As a result of my many months without an internet connection, my old machine hadn’t been updated in forever. It runs Arch Linux, which means a regular (or even daily)
pacman -Syu is needed. So it was with a sense of dread that I dried that yesterday…and I was right. A 650+ MB download, many major packages (kernel, xorg) needed an update, many others had been replaced by packages with other names, there were conflicts all over the place…so in the end, I simply didn’t go through with it. The risk of breaking things beyond repair was simply too great. I’ll keep the system as-is, since it’s only used by my 7-year old son anyway, and he doesn’t mind when things are out of date.
Instead I grabbed the latest Arch Linux ISO, and installed it on another partition. This machine is a tiny bit underpowered compared to my main system (AMD Athlon 1800 CPU, 512MB of memory, and a crappy nVidia nForce4 compatible integrated video chip), so I went for lightweight and speedy. That meant, of course, Arch, but also ext4 and the latest XFCE. Yes, XFCE isn’t the lightest solution I could have gone for. It’s no awesome, or evilwm, or even Openbox, but I was curious about the new 4.6 release, and I wanted to keep things relatively easy.
While I hit some snags along the way, it must be said that they were Arch snags, not XFCE snags. For example, upon logging the first time I had no icons at all. None. This was more than annoying (or ugly), it prevented some applications from opening, like Thunar. To make things even more complicated, XFCE 4.6 does have a problem with it’s default icon theme, but it was unrelated to my problem. In the end, I was able to fix it.
I must say that, for the short time I was able to browse around XFCE 4.6, I rather liked it. The menu layout is simple and easy, as are the various configuration modules. I could easily switch GTK-themes and icons, turn on subpixel hinting, change the mouse pointer icons…I’ve seen both major DEs do worse when it comes to basic configuration.
Beyond that, I can’t tell you much. I’ve installed Midori, a Webkit based browser, but both Midori and Webkit are still in heavy development so it kept crashing. Kazehakase was just as fast and much more stable. An icon in the panel starts the default browser, and I was pleasantly surprised that it kept up with the change in browsers: after uninstalling Midori it asked me again what the default browser was, and Midori had disappeared from the list. In other words, exactly what it’s supposed to do.
It felt snappy too. How much of this is due to ext4, and how much of it’s due to XFCE I couldn’t tell, but it didn’t feel slower than IceWM on an ext3 partition on the same machine. I’ll try some objective benchmarks tonight and compare them with the ones I took last year.
Overall, I’m impressed. I haven’t hit a show-stopper yet. The icon thing is annoying and a bit amateur-ish (the part that’s due to XFCE’s default theme not being ready for 4.6), but it’s easily solved by installing another icon theme. Otherwise, nothing yet. Finger’s crossed.