Since all desktop environments in Debian are maintained with equal commitments and you can install any of them easily, change of "default" desktop environment is a rather symbolic gesture.
Technically, the reason for the change is that GNOME won't fit in a CD without a diet and Xfce will. I am not sure how many people install Debian with CD (not DVD, not USB, not network install, etc.) though...
One point would be that if you're setting up rackmount server hardware, it still tends to come with a CD drive rather than DVD. That's one of Debian's primary purposes nowadays, given that Ubuntu has eaten most of its desktop market-share away.
The last few rack-mounted servers we bought came with DVD writers, which seemed a little redundant to me. In our case, we only ever use the DVD drive once, to install CentOS, and then it's closed up and never used again. I can't imagine any situation where you'd want to write a DVD using a server...
6 years ago, you could simply install xfc4-panel - or any other XFCE package - individually without too much fanfare. It would happily install and run no matter what WM you were using.
These days, trying to install xfce4-panel individually is impossible as it will force you to install an army of "additional" packages, some even originating from GNOME.
XFCE is not the same "lightweight" desktop environment it once was. That task is now handed over to LXDE.
In the meantime, GNOME and KDE have moved on to something else: shiny, full of animations, and resource-hungry. I think it's only natural that some other desktop environment has moved to fill the void where GNOME 2 and KDE 3 used to be. LXDE now fills the place where XFCE used to be. Sooner or later, something else will fill the space where LXDE used to be, etc, etc, and life goes on!
I agree. I switched to Debian + XFCE a couple of years ago and really like the small incremental changes approach and focus on stability rather than 'Lets redefine the desktop' attitude taken by other desktop environments.
It works for me. I have "mastered" the windows concept and now I just want to use my computer to get stuff done, not learn a new UI concept every other day (unless it involves substantial improvements to my experience).
Absolutely. I've been on Xubuntu (Ubuntu with XFCE) for several years, but I tried out stock Ubuntu on my netbook a few months ago — just to see the Unity desktop firsthand. This is a cheapo Dell netbook from 2009, 1024x600 resolution. Unity was so slow as to be completely unusable, and it took up precious screen real estate with a launcher bar I could not remove. It basically turned that netbook into a brick.
Now that I'm back to XFCE, with the panel set to auto-hide, I can hack with that laptop again, no problem.
I don't think you ought to need the latest and greatest machine just to run a responsive OS. XFCE is simple, fast, and gives you what you need with no unwelcome surprises.
You might have a different definition of "completely unusable" from mine, but have you ever compared XFCE and Unity on the same machine? I'm accustomed to a snappy DE. I don't expect to wait 30 seconds+ for the most basic desktop to show up on boot, and when I drag windows I expect them to move instantly with no visible lag. Unity didn't meet those expectations on my Mini 10v. XFCE does easily.
Weird, I might have to try it again sometime. I definitely remember thinking Unity's performance was horrible, but some of that may be confirmation bias (I expected going in that XFCE would be lighter than other options). And I was unaware the launcher could be hidden.
I'll second that. The first release with Unity (11.04?) was dradful. The second fixed some major issues, and now it's perfectly usable (unless you're particularly set in your ways). I run 12.04 on an older Eee, and it's not noticeably faster or slower than when I was running Xubuntu before.
I rediscovered it as well, after updating Ubuntu and trying out Unity and Gnome shell.
Xfce does exactly (IMO) what a desktop should do: make me forget what desktop I'm using. It's got all the standard features I expect, and works how I'd expect a desktop to work. Very happy with Xubuntu right now.
Edit: One minor complaint: the default Xubuntu install left me with window borders that were too small to grab onto (for resizing). Had to change some theme or other.
Protip: Alt + Middle-button drag anywhere on a window should allow you to resize from the nearest corner/side. On a similar note, Alt + Left-drag anywhere on a window will allow you to move it without having to click on the titlebar.
Honestly, most of these are necessary evils these days. New sound cards are cheaper than old ones, and don't support software mixing. Hence Pulseaudio. (Not to mention things like Bluetooth headsets, which don't appear as ALSA devices and instead are natively supported by Pulseaudio.)
