Debian 7 with XFCE

Nov 17th, 2013 by adminadam in articles

As you may know, the last time I wrote about Extropian Linux Operating System Distros I examined my top two choices of Debian and openSUSE. Why were they my top picks? Well, to start they both have strong communities of developers. Additionally, they are stable distros with long support cycles — not as long as CentOS, mind you, but I digress — these long support cycles mean that each version of the operating system will last and be well supported for a long time, probably two to four years, if not longer.

Both Debian and openSUSE are independent projects as well, which I quite enjoy. None of that opt-out spying and 3rd-party profit-motivated collusion that you get with Ubuntu.

My top two choices are also both predicated on user-friendliness. None of that Arch & Gentoo command-line installation stuff. Sweet and simple installs for me.

Recently, I’ve determined that I would like to create a blog and host it on a home server. For this purpose and to familiarize myself with what I believe will be the best, most extropian pick in the long run, I’ve gone with the stalwart: Debian.

Debian has over 3000 developers worldwide and forms the basis for many other big name projects, such as Ubuntu and Linux Mint. (It must be doing something right!)

In order to streamline the process of testing for myself (and ideally that of installation on friends’ and family members’ computers) I went with the default Desktop Environment choice of GNOME 3. I was disappointed, however, to find that it didn’t work anything like what I was used to with GNOME 2 (which I last used with Fedora 14) or CINNAMON (which I last used with Linux Mint 14).

I guess this is what a lot of users were complaining about: A major break in design and user experience for no apparent reason at all.

Secondly, and perhaps the main reason why I am abandoning GNOME 3 (and most likely KDE as well) in favor of the XFCE desktop is that I felt GNOME 3 to be a resource hog. DISCLAIMER: I am running Debian 7 virtualized in VirtualBox. UNDISCLAIMER: This may actually be an excellent test bed for — or simulation of — the use of Debian on friends’ and family members’ old PC’s and Macs. The lighter on the system, the better. Otherwise we are giving Entropy a leg up as we lean towards ditching our old hardware; it’s still got plenty of potential as long as the tools we use are not too heavy.

What’s nice about XFCE is that it is super-lightweight. It uses minimal system resources, RAM, hard-drive space, etc.

It looks good. Not super polished like openSUSE or anything, but it has a clean and functional look. As I found as well, it is very intuitive to use (at least to me with a little exposure to Linux). In the future I hope to expose my students to it (in the form of an extra research/printing computer in my classroom) if I can get Debian 7 with XFCE running on my old HP laptop. That will be a good test, I believe. My general feeling is that it is user-friendly and intuitive — especially compared to GNOME 3. In GNOME 3 I felt like so many options I’ve come to expect were hidden by default. I want an always-showing panel with my most used programs (or shortcuts to my favorites). I want my multiple-desktop options to be showing. I also don’t want to have to click on ‘Activities’ to see which programs I have open, as is required in GNOME 3 (see further down). I want them on a Windows-like taskbar. Simple and easy, for me. That is XFCE:


Debian 7 with XFCE. Firefox/Iceweasel, File Manager, Terminal, and Gedit are open. [CLICK TO ENLARGE]

Here is a shot of Debian with GNOME 3. Alas, when I try and set up a similar shot as the XFCE one above, this is what I get: White Screen of Death. Note that my machine has 2GB of RAM, 2 CPU’s, and 128MB of video-RAM dedicated to this virtual machine. And it constantly freezes up on me. The XFCE shot above was granted only 64MB video-RAM and runs smoothly all the time.



Here is a shot someone else took showing GNOME 3. While I am new at GNOME 3, I am not new at computers-in-general, and I never saw anything called ‘Configuration Editor’ anywhere obvious. And yet it has some very important options I would like to modify, such as ‘Show Desktop Icons’. Do I have to find Conf Editor through the command line or something? I don’t even care to find out anymore, honestly. It’s probably not that hard, but it just doesn’t make any sense, this GNOME 3.

