Monday, July 29, 2013

Fedora 19 Xfce as a work desktop

I wanted to follow up on using Fedora 19 Xfce at work, and talk about the overall experience of running Linux as my work desktop. Consider this a "macro level" view into usability. Rather than focus on the particulars of a specific program, I'll address the suitability of Fedora 19 Xfce as a desktop replacement. Does Fedora 19 Xfce perform adequately as a work desktop? Does it contain the essentials for the day-to-day tasks in an office environment?

Note that I'm not discussing a home desktop in this post. At home, users might choose to run all kinds of software: games, educational or "edu-tainment" software, photo management, music, … as well as programs that folks in a office need to use: web browsers, file manager, and "Office" suite programs. The home desktop may require a deeper "dive" into software use. I'll leave that for another blog article, or maybe for a different blogger to respond to.

Before starting, I created a list of the programs I use on my Linux laptop. I conveniently divided the list into three sections: Regular use (daily, or more than weekly), Occasional use (less than weekly), and Rare (less than monthly). After moving to Xfce, I found that I didn't use some of these programs at all, where previously I thought I used at least occasionally.

In most cases, transitioning to the Xfce equivalent was transparent. Here's my list of Linux programs that I use now under Fedora 19 Xfce:

Regular use (daily, or more than weekly)
  • Web browser: Google Chrome*
  • File manager: Xfce Thunar
  • Office suite: LibreOffice*
  • Terminal: Xfce Terminal
  • Password manager: KeePassX*
  • Software updater: yum
  • PDF viewer: GNOME Evince
  • Flash plugin: Google Chrome Flash plugin
  • Dropbox (×)

Occasional use (less than weekly)
  • Radio: Tunein.com (via web)
  • Photos (×)
  • Text editor: Xfce Leafpad
  • Solitaire: Aisle Riot*
  • Calculator: Galculator
  • Graphics: GIMP*
  • Drawing (×)
  • Viewer: Evince*
  • Scanner (×)

Rare (less than monthly)
  • Programmer's editor (×)
  • Emulator (×)
* marked items were installed separately; except for Google Chrome, these were part of Fedora 19, but not included by default in Fedora 19 Xfce.

A few notes:

It's not surprising that I haven't yet installed (×) several programs that I use only occasionally or rarely; after all, I've only been using Fedora 19 Xfce for about two weeks. In reflecting on the programs that I actually need, I probably will only bother installing a program (SimpleScan) that lets me use my scanner. I sometimes need to scan things, but I prefer not to manage personal photos (Shotwell) on my work laptop, and I don't do vector drawing (Inkscape) anymore. I also am taking a "time out" from some of my other open source software work, so I don't currently need a programmer's editor (GNU Emacs) or DOS emulator (DOSemu). When I eventually need them, those programs are easy to install.

I also don't use Dropbox anymore. I haven't even bothered to install Dropbox on Fedora 19. I originally installed Dropbox to try it out for work, so I could experiment with "cloud storage." But I have only used Dropbox to make backup copies of a few personal files. We have a "private" cloud storage system at work, and I use that for all my important files.

While I use Google Docs for almost everything, sometimes I need to print out a Word file or Excel spreadsheet that someone sends to me. If the file is very big, I may prefer to use LibreOffice to view and print the document, rather than opening it in Google Docs and printing from there. In that respect, LibreOffice is only an office viewer in my day-to-day work.

Under GNOME, I used Rhythmbox to listen to Internet radio stations. I usually like to stream music from HBR1, but it turns out there's a channel for that on TuneIn.com. Now I just open a new tab in my web browser, and click on my bookmark to listen to music while I work. (You can also stream directly from HBR1.com, but TuneIn lets me listen to other stuff, as well.)

The only GNOME program I continue to use under Xfce is GNOME Evince (technically, Galculator and a few others are compiled using GNOME libraries, but aren't GNOME projects per se, and work fine under Xfce). Evince has a nice user interface for viewing and printing PDF files, much nicer than other PDF viewers I've tried.

Does Fedora 19 Xfce perform adequately as a work desktop? Does it contain the essentials for the day-to-day tasks in an office environment? I think the answer to both is yes. I can do everything I need to do under Fedora 19 Xfce. Less technical folks would have an easier time, I think; most users do not need a terminal or password manager, for example. The Xfce desktop is easy to navigate, and programs are easy to use. Everything listed above has good Familiarity, Consistency, Menus, and Obviousness. My only complaint is that installing printers is confusing.

This was an interesting diversion into a specific desktop use case, exploring Xfce at a "high level" view to see how well it performs as a desktop replacement. However, I prefer to use this space for exploring OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE & USABILITY, so I don't expect to return to this topic again on this blog.

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