanks for the review! Xfce looks cool on Fedora

    ..... and the vertical icon panel has a rather amusing effect on the displayed user name. :-)

    I would like to see the Whisker menu (xfce4-whiskermenu-plugin) as default in Xfce. It's cool, modern and easy. Much slicker than the current Xfce default, which looks rather outdated. Maybe in Xfce 4.12?
    • I like Whisker too

      I also think Whisker is a superior menu for Xfce - more powerful, more flexible, more modern in both design and appearance. The standard Xfce menus are adequate, though, so the "just deliver the basic platform" strategy is still acceptable in this case. I will probably add Whisker to my Fedora Xfce system next, to see how that goes. So far I have only used it on distributions which came with it, I haven't actually installed it myself.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Fedora XFCE

    Fedora 19 XFCE was the first Linux distro that i could really get my teeth into. I tried it just to see what Linux was like in the modern era and loved it. Unfortunately, I migrated to Xubuntu (Ubuntu running on the XFCE desktop environment).

    I migrated to Linux just to speed up my computer so that it was usable and Fedora was my first choice above any other distro and, for that, it will always have a place in my heart.
    James Stevenson
  • 5 Desktops

    • It's called "choice".

      What's so funny about letting the user choose a desktop environment that suits him or her? It must be better than being lumbered with a desktop environment that you hate.
      • It's called "choice".

        Don't worry, he's the local Windows shill here to stir the pot.
      • It's called "choice".

        "It must be better than being lumbered with a desktop environment that you hate."

        Yup. And now there's a rumor that Windows 9 will be a yearly subscription so Micro$oft can suck even more money from their minions. They need to just open source that bloated, virus-ridden kernel and let real OS designers fix it.
  • Ah! The GNOME 2-Looking Desktop: MATE!

    I have not see anything like this in development in a long time. It's nice seeing a fork of GNOME 2 for those who prefer that same familiarity of yesteryears. :)

    I'm still enjoying Ubuntu Unity for a while due to the HUD and it works well with my Apple keyboard (I use a Command key as a Control key like Command+F for find or Command+L for Address bar in Chrome). I might be willing to try out GNOME 3.10 but I still prefer a Debian or Debian-based Linux distribution. I favor DEBs instead of RPMs. :) I also like the fact that my fingers can type /etc/network/interfaces which are pretty easy to access, especially in a server.
    Grayson Peddie
    • if you like good ol' Gnome2

      try Linux Mint or LMDE Mate desktop. I am running LMDE Mate + compiz on the 8-year old Dell dimension 510.
      Elegant and stable as rock. Those come with mintMenu as well, a pretty neat little desktop menu with a a very useful search function. Greenish Mint themes are quite good looking too.
      • Heh heh. Thanks.

        I'm going to stick with Ubuntu Unity as I'm looking forward to see what Ubuntu 14.04 has to bring, as I don't mind searching through Amazon or whatever services using a Dash. I can turn the selected services off if I want.

        I'm glad to have choices in terms of Linux desktop environments, though.
        Grayson Peddie
  • Desktops

    Nice review thanks!

    I personally love Mate and Cinnamon, and like KDE (except Konquerer), but still hat Gnome-3. It smacks of the Windows-8 80 square metre touch screen with clumsy icons the size of a house!
    • Gnome 3...

      I agree with you. I keep forcing myself to work with Gnome 3 on certain systems, because it's not going away anytime soon... but no matter how I try, I can't force myself to actually like it. In my personal evaluation, I would put it well above Unity, but that's about it.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • Have you tried gnome-shell-extensions?

        gnome-shell-extensions is very versatile. It can make Gnome 3 looks like Cinnamon, MATE and more.

        Btw, I seemed have problem with gdm login. In order to login, I have to zero password (by editing /etc/passwd). I was not able to come back from screen lock, even with zeroed password.
  • Gnome 3...

    I agree. I try to stay away from both but do keep using because they do not look like they are going anywhere. I do admit both have improved, or maybe I'm just getting used to them. But for me a simple XFCE or Openbox is the way to go.
  • Very appealing

    Not just any one desktop but the range of choices is really nice. It's been awhile since my UNIX workstation days, and I've only played around with Linux a little from time to time. Of course I've known people who will use nothing but Linux. It's really looking like I need to get into the Linux distros and find one that's right for me.
  • I love Fedora KDE

    It really shines in comparison with other KDE desktops available, precisely because it's so "vanilla" to the KDE community. I love how they thought of KDE alternatives to Office, Video, Audio, etc. and when many of these projects mature, we will enjoy both seamless integration and awesome goodies. In my opinion, Calligra > iWork, and it offers virtually the same integration.
    Gamaliel Lamboy
  • Zork is cool

    I just came across your post while I was trolling for info on Fedora 20.

    Zork is cool. Every try burning the book? No spoilers, here.

    I cut my teeth on adventure. I made it through Zork II with some help, but kind of lost interest with Zork III.
    First Dread Pirate Roberts
  • I live cinnamon

    Try cinnamon, is a new desktop on Fedora based based on gnome using a gnome-shell, it's very usable