Troubleshooters.Com Presents

Linux Productivity Magazine

June 2012


Copyright (C) 2012 by Steve Litt. All rights reserved. Materials from guest authors copyrighted by them and licensed for perpetual use to Linux Productivity Magazine. All rights reserved to the copyright holder, except for items specifically marked otherwise (certain free software source code, GNU/GPL, etc.). All material herein provided "As-Is". User assumes all risk and responsibility for any outcome.

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A graphical environment is of zero use if the mouse is too slow.  --  Steve Litt.


Editor's Desk

By Steve Litt
I've been installing Ubuntu 11.10 on laptop after laptop, over and over again, and using the LXDE desktop environment because it's clean, fast, light weight, has everything you need, and it isn't Unity. So when I upgraded my daily driver desktop from Ubuntu 11.04 to 11.10 in mid-May, 2012, I wasn't a bit surprised to see classic Gnome go away and Unity take its place. I installed LXDE and got to work.


The mouse was incredibly slow in LXDE. You'd actually need to lift the mouse, lower it, and put it down again to get enough mousepad room to move the mouse pointer from top to bottom of the screen. I was able to jack up the acceleration enough to compensate, but then you needed a drive, a green shot and a putt to click on a window's menu item. Even if I cranked the sensitivity setting to 100% in LXDE's lxinput program, the mouse was slower than in other desktop environments. A few minutes of web research showed I wasn't the only one having this problem, and the prognosis is bleak. There were a few threads with suggestions for a fix, but invariably the suggestion failed the reader, or else it failed on my machine.

I hadn't had this problem on the laptops I'd installed Ubuntu 11.10 on, so I'm guessing the problem stems from the fact that my daily driver desktop uses a PS2 mouse through a KVM switch. And that's something I'm not going to change in a hurry -- I want to access three computers with my keyboard, mouse and monitor, so KVM is necessary, and this KVM is PS/2, not USB or Ethernet. It was clear I'd need something other than LXDE. Unity's not bad on a machine with 4GB of RAM, but I don't want to depend on Unity. Gnome 3 is unfathomable, and KDE stands for Krash, Delay, Expand. A month ago I purged my computer of every KDE app and library; I'm sure not going to put them back. So what could I do?

For most of this century, people I respected have sung the praises of Xfce. I've tried Xfce many times, and it disappointed me every time. I didn't like its layout. Then, a few months ago while using the latest version of System Rescue CD, I noticed its clean and useful user interface. Further research revealed that System Rescue CD was using Xfce, so maybe it could be configured to have a start button and a taskbar. I installed Xfce4, and got down to work. Within four hours I had a very nice, very useable, and fairly lightweight desktop environment.

This document is written with a Ubuntu slant. Ubuntu is what I have. Also, Ubuntu is the distro that moved to Unity -- the desktop most folks want to get away from.

If you're looking for an excellent Linux desktop environment, kick back and enjoy this issue of Linux Productivity Magazine.
Steve Litt is the author of Twenty Eight Tales of Troubleshooting.   Steve can be reached at his email address.

Getting Started with Xfce

By Steve Litt
From a tty terminal (Ctrl+Alt+F2 or similar), do this:
sudo apt-get install xfce4
Next, reboot your computer (sometimes this is necessary), and after putting your login name in, but before entering your password, click on the little gear to the upper left of the password field and choose "Xfce session". Input your password and you'll be brought to the Xfce desktop. Before doing anything else, look around your screen.

At the lower center you have a short bar with several icons. None of them is a start menu. Now look at the top. There's a bar stretching all the way across the screen. At that bar's left is a start button. Click it and start a terminal. You'll now see a button come up on the bar, representing the terminal you just opened. Open another app and another button will appear on the upper bar. In other words, as installed by Ubuntu's package manager, Xfce has the entire taskbar on top, and a bar with a few handy icons on the bottom. If you want, you can operate the machine like this. But every taskbar based window manager I've ever seen had the buttons representing the running programs on the bottom. So the remainder of this document will go over how to customize your Xfce installation.

One more thing. Xfce's default keystrokes for maneuvering between workspaces are Ctrl+Alt+Right and Ctrl+Alt+Left. Use them, and for the time being don't worry about key combos to get to specific workspaces.
Steve Litt is the author of the Rapid Learning for the 21st Century. Steve can be reached at his email address.

Xfce Panels

By Steve Litt
Look once more at the taskbar on the top and the bar with tools on the bottom. They're different lengths, they appear to perform different functions, but they're in fact the same thing: Xfce panels. You can easily configure either to look like the other. Here are some ways you can configure a panel:
You can also add more panels (one on the side, for instance) or you can delete one or more panel.

