Home > Linux > A Worthy Alternative to Gnome 3 and Unity

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!

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  1. July 29, 2011 at 7:24 am

    What about LXDE? I have found that it can be made not at all dissimilar to GNOME 2 and it’s light on system resources too.

  2. July 29, 2011 at 8:18 am

    That’s true; there are many alternatives like fluxbox, openbox, Icewm and others that I haven’t used. I’ve tried out LXDE and it’s very comparable to Xfce. But I’ve had more experience so far with Xfce and I especially like Linux Mint’s implementation of it. LXDE seems like it’s getting very popular lately.

  3. Caraibes
    July 29, 2011 at 9:52 am

    Or simply stick to Gnome 2.x, as I am doing under Ubuntu 10.04… I might move to Scientific Linux 6.x sometimes…

    So far, nothing works as well as Gnome 2.x… Xfce, while being nice, still is not as good…

    I enjoy Fluxbox, but it is not as natural as Gnome 2.x…

    I believe Debian 6 & RHEL 6 clones are the way… As well as Ubuntu 10.04, so far…

  4. Rafe
    July 30, 2011 at 5:10 am

    XFCE shares libraries with Gnome 2.x so unfortunately we’re still going to need someone to pick up the Gnome 2 branch if development is to continue on it.

    • July 30, 2011 at 5:19 am

      I didn’t realize that. Can someone PLEASE continue development on Gnome 2!

  5. Mahfaan
    July 30, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    If Xfce is so good, why is it not possible to use single-click for all mouse selections. Using both double-click and single click makes no sense. Ubuntu, Windoze, etc, give you the option to use single-click for all choices, but Xfce cannot do it. Hmmnnn….

    • July 31, 2011 at 12:28 am

      Personally, I never use the single click option. I find it kind of annoying. But if that’s really important to you, don’t use Xfce. It’s nice that Linux gives you other alternatives.

  6. September 15, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    Thank you for this article. I was just about to try linux mint on my computer after having installed the Gnome one on my mom’s notebook. Gnome is ok for her, but I find it too heavy for my use. I want a flying desktop. If I got it right, LXCE is kinda slowing coming back but is a bit late on alternatives. I was told today by a customer that Xfce was not that easy to use, but after reading your article, I’ll for sure give it a try…

    Personnally, I would say I don’t really care to have a desktop… command line is good enough, if it allows me to launch X applications.I don’t need an icon to launch an application.

    But I guess XServer by itself does not allow windows management, right ? if it doesn’t, then I still need some windows manager to handle clipoard, and stuff like that.

  7. September 16, 2011 at 1:52 am

    Thanks for the response.
    Have you tried Crunchbang Linux? If you want fast and simplicity, that may appeal to you. It uses the Openbox window manager and is based on Debian.
    Myself, I enjoy a visually-pleasing desktop as long as it doesn’t get in the way of doing things quickly and easily. I’m a sucker for an artistic GUI!
    I love Mint because it’s elegant and useful. Mint Xfce is now a Debian-based rolling release. But if you prefer a Ubuntu-based distro that flies, I’ve heard Xubuntu is great. I’d like to try Xubuntu 11.10 when it’s released.
    And I also like Bodhi/Enlightenment a lot. But it takes a little time to learn your way around E-17.

  1. August 5, 2011 at 10:46 pm

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