A Worthy Alternative to Gnome 3 and Unity
I’m back with a few opinions about the world of Linux and specifically the controversial state of desktop/window managers.
As anyone who knows anything about Linux is no doubt familiar, the state of Linux for average desktop users has been changing a lot since Ubuntu 11.04 came out in April. Instead of Gnome 3 Shell, or Gnome 2.3; Ubuntu now uses the Unity desktop interface. Many people like it, but many people also dislike it in its present state of development. It may have been released a bit prematurely, but I imagine Unity and its ability for customization will improve greatly when Ubuntu 11.10 comes out, and in the coming years.
The other big change, of course, is the total redesign of Gnome 3. I’m not too crazy either about the current state of Gnome 3. Like Unity, its slick and pretty, but it’s lacking in user customization options and its system settings are very limited compared to the stable, versatile and familiar Gnome 2.3 that we’ve used for years. And like Unity, I’m sure it will evolve over the coming years to be much more usable.
However for those of us who don’t want to wait years, or may never find Unity or Gnome Shell our ‘cup of tea’, I’ve been looking around for a better alternative to Gnome. Because unfortunately, unless someone decides to make a fork of their own to continue development of Gnome 2, all the Linux distros that currently still use Gnome 2 (Linux Mint standard edition, ZorinOS, Pinguy, etc, etc…) will eventually have to abandon Gnome 2 for Gnome 3, if my understanding is correct. That’s when I stumbled upon this insightful article, which talks about the latest version of Linux Mint using the Xfce desktop manager.
I’ve tried Xfce before and like it the best of all the ‘lighter’ desktop managers for Linux. Still, it was not as customizable or easy to use as Gnome. But (after reading the article) I’ve just tried out the latest Live CD of Mint Xfce, and I’m very impressed! At least Mint’s version is way better looking, has more features and many more configuration options than the ‘old’ Xfce. In fact, after playing with it for over an hour on our main computer I’d say this is a great alternative to Gnome, and it uses less power and RAM. Running Mint Xfce from the CD was lightning fast! It looks good, gives the user choices, and I’m becoming rather fond of the Xfce ‘Thunar’ file manager. And Mint Xfce is now Debian-based so it’s a rolling release. Pictured is my Mint Xfce desktop (with my own desktop picture I added) from the Live CD session. I’m sure development on Xfce will be even better in the future as some/many Linux users turn from Gnome 3/Unity to other options. But for all the details I would suggest checking out the blog article link above.
For another alternative desktop manager to Gnome there’s always KDE. For a years since I discovered Linux I’ve tried to like the K Desktop Manager, but I still don’t! I recently tried out the Pardus Linux Live CD, which I’ve read has a really nice implementation of KDE. And it does! KDE looks beautiful, but I still find it overly complex and flashy to the point where it gets in my way. Just my opinion, but after installing Pardus and using it for a brief time, I felt frustrated and somehow claustrophobic and had to return to my beloved Linux Mint Gnome distro, which is easy to configure and stays out of my face; OR, my other favorite distro that I would recommend, Bodhi Linux, which uses Enlightenment (E-17). Enlightenment takes some time to learn, because there are many settings options. But I find it easier to use than KDE.
I think Xfce or Enlightenment are both worthy alternatives for all you Gnome fans out there. I love Bodhi because it’s very customizable (I use that word a lot!), light like Xfce and beautiful without sacrificing on performance. In fact, I’m thinking that with all the new development around E-17 (thanks to Bodhi) the Enlightenment desktop and applications will see much growth in the future.
As someone commented on this post, LXDE is also another Linux desktop manager that is comparable and belongs in the top 3 alternatives to Gnome/Unity/KDE. Very similar to Xfce, it’s also lightweight and runs well on older hardware.
So there are still some great choices for Linux users! And isn’t that what Linux is all about?
Update March 17, 2012: I’ve decided to create a new blog here on WordPress strictly dealing with Linux and Open Source Software for the average desktop computer user. Please check it out at: TheFearlessPenguin. Thanks!