Software, Technology

How-to: Run Xfce on Ubuntu 11.10 Final

Xfce Dekstop panelXfce is a lightweight desktop environment which is designed to be responsive and consume fewer system resources than say, Gnome with Unity, or KDE. It’s also a useful substitute for Unity now that Gnome panel has been removed in 11.10. I am now running it on the regular Ubuntu 11.10 Unity release; that’s not Xubuntu, but the regular 11.10 with the usual Ubuntu applications stack, with Xfce4 on top. I now have the choice of Unity or Xfce. Guess which I’m using for my everyday environment?

Xfce 4.8 is the current stable version, available since Jan 2011. You can install it either from the Ubuntu Software Center, the command line (apt-get install xfce4) or Synaptic Package Manager and it works not only for Ubuntu but also for other Linux distros such as Linux Mint and Fedora.

Downloading and installing the Xfce4 meta-package from the official Ubuntu repository, which you can do through Software Centre, Synaptic or the Aptitude command line with a simple search on Xfce4, takes a few minutes. You might also want to pull in the ‘extras’ packages,

  • xfce4-goodies containing more artwork and a stack of utilities
  • xfprint4 which is the printer GUI for xcfe

If you want the highlights and a list of components, check the previous post when we tried this in the 11.10 Beta release. I’ve set mine up to mimic a conventional Gnome-like desktop experience without the frustrations of the current version of Unity.

Choosing the Xfce Session
Ubuntu 11.10 LightDM session selectionFrom the Light DM login screen, select Xfce as your session using the dropdown list triggered by the cog icon.

Configuring Xfce
Xfce4 DisplayIf you haven’t already run the application to install Restricted Drivers, do so in order to pull in the best version of graphics drivers you can find. Then adjust the display settings through Settings, Display. Get the right resolution, but if in doubt over refresh frequencies, don’t mess with them.

Xfce Appearance There are controls for setting just about everything in the Xfce desktop, although not all in the one place. Going to Settings, Appearance, you can work through the tabs of controls. Style sets window border styles, Icons selects icons. Under fonts, you will definitely need Enable anti-aliasing checked.

Next, play around with the Hinting and Sub-pixel order option as you get different results depending on your lcd panel.

Slightly confusing is that if you go Settings, Window Manager, the first tab has another Style selector which changes the desktop theme. You can also change the Window Controls (Button) order.

Xfce4 panel optionsFrom then on, you can play around with the Xfce panel. Right clicking brings up the Panel Context menu, from which you can add, delete and configure panels including adding launchers and menus to get the working desktop you want. RC

About Robin Catling

Robin Catling gained degrees in both arts and technology which led to a diverse portfolio of employment. A freelance systems analyst, project manager and business change manager for the likes of American Express, British Airways and IBM, he moved on to web design, journalism and technical authoring. He has also worked in film and television, both behind and in front of the camera, including productions by Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorcese, Ron Howard and Ridley Scott. A qualified three-weapon coach, he runs West Devon Swords teaching sports fencing to all age groups, and in recent years qualified with the British Federation of Historical Swordplay to teach medieval and renaissance combat in the Historical Western Martial Arts.


20 thoughts on “How-to: Run Xfce on Ubuntu 11.10 Final

  1. Awesome. On my Ubuntu 11.10 installation I have the Unity, Gnome 3, and now XFCE would be perfect.
    … I kinda think that the new Gnome Classic is sort of a fail.

    Posted by Nick Dellorto | Nov 17, 2011, 4:59 pm
  2. I’ve installed xfce4 thru the software centre, but its nowhere to be seen ??

    Posted by john mac (@maccafdh) | Nov 29, 2011, 5:19 pm
    • John,
      you need to choose Xfce session from the session list in the login screen; click the cog-wheel, upper right of the user selection box BEFORE you enter your password to login. Below Unity, Unity 2D and User-defined session you will see Xfce Session. You can then hit the login button and Xfce will kick in as your login environment. RC

      Posted by Robin Catling | Nov 30, 2011, 12:26 pm
  3. xfce-goodies should be xfce4-goodies.

