Xfce is one of the most common desktop environments on Linux and other Unix-like systems. it’s fast, lightweight and gets the job done. However, Xfce developers announced their roadmap to Xfce 4.14 around 3 years ago, but we are still not there yet.

In this report, we post the ongoing development of Xfce, what’s missing and what’s being worked on, and we highlight some aspects regarding the adorable DE.

Overview on Xfce Development

Xfce is not developed as a single component, but rather as a set of many different software. It consists of applications like:

  • Thunar: The default file manager for Xfce.
  • xfwm4: The window manager.
  • xfce4-panel: The desktop panel of Xfce, which holds other plugins and applets.
  • xfce4-settings: The settings daemon for the desktop environment. Also includes the graphical control center.
  • xfce4-power-manager: The power manager made for Xfce.
  • xfce4-session: The Xfce session initializer and launcher.
  • xfdesktop: The responsible program for managing the desktop icons & background.
  • Many graphical Xfce applications like Xfce Terminal, Xfce Mixer, MousePad, Xfburn and others.
  • Various panel plugins.
  • And a lot of other components.

Xfce versions are numbered in a way that the even versions mark the stable channel (like Xfce 4.8, 4.10, 4.12..), where as the odd versions mark the development channel (like 4.9, 4.11, 4.13..) which are not suitable for production.

The announced Xfce release model consists of 3 main phases: Planning phase, development phase and release phase. In the planning phase, each component’s maintainer announces the features they would like to implement in the upcoming release, and what dependences would be required to implement these features. After it, a long 5-months development phase starts, where each maintainer is free to work on implementing his own features that he announced in the planning phase. Finally, the release phase comes (which lasts for +10 weeks) and all components get multiple freezes and tests by the QA team.

Sadly, this release model doesn’t seem to applied in action; The latest stable of Xfce is 4.12, which was released back in February, 2015 (almost 3 years ago). But according to that release model, Xfce 4.14 should already be out. And it seems that we’ll have to wait many more months for the new version. Why is that?

Xfce 4.14 Current Status

When the Xfce team announced that they’ve started to work on Xfce 4.14, they had the following features in mind to implement for the new release:

  1. Port everything to GTK+ 3 instead of using the legacy GTK+ 2.
  2. Use GDbus instead of dbus-lib (for applications communications with each other).
  3. Use symbolic icons for all the panel plugins.
  4. Remove deprecated widgets from the code.

The list sounds small and easy from the first sight, however, the Xfce team & contributors have been struggling over years to complete the GTK+ 3 port. Right now, more than 95% of all the main Xfce components are ported to GTK+ 3:

Xfce main components and their porting percentage to GTK 3
Xfce main components and their porting percentage to GTK 3, via Xfce.org

But, there are many Xfce applications which are still with no maintainer to even start porting them. These are:

  • Orage: A calendar application made for Xfce desktop.
  • Squeeze: An archive manager for Xfce.
  • Xfbib: A BibTeX file editor.
  • Xfburn: The burning application for Xfce (to burn images on CDs, DVDs..).
  • xfce4-volumed: Volume daemon.
  • Xfmpc: A graphical MPD interface.

As for the Xfce panel plugins, half of them are still not completely ported to GTK+ 3 yet.

Talking about bug reports, there are 118 open bugs in Xfdesktop, 119 in Xfce4-session, 206 in Xfce4-settings, 70 in Xfce4-power-manager, 390 in Xfce4-panel, 334 in Thunar, around 500 in Xfwm4 and hundreds of others in various smaller tools/goodies. Of course, not all of these should be fixed before the release or resolved, but they should at least be checked once in the release phase, which would add extra delay to 4.14 too.

Xfce’s situation is a bit concerning because by the time Xfce 4.14 is out, GTK+ 4 could already be released as stable. Also, Xfce didn’t move a single step in the direction toward Wayland. And with the speed of the current development, the good DE could lack a lot behind.

This could be due to the fact that the Xfce team is mainly consisting of 15 different contributors only, who are working on their free time to port these projects and maintain them. Additionally, there’s no corporate interest in Xfce; companies like Red Hat, SUSE or Canonical have few to no contributions at all when it comes to Xfce code. Which is expected since Xfce is not the main DE for these companies’ Linux distributions, and is out of their main business.

Xfce is a valuable addition to the Linux desktop and other Unix-like systems. It is used by many people, and provides a good alternative for people with older hardware or who would like a lighter desktop environment. It would be sad to see it fade by time.

How to Help?

