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:



EXT4 is improving the Linux experience

March 6, 2009

It’s a universal truth that all PCs are slow. All of them, no matter the hardware, no matter the OS, they’re slow. The faster it goes, the faster we want it to go. It’s never enough.

Now, when it comes to speed, Windows doesn’t offer much. XP is rather speedy but ancient. Vista is new and so slow it couldn’t catch up to a crippled 100-year old turtle on a hot day. 7 promises to address this issue, but it doesn’t exist yet.

Linux is slow too. Take Ubuntu, or OpenSuse, or Mandriva. They’re certainly faster than Vista, but compared to XP, not so much. And don’t get me started on booting, because Windows always has had the advantage there.

That’s why distributions always promise to be faster the next release, or why Red Hat/Fedora are developing Plymouth (which should make booting faster and more attractive).  I must say I never noticed much difference between releases. Real speed umprovements for me came from using Arch, which is compiled for i686 computers, or ditching Gnome/KDE for lighter alternatives like Openbox.

Enter ext4. I timed some actions on the new XFCE install on my test-system, and to my surprise it’s faster than the IceWM install on another partition on the same PC…which shouldn’t be possible. They’re both Arch, and while XFCE is claimed to be lightweight, it’s still a DE and not a WM like IceWM. Yet, XFCE was faster, not by a big margin, but faster nonetheless.
Then, I started to measure boot-times. In a previous article I compared the boot-times of the IceWM install with those of an XP-install on a laptop, so I knew it booted around 52 seconds. That’s the time from pushing the main button to a fully loaded desktop.

The XFCE install booted in 36.5 seconds. That’s a huge difference, and it has nothing to do with XFCE.

In short, the ext4 filesystem made a DE outperform a WM, and that’s something special indeed. I’ve been using Linux for over 5 years now, and never before has a technology appeared which makes that much of a difference, speedwise.

The only downside is that I had installed and configured my main system just before the latest Arch Linux ISO was released…which means it’s still ext3. And I really don’t feel like going through all that configuration again.