Instructions for doing all these activities will be given later in this document.
Steve Litt is the author of the Universal Troubleshooting Process Courseware. Steve can be reached at his email address.

Basic Configuration

By Steve Litt
Xfce is insanely configurable, but you can use the Settings Manager to do most of the basics. You get to the Settings Manager as follows:

Start->Settings->Settings Manager

The Settings Manager looks like this:
Settings Manager image

Take a good long look at the Settings Manager window pictured above. You can see that most configuration can be done right from there. If other configuration is needed, that's available elsewhere on the Start->Settings submenu, but let's not worry about that now.

When you click on a Settings Manager icon, you'll be brought to the settings window for that element. Some of these windows are separate windows, so you manipulate them and close them. Others of these windows simply write over the existing Settings Manager window, so you manipulate them and then, when you're done, press the Overview button at the lower left to tell the Settings Manager to put itself back on the window.

Mouse Settings

The first thing you're going to want to customize is the mouse. Fast, slow, accellerated, steady, everyone has a different preference. Click the mouse icon and you'll see this:
Mouse settings screenshot

Here's where you can set your acceleration and threshold. By setting my threshold extremely low and the acceleration fairly high, I made my mouse fast all the time, just like on a Windows 98 machine. You might want to set yours very differently. Also note that on this screen you can make your mouse right or left handed.

The Behavior and Theme tabs contain less-needed configurations, but feel free to explore them, always remembering how they were to start so you can put them back if desired. When you're done configuring your mouse, click the Overview button and you'll return to the Settings Manager.

Preferred Applications Settings

Next you'll probably want to look at the Preferred Applications settings. A screenshot isn't necessary because it's self-explanatory -- this is where you set your preferred web browser, mail reader, file manager and terminal emulator. This can be pretty important. Unless you have a bigger tolerance for slow and bloat than I do, you're going to want to make sure your file manager isn't Nautilus. Many other file managers have inadequate feature sets, others have tiny unreadable fonts, and still others crash frequently. It's actually hard to find a good file manager. For use on Xfce I'd recommend Xfce's own file manager, Thunar. My experience is that on other desktop environments Thunar crashes frequently, but on Xfce it's solid and has all the right features.

You'll want to set your preferred browser to whatever you like. I wouldn't even begin to make a recommendation there. Same with email, except I'd personally recommend against Kmail.

Workspaces Settings

This is where you set your number of workspaces if you're like me and want a lot of them. You can also set workspace margins here if you have a reason to.

Keyboard Settings

Do NOT use the Keyboard Settings available from the Settings manager. For reasons known only to the Xfce developers, this particular Keyboard Settings screen has no Add button on the hotkey list, so you can't add new hotkeys if you need to -- you can only change existing ones. If you need to work with hotkeys, use Start->Settings->Keyboard, whose Applications Shortcuts tab contains Add and Remove buttons for full functionality.


Why oh why oh why do software developers give the user parallel and incompatible ways to do something? Isn't the user confused enough without this? I'm not singling out Xfce here -- many, many programs needlessly have parallel ways of doing something, and often they commit the nasty sin of having those parallel ways be different, for no apparent reason at all.

Session and Startup Settings

Here's another one you need to stay away from because of its lack of an add button. Same rant applies. If you need to deal with which programs start up, or other session type activities, from the menu do Start->Settings->Session_and_Startup.

Desktop Settings

Here's where you do some basic look and feel of the desktop -- the stuff that's not related to windows and widgets. Specifically, you can select the background image or lack thereof, and if you don't use a background image, the color of the desktop. You can also choose whether or not to show the contents of $HOME/Desktop as icons on the desktop. My personal belief is to avoid utter ugliness, if you use icons don't use an image, but your mileage may vary.

The Desktop settings window also enables you to fine-tune the look of the menu system. Personally, until you have a very strong opinion, I'd leave well enough alone and accept the defaults for the menu look and feel.

Removable Drives and Media Settings

I think this window has great defaults and would personally leave them as-is in the beginning, but this is such a complex and ultimately important configuration that it deserves a few words.

Screenshot for Removeable drives settings, storage tab
Here's the storage tab for removeable drives and media settings. The defaults, shown to the left (at least for Ubuntu 11.10), are what I'd consider smart defaults. Basically, when you plug in a drive or media, it is mounted and displayed.
Screenshot for Removeable drives settings, multimedia tab

To the left is the Multimedia tab, enabling your computer to automatically play/display the multimedia when it's first inserted/connected. This can be convenient if you do it often.

