Welcome to this week’s Xfce (bi)Weekly News, which I am now subtitling “XFW – Slightly Later, Every Week!” In this edition we see the first entry in what we hope to be a continuing series of short articles on the major new features and technologies in the coming 4.4 release of Xfce. This week, the mysterious and powerful “panel widget”.
Also, I would like to thank Francois Le Clainche for cleaning up the format of last week’s news. If you see Francois, buy him a beer, or whatever the cool kids drink these days.
On to the main event!
This week saw a couple of Xfce notable software releases
4.2.x – Good, But Doomed
If you were watching this spot last week you probably know that 4.2.1 was scheduled for release on Sunday. Unfortunately, an xfcalendar build problem on some architectures resulted in a delay of the release. 4.2.1 was tar-ed and ball-ed, and uploaded on Tuesday the 15th with mirrors following as per usual.
Then things got strange. It quickly became clear that some of the files on sourceforge were corrupted, and had to be replaced. With this fixed it looked like the new stable release has its requisite hiccups, and we could move on with our lives. Not so – users quickly discovered a critical bug which caused the panel to dump its settings on logout, and then load the panel defaults.
A few patches were floated, and a 184.108.40.206 release was settled on, but yet another upload problem resulted in the 220.127.116.11 installer actually containing the 4.2.1 release, still containing the panel bug. This was all quickly resolved, and everyone held their breath. As Brian said: “we need a new motto. Xfce: Our software rocks, but we can’t release it for shit.”
Xfmedia, everybodies favorite media player, also had two releases this week. Xfmedia 0.7.0 includes all sorts of goodies, and is nicely D-BUSified. It also wouldn’t build as advertised in the absense of D-BUS. This lead to the 0.7.1 (“Brian is Dumb”) release.
Jasper and Brian proceeded to argue over who sucked more.
Benedikt announced the release of Terminal 0.2.4. Terminal is a pretty robust and featureful terminal emulator, that also serves as a good showcase for libexo. Benedikt seems to think that a 1.0 release should be on its way, so if your looking for a little more than Xterm, and no Gnome dependencies, then give it a try.
Edscott made a release of the development version of the Xfce Fast File Manager. This is a “bleeding edge” release of what is slated for 4.4.
The big change for 4.3.1 is the new iconview to augment the tree view that Xffm has traditionally used. If you try it out, please give Edscott some (positive) feedback!
Xfce 4.4 – Cooler Than Your Mom
Xfce 4.4 is still quite a ways away, but that does not mean that the people do not want to know what is coming. And in that vein, I sent off a few emails to developers asking about various changes and inclusions, to give you, constant reader (both of you!) an idea about what we might see.
Other than Thunar, whose development process is very open and observable, the most speculated about and anticipated changes coming in 4.4 is perhaps the “panel widget”. But what the heck is it?
The answer I got back from Jasper was both more and less than I expected. Jasper told me that the most notable aspect of the panel widget is that it is very incomplete, which should not have been a surprise at this stage of development. On the other hand, Jasper then made the design process public by setting up a wiki for the new panel.
The basic idea seems to be to make it possible to collapse the functionality of the iconbox, the taskbar, and the panel into a single unit, increasing flexibility and cutting down on maintainance costs. There are also some plans to move some/all of the panel’s plugins into seperate processes so that plugin bugs don’t bring down the whole panel. There are also some plans to add drag and drop support to the new panel widget, making it possible to add launchers to the panel this way
A quick review of the various requests and comments about the panel shows that this is the direction most, if not all, of the users want to go. However, Jasper and the other devs would probably appreciate the input of the various panel plugin writers out in the great expanse of internet. If you have or plan on writing a plugin for the panel, stop on by the wiki, and give Jasper some solid input on the API and design, to help make it fit everyone’s needs as best it can.
Thunar – A Kind of Progress
Thunar, the new file manager for Xfce, has what some have called an unusual development process. Benedikt has directly submitted ideas from the community while still maintaining a strong position as the the core developer and final arbiter of all design questions.
