Mint XFCE has a reputation for speed, particularly on older PCs. Its software is selected and designed to balance efficiency against ease of use. It’s not a radically scaled-down distro like Damn Small Linux (www.damnsmalllinux.org) or even Knoppix (knoppix.net), but it’s appealingly straightforward for people who just want to get down to business.
Mint XFCE starts up with a screen which looks very much like MATE. A small menu button at the bottom left pops up a list of categories. Many of the applications in the menu are familiar – others are supplied only with XFCE, although they can normally be installed on other distros if desired. In this section I’ll look at some of the specifically XFCE-related programs.
Thunar (found under Accessories) is a simple File Manager which opens in the standard view with a vertical list of Places on the left and the files and folders in the selected location at the right. Right-clicking on a file or folder brings up the usual options to Cut, Copy, Delete or Rename. You can open a terminal window, and create a link (here called a ‘symlink’) to a folder by right-clicking on or in that folder. You can start a new Thunar session as the root user just by right-clicking, selecting ‘Open Folder as Root’ and supplying your password. A red band at the top of the new windows warns you of the risks.
The Thunar File Menu is fairly standard, though it includes an Execute command for program files. The Edit Menu has a couple of interesting options:
- Select by Pattern – Allows you to enter a wildcard filename pattern and select matching files only; e.g. ‘d*.jpg’ will select all JPG graphics files whose names start with a lower-case ‘d’.
- Configure Custom Actions – This determines the menu items that appear when you right-click on a file or folder. These include printing, and installing TTF font files.
- Preferences – This seems very sparse compared to KDE applications, but it allows for some minor tweaking to how Thunar works and looks.
The View Menu has the usual options, including Icon, Compact List and Detailed List views, and can be used to control what file information appears in the Detailed List. The Go Menu lists commonly-visited locations, and the Help Menu links in to an online website.
Thunar has been scaled back to basics, but it still provides most of the functions that ordinary users need in file management.
Gedit Text Editor
Gedit – also under Accessories – was the default text editor for Linux Mint up to version 13, and it remains the default for Ubuntu, Mint’s ‘parent’ distro. The development team for Mint XFCE decided to use it instead of Pluma or Kate because of its efficiency and reliability.
Gedit opens with a new document window. Multiple documents can be opened and selected by means of a tab bar along the top. The tabs can be dragged to the left or right to reshuffle their order. To close an individual tab, click on the cross at its right side.
The Edit Menu includes an option to insert the date and time, and Edit/Preferences offers some useful settings including a choice of colour schemes. A Plugins tab allows you to activate several useful plugins, including document statistics, re-usable snippets of text, sorting paragraphs into order and a spelling checker. The View Menu offers a ‘Highlight Mode’ for working with scripts and programs in a range of computer languages. This will cause various types of keywords to appear in different colours.
The Search Menu is fairly basic, although it includes an Incremental Search option. The Tools Menu includes whatever menu-based plugins you’ve chosen to install, and the Help Menu links up to the official Linux Mint documentation online. Right-clicking in a document allows you to insert some special characters and switch between input methods – e.g. if you have a Japanese keyboard connected and installed, you can switch to using that in the middle of your document.
Mint XFCE comes with the LibreOffice application. It also has a stand-alone Dictionary program which allows you to look up words in an online dictionary. It will also check they are spelled correctly. Dictionary also comes with a Speed Reader button which allows you to develop a faster reading speed through practice.
Graphics and Internet Applications
In addition to GThumb, LibreOffice Draw and GIMP, XFCE comes with a Ristretto Image Viewer which is substantially identical to the Image Viewer found in MATE.
Internet applications in XFCE include Mozilla Thunderbird and Firefox, XChat, Pidgin and Transmission, a file-sharing application for sending and receiving torrents. This is often quicker and more reliable than doing a direct download – for instance, in obtaining updated copies of Linux distros.
Transmission is normally triggered automatically by downloading a ‘seeder’ file from a website. You can start it up yourself, however, and enter a URL via the File Menu. The Preferences in the Edit Menu allow you to control where incoming files are stored and to set speed, time or bandwidth limits where these need to be restricted.
When you select a seeding file and click ‘Open’, Torrent opens a download window showing the progress of the file. You can pause or restart this with a right-click, or via the Toolbar. Transmission is a two-way program, so while files are arriving on your PC, it can be distributing those same files to other users. The Help button and menu in Torrent opens a link to their website at http://www.transmissionbt.com. There is only a single page of help, illustrated by screenshots, but it appears quite thorough.