I made my switch from Mac OS back to Linux almost a year ago. I’ve drifted between Fedora and Ubuntu, realizing again that the Linux desktop is still rough on the edges. Overall it has improved enormously: compositing window managers, no more tearing, serious effort to make everything functional yet beautiful. However you still fill the discord of open-source desktop software, especially in terms of usability and complexity.
This is one of the reasons why I always liked XFCE. Simple, elegant & functional. However, I found it lacking behind Unity & Gnome 3 in terms of the fancy Window Manager tricks such as hot-corners, ,expose-alike window management and window snapping (which I found enormously helpful and functional).
Then I’ve discovered Elementary OS. It is essentially a Linux distribution, build on top of Ubuntu, albeit with a different target. They want to make everything beautiful & functional. They forked Gnome 3 and created what is called the Pantheon desktop. I’ve tried their latest beta 2, and I was impressed. Almost everything looked excellent and worked by default with no effort from the user. You can read more about ElementaryOS and their targets on their website. I am pretty sure that this would be my favorite Linux distribution when it reaches its final form.
Unfortunately I found Elementary too young to use it as my everyday distribution, especially with many features lacking from the default provided applications. So I decided to try and merge the best things from Elementary that I loved with a lightweight and stable existing desktop environment: XFCE. I googled it, others have thought of it too.
I installed Xubuntu 13.04, one of the best XFCE distribution out there, and I added Elementary OS PPA on the system, so I can easily install the goodies without the need of compilation.
sudo apt-add-repository ppa:elementary-os/daily
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install gala dconf-tools plank switchboard switchboard-plug-pantheon-shell
Gala is Elementary OS Window Manager. It is based on Mutter, and it is stable and works very well with XFCE. I did not have any issues with it the last week. Plank is a very simple elegant dock, also very stable. Lastly switchboard is the control panal from Elementary, you need it so you can easily configure Gala’s hot corners and Plank, without the need of messing with configuration files etc.
Once you have everything installed you’ll need to replace XFWM with Gala. Fire-up a terminal and:
cp /etc/xdg/xfce4/xfconf/xfce-perchannel-xml/xfce4-session.xml ~/.config/xfce4/xfconf/xfce-perchannel-xml/xfce4-session.xml
You’ll need to replace all instances of “xfwm4″ with “gala”. Logout & login and voila! To auto-start Plank just add it in “Application Autostart” under “Session and Startup” of XFCE Settings.
There is also a nice Youtube Video that explains the process, and shows off some of XFCE + Gala magic.
Overall I found it to be butter-smooth, fast & fluid. Perhaps the best Linux desktop I had so far. I can’t wait for Elementary’s final release!