A Look at Desktop Environments: XFCE

Mike Turcotte-McCusker
Mar 30, 2017
Updated • Mar 29, 2017

Xfce is yet another lightweight but highly customizable desktop environment many people use for GNU/Linux, and is the environment of choice for systems such as Xubuntu, and Manjaro (Although Manjaro does come in other flavours, Xfce is known as the Manjaro teams initial focus and was their primary DE for a while.).

The Xfce website (http://xfce.org/about) on their about page describes Xfce as, “Xfce embodies the traditional UNIX philosophy of modularity and re-usability. It consists of a number of components that provide the full functionality one can expect of a modern desktop environment. They are packaged separately and you can pick among the available packages to create the optimal personal working environment.”

This is the fourth part of a series. Click on these links to read reviews of KDE, Mate and GNOME.

A Look at Desktop Environments: XFCE

The machine I used for this has the following specs:

  • Intel i5-4210U

  • 8GB DDR3

  • SSD

  • Running Linux Mint 18.1 XFCE 64bit

Customization and Default Appearance

LinuxMint Default Desktop XFCE

Xfce by default doesn’t look too terrible in my opinion, and mint in their OS has packaged quite a few different wallpapers and themes with the system so that unless you are truly a deep themer, you should be able to make your system look relatively how you’d like without much hassle.

I personally prefer using a darker theme; thankfully there were a few I had available to me by default, so changing that was short and sweet.

Most Xfce installs I have come across use the Whisker menu by default and Mint was no exception to that. However, as stated in a previous article, I am not a fan of the Whisker menu (to the surprise of many apparently), and so I opted to switch that menu out for a more traditional applications menu.

LinuxMint Themed Desktop XFCE

Xfce has the ability to use GTK 2.x and GTK 3.x themes, so visiting https://www.gnome-look.org/ will give the user plenty of themes available to choose from for those who simply do not like the ones packaged with their OS. However, be aware that Xfce does plan to fully shift to GTK 3.x completely in the future.

Default Software

LinuxMint XFCE Software

Just like with pretty well any modern desktop environment available, Xfce has it’s own default software for completing the generic default tasks. The default file manager known as Thunar, is one such example. Thunar is pretty straight forward; it’s nowhere near as customizable or powerful as others such as Dolphin, but it does what it needs to do and does it well nonetheless.

The interface is clean, organized and minimalistic. Xfce is a lightweight desktop environment, so you’ll find that most of the prepackaged software is minimalistic but still remaining fully functional. Don’t expect all the bells and whistles; you’ll want KDE or GNOME for that.

Some other software that is included by default in Xfce are:

  • Xfce-Terminal – a no frills terminal emulator. Nice, simple, does what you need.

  • Xfwm – the Xfce window manager. No animations by default, but does feature compositing.

  • Xfburn – CD/DVD/BRD burning software.

  • Mousepad – In Xubuntu and others Distros, this is your notepad software. It’s nice and easy to use, howeve Linux Mint opted to replace it with xed, another lightweight text editor.

Depending on your distro of choice, a plethora of other software will be included as well, it’s just noteworthy that Xfce does not itself actually ship with a great deal of custom software. There are others listed as well as defaults for Xfce, they can be found here. (http://www.xfce.org/projects/)

System Resources Used

LinuxMint XFCE Resources

Surprisingly, Xfce used more system resources than I had expected running minimal amount of software. With LibreOffice, Terminal, Firefox with two tabs open, the system was using 1.1GB of RAM, and my CPU sat at around 7-9% utilization.

All in all, nothing this laptop couldn’t handle, but surprisingly it used more resources than other environments tested. I still would recommend Xfce to be used on less powerful systems, but I was just caught off guard by the amount of RAM used.

Final Words

Xfce is a lovely interface. It’s simple, it’s fast, it’s no frills but still attractive, it has everything you could need for general computer usage. I highly recommend Xfce for anyone who wants a mix of lightweight and minimalism with attractiveness and a clean look to things.

What about you? What’s your thoughts on Xfce? What Desktop Environment do you use?

More overviews coming soon!

A Look at Desktop Environments: XFCE
Article Name
A Look at Desktop Environments: XFCE
Mike takes a look at the XFCE desktop environment in the fourth part of the series, and analyzes software, resource use and customization options.
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  1. crysman said on April 7, 2017 at 7:52 pm

    I’ve been using xfce for years and yes, author’s numbers seem far greater than on my system. I believe it is because of Mint being used.
    I’ve been using Xubuntu. I believe with Debian could be even better (willing to move to debian soon)

  2. Rocky said on March 30, 2017 at 8:06 pm

    My Linux installations tend to be on older more memory challenged computers and XFCE is my favourite DE not just for the fact that it is one of the lighter DE’s but also because it is minimalistic yet still flexible and highly functional.

  3. br0ken said on March 30, 2017 at 7:44 pm

    Several years ago I was deciding between xfce and gnome2. One thing that tipped me towards gnome2 was the fact that xfce was consistently consuming more RAM than gnome under similar conditions. Those days it also sounded strange… (it should be noted, that i have stuck with gnome -3- till now). Much better than Unity.

  4. MdN said on March 30, 2017 at 6:58 pm

    That’s weird. My Xubuntu needs 290 MB of RAM at boot. Right now I have this page and Facebook open in Firefox, plus I opened a list in LibreOffice Calc, 752 MB total. Without Facebook, 668 MB. Opening terminal, 9 MB more. My computer has 2 GB, maybe it’s because you have more RAM available?
    Processor is around 0-2% as I’m typing this.
    Anyway, thanks for the article. Love Xfce. I can set everything up the way I want, and then it sort of gets out of my way. :-)

    1. Jason said on March 30, 2017 at 8:45 pm

      Agreed, Mike’s numbers do not seem right. I’ve got 8 GB of RAM too and only using about 500 MB on a fresh boot. (My old system with 2 GB used 330 MB, which is in line with what you’re seeing on your system, MdN.) As for idle CPU, it shouldn’t be above 2% on a reasonably modern system.

      Mike, maybe try running “top” to see what’s burdening your system. Also take a look at the load average on there… I’m seeing 0.25 for the 15-minute average with just Firefox running.

      1. Matt said on March 31, 2017 at 8:29 pm

        >Agreed, Mike’s numbers do not seem right.

        they are right – Mints Xfce comes with many non Xfce-daemons, also keep in mind that the more modern applications (for example Firefox or Chrome) ram size depends on how much you have available since they use it intelligently(they use more compression and less threads if you have less ram and up to no compression and more ram if you have a lot available)

      2. Mike Turcotte said on March 30, 2017 at 9:17 pm

        That system is no longer on my laptop, so I can’t tell you exactly what was burdening the system. However, I can tell you that I did not install any extra software, besides doing the generic system updates and installing the Intel Microcode drivers for my laptop.

        What I gave in relevance to the RAM and CPU usage, was just with whatever default services were running, plus the software mentioned.

  5. Kostas said on March 30, 2017 at 3:45 pm

    I really like ultra-flat-icons for a truly minimalist, clean, well… flat interface.

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