XFCE/Nautilus Hybrid Desktop

It’s been a while since posting here, but I haven’t forgotten about you :).  I’ve still been mulling over (read: procrastinating) on some things, but a lot of that has been put on hold due to some positive developments in my life which I will not go into.  However, I do have some other news:

  • Development on my inverter project continues, look for more information sometime in the future (who knows).
  • I recently received my Raspberry Pi, and am looking at making it into the server for this site.
  • I’ve also been considering ways to make the Pi run at least partially on solar power.  As I’ve mentioned before this would be a neat thing to have my server do, although there are some logistical obstacles.

That said, the rest of this post is not about anything mentioned in the above list.  Rather, it deals with my frustrations regarding Gnome.  I upgraded to Gnome 3 on my Gentoo machine, and for the most part was happy with it.  That is, once I got used to the layout.  I understand why people might not like it, but it didn’t bother me too much.  However, eventually it started getting unstable, as in certain things would make it crash.  At first it was not much of a problem, but then it started to get more and more random.  I switched to Fallback Mode, which I actually kind of liked too.  However, this too proved to crash a little too often.  (Note: I was also having some issues with the clutter-gst package and introspection USE flag not compiling, but I think my stability problems are related to the current nVidia drivers.)

The other day, a crash happened while playing around with the excellent EDA software KiCad, and that was it: time to migrate to something else.  I’d used Xfce in the past, and had been happy with it, although I usually stuck to Gnome because I was familiar with it most of all.  Desperate, I emerged it.  It’s a great environment as is, but it just felt lacking.  I wanted to manage my desktop like I did under Gnome, with my wallpapers and the like.  Actually, I wanted Gnome, but it just wasn’t working out.  This post will explain how I made this environment more like Gnome by using Xfce with Gnome’s Nautilus file manager.  It’s not difficult, and hopefully it will help someone out.

Xfce is a lightweight desktop, and I should point out that doing this sort of defeats the purpose of having it.  That said, I had the hardware resources to use Gnome more than comfortably, so this really isn’t an issue.  Also, if you really like it, you might consider a distribution that uses it by default, which will probably integrate it fairly well.

Anyway, assuming you’re switching from something else (Gnome in my case), to start with you’ll need to install Xfce.  To do this on Gentoo, I used the following command (as root):

emerge -avt xfce4-meta

(Note: The Gentoo Xfce Configuration Guide is a great place to check out if using this distro.)

Next, logout and log back in with Xfce selected as your desktop.  You should have a vanilla looking desktop, and now we want to have Nautilus manage the folders and icons.  Open the Settings Manager (Applications Menu->Settings), and click on Session and Startup.  Now, before I go on, I should say that we are going to determine what gets started when you log in to your Xfce desktop.  So, close everything you don’t want open (leave the Settings manager open though).  In the Session tab, you should see a list of running applications.  Select the xfdesktop program, and kill it.  Now click the Save Session button.

So now, Xfce isn’t managing the desktop.  Click the Application Autostart tab, and you will see a bunch of different services, some Xfce-related, some Gnome-related.  In my case there was one called Files, which I checked.  This basically runs the command nautilus -n, which has Nautilus manage the desktop.  (If you’re unsure, you can select it, hit Edit, and look at the command.)  I also activated some other things, like the SSH Key Agent.

Logging out and logging in again, you should now have Xfce panels, but with a desktop managed by Gnome that responds like it did before.  If you want, play with the Xfce panels, and you can make it look fairly Gnome-like.  It’s a little weird, but I’m happy with it.  It doesn’t have all the 3D effects of Gnome, but it’s responsive, and so far has been fairly stable.

2 thoughts on “XFCE/Nautilus Hybrid Desktop”

  1. That is very cool. I do have one issue though. Nautilus opens every time my system boots. It is not a big deal I would just like to have it enabled in a way where the file manager does not actually open upon boot. Any ideas?

    1. Honestly, I’ve been away from this machine (ie, many miles away), and I’ve been running Mate on it and haven’t played with this setup in quite a while. However, off the top of my head I think this has to do with the -n switch for Nautilus, which makes it only manage the desktop. To check this, you could take a look at the command in the Autostart Applications folder and make sure the -n switch is there. You might also try disabling that entry (Files?), and see if that fixes it. (If you do this, you also may not see anything on your desktop. Try starting Nautilus from a shell and see if the window and your desktop icons come back.)

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