That being said, when it comes to listening to music on CDs, I'm not a fan. Over time, the constant fingerprints and scratches take their toll, eventually making the CD skip and do other stupid stuff. Just like vinyl before it.

I'm a big fan of ripping, then treating the CD as an archival copy while using the .ogg files every day. Ripping scans bad areas of the CD again and again until the digital signal is deduced. So it does its skipping on ripping, not on listening. With an old, beat up CD, your listening experience on the resulting .ogg files is often as if the CD were brand new.

I'm not a lawyer, but from what I read ripping is of questionable legality, with people smarter than me arguing both sides of the issue. Be careful.
Screenshot for Removeable drives settings, input devices tab

On the Removeable drives and Media page, you can set programs to run whenever a keyboard, mouse or tablet is connected. One very handy thing would be to disable the mousepad whenever a USB mouse is plugged in, and restore the mousepad when the USB mouse is disconnected. But there's no corresponding program to run when it's disconnected, so my view is you're better off using software specifically made to handle mice, such as touchpad-indicator.

Window Manager Settings and Appearance Settings

The Window Manager Settings window has many important functions. Hotkeys are probably the most important, but we'll save those for another article. This article discusses only the themes and other style elements of windows. Also discussed in this article are the Appearance settings, style tab, which primarily govern colors and therefore influence Window Manager settings. The look and legibility of your computer depends on the combination of the Appearance Settings style and Window Manager style. This is important, because the windows in a heck of a lot of Xfce themes lack discernable borders, and if you're the kind of person who gets disoriented when two windows blend into each other, or if you just have bad vision, you're better off to have discernable borders. If you look at the screenshots in this document, you'll see they have thick green borders. I have bad vision, and need all the help I can get. A combination of the Defcon-IV Window Manager style and the Xfce-saltlake Appearance style made that happen. You might opt for something less gaudy.

Screenshot: Window Manager Settings, Style Tab   
To the left is the style tab of the Window Manager settings window. First and foremost, you set a theme that, combined with a theme for the Apperance settings window, gives you the borders (or lack thereof), legibility and aesthetics you want.

One fascinating change you can make is the "Enable Editable Accelerators" checkbox on the Settings tab of the Appearance Settings window. If checked, it enables you to mouse-hover a menu item, and press a key combination to add/change a hotkey for that menu item. This is very handy if you remember what you've done and use it with respect, very bad otherwise. I doubt you'd ever check this if you're rolling out Ubuntu setups to several people and you need to maintain the systems.

The few things discussed in this article take you a long way to having a functional machine you can enjoy. Stay tuned for the rest of the story.
Steve Litt is the author of the Thriving in Tough Times. Steve can be reached at his email address.


By Steve Litt
The most productive among us use the keyboard as much as possible. In the time it takes a mouse afficianado to reach for a mouse, navigate to a link, click it, and put his hands back on the keyboard, the keyboard ninja can have done five additional things. In any software, hotkeys greatly enhance the value of being a touch-typist.

In a desktop environment like Xfce, LXDE, IceWM, Unity, Gnome and KDE, there are two distinct kinds of hotkeys, which may or may not be treated distinctly:
  1. Hotkeys for window manager operations (close window, change workspace, etc)
  2. Hotkeys to run programs (like UMENU or Gnumeric)
Xfce treats these two hotkey types differently, with the window manager hotkeys being adjusted in the Keyboard tab of the Window Manager Settings window, and hotkeys to run programs being set in the Application Shortcuts tab of the Keyboard Settings window.

Danger Will Robinson!

There are two Keyboard Settings windows, or possibly two different ways to get to the same window. Either way, if you get to this window from the Settings Manager window, the add and remove buttons don't appear, so it would be useless except to change existing hotkeys. The way YOU need to get to the Keyboard Settings window is through this menu sequence:


This is one of the few places where I see a serious goof on the part of the Xfce developers. For the most part Xfce is mature, well thought out, and an outstanding desktop environment.

Pay close attention to the following description of the Application Shortcuts tab of the Keyboard settings window, because this screen can be a little tricky. For one thing, even though it looks like a display of several rows that you would doubleclick and then set both the command and the key combo, that's not how it works.
Screenshot of Keyboard Settings, Application Shortcuts tab
If you doubleclick under the Command column heading, you can change the command but not the key combo. On the other hand, if you doubleclick under the Shortcut column heading, you can set the key combo but not the command. Changing the command is intuitive. The hotkey, not so much...

