22 Nov 2011

Mousetrap in a Hat: Fedora 16 XFCE

I have already written about recent release of Fedora 16 several times. These were reviews of Fedora 16 GNOME in Live mode, Fedora 16 KDE in Live and installed modes.
Probably it would be enough for now.
But OpenSuSE team has released version 12.1 too, and this is something I'd like not to write about. That's why I prefer to "stay tuned" to Fedora wave, and try another spin of this distribution. This time my choice is Fedora 16 XFCE.
This spin "aims to be fast and lightweight, while still being visually appealing and user friendly". Let's check if this is true. How lightweight is it, and how user friendly?
To check this out, I downloaded ISO image from torrent. It weights about 625 Mb, which is just a little bit more than GNOME3 version. Why? I'll tell you later.
As previous KDE version of Fedora, I decided to try Fedora 16 XFCE using Live USB stick. It was created with Unetbootin tool.
So, USB stick is ready and plugged into the port of my Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Pi 1505 laptop. Reboot. Choose to boot from USB. Let's go!

Fedora 16 XFCE boots into already familiar desktop with wallpaper featuring image with motives from 20000 Leagues Under the Sea book. But this time it is XFCE desktop, and XFCE itself is of version 4.8, latest stable release of this desktop environment.
Desktop itself was cluttered with lots of icons, most of them were links to partitions on my laptop. Why they were so many? Because many icons were links to the same partition or USB device I used to boot! Not a very nice view for the newcomer, I'd say. And even Fedora apologist would be disappointed with this mess.
Different XFCE-oriented distributions have slightly different default placement of panel on the desktop, and Fedora 16 XFCE places it on the top of the screen. Left part of the panel has button called "Application menu" with XFCE (not Fedora) logo on it. From my perspective, text is unnecessary here, or can be much shorter, as it is waste of space on the panel. Of course, this can be easily fixed by right-click on the button and editing the preferences of it. That's what I've done. Another button on the left is for leaving options - log out, restart and so on. Quite useful item I should say.
Right part of the Fedora panel has switch between 4 virtual desktops, clocks and 3 usual icons: network connections, power options and volume.
Clocks again showed me New York time, as they thought my computer clocks were set  as UTC and adjusted time to default Fedora timezone. That's Fedora standard, so no offence to XFCE team.
I also tried to add Quicklauncher applet to the panel. It gives you an option to add multiple lines of shortcut's icons to the panel. Yes, it works. But unfortunately, for me the design of this tool is less appalling to me than it's analogue (QuickLaunch) in KDE.
Other than panel at the top, Fedora 16 has small dock at the bottom. It has links to file manager, terminal, browser, application search, home folder and "show desktop" option. By default this dock always stays visible, which wastes a lot of useful space when application is maximized. Non-maximized windows can use space on the dock line, and dock itself always stays atop.
Default desktop wallpaper, as I have already mentioned, is shared between all Fedora 16 spins. Other than this wallpaper, XFCE spin has some XFCE-centric images. But none of them is even close to the quality of default one. There is an additional issue here: once you chose different wallpaper, save and exit, the default one goes from the list. You can't get it back easily. At least, I did not find this option.

As in previous Fedora spins, WiFi card of my laptop (Intel 3945ABG) was recognised and automatically configured by Fedora 16 XFCE. My home network was listed as available. Few usual steps to configure security, and I am connected.

Adding Russian layout to keyboard in Fedora 16 XFCE was an easy task again. As usual in XFCE, it was done unusual way: from the end. First, I added Keyboard Layout icon on the panel, and then configured it to have several layouts and keyboard switch between them.

Default browser in Fedora 16 XFCE is Firefox 7. Also Midori is included in Internet section. Other applications here are Transmission, Claws Mail, Pidgin and Liferea feed reader. Not a big choice of additional applications, I'd say, but why 2 browsers? That is something different from other Fedora brothers and sisters, where only one browser is given, being it Firefox in GNOME or Konqueror in KDE spins.
Actual menu structure of Fedora 16 XFCE has some differences from other systems. For example, it has items like Education and Programming. Each of them has only one item actually. Programming contains Geany, and Education contains... very strange selection, I should say... Gnumeric! Yes, this is spreadsheet application from GNOME office.
As you could already understand, Fedora 16 XFCE brings the Office tools to user. Other than Gnumeric, which can also be found in Office part of menu, this menu item has AbiWord, Orage Globaltime, Orage Calendar, Claws Mail and Dictionary. Not a bad selection actually. And this partially explains why ISO image size of XFCE is bigger than GNOME3 version.
Another menu item which is unique to Fedora 16 XFCE spin is Documentation. This part of menu contains links to XFCE help files, Fedora release notes and also to Quick Tip function.
In contrast to Internet and Office menu items, Graphics section is rather empty. It only contains PDF and Image viewers. Neither image editor, nor screenshot tool exists here.
Actually screenshot tool exists in Fedora 16 XFCE, but it is placed in different part of menu: Accessories. Apart from screenshot, this menu lists Leafpad text editor, calculator, notes, archiver and many other useful small programs.
Multimedia section of Fedora XFCE menu contains applications whose names won't tell much to majority of Linux users: Quod Libet (this is multimedia player), Cheese (web camera tool), Ex Falso (file / tags renamer). From more or less well-known applications I'd mention Pulse Audio volume control, Parole media player and xfburn.
System part of menu contains usual applications like bug reporting tool, terminal, Thunar file manager, GParted. Also, Gigolo is here. It is a tool to mount external drives, which I am interested in.

