XFCE D.E. theme debate

XFCE can look pretty good, if themed well. It is a pain in the a** though, if your distro doesn't do it for you.

I think it depends on who builds it!

I'm only referring to the out of the box aesthetics for a plain, vanilla implementation. In the case of Debian the contrast between XFCE and Gnome it's huge.

I have no idea what you are talking about. XFCE is absurdly easy to theme with the settings laid out and applicable in each area. It allows and offers more extensive theming than Gnome does - By Far.There is literally nothing about it that is PITA by any measure.

Reading that statement, for me, was like reading someone say "It's a real pain to drive a car unless Tesla does it for you."
Blew my mind.

It seems an unfair statement to dismiss Mint, Zinc, MX Linux, Zorin OS Lite and all other XFCE distros because you did not like the default look of One Distros implementation.

Gnome ties the user up and disregards the users will to customize their workbench far more than Microsoft does.
I feel less controlled by Windows than I do by Gnome.
Gnome won't let you right click the panel (taskbar) and make any changes to it whatsoever. Gnome won't let you keep icons on the desktop - at all. Gnome won't allow multiple windows - it requires that your windows open as minimized by default - you have to change that setting. It hides many settings from the Settings GUI apps and you must use a Gsettings command to act on them. Gnome disallows scrollbars and toolbars and hides everything behind hamburgers. Other Developers have to do all of the work Gnome removed itself from and put that stuff back in. Other developers must restore functionality by independently developing Extensions.
And Gnomes response? "Extensions are a niche thing and on the way out."

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To me it's like "It's a real pain to paint my car." No one would do that unless they're a car enthusiast.
Of course Gnome is the worst DE to theme, I'm aware of that.

I do not see how Opening Appearance and selecting a theme is akin to Painting your car or in any way more difficult than selecting your theme on any other desktop environment. Maybe if you could outline what makes XFCE make it especially difficult - it may be more helpful to understand your position.

To me, using the preinstalled ways to change the looks of your XFCE doesn't make it look good. I find it still ugly as hell. I usually need to follow a 20 min YouTube video to actually make it look good. And that feels like a pain to me. Same for Cinnamon for example. I do not like how it looks and just changing the theme in the settings doesn't cut it for me.
Where it does work the way you describe it, is Plasma. Because Plasma looks pretty good already anyways.

But I'm only talking about the unthemed version of XFCE, which Debian uses by default. I couldn't possibly use ZorinOS Lite, for example, since it is already themed by the developers. My original statement was that out of the box, and without any theming at all, XFCE is ugly. I'm not taking into consideration anything else.

I think I am starting to understand your position better now. It sounds like it is not the appearance of the theme.
It is the layout of the widgets.

If a person has a particular desire that all widgets be flat and blend into each other or that it resembles Mobile Apps in which you do not have borders or toolbars and other functions, then I can see how XFCE may not be that look for them.

There must be a theme in use. Gnome with an ugly theme would be ugly. And both have a theme - but Debians default theme is ugly.
Is that what you mean?

You actually brought up some points that I couldn't narrow it down to. What you are saying could in fact be part of what I'm experiencing. :slight_smile:

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I am glad I asked, now. I almost ignored the comment in fear of raising too much a fuss.
But as XFCE is a powerful and very utilitarian desktop and it is in use by Zorin OS, I thought better of it.
It sounds like Gnome is a good fit for you. And this really is why it is very important that we have multiple D.E.'s to be able to choose from without any D.E. vying for Dominance of the Linux D.E. market.
Because it is for all those reasons that I cannot stand Gnome. It's flatness and hiding menus away behind hamburgers disrupts my workflow. I need to be able to reach my tools without struggling to find them. That it minimizes my windows upon opening disrupts my workflow. That I cannot find the borders of the windows disrupts me knowing my spatial orientation while navigating between windows.
My eyes need to know where to focus and a flat expanse that blends into itself disrupts that. To me, the differentiation of widgets is like landmarks - I know where I am and where I am going. Without it, I feel like I do not know where I am on my desktop.

We are just different people with different needs.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding how this works? My understanding is that there is such a thing as a "vanilla" theme that XFCE or Gnome ship with default. Something that you'd see when you install it, even before you have a chance to apply any theme whatsoever. That's why on distributions like Fedora and Debian Gnome looks nearly identical on almost every way.