NetworkManager is similar -- editing wpa_supplicant configurations is a nightmare. It works from the command-line now, so it's not like it's imposing anything on you anymore.
Hasn't software mixing been in ALSA for ages, with the dmix plugin? I don't think Pulseaudio is necessary for everything.
I do see the Networkmanager is a necessary evil, but why does it have to be so awful? It's great if it works, but if it doesn't then solving the problem is extremely hard because of the bloated, uncommunicative nature of the program.
Pulseaudio can abstract over multiple devices, allowing you to mute individual applications, move streams between physical pieces of hardware, and so on. Audio mixing in kernel-space is brittle and the wrong place for the code anyway. Doing it in userspace is more secure, more flexible, and generally a good design.
Yes, wpa_supplicant is a nightmare, this is one thing FreeBSD got right
I didn't need PA with any of the new sound cards, and the BT dongles don't "support" PA (some are certainly ALSA, but others may "get in" in another way), but what happens is that it makes it easier to use it with it
That being said, I don't care to use new hardware, unless it's something essencial like a video card, chipsets, etc
The Mach micro-kernel was originally a BSD kernel fork (iirc 4.2BSD, when dinosaurs roamed the earth). NeXT/Apple added various things like DriverKit and later IOKit to Mach. Apple also took the network stack from FreeBSD, which is traditionally rather modular (for high performance kernel code, anyway).
Together they make up the current XNU hybrid kernel. You can look at most of the sources at opensource.apple.com
There's certainly lots of FreeBSD in OSX, but it's not like OSX is just FreeBSD with a sugar coated Apple UI.
goomwwm is a mouse-centric stacking window manager. That means that new windows are opened above others, you can move them around and the focused window will stack above any windows it overlaps and you can resize them to arbitrary sizes, uses a alt-tab (mod-tab and mod-grave really) window switcher to toggle between open windows (tab between all windows, grave between windows of the current tag only) and lets you minimize windows - just like you'd expect from a traditional stacking window manager. You can move/resize with the mouse, but there are keyboard controls to move and resize windows. It is these keyboard controls that make it feel like a manual-tiling window manager because it is very easy to position windows in a tiled manner and there are some conrols that really help with this:
mod-d will resize the focused window to be the exact same size as the window directly below it
mod-f makes a window fullscreen
mod-v resizes all windows stacked underneath the focused window so that they are tiled vertically (occupying the same space as they did before)
mod-h is the same for horizontal tiling
movement is aligned to a 3x3 grid
the grow and shrink resize the window by an amount that makes tiling on the grid easier (there is also a more fine-grained grow/shrink that doesn't align to the grid)
mod-shift-movement will swap the focused window and the closest window in the direction of movement - this swaps both windows sizes and their positions
mod-home sets the window height to the height of the screen
mod-end sets the window width to the width of the screen
mod-shift-movement2 "snaps" the focused window to the edge of the closest window in the direction of movement2
mod-return will grow the window to fill all available space without overlapping other windows
mod-backspace will shrink a window to fill all available space without overlappinp other windows
By default, mod is mod4 (the windows key), but can be set to anything you like.
movement being the keys to move windows, by defualt the cursor keys.
movement2 being the keys to select/focus windows, by defualt i, j, k and l.
On top of this, you can set rules which basically allow you to run certain commands on specified windows/applications automaticlaly and rulesets which are sets of rules which you can trigger through a keyboard command. A ruleset you can find on the goomwwm website is to automatically tile windows like you would in a dynamic tiling window manager like awesomewm (eg a main area and a side area), you can then use the "swap" commands to swap the windows in the main area with the other windows as needed.
This makes goomwwm feel very much like a manual tiling window manager, yet it still has solid support for stacking and, in fact, always stacks windows by defualt. This makes it more flexible than it would otherwise be without giving up any tiling or keyboard-centric goodness.
Of course, being a border-less, title-bar-less super minimal window manager makes it also look like a tiling window manager, which are traditionally just as minimal.