I first wrote about Gigolo in my review of Salix OS. This tool worked wonderfully in "older" version 13.1.2, but failed to work in Salix 13.37. Unfortunately, this time I also had issues with Gigolo in Fedora. It too much wanted to get password for my network drive, which is not password protected. That's why I decided to mount network drive the usual way: via terminal. Of course, it worked fine, even with Russian characters.
Once mounted, I tried to play MP3 music from remote drive, but Parole player in Fedora 16 only gave me error that it "could not read from resource". Attempt to open file from local drive gave me more clean explanation that I don't have a decoder installed.
As usual, rpmfusion repository has to be activated in order to get multimedia working in Fedora.

Add/Remove Software tool of Fedora 16 XFCE initially does not list any software package at all. It is just an empty frame for (I believe) wonderful picture. Visually it is the same tool as in other Fedora spins.
After update I saw frame filled in with proper contents. I believe that contents of default repository does not differ between different Fedora versions, so I'd send interested readers to my other reviews.
Fedora 16 XFCE with Parole, Midori
and Quicklauncher panel

What I will mention here is that when RPMfusion was activated, I was able to install GStreamer package with all its components assembling name of famous film (The Good, The Bad and The Ugliest). Having them installed, Parole still refused to play music from remote drive, claiming it cannot open file from that location. Quod Libet did not complain. And did not play either. Although, I was able to play MP3 files from local drive with Parole.

Does Fedora 16 XFCE prove its aim "to be fast and lightweight, while still being visually appealing and user friendly"?
Yes and no.
Yes, system is very lightweight and responsive. Most programs start for less than 2 seconds when running from USB drive. That's truly amazing result! Gnumeric in 2 seconds? Firefox in 2 seconds from coldstart? Yes, that's possible! Fedora 16 XFCE proves it.
But at the same time there are some bugs which stop me from recommending to run Live version of Fedora 16 XFCE for beginners: mess on initial desktop, issue with playing of MP3 files from remote location, disappearance of default wallpaper. Especially first one is quite significant bug which can disappoint user who sees Linux for the first time. Most likely, these bugs don't exist in installed version, but you still need to run Live version before installation, unless you use specific installation (non-Live) ISO image.
Generally, I would say that Fedora 16 XFCE is good, but not ideally polished operating system, as opposite to KDE and GNOME spins.

If you want to try Fedora 16 (GNOME, KDE or XFCE), or maybe any other distribution, yourself, why not get your own disk using service from our sister site Buy Linux CDs? They can deliver your disk to virtually anywhere in the world!

Useful links:
Another review of Fedora 16 XFCE by Martin


  1. opensuse is a better distro.

  2. @Anonymous:
    No doubt, it is better for somebody. Not for me.

  3. Linux Mint XFCE is better than any other XFCE distro

  4. @Anonymous:
    I tried Linux Mint XFCE and even ran it for some time on my laptop. It's decent OS. But it was demolished. It was replaced with Salix XFCE. That one was demolished too. I am still in research of best XFCE distribution. I found my best GNOME and KDE ones, so the question is in XFCE only. 8-)

  5. Not sure if it's the best XFCE from everyone's perpective, but for me #! Statler XFCE is, has the lowest of ram usage among all distros on cold boot, about 67 to 70mb. I've not found any other distro coming close to it. Everything else is quite snappy as well. I'm also in the quest for the best XFCE (non Debian since i already have #! :-) that will satiate my taste and i think i'll settle down with Vector 7.

  6. And not to forget Arch, for me hands down it's the best distro. Was a long time Mint fan until Arch won me over.

  7. Looks like discussion turns into "What is the best XFCE distribution" way... Do you want a vote like this?

  8. The disappearing wallpaper is actually a Xfce issue, not Fedora's fault, it happens in all distributions. You are supposed to navigate to where you have your backgrounds and load it from there. Usually /usr/share/wallpapers or maybe in your home directory if you keep your collection there, or a link to it, like me.

  9. @Barnaby:
    Thanks for informing me. I did not know.

  10. If i install Fedora 16 with Xfce , how to i can install Gnome 3 ???

  11. @Inukaze:
    I think GNOME should be available in repositories. Search for GNOME in there.

  12. Ok guys, so I lost the wonderful F16 wallpaper and I can't find it. What's worse, Conky still displays it (using part of the original wallpaper) as well as the terminal in transparent mode, so now the whole desktop is quite messy.
    Anyone knows where the original F16 wallpaper on XFCE is?

  13. No, it's not in usr/share/backgrounds, I forgot to mention that.
    Anyway, I found it somewhere on the Net.
    But the mystery remains: why would programs with transparent background display the 'removed' background?
    Other than that trifle, Fedora 16 XFCE feels really stable and mature OS - it's my first encounter with Fedora and it's impressive.

    1. I don't have Fedora installed on my laptop. That's why I can't be of much help. Have you tried linuxquestions.org?