This sounds like the kind of process which can be all talk and no output. And it is certainly true that the Thunar-dev list has been full of long threads and messages from new users with their own desires. But Benedikt has shown a solid talent for pulling the wheat from the chaff, and encouraging comment. Benedikt has also backed up this discussion and design process with oft released semi-functional “mockups” written in python, that give users hands on experience with the proposed UI.
On the 15th, Benedikt had a new screenshot of what he called the “Classic” UI. Lots of comments were made. The concept of tabs was brought up and dismissed again. Several people commented that the toolbar menu for switching the view was probably a false economy, and Benedikt was easily convinced.
A more important sub thread that emerged started when Adam Scheinberg asked the perenial question “Why?”. What does Thunar offer that other file managers don’t?
The answer is simple. It does not do anything special, rather it does all the basic functionality right. Simple, learnable. For the Xfce users, file managers fall into two categories – lots of dependencies dragged in from other environments (Konqueror, Nautilus, Evidence) or smaller file managers, almost all of whom fit the NC/MC/Directory Opus two pane model (Filer, gentoo). There is a open niche for a file manager that is simple and supports an icon view as it’s core UI element. Thunar is to fill that niche.
There were some questions about the use of the path bar or a location bar instead. Discussion settled in the direction of both available with the path bar on by default. Several people pushed to move the location bar down to the bottom of the pane, ala FireFox. Middle clicking to open folders in new windows was also mentioned.
On the 20th, Benedikt felt the UI was ready to be thrown at the masses, and tweaked as needed. Response was extensive, and almost universally positive. Other than a few clairifiying questions, the existing mockups seemed to be what everyone was looking for.
Abo asked about the possiblity of adding scripts to the right click menu, specifically hoping that we could be compatible with Nautilus scripts. Benedikt reckoned that maybe we could and maybe we should, but when and how were undecided.
Benedikt made a graph pointing out the basic relationships between components of Thunar and its overall architecture. Some comments were made, but less than, say, the thread on a location bar ala FireFox. Thunar UI has profited much from the central designer with early feedback model, if you have any comments about Thunar’s internals, please make them. Let us not make Benedikt do it alone.
Foxtrot started a long thread about possible “release names” for Thunar. Lots of suggestions were made, and an OSNews poll even surfaced.
Benedikt also brought in some discussion from the XDG list about a MIME cache. Thunar may or may not be able to profit from it.
XFC – Making The Peoples Happy
For those still not in the know, XFC is the Xfce Foundation Classes, a set of C++ bindings for GTK+ and GLib, with coming bindings for the core Xfce libraries. Not only is this already cooler than lemonade in Antarctica, but it is incredibly well documented. Finally, some discussion cropped up on the XFC list, but still not enough for my tastes. If you are a C++ programmer, please give XFC a shot. Everyone else is doing it. You know you want to.
A Few Good Docs
Xavier Otazu and xl g pointed out a few documentation bugs, which Jeff fixed in a matter of moments. Who said OSS is not well documented?
XFC and GTK+ 2.6 – Two Great Tastes that Taste Great Together
Jeff updated XFC to support GTK+ 2.6. On the other hand, XFC now requires GTK+ 2.6. Since XFC is slated to make it’s stable release when Xfce 4.4 does, then this probably isn’t a problem, though Xavier Otazu was a little upset by it. Xavier also complimented XFC up and down, and asked for something like a libglade binding. In that, it seems, he must be disappointed, for the nonce.
Mailing Lists and Commits – Cry Me A River
Because of the large amount of just incidental traffic, and the sheer number of commits of the last few weeks, I will not be doing detailed summeries of either this time. I have just been too busy of late, and needed to get XWN out the door. I will resume both next week, and will even include any juicy commits from the nearly five hundred sitting in my inbox already. However I will note this one tidbit from the Xfce-dev list.
Ori Bernstein – Hero
Ori Bernstein requested and Xfwm feature, one that his been requested before, but he did so in an interesting way. He submitted a patch.
Minor issues with Ori’s patch aside, the more patches the better.