 To change a hotkey, doubleclick in the the shortcut column and you get a dialog box like this:
Screenshot of the Hotkey acquisition screen

Be VERY careful with the hotkey setting procedure associated with the preceding dialog box. The idea, not at all intuitive, is to press the desired keystroke combo while the preceding dialog box has focus, and your keystroke will become associated with the command. Sounds simple once explained, but with Control Key combos, there's a gotcha.

If you're using a Control Key combo, press the other key very soon after the Control key. If too much time elapses with you pressing just the Control key, the dialog box records a Ctrl+L and terminates. Who knew? Also, I had one case where something I did with this dialog box erased the hotkey. The whole hotkey thing isn't one of Xfce's brightest moments.

Now let's discuss setting window manager hotkeys...

Screenshot of Window manager settings, keyboard tab
To the left is the Keyboard tab of the Window Manager Settings window. This is how you configure hotkeys invoking window manager operations such as cycling windows, changing workspaces, and the like. You use the same methods discussed with the application shortcuts discussed previously, with all the same gotchas.

Everyone needs their hotkeys optimized for their work methods. This is vitally important. Xfce's method for associating keystroke combos with actions is a little strange, but once forewarned, you'll appreciate the complete configurability of Xfce hotkeys.
Steve Litt is the author of the The Key to Everyday Excellence. Steve can be reached at his email address.

Setting Up Your Panels

By Steve Litt
It's arguable, but my opinion is that a window manager's method of starting apps and choosing/switching windows is the top productivity priority. Unity's "guess and a prayer" method of finding seldom used programs, plus its ability to store only about12 buttons for running apps, make it an unlikely daily driver for me. Don't EVEN get me started on Gnome 3 (how could they butcher Gnome 2 so badly?), or Windows 7 (same question relative to Win95), or, to a lesser extent, the Linux Mint interface. Me, I like a hierarchical menu, and plenty of space to show buttons for running apps. I believe the one thing Bill Gates did right was Win95's user interface.

Your opinion may differ. I like my running program buttons on the bottom. You might like them on the side. I like a Start button, you may prefer a more Unity/Win7/Gnome3/Mint warm and fuzzy, like the Xfce Application Finder yields. You're going to have to set up your user interface the way you like it, and in Xfce, that means deploying and populating panels. Different Xfce setups can look and act like totally different window managers, thanks to differences in in the way panels are deployed and populated. It wouldn't even be that hard to mimic Unity with a single left-side panel whose top slot has the Xfce Application Finder, perhaps dressed up with one of those radioactive looking icons and "Dash home" for the hover text. This article explains how to customize your panels.

Before setting up your panels, make sure you've installed the xfce4-goodies package. That's what gives you the essential CPU graph on a panel, and also gives you a lot of other stuff you might like, including a battery monitor so important if you're using a laptop.

Step 1 is Start->Settings->Panel (or pick Panel from the Settings Manager), which brings up the Panel Settings window, with the Display tab active:
Screenshot: Panel settings: display tab
At the left is the display tab of the Panel Settings window. At the top of the window is a dropdown to choose which panel you're editing. To the dropdown's right is a plus sign to add another panel, and a minus sign to remove the one currently chosen in the dropdown. These three items appear on every tab of the Panel Settings window. Below those three comes the tabbed area. In the Display tab is a dropdown to select horizontal or vertical (vertical would be used to make something like Unity's bar along the left hand side). The Lock Panel prevents dragging the panel. In practice you'd have that off while you place the panel where you want it, and then check it. Note that the Lock Panel checkbox DOES NOT prevent moving items within the panel, it only prevents moving the panel itself.

The "Automatically show and hide the panel" is if you want the panel to remain hidden until you mouse to the edge where it sits. Initially that sounds like a bad idea, especially if the panel contains a workspace switcher, clock or CPU graph at which you regularly want to glance. But popup panels can be a wonderful source of extra clickable icons at no expense to your screen real estate. You could have one or two panels stay visible at all time, and another one or two that pop up when you mouse to their screen edge. Makes perfect sense.

Still referring to the display tab of the Panel Settings window above, last but not least are the measurements. Size is a tradeoff between icon legibility and screen real estate -- adjust accordingly. As far as length, you should have at least one always-visible panel that doesn't cover the whole screen edge so there's always a piece of desktop to right or center click. Be very careful of "Automatically increase the length", as it can cause part of a panel to walk off the screen. In my opinion, the best time to check this is when you're working on a panel's design, and you don't want to have to keep changing the length. Then, when you're done, you can lengthen the panel by 20% or so and uncheck "Automatically increase the length".