I'm sure I didn't explain that very well, so I'd suggest giving it a try in Xephyr or Xnest or something. Its easy to get running (git clone ...; make; ./goomwwm -- takes about 2 seconds to compile on my laptop) and only depends on the usual xlib related libs and dmenu. Or, if you don't feel like trying it out, you should at least glance at the tutorial: http://aerosuidae.net/goomwwm/tutorial
Depends on what you want to do. I had to modify some of awesome to get it to do what I wanted, and later found that it was way easier to just modify dwm to get what I wanted than to mess with awesome, because dwm is simpler.
I do really hate not having a system tray in dwm, though. The patch they have on their site did not work well for me.
This is what I love about linux on the desktop, on one thread we've got serious complaints about usability, on another thread we're switching window managers because it won't fit on a CD.
A CD? In 2012? Windows and OS X haven't fit on a CD in almost 10 years and you can barely find a copy of OS X on DVD. Yet the primary concern on linux is not usability but whether it fits on an install CD.
I think there might be higher priority concerns than whether a user is able to install a modern operating system on the Pentium MMX & 8X CD drive they found in the dumpster.
Your point is understandable, but distribution restricted to the size of a CD is a major feature.
It fits right in with the linux way of supporting really old hardware. It's not about the newest and shiniest hardware. Debian is known to be a slow moving but very stable distribution. Support for older hardware (without DVD Reader/Writers) might have been a big point of consideration.
Valid point about the option of a slim xfce-based install being available.
I disagree about the 'normal people' point. 'Normal people' are less likely to download Debian as opposed to Mint or Ubuntu. If they venture into Debian territory, they're looking for something more and know what they're doing.
Which leads me to your third point, that is, I would venture a guess that the number of people who would care about this might not be in the minority after all.
(Disclaimer: I have made assumptions about the numbers, if someone has nice numbers to refute/support this argument, please do the honors.)
Also, 'ultra cheap geeks' are usually puppets controlled by the management.
Most of the Open Source/Free Software is far more concerned that new Linux releases can install with no problems in a used computer some low-income person volunteers to help rebuild someplace like Free Geek...
"The Adoption Program
Free Geek receives donated used computers from the public and Build volunteers refurbish them with care. These computers are then “adopted out” to volunteers in exchange for 24 hours of volunteerism to our Adoption volunteers.
Volunteers in the Adoption Program
disassemble computers for recycling
help receive computer equipment from donors
test basic computer components
help keep our facility clean
Volunteer tasks in the Adoption Program can accommodate a wide range of abilities — we’ll work with you to make sure you can spend the time necessary to earn your computer. No computer experience is required to participate in the program.
Adoption volunteers disassembling computers
When you complete your 24 hours of volunteer service, you’ll sign up for a basic class on how to use your computer. At the conclusion of the class, you’ll take your new-to-you computer home. Adoption volunteers must take the class in order to receive tech support. You can learn more about What You Get with your adopted computer.
It the Adoption Program sounds perfect for you, here’s how you can Get Started.
Agreed with this. I do like being able to install without downloading more than 700MB in software. Saying download the DVD is very annoying, esp when you have a less than perfectly reliable internet connection.
My understanding was that even in those cases, most people just pirate windows xp. I am not even close to a windows lover, but have you seen the system requirements for windows xp? http://support.microsoft.com/kb/314865
Basically a 233MGhz processor and 64mb of ram will get you a usable windows xp installation.
Why should those computers go to landfill when they're perfectly capable of doing whatever is needed by the owners? Especially if the "extra functionality" that needs all that power is, well, what?
There are continents where Internet speeds are not great (or are expensive) - some of those are first world countries too. (EG Australia).
Many people don't care if they can bash the arrow keys on a Google Doodle. They just want to send a bit of email and do a bit of gentle web browsing; maybe a bit of light office work and some pdf reading.
WordStar and WordPerfect sold a gajillion copies and are fondly remembered by many. Abiword would cover the needs for 90% of its users.
 and all the copper; lead; rare earth heavy metals; aluminum; plastics; gold; etc etc.
Exactly this. People that really care about optimizations aren't going to install the default Debian install anyways. They'd do a net install and build from there to get max performance for their old computers.