The Get Involved page at Xfce website is a good place to start. If you are someone who knows GTK+ with C, and knows how to port applications from GTK+ 2 to GTK+ 3, then you would be more than a valuable addition to the project. Simply pick the project you would like to start working on and say hello on the mailing list. Even if you are a user, you can help testing, translating, designing and maintaining a lot of stuff according to your knowledge.

If you are willing, you can support Xfce development financially on BountySource via the following link. This money would be spent on solving issues related to the Xfce applications.

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9 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    February 26, 2018 at 7:02 pm

    Good post. I really love XFCE, it is depressing that the development is slow down.

    Reply

  2. Anonymous

    February 27, 2018 at 12:35 pm

    Don’t worry, GTK’s release model is so incredibly idiotic that GTK4 will be useable only once GTK5 is released.

    Reply

    • Anonymous

      February 27, 2018 at 1:26 pm

      After their announcements regarding GTK4, it would be a lot more stable and mature than GTK3 when it gets released though.

      Reply

  3. KWW

    February 27, 2018 at 11:52 pm

    The nice thing about Xfce is that it stays in the background, and does what you tell it to do, when you tell it to do it. The developers of the Gnome and KDE behemoths had better take note – but they won’t.

    Reply

    • Anonymous

      February 28, 2018 at 2:42 am

      Why take notes from a failing project? Gnome and KDE have no problems attracting contributors. People don’t become Gnome or KDE contributors because they secretly use Xfce. They join Gnome or KDE because they like what these projects have to offer.

      Reply

  4. st1d

    February 28, 2018 at 1:48 pm

    This article is a bit unfair on many levels. First, Xfce has rarely released a completed product all at once (such as 4.14 at a certain date), and most Xfce-based distros have long adapted whatever is done to their platform. The entire 4.x series has been, from a distro point of view, released piecemeal since the early 2000s.

    This seems odd to those who come from the dinosaur school of releases (which I was part of) and expect a complete set of packages on a certain date, but it’s not that unusual for GPL projects that abide by the “release when ready” school of thought. Since most distros provide two or more versions of GTK and other libraries, this has never been a real issue, since the independent nature of Xfce projects ensures that you can run pieces of it based on older versions and other pieces of it that are based upon newer versions without issue.

    Note that the Xfce requirements page states that it uses both GTK3 and GTK2. Porting to GTK3 isn’t holding it back, as the pieces are independent enough to stand on their own. In particular, I know that a fair number of people use Xfce’s Panel as a replacement for bloated panels from Gnome and KDE. On a side note, I feel a bit bad for the person who commented without understanding that Gtk3 and Gnome3 are two different things.

    Second, it’s a desktop geared around a paradigm that has existed for 20 years, so whining about a slow update cycle is a bit moronic. If it works well, you don’t need to “reinvent” it every few months. Again, that mentality is based on the long-extinct “box store” vision of software development championed by companies which make a nice side profit from training people, like Microsoft, which changed features and confused their users, just to put out another cash cow. Xfce isn’t meant to be a cutting-edge DE, it’s meant to be a good balance between updated features and a traditional DE.

    Third, if you’re that hungry for the newest version, Xfce is easy enough to obtain and compile.

    Finally, Xfce is hardly “stalled”. Updates are ongoing, major contributions occur daily, and while there are only 15 primary developers, there are numerous updates nearly every single day, and many dozens of developers are active today, even if the averager person doesn’t have “master” permissions to the

    Before writing clickbait articles like this, it may benefit the writer to approach such seeming “problems” from the point of view that the developers use Xfce in their daily lives, and one reason it’s taking so long to update may have less to do with difficulty or a lack of developer interest, and more to do with a lack of interest in breaking what already works well.

    Reply

    • Brock

      March 2, 2018 at 5:50 pm

      ‘If it works well, you don’t need to “reinvent” it every few months.’ Nicely stated. I love the logic in Linux and particularly my desktop for years, Xfce. If the tools work great, then why reinvent the wheel? For me now, Xfce 4.12 on Debian 9 works perfectly. I cannot stand it when people do a bunch of work to make changes that aren’t even really necessary.

      Reply

  5. anonimous 896557800027263837

    April 16, 2018 at 9:42 pm

    KDE and GNOME too much versions, too little improvement (in the best case scenario).
    Xfce is by far the most usable and nice environment.
    You don’t need to change what was WELL DESIGNED since the beginning.

    Reply

  6. Kan

    July 16, 2018 at 8:30 pm

    I absolutely LOVE XFCE, but unfortunately it is missing one important feature that keeps me from using it….color management. Adding color profiles to multiple monitors and printers is essential to photographers, designers, publishers, etc. Please work on adding color management.

    Reply

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