Now let's discuss the Appearance Panel.
Screenshot: Panel settings, appearance tab
The appearance panel probably isn't a priority, but if you want to make your panel have a fixed background color, regardless of other window manager and appearance settings, or if you want your panel to have an image for a background (what could possibly go wrong), this is where you'd do that. Me, I'm leaving mine at "None", thereby letting my Appearance and Window Manager settings control the background of the panel.

Screenshot: Panel settings, items tab
To the left is the Items tab of the Panel Settings window. Here's where the rubber meets the road. This is one way to populate a panel, and one way to rearrange one. At the top, as explained before, the dropdown chooses which panel to work on, the plus sign button (at the top) adds a new panel, and the minus sign (at the top) deletes the currently chosen panel in the dropdown.

Now let's discuss the items list. The up arrow button moves the highlighted item up one position if the panel is vertical, or to the left one position if it's horizontal. Similarly, the down arrow button moves one place down or to the right.

Still referring to the Items tab of the Panel Settings window, the plus button adds another item. The minus button deletes the currently highlighted item. The wrench button edits the properties of the currently selected item. This is how you do things like widening the CPU graph on the panel. The star button supposedly gives info on the currently chosen item, but it's usually grayed out, and when not, it often gives nothing more than the "Help->about" for the item.

The plus sign on the items list is the most consistently available way to populate a panel, but there are other ways. You can rightclick a panel or an item on that panel and choose panel->Add_new_items. You can rightclick a panel or an item on that panel and choose panel->Panel_preferences to bring up the Items tab of the Panel Settings window.

You can also move items from one panel to another. On the source panel, rightclick the item, click "Move", move the mouse to the point on the destination panel where you want to put the item, and leftclick.

An easy way to add an item to a panel is to right click an item on the panel, and choose panel->Add_new_items. This brings up a handy list from which you can repeatedly add panel items, including separators. Once you've added the desired items, you can move them around the panel, as described later.

One of the easiest ways to add an item to a panel is from the menu. Click start, navigate to the menu item you want to place on the panel, then click and drag horizontally. That horizontal drag is important -- if you fail to drag it will just open the menu item, and my experimentation tells me that dragging horizontally is more likely to succeed than vertically. Also, when placing the icon on its panel, make sure the icon, not necessarily the drag cursor, is centered vertically (on a horizontal panel), or the icon will just fly away back to the destination. Such drag placement is very twitchy, before releasing the left mouse button make sure you see a little destination square on the destination panel. In my opinion you should first place it anywhere convenient on the panel, and then use the move facility to move it exactly where you want it on the panel.

Rearranging a panel consists of deleting items and/or moving them. As described earlier, you can do that with the Items tab of the Panel Settings window, but it's often easier and more intuitive to move them visually right on the bar. To delete an item, right-click the item, choose Remove, and click the Remove button on the "Are You Sure" dialog.

To move an item, right click the item, choose Move, and move the mouse pointer along the panel to the place you want it to be, then left-click. However, be sure you don't left-click unless you see a raised destination box on the panel. Otherwise, it will just go back to its initial position. As discussed earlier, you can also navigate the mouse pointer to another panel, click the other panel, which moves the item from one panel to another.

This article has scratched the surface of panel creation and maintenance, but I think it gives you enough to set up your Xfce box exactly how you like it.
Steve Litt is the author of the Troubleshooting: Just the Facts. Steve can be reached at is email address.

About Minimizing

By Steve Litt
You won't notice it at first. It will take a while before you realize what a pain in the afterpart minimizing is in Xfce. First of all, in your series of window buttons, the icons of minimized windows are grayed so you have a hard time discerning them on a thin panel. And they don't show up in the workspace switcher, giving the erroneous impression there's nothing in the workspace.

The behavior of the Show Desktop icon (Screenshot of Show Desktop icon) is, in my opinion, abyssmal. First of all, it minimizes every window on every workspace. Hey, to me a workspace is encapsulated from everything else -- I don't want my actions here affecting there. And here's the real problem: On a workspace with ten windows, click the Show Desktop icon to minimize all ten windows. Click it again and they all come back. So far, so good. But now, after clicking the Show Desktop icon, restore one window. Now you have one open window and nine closed windows, and you can't easily open the other nine. What started out as a quick way to see the desktop, or maybe show one window alone, now results in your having to manually restore nine windows.

Nothing you do with the Show Desktop icon will restore the other nine. There's no way to configure the Show Desktop button to do anything different from what it does. There's no "Unminimize All" applet you can add to a panel, or a menu. My experimentation with the wmctrl program tells me there's no wmctrl script that can do it. I was at my wits end, til I discovered The Kludge...