A theme is necessary in order to be able to draw and see the desktop widgets.

I am not sure what the default theme on Debian 12 with XFCE theme is without checking. On Ubuntu (Xubuntu) it is Greybird.
When a user applies a theme, they are choosing a different theme than the default - but the default is not "unthemed". A theme is applied. It just is often very basic and bland since the developer is aiming for a theme that is an "EveryOne" theme.

I have often heard complaints about the default XFCE theme from users and when it is suggested they try another, suddenly they are happy. It makes me wonder if the developers need to be a little more bolder with their XFCE themes.

And since Zorin Core and Lite both have a very similar theme; it really shows that XFCE as a D.E. is not outstandingly different and can easily be themed how a person wishes.

One thing that blew me away about the release of Zorin OS 16 was that the ZorinGroup used extensions and themes that made Gnome usable to me. To me, of all people. That was the most impressive thing about 16. Clearly, they used a lot of working knowledge of the user experience to make that happen.

I know that XFCE is very dear to many people and I usually go back to it every half year or so, and I'm gonna do the same when the new Zorin lite is out. I really like how snappy and stable it is.
What I struggle with is the workflow. Having to click through menus feels like it slows me down. Then I have to install either Ulauncher or Rofi to feel more comfortable. And not having the activities overview always takes quite some time to get used to, I feel blind first.
I usually set up my Gnome like a window manager. Applications end up on different workspaces, quickly accessible with keyboard, or on the same workspace, usually fullscreen, quickly switchable with keyboard, and I also make you of tiling them halfscreen, again doable with the keyboard. I do not need borders at all to navigate between the windows. I usually do not use widgets at all, they are more in the way than being of use.
It seems we have in fact different needs.
But as I said, I'm gonna try it again with the next Zorin lite.


This is what I understand as vanilla: the default provided by the developer or manufacturer of a product. I'm not sure which theme Debian uses by default but I assumed it's the default in the same way it's for Gnome.

I have it installed in a separate machine but followed a guide that I found online to theme it, and looks pretty nice. For most things, I find XFCE much easier to customize than Gnome.

There is much to love about the Gnome Desktop Environments layout and design and I can certainly appreciate that value when doing development work. For me, there are many roadblocks, too. I find it very interesting in the exchange with @piet-0 how key differences between our workflow can make or break our over-all desktop experience and how strongly it influences us.

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adwaita mentioned
(i like adwaita-dark, it is not ugly.)
By the way, for me @piet-0 has a reason: default xfce is difficult to use.

this desktop is unsettling (new word I learned, lmk if it is not used like this).

To make XFCE look good, you need a bit of theming. And this for a new user IS difficult to do.
I mean, until you discover this.
(the Aravisian's launchpad: for me it helped a lot to discover theming, and now all my desktops are https://www.deviantart.com/aravisian/art/Plomb-demo-892789784 )

I'd like to comment for clarity on this:
Let's walk through the steps that any user, new or otherwise, might try in order to change a theme on XFCE:

  • Open Settings

  • See Appearance

  • Click on that.

  • Click on Style and select a different theme. Click on Icons and select a new set.

I have actually made four new themes that are not included in the repository nor on DeviantArt in the last few months. Some folks have asked about why I have not been making themes. I actually have made some but I have not been releasing them publicly anymore...

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If I recommend Zorin OS to Windows users, I would choose Core; Lite lacks a consistent look and feel for the items displayed by the extensions. It would be difficult for users unfamiliar with the desktop environment and themes to determine whether this is due to the extensions or the theme.

I do not understand this statement. Lite does not have nor use any Extensions.
Core (Gnome) uses extensions.

Further, Windows OS , including ten and eleven, is completely inconsistent with its theming.
It gets even more interesting when you look into why that is. Windows OS uses... (Drumroll please...) GTK for some of its software theming. GTK2, that is. They are gtk2 resource (*.rc) files. But not all of them.
Some are written in Qt. :expressionless:
And even others are written with other means in C and C++, but the end result is that apps and windows on Windows OS can look drastically different from each other and from any set theme. It's long been a bane on the Wincustomize / Windowblinds forum.