Arch + XFCE: The perfect Desktop (for now)

July 24, 2010

In the past week I’ve used Ubuntu 10.04, Mint 9, and Arch + GNOME, but Arch + XFCE seems to beat all of those.

While Ubuntu and Mint are both excellent, and very user-friendly, they both had a problem with Rhythmbox import errors. Basically every song with a strange character in the name (e.g. Alizée – A quoi rève une jeune fille) gave an import error, even though it was imported correctly. Switching to Banshee didn’t help much: it only found 214 songs out of close to 7000. Mint, being Ubuntu based, did the exact same thing.

Banshee in Arch found my collection just fine, but with GNOME startup took way too long. There’s still some kind of issue there, because I’ve had the same problem since 2.26. Arch with XFCE proved to be the winner though, being fast, functional and beautiful, all at the same time. Some things take a bit more time to configure, like multimedia keyboard button shortcuts, which should have worked out of the box with banshee, but didn’t, things like that. Nothing major.

Pacman has had a recent upgrade, and now seems to be even faster, and there are some improvements when you want to install a local package. Definitely still the best package manager out there. Chromium, Banshee, Emelfm2, Comix, Audacious, Transmission and Brasero were quickly installed, which only left a good twitter client. I enjoyed using Gwibber in Ubuntu, but in Arch it isn’t available in the official repositories. It’s in the AUR, but required a 100+MB download and…left me with a blank screen. I enjoy using Tweetdeck in Windows, but while it worked fine in Ubuntu, it doesn’t in Arch. Again, it’s only available via the AUR, and for me, it simply didn’t work. Pino came to the rescue, but again, it’s not available in the official repositories. All in all, I don’t get the impression that the Arch devs and packagers are big twitter fans 🙂

I’ve also grown fond of Docky lately. For some reason, I always resisted using a dock, probably because my few experiences with Mac OSX weren’t that positive. However, I realised that what I like about Windows 7’s taskbar are it’s dock-like abilities, so I tried out Docky. Now I don’t know how to live without it. It does require compositing to be on (not a problem these days, easily switched on in XFCE, GNOME and KDE), in order to have some eye candy, but things remain discreet and tasteful. On IntelliHide it provides a bit more screen estate, which is nice.

Configuring GDM’s layout and background isn’t that easy these days, and the Arch Wiki article didn’t work for me, so I switched it for LXDM. I read on the forums it may be unstable, but it has been working like a dream on my Lubuntu netbook, so I wasn’t nervous about giving it a try here. Big plus: the configuration file is plain text, so changing the background and GTK theme was very easy.

It’s in my nature to keep changing my desktop, because I get bored easily and can’t resist shiny new software. But I’m very happy with this. For now.

Obligatory screenshots:

San

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Banshee: beyond the first looks

June 15, 2008

I’ve seen a lot of articles lately about the release of Banshee 1.0, the Gnome music player “written in C# on the Mono platform using GNOME technologies” (from the website). For some people the mono platform alone would be reason enough to bash Banshee, but I don’t care about that. I do get curious however when people claim that Banshee will replace Rhythmbox as the default Gnome media player on their system. I’ve used Rhythmbox. It’s pretty good. I was curious what Banshee had to offer.

Actually, quite a lot. The list of features is too long to sum up here, but I can see why Rhythmbox-users would install Banshee instead. There are a lot of interesting features here, like the beautiful last.fm integration, the play queue, and the expanded search functionality. I’m just naming a few that are interesting to me.

But if you look past that, I have some serious issues with Banshee. First of all, there’s the size. Installing this on my (openbox) Arch system meant a whopping 175MB install, and that’s with gstreamer and gtk already installed. Most of that is of course the Mono dependancy. But still, Rhythmbox and Exaile take a lot less room. Even Amarok, which had to grab qt and kdelibs didn’t take so much room after the install.

Furthermore, while last.fm works just fine, many other internet radios won’t play. I like to listen to a couple that are difficult in any player (one doesn’t even want to play in mplayer), but it’s a bit embarassing for Banshee to get its butt kicked by Amarok, Rhythmbox and Totem in that regard.

Also, Banshee’s configuration is confusing, beginning with adding your files. Just putting the right directory in Preferences doesn’t do anything. “Import Media” gives you a choice of “Personal directory”, “Local directory” and “Local Files”, but selecting one of those three doesn’t seem to make a difference. It’s only until you click “Import Media source” that you notice that the two last options make a file dialog appear.
Maybe I’m an exception here, but I like my configuration to be in one, central place called Preferences. Lately there’s a trend of scattering configuration everywhere. Sometimes it works (the last.fm configuration is very logical: you click the last.fm icon, it says you don’t have an account yet, and asks for your login and password), sometimes it doesn’t (by the same logic, clicking the play button should bring up a dialog saying you don’t have a library yet).

Finally, Banshee provides a link to the wiki in the Help menu, but the website itself promptly informs you that it’s obsolete. It doesn’t inspire much confidence, and it gives the impression that Banshee was released half-ready.

All in all, it’s still not the GTK-media player I’m looking for, and it still doesn’t beat Amarok as the best media player in Linux. It’s decent enough, and offers more features than Rhythmbox, but the raving reviews are a bit puzzling to me.

San