Revisited: CrunchBang ("#!") Linux 10 "Statler" Xfce r20110207

Main Screen + Xfce Main Right-Click Menu
When I've reviewed #! before, I've always stuck with the Openbox edition, because when #! started, it only had an Openbox edition. It wasn't until version 10 "Statler" that it gained an Xfce edition as well, but I always wanted to review just "the original" #! anyway. Fast forward to the last few days, and I haven't really been able to think of much to write. Then, I realized I had never checked out the Xfce edition, so I did so.

#! doesn't need much of an introduction for regular readers of this blog. It's a lightweight Debian-based distribution that, as mentioned before, uses Openbox or Xfce, and packs in lots of cool goodies and a large dose of user-friendliness as well.

I tried the Xfce edition of #! using a live USB made with MultiSystem. I did not test the installation because I did that before with the Openbox edition; my main purpose is to see how the Xfce edition generally behaves in comparison to the Openbox edition, so follow the jump to see how that works out.

After getting past the boot menu, I was greeted by a scrolling wall of text, as with the Openbox edition of #!. That gave way fairly quickly to the desktop.

There are a few really outstanding strong points (among many others, of course) to Xfce. One of them is its light weight, especially with regard to RAM usage; this is also accompanied by a sort of no-frills interface that eschews the bling of KDE 4 and the radical transformations of GNOME 3 for a traditional computing environment fit for new users and power users alike. (Linus Torvalds, the original author of the Linux kernel, made waves online a few days ago by publicly using and recommending Xfce over GNOME 3.) Another is in how easy it is to customize Xfce along with how deep that customization can go using GUIs. #! puts both of these (among its other strengths too) to great use in creating the Xfce edition. How? Well, just for some background, if a distribution implements Xfce, there are typically two major ways Xfce is implemented. One is like KDE 3.X, with a single bottom panel containing a standard Xfce main menu, some shortcuts, a workspace switcher, a task switcher, and a system tray. Another is like GNOME 2.X, with two panels: one on top containing the Xfce main menu, a task switcher, and a system tray, and one on the bottom containing shortcuts almost like a dock. #! has eschewed both approaches in favor of replicating the #! Openbox experience. At first, the only giveaway that tells me that this is Xfce, not Openbox, is the presence of Xfpanel instead of Tint2. There's a panel on the bottom containing a workspace switcher, a window switcher, and a system tray; there's another tiny auto-hiding panel on the left side containing shortcuts (that's quite easy to miss). The fact that the bottom panel is full-width (not 92%-width, as in the Openbox Tint2 panel) and that it looks a little different from Tint2 gives it away. Otherwise, the desktop theme is essentially identical to that of the Openbox edition. In an interview many months ago, the #! lead developer explained this by saying that unlike Ubuntu which primarily uses GNOME or Slackware which primary uses KDE, #! primarily uses Openbox, so while Xubuntu imitates Ubuntu and Slackware Xfce imitates Slackware KDE, #! Xfce imitates #! Openbox, and this is all thanks to Xfce's immense versatility and malleability.
YouTube on Chromium + AbiWord
There are some other things to note about the themes. The GNOME-Colors-Statler theme seems more complete now than before. Icons are present on the navigation buttons, which is in contrast to the Openbox edition where the navigation buttons have only text on them. Finally, all the right-click menus (even the main one (which, by the way, can be added as an applet to the panel)) have icons present, unlike the Openbox right-click menus (though Openbox 3.5.0, which was recently released, has gained this feature). Overall, thanks to these changes, the Xfce edition looks more colorful and friendly than the Openbox edition, while retaining obvious similarities like the Openbox, GTK+, and (general) icon themes.

The default applications most likely to be used by users (e.g. browser, text editor) are the same as in the Openbox edition: Chromium is the default browser with codecs included, AbiWord and Gnumeric are the productivity applications, Gedit is the default text editor, et cetera. These all work identically compared to their counterparts in the Openbox edition, so there's not much else to say about that.

One of the characteristic features of Openbox is the need to configure it by editing RC and XML files, though some of this can be taken care of by using GUI tools like Obconf and LXAppearance. As Xfce is a full-blown DE as opposed to just a WM, it also has much more sophisticated GUI configuration tools, which makes it a lot friendlier to new users than the Openbox edition; this is helped by the fact that although separate configuration utilities can be found in the main menu, Xfce has a settings manager that brings all those utilities under one roof (or, rather, in one single window). This makes it work like the GNOME Control Center or the KDE System Settings program; if you ask me, though, I think it's better than both, because there are more configuration options available in that one window, and they're presented in a clearer manner.

Thunar + Xfce Settings Manager + Compositing
#! Xfce is just as light as #! Openbox, using just 117 MB of RAM at idle (versus 110 MB of RAM at idle for the latter). It is possible to enable compositing and get some basic desktop effects running, like transparency and shadows. There's no desktop cube, of course, because Compiz isn't present, and that's to keep the system lightweight. It is certainly possible to install and configure Compiz to work as the WM under Xfce (as opposed to Xfwm), but if you ask me, that sort of defeats the purpose of the light weight of #!.

There are two minor gripes I have. One is that the bottom panel is full-width. I know it's possible to add the Xfce main menu to the panel, but if windows are maximized, it's annoying to have to minimize or restore them just to be able to access the main right-click menu, which is by default the only way to access the main Xfce menu (as in the Openbox edition). By comparison, the Tint2 panel in the Openbox edition is only 92%-width on purpose in order to leave space on the sides for right-clicking to access the main menu. The other small gripe is that although as far as I can tell the Tint2 panel is not present at all in the Xfce edition, there's still a vestigial Tint2 GUI configuration program present where there clearly shouldn't be one.

Otherwise, I think #! Xfce is even better than #! Openbox, because it's just as lightweight, yet it can easily be moulded into a more traditional-looking DE compared to Openbox, and it's easier to configure and work with generally. I would recommend it even higher than the Openbox edition for newbies, though for slightly more advanced users, I recommend both equally highly.
You can get it here.