Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Make XFCE Rock, Part I. Panel Layout

Bunch of us are unhappy with the direction of Gnome 3. For us, the best desktop to replace gnome with is probably XFCE. However XFCE isn't as mature as Gnome 2 was before Gnome 3 took over. So here's the idea: make XFCE first class citizen in Fedora. And this blog post is the first (and one of the both most easy most controversial) part of that great task—the default panel layout.

I think the current default layout suffers many shortcomings and redesign is needed. After some initial discussion of what applets we should use I sketched and propose for consideration two layouts. One single-panel and one two-panel.

The single panel layout is very minimalistic and tries to retain good usability within the constraints:


The two-panel layout on the other hand can sport some more applets and thus improve the usability a lot. I believe that the splitting of applets into the panels should be easy to understand/use, functional and look stylish. I obviously see analogy between panel menus and app menus – hence they are in top panel. Similarly for window buttons – they practically work like tabs and we are used from web browsers to have tabs on top.

Next idea is for workspace switcher – it's best to put it somewhere where it is both easily accessible and not getting in the way. Similarly for lock-screen and log-out buttons. Obvious positions for these are corners then and as shutdown button is quite commonly in bottom-right corner (old versions of GDM, LXDM, …) it's quite easy to place them. We use the remaining corner for clock. And finally group together all other applets that use icons. And voila, we have almost dock-like bottom panel (just add some transparency to it and you'll see the similarity). And of course, not to forgot, one of the most important decision here is that window list and system tray should be on different panels as they each tend to take up lots of space.


Feel free to join the discussion either on fedora xfce list, dedicated wiki page or here ;-)

16 comments:

Leif said...

I never understood putting the trash icon on the panel.

To delete something do you drag the file onto the trash icon in the panel? It's such a tiny target to drop and drop too. And it seems non intuitive...what else on the desktop do you ever drag and release onto a panel? Maybe i'm missing the point.

On Fedora gnome 2.x it's always been the first thing I remove when customizing desktop.

I personally put the trash icon on my gnome 2.x desktop. It's the only system icon I have on my desktop.

Ben said...

Here's the layout I settled on after messing around a bit:

http://www.zimagez.com/zimage/screenshot-03142011-094300am.php

A bit more complex than the average user probably wants, but it works pretty well for me.

Martin said...

@Leif: I see your point. Personally I move files to trash by using delete key (if not deleting it outright completely with shift+del) and use the icon just for emptying the trash. Furthermore I rarely have desktop un-obscured by windows, while the panel is always visible so the drag'n'drop to panel would actually work easier than to desktop for me.

Why is it this way by default I have no idea and it seems that people are in favour leaving it like that plus I don't like duplicating things – hence as you can see in the sketches, the trash is either on desktop or in panel, never in both.

As for dropping things on panel. First of all, launchers are usually created by drag'n'drop-ing them from menu onto panel and IIRC you can open file by dragging it onto an app launcher.

As for the size, there's probably some room for discussion, I personally use 32x32 for icons in panel, but I put 22x22 into the sketch considering people with smaller screens.

Pieter said...

I installed F15 Alpha and frankly I just don't get it. I noticed there were a ton of updates so I though work in progress. maybe it's better after the updates. Well, the only change I saw was that the favorite and activities icons changed from too big to humongously big. And what's with the lack of a shutdown/powerdown option unless you use shift? Really Gnome3 devs? Have you lost *all* touch with your userbase?

But seriously, the dumbing down/removing options/no longer updating GUIs (gdm)/making options only configurable through funky gconf,dconf,xyzconf commands has just gone too far. Someone needs to talk some sense into these people.

Maybe I need to keep an open mind and give it more time but if it does not change for my better I'll either stay with F14 and wait for F16 hoping it will fix things or choose another Window Manager. Judging from the two panel layout pics you posted XFCE looks like a good alternative.

Anonymous said...

what do you think about off one single vertical panel like nextstep?

nicu said...

I *always* delete with Shift, so the files are deleted, not moved to trash, also, don't keep the trash icon on my desktop to not waste space, since I not use it. Still, mistakes happen and from time to time I move to trash instead of deleting, so having the icon handy was useful to empty the trash can.


PS: yes, a few times I deleted by mistake important files with no way to recover them :D ...but it was only a couple of times

antistress said...

At 1st sight doesn't it looks strange to have the desktop switcher at the botton and the application switcher at the top ?

Martin said...

@antistress: Nope. First, I've been using it that way for ages, second, virtual desktops work like tasks, while window buttons work for switching between windows within the task. If I followed your reasoning I'd end up with having everything in one panel because why have app launchers in different panel than menu, …

Plus it is much easier to accidentally switch desktops if they're close to window switchers and thus confuse users that are not used to them.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why the panel needs a shutdown button. Does anyone use it so often that it needs to be in sight all time?

Martin said...

@Anonymous: lot's of people, including me, like it that way (we like having on the panel everything that we access rather often), partly because it's not just shutdown, but also offers log-out, restart, suspend and hibernate.

nicu said...

i use the shutdown button one, maybe two times a day... if it happens to be at my laptop, i press the on/off button, if i am at the desktop, that button if far enough so is more comfortable to shutdown from software, where an entry in the menu is enough

Martin said...

@nicu: I've never got used to using shut-down button to shutting my laptop down, besides I dare say simple log-out or reboot is more often in my case than shutdown. And I really like to have something that I use at the very least on periodical basis to have handy, i.e. accessible on single-click. But to be fair, putting the shutdown/logout button in wasn't originally my idea, but I happen to like it ;-)

For me, applications menu is the last front when everything else fails :-D I really dislike using it.

Anonymous said...

Error: Cannot retrieve repository metadata (repomd.xml) for repository: fedora. Please verify its path and try again


how to solved it ??

nicu said...

As I said, I use the power button only on the laptop, not on the desktop, where it would require me to physically move... but on the laptop it make a lot or sense: you are done with your computer, so you have to move your hands anyway from the keyboard/touchpad/mouse, so in my experience power button and Enter is the fastest way. And if you don't want to shutdown, the dialog in GNOME/F14 has all the other options, so power button, an optional arrow and enter.

Anonymous said...

Take a look at Zenwalks xfce desktop. I think it looks like one of the best xfce-desktops I have ever seen. And frankly, Fedora has not managed to make neither their xfce-spin or their lxde-spin appealing in their designs. What bothers me most is the log-out icon, the green running guy. It's horrible

Unknown said...

looking forward to Part 2 :)