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Getting Started with Xfce


Xfce is a lightweight desktop environment for unix-like operating systems. It aims to be fast and light on system resources, while still being visually appealing and easy to use.

Xfce embodies the traditional UNIX philosophy of modularity and re-usability. It consists of a number of components that provide the full functionality one can expect of a modern desktop environment. They are packaged separately and you can pick among the available packages to create the optimal personal working environment.

Another priority of Xfce is an adherence to standards, specifically those defined at freedesktop.org.


The Xfce project officially only releases source code for the desktop environment. However, binary packages may have been contributed by other people for your OS or distribution.

Detailed instructions on compiling Xfce yourself can be found here.

Using Xfce

Getting Started

Login Manager

Xfce4-session installs a file that should add an option for login managers to run and Xfce session. The Xfce Desktop Environment does not have its own DM, but various options are available like gdm, slim, lxdm and lightdm.

Command line

Use startxfce4 to start an Xfce session or choose Xfce Session from the login manager, which includes the session manager, the panel, the window manager and the desktop manager. See auto login from console for more information.

By default the Xfce session manager manages the startup of applications. It allows you to save your session when you quit Xfce, so that the next time you log in, the same applications will be started for you automatically.

The Default Desktop

The Xfce Desktop Environment is not a single entity that provides all functionality, but rather it tries to adhere to the old UNIX tradition of small tools that do one job and do it well.

Default Xfce session, with desktop manager and panel

When you start the Xfce session for the first time, several applications are started by the Xfce session manager:

In a default session there is a full width panel at the top of the screen and a smaller one at the bottom. The Panel application manages all panels on the screen.
The top panel shows a graphical pager with a miniature view of all workspaces, a task list showing all applications running on the current workspace and a system tray to show status icons that are used for example by some media players or instant messaging applications.
The bottom panel contains several application launchers and a clock. You can right-click on any panel item to get a menu that allows you to change its properties, add or remove new items or to change the properties of the panel itself.
Desktop Manager
The desktop manager provides the desktop background image and two menus when you click on the desktop background. Optionally, it can show icons on the desktop, either for minimized applications or for files in the ~/Desktop folder.
The right mouse button opens a menu that allows you to start applications. Look at the manual to find out how to change the menu contents.
The middle mouse button (or Shift + left click) opens a list of all applications that are currently running. You can activate an application by clicking on its menu entry.
Window Manager
The window manager is responsible for placing the windows on the screen and provides the window borders and decorations. It allows you to move windows around by draggin the titlebar and provides title bar buttons, for example to close, minimize or maximize a window. Look at the manual for a full explanation of the window manager settings.
Settings Manager
The settings manager runs in the background and makes sure that all Xfce applications update their settings when the user changes something in the settings manager dialog (see following section) and it takes care of reading the configuration from disk at startup. Have a look at the Settings Manager for a full explanation of the settings manager.

Common Tasks

This section will explain how to perform several common tasks to quickly get you started working with Xfce. Because that is what Xfce is designed for, to allow you to get work done.

Running programs

Xfce Panel
The panel is designed to allow quick access to the most frequently used applications by putting them on the main panel. Less often used applications can be put in a launcher menu or can be found in the applications menu.
Desktop Menu
Another method for starting applications is from the desktop mouse menu. Read the Desktop Manager manual for information on how to change the menu contents.
Application Finder
If you know the name of a program and it is not on the panel or in the desktop menu you can use the run dialog. To open the dialog type Alt-F2 or choose the Run Program... option from the desktop menu.

Managing windows and workspaces

Basic window operations
You can move windows around the screen by dragging their title bar. A window can be closed, hidden, maximized, shaded and made sticky 1) by using the title bar buttons.
Right clicking on the title bar will open a menu that gives access to all window operations.
Shading a window, which means collapsing it to only show the title bar, can also be accomplished by using the mouse wheel over the title bar. Mouse wheel up is shade, mouse wheel down is unshade.
If you want maximized windows to not cover the entire screen you can set workspace margins from the settings manager dialog (see below).
Application management
To find out what applications are currently running you can look at the task list on the top panel. Clicking on a button in the task list will focus the associated application. Clicking again will hide it.
When you click with the middle mouse button on the desktop background a list of windows is shown, ordered by workspace. You can activate the application or change workspaces by choosing the appropriate menu entry.
You can change workspaces by clicking on them in the graphical pager, either on the taskbar or on the panel. Pressing Ctrl-Alt-LeftArrow or Ctrl-Alt-RightArrow will cycle through the workspaces. Using the mousewheel over the pager or the desktop background has the same effect.
To add or remove workspaces you can use the middle click desktop menu or the settings dialog (see below).

Using the settings manager dialog

The settings manager dialog provides access to the global preferences of many Xfce applications. You can run it by pressing its launcher on the panel, from the desktop mouse menu or by running xfce4-settings-manager.

Dialogs to change many aspects of the Xfce Desktop Environment are available. See the separate manuals of the Xfce components for more information. It may be interesting to have a quick look at all the dialogs to find out what options are available that allow you to create the best possible working environment.

Further Reading

This user guide has only given a very general overview of the Xfce Desktop Environment. More information is available in the manuals of the separate components of Xfce.

this means it will show up on all workspaces