The Kludge

Kludges are embarrassing. But sometimes a kludge is just so good that your feeling of joyful sneakiness overcomes your embarrassment.

As far as I know, Xfce has no "Restore All" or "Unminimize All" function, applet, program, script, or hotkey. But necessity is the mother of invention, so I just moused to the buttons representing the windows (the Window Buttons panel item in Xfce speak), clicked the leftmost window button, and quickly twirled the mouse wheel toward me. Every single window on the desktop was restored. Elapsed time: Less than two seconds.

We'll now take a few seconds for laughter.

So it turns out the big bad minimization problem wasn't a problem at all.   :-)
Steve Litt is the author of the Rapid Learning for the 21st Century. Steve can be reached at his email address.

Xfce Tips and Landmines

By Steve Litt
Besides what you've already read in this month's Linux Productivity Magazine, here are a few things I learned along the way:

Never let a panel go beyond 100%

Use the panel settings Automatically increase the length checkbox sparingly if at all. Here's why. With that checkbox checked, new panel buttons such as notifications or additional buttons in a Window Buttons item (the item that shows all running processes on that workspace) lengthen the panel. If the panel lengthens beyond  the visible screen, you simply have buttons falling off the left or right. Especially important with a Windows Button item, if Automatically increase the length is checked, every new button is full sized, whereas if it's not checked, all buttons are shrunk to fit as new ones are added. You always want to see all buttons, so it's best to uncheck Automatically increase the length.

The one instance I see where Automatically increase the length should be checked is when you're modifying a panel and want to see its natural length as you add and subtract icons. But once you're done, I suggest you set the panel "too long", and then uncheck Automatically increase the length. If your window buttons seem to cruise right off the end, suspect a checked Automatically increase the length checkbox.

Don't let panels cover each other

If all your panels are horizontal, or all your panels are vertical, it's impossible for them to cover each other. But sometimes you might want to have some horizontal and some vertical. This is especially handy if the vertical ones are set to appear only when you mouse to the edge. But if a vertical panel covers the left or right corner of a horizontal panel, thats a very bad thing. Keep in mind also that a horizontal panel should be kept short enough and positioned so that not only doesn't it cover other panels, but it doesn't cover the close button on the title bar of a maximized window.

Don't put a disappearing panel on the right

If you put a disappearing panel on the right side of your screen, and your windows have their scrollbars on the right, you won't be able to scroll a maximized screen, because the panel will quickly come out to cover the scrollbar. If you want a vertical disappearing scrollbar, put it on the left side of the screen, so it won't conflict with right-side scrollbars.

The art of putting a Linux command on a panel

This isn't rocket science, but it evaded me for awhile. Here's the procedure to start a terminal emulator running top:
  1. Right click a panel item and choose panel->Add_new_items.
  2. On the Add New Items window, highlight "Launcher" and click the Add button at the bottom.
  3. Notice that a new panel item has been created, with the generic launcher icon like this: Screenshot of Generic launcher icon
  4. Right click the new icon and choose Properties to bring up the Launcher config screen.
  5. Click the "Add new empty item" icon on the right side of the Launcher config screen. It's the one that looks like a blank piece of paper. It is NOT the plus sign. The Create Launcher window will appear.
  6. Insert the following data on the Create Launcher window:
    1. Name = Topper
    2. Leave the comment blank
    3. Command is xterm -fn 10x20 -e "top"
    4. Leave working directory blank
    5. Leave the options at their default state.
    6. Click the Icon button and choose gnome-monitor, which looks like this: Screenshot of gnome_monitor icon
    7. Click the Create button
  7. The computer will think for a second, and then the Topper item will appear on the Launcher config screen's item list.
  8. Click the Launcher config screen's close button.
  9. Click the new icon and xterm appears with top running in it.

How to right justify items on a panel

Where you want to divide between left and right justified items on a panel, put a separator. Then, right-click the separator, choose Properties, and on the Properties dialog box, click the Expand checkbox. That separator now expands to take up as much space as possible, thereby left justifying everything before it and right justifying everything after it.

If you want three groups, one left justified, one right justified, and one approximately in the center, you use two expanding separators.

How to full-screen any window

Most applications have their own way to make themselves full-screen and then come back again. That's nice. But have you ever used an app's full screen keystroke to full-screen it and then forgotten that keystroke? Time to fire up a terminal and use the kill command. Plus the fact that different apps define full-screen differently, usually sans-menu. There are times you want that, but usually only in special cases like presentations.

