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hyperreal.coffee

Switching from GNOME to Xfce

Context

I've been using GNOME consistently for a few years now. It's a great desktop environment, but I want something more lightweight with less of a memory footprint. The main obstacle I've consistently run into with choosing a desktop environmnent or window manager is my HiDPI screen. Window managers like Openbox do not have very good HiDPI support -- even when you configure Xresources to use 120 DPI scaling, the result is horrendous, at least in my experience. Apps don't scale right, fonts don't scale right, the cursor is too big and the window buttons and title bar are too small. There are no themes I like that cater to HiDPI screens. If I had a "normal" DPI screen this wouldn't be an issue at all.

HiDPI + Nvidia + Intel + dual-monitor setup + Linux is an effing shit show, which complicates things. (In fact, this is the main reason my next PC is going to have an AMD CPU and GPU). These are my constraints:

  • I need 125% fractional scaling for everything to look satisfactory on HiDPI.

  • Wayland allows fractional scaling as an experimental feature, but I have an NVidia graphics card, which doesn't play nicely with Wayland yet, so I have to use Xorg.

  • Xorg upstream no longer supports fractional scaling. Ubuntu developers have made patches to Xorg that enable fractional scaling. Fedora does not have these patches, and I don't wanna use Ubuntu, so I'll have to tweak Fedora.

  • I don't want to spend a lot of time tweaking Fedora and trying to make tweaks reproducible in automation scripts.

GNOME has just been the easiest to satisfy these constraints. On Fedora, I need to enable the RPMFusion repos to install the proprietary NVidia driver, and then set the font scaling to 1.25 in gnome-tweak-tool. This has been enough for me for the past few years. Lately, in addition to wanting something lightweight, I've been wanting a reprieve from the bugginess and version incompatibilities of GNOME Shell Extensions. I'd rather not spend time fiddling around with things to make them "just right", or finding alternatives to things that aren't yet supported in the current version of GNOME.

Enter Xfce

Tangent: I've been pronouncing it as "ex-fice" since I started using Linux and that pronunciation is pretty much soldered into my neural circuitry. Anyway...

I haven't used Xfce in a few years. For a time, I had been running Xubuntu as my daily driver, then Xfce on Arch Linux, and then MATE on Arch Linux, but this was back when I had a "normal" DPI screen. I think I tried Xfce once on my current screen and hastily decided it was more trouble than it was worth, and I had been so used to GNOME that anything else felt weird.

The other day I decided to give Fedora's Xfce edition a more thorough trial, and I'm glad I did. Xfce's custom DPI setting in the Appearance menu is a real treat. The panel profiles feature is also really great -- IIRC, this wasn't available the last time I used Xfce regularly. Xfce's panel has plenty of nice plugins that satisfy all my preferences as far as a panel is concerned. The Xfce Terminal has a nice dropdown feature that can be used with a keyboard shortcut. I also use Rofi for quick fuzzy app opening, file opening, emoji selecting, and keyboard shortcut searching. I am happy with this setup 😊

See screenshots below:

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Last updated: 2021-11-28