[Linux] Tired of traditional desktop environments like Unity, KDE, and Gnome? Try XFCE4 [Mac OS X]

xfc41Not a fan of Unity, KDE or Gnome 3? XFCE4 is one of the fastest growing desktop environments in the market today. The XFCE project’s XFCE4 comes packed with lightweight programs and an easy to use environment that you’ll quickly call home. XFCE4 is one of the most renowned desktop environments in the Linux world. Let’s see what it has to offer.


Main Functionality

XFCE4 is a Desktop Environment for Linux, Mac OS X, PPC, Sparc, Alpha, BSD and Solaris systems. In this review we focus on the Linux version of XFCE4.


  • XFCE4’s Window Manager allows for great looking Window decoration without sacrificing performance.
  • XFCE4’s default file manager Thunar gives users a great file managing experience while still managing to keep it simple.
  • XFCE4’s Desktop panel system has tons of widgets that allow users to fully customize every aspect of their DE experience.
  • XFCE4’s Desktop panel system has a number of options (Customizing the size panels by pixel, locking the panel, customizing the length of the panel, Panels can use either the system theme for panels, a background image or a custom color)
  • XFCE4 has support for GTK+2 themes (Gnome 2.x)
  • Very easy to understand system settings program with easy to find options)
  • When installed on Ubuntu, it can use the ‘Me-menu’ (when the right things are installed)
  • Excellent Session Manager that allows for the saving of desktop sessions for later logins
  • XFCE4 makes changing system themes and icon themes easy with it’s easy to understand ‘Customize’ option in the System Settings program
  • XFCE4’s Application finder is wonderful program that helps you easily find programs that are installed on your system
  • XFCE4 comes with a stellar variety of lightweight programs. Most of which alternatives that the XFCE project feels will run better on low memory or low performance machines.
  • Great pulse audio support (Integrated music player controller support too)
  • Uses a very low amount of ram but still manages to look modern
  • Blazing fast
  • Excellent documentation wiki


  • XFWM4 isn’t the best window manager and doesn’t have a ton of options
  • Thunar is very lackluster and somewhat clunky


xfce42XFCE4 is my desktop environment of choice. Over the years my preferences have come and gone. For a while I enjoyed using Gnome 2.x, but I eventually got tired of it, I then moved on between all the other DE’s to find something else to use, and I finally settled on XFCE4. I’ve had a lot of fond moments using this DE and I honestly can’t fully be comfortable on a Linux system without it.

XFCE has a ton of features, and the entire DE is based on having a modern system that is light on it’s feet. It’s really user friendly. The settings menu is brilliantly simple and very well organized. Everything is right in one place and has an icon of its own. Every single piece of software that XFCE4 comes bundled with is a lightweight alternative. Ubuntu’s Unity comes with the full featured Libre Office suite, most XFCE based distributions come with Abiword. This is desktop environment that is specifically based on low memory usage. That is not to say that it looks primitive  XFCE4 is very stylish and very modern looking.

I absolutely love the panel system in XFCE4. It’s wonderful and it has a ton of features. My favorite feature is the excellent pulse audio support. One of the downfalls of using a desktop environment that isn’t as well known as Gnome 3.x, KDE, or Unity is the fact that a lot of features will sometimes be missing. It’s a bit disappointing when you boot into LXDE and you get a measly volume manager that does not allow you to control programs like Banshee straight from the volume manager. On Ubuntu based distributions it sucks even more because Lxde does not get the ‘me-menu’. Thankfully XFCE4 does get the ‘me-menu’ (Xubuntu) and has awesome pulse audio integration  I’m a huge fan of the music management via the volume manager so having this in your distro is a must for me.

With all the good things that I have to say about XFCE4, I have to talk about something that really irritates me. The file manager. Every single time that I install this DE and I open the file manager, I die a little inside. Thunar is a terrible file manager. It’s very far behind on most features, and even when it does get new features, it’s just so clunky and hideous that I can’t stand using it. It is my opinion that the XFCE project should use PCManFM as a file manager rather than Thunar.

Another issue I have with XFCE4 is XFWM4. I cannot stand this Window Manager. It is far from being heavyweight, but it is a bit lackluster. Sure, most of the window manager skins look pretty great, but it stops there. As far as lightweight Window Managers go it’s a bit bloated. I really don’t like how it works or how most of it looks. I especially don’t appreciate the lack of customization within the Window Manager itself. In my XFCE setup I usually replace XFWM4 with Openbox.

All in all, if you’re not a fan of Unity, KDE, LXDE or Gnome 3, XFCE4 is your best option. It might be lesser known, but so many people have invested so much time in it that its quickly becoming a favorite among Linux purists. All of those that were resistant to Unity and Gnome 3 have migrated to XFCE and in doing so have helped the XFCE project greatly improve their work. I can’t say I’ll ever switch from XFCE. I just love it too much. I like a simple and lightweight system even though my computer can handle very heavy lifting. Though my computer can do considerable heavy lifting I choose to stick with it. I’ve tested out all of the Desktop Environments and they just rub me the wrong way. If I had a number scale it would come out to be 9.4/10.


If are looking for alternatives to other “well known” desktop environments, you might as well stop looking. XFCE4 has everything you could possibly want or need. It’s modern looking, fast, and light on its feet. There’s a lot to love about it, and almost nothing to hate. If you’re not a fan of the sudden change to “touch friendly UI” ala Unity and Gnome 3.x, you’ll love XFCE4. Highly recommended

Price: Free

Version reviewed: 4.10

Supported OS: Any Linux distro, Mac OS X, PPC, Sparc, Alpha, BSD and Solaris

Download size: Unknown

Is it portable? No

XFCE homepage

Related Posts