Xfce comes with its own fullscreen hotkey: Alt+F11. This hotkey gets rid of the window's titlebar, then expands the rest to cover all panels. It's usually just what you need. Press Alt+F11 again, and it reverts to a normal window. Try it, you'll like it.

Among Xfce's few deficiencies is the fact that Xfce panels have no "roll up" widget on their ends to temporarily get the panel out of the way. But with easy and consistent full-screen capabilities for all windows, panel roll up is unnecessary.

How to work around the "Can't move panel items" bug

Xfce, or at least certain versions of Xfce, have a known bug where you can't move panel items by right-clicking and choosing "Move". Oh, it will look like you're moving them, but when you click to drop them down, they fly right back to their original location. Normally, this isn't so bad, because you can just as easily move items on the items tab of the Panel Settings window. But what if you want to move an item from one panel to another? Can't do that on the Panel Settings window. Oh oh!

From what I read online, this is actually a bug in Gtk's code, not Xfce's. Of course, as a user, that doesn't make me feel any better.

My limited time with this bug taught me the following:
And, last but not least, the workaround I found. You can probably guess. You quit all your apps, log out, log back in again, and wow, look at that, all your panels work again. Or at least that's how it was for me.

I'm not saying it's fun to close everything, log out and log back in. But you don't move panel items from panel to panel very often, so you won't have to do this very often, and it's a whole lot better than manually adding items to the destination and deleting them from the source.
Steve Litt is the author of the Rules of the Happiness Highway. Steve can be reached at his email address.


By Steve Litt
Congratulations. You now know how to install and operate Xfce. You can make it look like IceWM, Unity, or Fluxbox. Probably even WindowMaker. You know how to do everything, and you know the little tips to use, the landmines to avoid, and the workarounds when they can't be avoided. You have a productive, high performance desktop environment that blows the doors off most others. Xfce is a mature technology with very active development and user mailing lists, so Xfce is here to stay.
Steve Litt is the author of the Quit Joblessness: Start Your Own Business. Steve can be reached at his email address

Xfce Performs

By Steve Litt
As I said in the Editor's Desk article, I was perfectly satisfied with LXDE and used Xfce only because of the mouse speed issue. You also know a big part of the reason I use LXDE is its light weight, enabling it to perform well on underpowered machines. Would Xfce perform as well?

I put Xfce on my wife's ancient laptop, the one discussed in last month's Linux Productivity Magazine, to see if that underpowered box would perform as well as with LXDE. Subjectively, I'd say that Xfce performed even better than LXDE. Now understand, under both desktop environments this notebook did well, and the performance of the two was close enough to be arguable. But subjectively, I think Xfce was faster on the underpowered laptop, and was more graceful when way too many programs (like ten) were loaded.
Steve Litt is the author of the Troubleshooting Techniques of the Successful Technologist. Steve can be reached at his email address.

Xfce Rocks!

By Steve Litt
I've spent about four days messing with Xfce and writing this issue of Linux Productivity Magazine, and the more I mess with it, the more I like it. First of all, Xfce is about the most configurable (and easily configurable) desktop environment I've ever seen. The settings are logically layed out, and except for setting hotkeys, everything's fairly intuitive.

Xfce is so configurable that different Xfce installations look like they're not even the same desktop environment. You can have no panels, you can have four. They can be thick or thin. They can leave part of the desktop exposed so you can right or center click it to get the main menu or a list of workspaces and windows, respectively. The panels can be auto-hide or not. My desktop Xfce looks entirely different from the Xfce I configured on my wife's computer.

I'm a big fan of having mouse ballistics optimized for the way I work, and I've never seen a desktop environment that could more finely tune the mouse ballistics than Xfce.

I've only used it for four days, but so far Xfce seems very stable. I've had very few apps go wierd on me. Thunar, which constantly malfunctioned on Ubuntu 11.04 and Gnome 2, works flawlessly on Xfce. All the browsers seem to work better than they did on Ubuntu 11.04 with Gnome 2.

You know, it's funny. All those years when I thought Xfce was worthless, I based the opinion on specific Xfce configurations, usually configurations that were all desktop except for a little narrow and short panel, without a start button, on the bottom middle of the screen. It never occurred to me that was just the default, and very easy to completely change around. The very thing I like about it, its configurability, was what kept me from using it for the last decade -- I just didn't agree with somebody else's Xfce configuration, which I assumed to be the cast-in-stone user interface of Xfce.

It didn't come this way out of the box, but within less than an hour I had configured Xfce's user interface to my ideal -- start button, taskbar with a CPU graph, and a workspace switcher, a notification area, and bunch of small shortcut buttons on the top panel.
Steve Litt is the author of the Thriving in Tough Times. Steve can be reached at his email address.