Debian GNOME 3 scrnsht Conf Edit

By default the icons are not showing. I don’t know why.

The other thing missing which I’d like to see is my multiple desktops: Nowhere to be seen. Also, as I hinted at earlier, everything is hidden behind the ‘Activities’ pane. I can’t even see that I have multiple programs running in GNOME 3 unless I click on ‘Activities’. What the heck.

As you can see here, XFCE simply shows my open programs all the time, and it has this nice multiple desktops utility that we see in the upper right corner of this shot:


That blue square there with smaller light-blue rectangles in it? That’s my Desktop #1. I can put programs from a specific category in each of the four desktops, for instance, browser in one, terminal in another, graphics program in another… Note: I don’t have anything else in the other three — they are just grey, meaning they’re not being used.

Now to summarize, here are the main benefits I have found in using XFCE:

  • User-friendly and intuitive interface
  • Set up to work the first time you run it
  • Functional, not-over-the-top design
  • Not a resource hog; great for older computers

But I haven’t mentioned the best part..! Debian has announced that they will most likely choose XFCE as their default desktop environment for Debian 8.0, a.k.a. “Jessie”. This gives me extra impetus to learn and familiarize myself with it. And if I were to install it on the computers of my friends and families, I could be relatively certain that future versions would look nice and familiar for them!

Now, for your viewing pleasure, I present to you my easy-breezy, 5-screen-shot XFCE installation tutorial:

First of all you’ll have to download the latest net-install .iso of Debian (whether that’s version 7 or 8) from here and burn it to a CD. Once that’s done you’ll restart your computer with the CD in the drive and hit either F2 or F1 as your system is booting up to enter the BIOS (where you can re-order the boot options). You’ll instruct your computer to try to start first from the CD drive. Then you’ll save your choice, exit the BIOS, and boot into the Debian Install CD you’ve created. (More about this process of creating an Install CD can be found here.) Note: It’s also possible to create a live-install USB through a similar process.

Once you’re running the install CD, simply follow these steps to select XFCE over any of the other desktop option that Debian has:


The first thing you’ll see as your computer starts: Debian Installer. Select Advanced Options if you don’t want to use GNOME 3.


Select Alternative desktop environments


Scroll down and select XFCE and hit enter.


Choose the Graphical Install option to start installing Debian with XFCE onto your system. (You could also do a normal Install and it would just look more old-school.)


From here you simply set a few basic options for your operating system like Time Zone and Language and then let Debian do the rest of the work. Most of the default options for install are likely to be the ones you want.

And that’s it! Best of luck to you as you start your eXtra Fun Computing Experience! If you have any questions about this process or would like more information, please email me at 84adam [at] thrivenotes [dot] com. Cheers!

Here’s a bonus final XFCE screenshot. This is closer to how I would actually set up a permanent desktop situation for myself.


I have Gedit, Terminal, and the File Manager open. Iceweasel, the browser, is minimized. I’ve moved my App Shortcuts to the left-bottom part of the screen and set a woody background. Ooh, and don’t forget the purple window highlights..! : )

~ Catch ya next time! ~


  • Hi,
    I like the XFCE desktop too. However I recently had cause to look at a manjaro gnome edition live disk and I have to say it wasn’t as bad as I had expected – a bit slower than XFCE but not brutal. I can see why less technically inclined users might be attracted to it – press Super (Windows) key and start typing to launch a program.

    To change desktop settings etc try Gnome tweak tool – should be in most distros repos.

    • I appreciate the tip. If I’m going to put something on my grandpa’s computer for him, though, it’s got to be as similar to Windows XP or Windows 7 as possible. Meaning desktop icons are just there, plus— NO fancy keys to press. That is what I’m looking for. No Tweak Tools necessary.

  • […] Links: 1- Xfce – debian Wiki 2- Website Xfce 3- Debian 7 with Xfce […]