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A low-carb desktop

As Linux users seek more alternatives in their desktop environments, a number of developers step up to the plate. The GNOME and KDE desktop environments dominate the Linux landscape. Both have made the traditionally yucky Linux desktop a thing of beauty. Both provide integrated suites of applications and lots of user interface glitz, or eye candy. But both face increasing complaints. Users complain these desktop environments are too large, use up too much RAM and processing power, Furthermore, users complain these desktop environments are simply too complicated to use.

That’s not to say that the GNOME and KDE desktops are fading away. Far from it. Both GNOME and KDE recently announced new releases.

But still, many users are looking for alternatives. Many of these users are now moving to the Xfce desktop environment, one of the first real alternatives to the GNOME and KDE desktops. Xfce aims to provide a fast, lightweight desktop environment.

The Xfce desktop looks somewhat like the old Common Desktop Environment, or CDE, only with a much better looking interface than CDE. You can also see some Mac OS X influences in Xfce. Like Mac OS X, Xfce displays a panel by default on the bottom of the screen. This panel looks similar to the Mac OS X dock. Like Mac OS X, the Xfce panel sports large, very good-looking icons. In addition, the default screen background is a abstract blue image with swooping curves, just like that for Mac OS X 10.3. Xfce uses the X Composite extension to create transparent effects like those available in the Macintosh user interface.

But, unlike the Macintosh, Xfce by default supports four virtual screens. Virtual screens make it a whole lot easier to manage a large number of open applications. Neither Mac OS X nor Windows support this feature out of the box, but Linux has supported virtual screens for a number of years under a variety of desktop environments.

Xfce includes a window manager, which draws the window title bars, as well as a file manager and an application to control settings. Together these applications are a lot smaller and use a lot less resources than the corresponding GNOME or KDE applications. Furthermore, you can place a number of small applications, called applets, on the Xfce panel or on the desktop screen background. These applets allow you to further customize the Xfce display.

Until Xfce came along, there was no real competition to the GNOME or KDE desktops. Your choice was to run GNOME or KDE, or run a number of applications manually without an integrated desktop environment. A number of Linux distributions, including Fedora Core 3 already include Xfce, so you may already have this new desktop environment.

In other news, Adobe released the GM, or Golden Master, version of Adobe Reader 7.0 for viewing PDF files.

Most Linux distributions already include one or more programs to view PDF files, but it is nice to have a vendor-supplied application from Adobe, an application that brings Linux PDF support up to the most recent revision.

Also, the recent Linspire 5.0 release improves support for Linux-based laptops. Laptops, typically packed with proprietary hardware, have been the most difficult systems on which to install Linux. Linspire 5.0 supports 802.11g wireless networking and more laptop models. Linspire’s primary focus remains making Linux easier to use, especially for users switching from Windows.

Linspire , the company, is making a big splash with its 5.0 release, listing a large number of improvements for end users, especially those new to Linux. –Eric Foster-Johnson

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