GNU/Linux, open source and free software

By Steve Litt
Linux is a kernel. The operating system often described as "Linux" is that kernel combined with software from many different sources. One of the most prominent, and oldest of those sources, is the GNU project.

"GNU/Linux" is probably the most accurate moniker one can give to this operating system. Please be aware that in all of Troubleshooters.Com, when I say "Linux" I really mean "GNU/Linux". I completely believe that without the GNU project, without the GNU Manifesto and the GNU/GPL license it spawned, the operating system the press calls "Linux" never would have happened.

I'm part of the press and there are times when it's easier to say "Linux" than explain to certain audiences that "GNU/Linux" is the same as what the press calls "Linux". So I abbreviate. Additionally, I abbreviate in the same way one might abbreviate the name of a multi-partner law firm. But make no mistake about it. In any article in Troubleshooting Professional Magazine, in the whole of Troubleshooters.Com, and even in the technical books I write, when I say "Linux", I mean "GNU/Linux".

There are those who think FSF is making too big a deal of this. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The GNU General Public License, combined with Richard Stallman's GNU Manifesto and the resulting GNU-GPL License, are the only reason we can enjoy this wonderful alternative to proprietary operating systems, and the only reason proprietary operating systems aren't even more flaky than they are now. 

For practical purposes, the license requirements of "free software" and "open source" are almost identical. Generally speaking, a license that complies with one complies with the other. The difference between these two is a difference in philosophy. The "free software" crowd believes the most important aspect is freedom. The "open source" crowd believes the most important aspect is the practical marketplace advantage that freedom produces.

I think they're both right. I wouldn't use the software without the freedom guaranteeing me the right to improve the software, and the guarantee that my improvements will not later be withheld from me. Freedom is essential. And so are the practical benefits. Because tens of thousands of programmers feel the way I do, huge amounts of free software/open source is available, and its quality exceeds that of most proprietary software.

In summary, I use the terms "Linux" and "GNU/Linux" interchangably, with the former being an abbreviation for the latter. I usually use the terms "free software" and "open source" interchangably, as from a licensing perspective they're very similar. Occasionally I'll prefer one or the other depending if I'm writing about freedom, or business advantage.
Steve Litt has used GNU/Linux since 1998, and written about it since 1999. Steve can be reached at his email address.

Letters to the Editor

All letters become the property of the publisher (Steve Litt), and may be edited for clarity or brevity. We especially welcome additions, clarifications, corrections or flames from vendors whose products have been reviewed in this magazine. We reserve the right to not publish letters we deem in bad taste (bad language, obscenity, hate, lewd, violence, etc.).
Submit letters to the editor to Steve Litt's email address, and be sure the subject reads "Letter to the Editor". We regret that we cannot return your letter, so please make a copy of it for future reference.

How to Submit an Article

We anticipate two to five articles per issue. We look for articles that pertain to the GNU/Linux or open source. This can be done as an essay, with humor, with a case study, or some other literary device. A Troubleshooting poem would be nice. Submissions may mention a specific product, but must be useful without the purchase of that product. Content must greatly overpower advertising. Submissions should be between 250 and 2000 words long.

Any article submitted to Linux Productivity Magazine must be licensed with the Open Publication License, which you can view at At your option you may elect the option to prohibit substantive modifications. However, in order to publish your article in Linux Productivity Magazine, you must decline the option to prohibit commercial use, because Linux Productivity Magazine is a commercial publication.

Obviously, you must be the copyright holder and must be legally able to so license the article. We do not currently pay for articles.

Troubleshooters.Com reserves the right to edit any submission for clarity or brevity, within the scope of the Open Publication License. If you elect to prohibit substantive modifications, we may elect to place editors notes outside of your material, or reject the submission, or send it back for modification. Any published article will include a two sentence description of the author, a hypertext link to his or her email, and a phone number if desired. Upon request, we will include a hypertext link, at the end of the magazine issue, to the author's website, providing that website meets the Troubleshooters.Com criteria for links and that the author's website first links to Troubleshooters.Com. Authors: please understand we can't place hyperlinks inside articles. If we did, only the first article would be read, and we can't place every article first.

Submissions should be emailed to Steve Litt's email address, with subject line Article Submission. The first paragraph of your message should read as follows (unless other arrangements are previously made in writing):

Copyright (c) 2003 by <your name>. This material may be distributed only subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License, version  Draft v1.0, 8 June 1999 (Available at (wordwrapped for readability at The latest version is presently available at

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After that paragraph, write the title, text of the article, and a two sentence description of the author.

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