    Posted by Benjamin Jones (@BenjaminFJones) | Dec 3, 2011, 5:32 am
  4. Your post was really help ful and you given detailed of everything and thanks for your nice work….:) hope to visit your blog :)

    Posted by sinbad@linuxthebest | Dec 31, 2011, 3:27 pm
  5. i’m still on 10.10 because i’m afraid to upgrade and lose gnome…how will this affect my home folder and desktop if i go from 10.10 to 11.04 then to 11.10, then follow your steps to install and use xfce? i too hate unity, it’s been keeping me from upgrading for months now…

    only catch is i use this as an android development machine, so i’d rather not have to set it all up again…

    Posted by matt | Jan 3, 2012, 9:15 pm
    • Matt: in principle you should be fine, I’ve run that path from 10.10 to 11.04 and 11.10 and provided you have a separate home partition which you don’t wipe out, all your settings will be retained.

      Installing the Xfce4 meta package over standard 11.10 gives you an extra desktop session option without removing any familiar applications or installing a bloat-load of libraries.

      My one word of caution concerns the kernels you have installed; I believe the move from 11.04 PAE to 11.10 PAE screwed up my big laptop machine to the extent that I had to re-install Ubuntu after a major lock-up of all desktop sessions and some other breakages. My second antique laptop on a standard 32-bit kernel has sailed through the upgrades fine with Xfce on top. Best wishes RC.

      Posted by Robin Catling | Jan 3, 2012, 9:32 pm
  6. Good how-to. Lucky me I reached your website by accident.

    Posted by Catina Kaili | Jan 10, 2012, 9:40 am
  7. I have been exploring for a bit for help or blog posts of this sort. K

    Posted by Kreise | Jan 11, 2012, 6:43 pm
  8. Pretty simple. thx

    Posted by Sam | Jan 11, 2012, 10:52 pm
  9. Excellent. I’ve remember your stuff prior. V. entertaining.

    Posted by Peter | Jan 12, 2012, 6:28 am
  10. Good topic. I must spend a while studying more before I tamper.

    Posted by Mowen | Jan 13, 2012, 5:33 pm
  11. i’ve gotten it up and running on 11.04. looks great, i’ve tweaked it to look pretty much exactly like gnome 2 did, i think i can now realistically think about upgrading to 11.10…one question though, the fonts just don’t appear as crisp in xfce as they did in gnome. any ideas?

    also, i’ve gone one step further to make it more gnome-like…wasn’t a big fan of thunar, so i unlinked xfdesktop and changed it to use nautilus. now i’ve got nautilus as the default file manager and it also draws the desktop for me.

    sudo mv /usr/bin/xfdesktop /usr/bin/xfdesktop-off
    sudo ln -s /usr/bin/nautilus /usr/bin/xfdesktop

    Posted by matt | Feb 2, 2012, 6:04 pm
    • Matt: good to hear you have a setup that suits you.

      Re. fonts: this is all too subjective to your graphics card, drivers and settings, so it’s difficult to give a single answer. Two laptop LCD’s of mine varied enormously.

      Normally you can try to adjust font hinting and anti-aliasing by going to Setting Manager > Appearance > Fonts
      You could try : Enable anti-aliasing, Hinting : Slight or Medium, Sub-pixel order : None, or RGB DPI : 110

      I have heard others have fixed the problem by installing additional patches; freetype2-ubuntu fontconfig-ubuntu libxft-ubuntu cairo-ubuntu, to pull in some lcd rendering patches. I can’t try this just now as I have no current setup with the Xfce stack installed.

      Posted by Robin Catling | Feb 2, 2012, 10:44 pm
  12. That’s a good idea,like it!

    Posted by Bethers | Mar 17, 2012, 7:33 pm
  13. Very nice post. Write once more soon!

    Posted by Vancheri Carnero | Apr 12, 2012, 2:16 am


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