And I love that about Linux. I absolutely love how minimal you can get it (CrunchBang for me is the right mix). But it's time to focus on user experience if we ever want Linux adoption to spread. And that means we have to stop optimizing for computers that came out 10 years ago.
> People that really care about optimizations aren't going to install the default Debian install anyways. They'd do a net install and build from there to get max performance for their old computers.
I recently installed Debian on a Dell server with Broadcom network adapters. Couldn't use the netinstall image because by default Debian doesn't include non-free firmware. It was nice to be able to use CD1 to get a fully functional headless Debian system, to then install the non-free firmware package from a USB flash drive to get network connectivity.
IMO, it's because optimizing for the 300 MHz Celeron is a concrete technical objective. Optimizing for usability and design takes you right back into the subjective territory most of us are uncomfortable with. You've seen the fighting over Ubuntu's Unity. "Will this fit on a CD?" is a question that can be answered with facts.
I doubt the Debian downloaders are the sort that will think that's Linux on the desktop. Debian is a great distro but their specific download target is, shall we say, somewhat more exclusive than others, such as Fedora or Ubuntu.
A number of normal people I know use linux. The scenario is usually: 1) Computer "breaks", ie needs os reinstall 2) they don't have os media 3) I offer a choice of buying a full copy of Windows or trying linux for free. Some that choose linux find it isn't for them. Some stick with linux.
"but distribution restricted to the size of a CD is a major feature"
For me a major feature would be VirtualBox images ready to go. I haven't installed a Linux distro in years, and I would much rather let Windows/OSX act as the HAL so I just just focus on what I want to use Linux for.
The best experience for me is the other way around. Linux does 99 percent of everything I want and lives on the bare metal and if I need some random Windows app I just thaw out one of my VMs until I'm done with it then it goes back into the freezer.
It's not given that xfce is necessarily a bad choice. That seems to have played into it, regarding to the comment.
Personally, I would say it is the most natural choice for Debian. Also, staying away from DEs regarded as developer-unfriendly like gnome3 or unity fits (remember the eclipse-bug?).
Furthermore, developers I know seem to not like medias like dvds, switching instead to the internet where possible, so they are quiet likely not to buy something fancy like a dvd-burner. Or maybe that's just me.
I agree that xfce is a natural choice for Debian.
I suppose that most computers have DVD players, but DVD discs are more expensive than CDs. Even if the difference is rather small it feels unnecessary to waste a DVD when I CD could do the trick. Especially since you only use the installation disc a few times. Having a physical disc has a advantage over USB drives namely that it can be used as a rescue disc later on. Data on a USB drive tends to be overwritten and you might not always have another computer available.
Fedora have a bunch of people giving out CDs throughout the developing world, and according to the discussions that flare up periodically on the Fedora devel list when this topic comes up, the CD size is useful for them. It's more to do with the time taken to download the CD when you have really poor network backwidth, rather than availability of CD/DVD drives. Which makes sense because Fedora almost certainly doesn't run on CD-only era PCs.
A CD? In 2012? Windows and OS X haven't fit on a CD in almost 10 years and you can barely find a copy of OS X on DVD.
Most (legal) Windows and OS X users aren't downloading and installing the OS from cd/usb/dvd. Most Debian users are. Restricting size decreases download time and decreases the difficulty of finding installation medium with sufficient space.
Also, since it's more work to install additional packages on non-apt-based OSes the benefit to installing initially is greater.
On the other hand, if you're NOT installing from a single CD (which, by your hypothesis, most people aren't), then it really makes no difference what's the default desktop on Debian. It's easy to install whatever you want.
That's good. The new GNOME doesn't work very well with Xmonad anymore, so I switched to XFCE. How much code does one need to display a list of my windows at the top of the screen along with some tray applets anyway.
Looking at tasksel’s changelog on a Sid installation, I see the last change was v3.12 from 21 July 2012 and I cannot find anything about changing the default desktop environment for the desktop task. So, maybe this change is not meant for the frozen Wheezy, whose taskel is already behind Sid’s (v3.11 compared to Sid’s v3.12).
Maybe someone familiar with Debian’s decision-making and development processes could enligthen us.