Gnome-like activity overview in other desktop environments

How to easily emulate shell’s most famous feature in a different environment with Xfdashboard


Part 1 – Xf… Whaat?
The activity overview is, probably, the most revolutionary feature introduced with the birth of Gnome Shell. While not every user loves this innovation, it clearly provides a new way of using our workstations. By pressing the “Meta” key, we can now have the opportunity to navigate through windows, installed applications, and active workspaces.
Since Gnome is not the only one choice we can take nowadays, the project ‘xfdashboard’ tries to recreate the same user’s experience inside Xfce. Moreover, this is nothing but an application, so it’s not bound to a specific DE and can be easily used elsewhere.

On Fedora, we just have to pick it from the standard repos:
$ dnf install xfdashboard xfdashboard-themes

The second package consist in additional themes which can be applied to this tool.

Part 2 – Xfdashboard: how does it look, anyway?

Stop dreaming. The overall look isn’t as pretty as Gnome Shell’s one. It looks simpler, less modern and way rawer. Is this a problem? No, not really. In my opinion, it surprisngly matches with the window manager I’m using at the moment, which is ‘my dear old friend’ Fluxbox. I tend to use it because of its functionality. Well… If I’d want something like Gnome, I’ll indeed use Gnome, don’t you agree?

Part 3 – Xfdashboard: features

As I said some lines ago, xfdashboard is an application. It’s not an applet, a plasmoid, a screenlet, a widget, a whathehelldoyawant, that is strictly coupled with a specific environment. I bound it to “Meta+Z” on Fluxbox. On my laptop which keeps using the ‘powersave’ cores’ governor, the waiting time for the interface to appear, lasts about three seconds. After that, xfdashboard is completely ready. Without touching the mouse, we’re able to search for the desired software. It’s also trivial to switch the foucsed window nor the active workspace. Last but not least, there is a simple list of favorites, which can be easily managed through ‘drag and drop’.

Part 4 – Ehm, ok Giulio… But… Why?!?!1!?!one!? Ya know, I’ve been using Xfce since Gnome 2 was replaced by that kind of crap…
I might understand (no, not really) this point of view, but, as little as I know, xfdashboard is not an official part of the Xfce project itself. It’s just an add-on, a handy tool worth knowing of, which can customize the user’s experience. Nobody is actually forced to use it.


Fedora: how to switch from KDM to LXDM


The DM (Display Manager) is an application shown at the end of the boot process which allow users to log in, with an eye-candy interface. Typically every DE (KDE, Gnome etc.) has got a DM shipped and configured by default.

KDM is the default DM of KDE. It’s themeable and configurable via the standard KDE’s graphical tool. However, there are lots of alternatives for people who seek a simpler behaviour.

The piece of software explained here is called LXDM. Even though it has been developed for LXDE, it doesn’t need lots of dependencies. In order to apply LXDM, we have firstly to install it by root.

# yum install lxdm

Since it’s ready, we can customize it a bit. lxdm-config it’s an application which creates available results system-wide, so we must use root again.

# lxdm-config

lxdm-config is an useful tool to customize the login screen

lxdm-config is an useful tool for customize the login screen

As every LXDE’s app, this tool is simple, clean and easy to use.

Clicking on the icon (the pig on the screenshoot) we are able to change the user’s face. In the same row, we can also enable the automatic login

We can also change wallpaper clicking on the folder under my name (giulio). We are far from KDE’s themes, but this time the configuration is not an needle in your eye.

So… We customized the look and feel of our DM. Now, we have to get rid of the previous one and setup LXDM. Most of the tutorial which I have found are deprecated, since systemd changed Fedora’s way of living a lot. The steps are the following:

# systemctl disable kdm.service

# systemctl enable lxdm.service

Once rebooted, we can admire our new, lightweight and customized login screen!