Xfce 4.18 looks exciting – check out its best new features

By | November 30, 2022

I can lie: my excitement levels are rising because an entirely new version of the Xfce desktop environment is about to be released.

Nearly two years of development have passed to shape Xfce 4.18, which is due for release on December 15, 2022. The release will be the stable sequel to the Xfce 4.16 series, which debuted in Christmas 2020 (and brought some cool new features like support the fractional scale).

Eager to find out what’s new and improved in the latest version of this lightweight desktop, I dug through code commits, developer tweets, and the odd bug report or two to write this rundown of what to expect.

Let’s dive!

Xfce 4.18: New Features

Observation: this post is no an introduction to Xfce. Anyone unfamiliar with the unique selling points of this desktop environment should head over to the official Xfce website or Wikipedia page. Those offer a better starting point than this post (which just goes over what’s new since last time).

Thunar

Thunar is Xfce’s default file manager. It is a lightweight and capable tool. As part of the Xfce 4.18 release, the tool gets a plethora of new features and extended features – more than many people expected.

For example, it is now possible to enable a image preview sidebar🇧🇷 This displays a larger preview of a selected image on the left of the app by default, taking up space in the sidebar. A more practical option allows you to display it ‘standalone’ on the right, where there is more space for the actual view.

Thunar’s new editable toolbar lets you add and reorder toolbar icons based on your needs. With the 4.18 update, you can add a new split view icon on the Thunar toolbar (this is also available on Vision menu or pressing F3🇧🇷 Split view divides the active window into independently navigable columns with drag/drop support between them.

a screenshot of the Xfce 4.18 desktop with the Thunar file manager open with split view active
Split View and File Highlighting in Thunar 4.18

There is also a new and interesting file highlight resource (accessed from the file properties dialog). This lets you set a custom background color and a custom foreground text color – an effective way to draw attention to specific files in a directory full of similar looking mime types.

As far as file location is concerned, Thunar 4.18 includes recursive search🇧🇷 Search can be activated by clicking on the magnifying glass icon in the toolbar (replaces the reload icon in previous versions). This changes the path bar to a text field where you can enter a search term.

Thunar 4.18 shows on-screen notifications when invoking undo/redo actions. There are also Expanded support for “undo/redo”🇧🇷 This covers all copy, move, link, create, rename and discard actions, and includes multi-level undo/redo — a definite plus for indecisive deleters like me!

Other changes:

  • New bookmarks menu (add folders to sidebar)
  • New ‘Recent’ sidebar entry
  • ‘Go’ menu has ‘recent’ and file search options
  • Keyboard shortcuts now customizable in the app
  • Improved status bar information layout
  • Additional thumbnail loading preferences
  • Option to restore tabs on startup
  • Option to show full directory path in tab title
  • Option to run shell scripts

all this most the usual kind of stability improvements, bug fixes, and performance boosts you’d expect from an update. Great job, Thunar developers!

Workspace

Prominent new features and visual changes you can’t help but notice are a regular attraction in desktop environments like GNOME and KDE Plasma. Xfce is more conservative. It might sound like a con to some, but for people who want a reliable, predictable desktop that doesn’t change under them, it’s a huge plus point.

Why am I telling you this? Because the “desktop” changes mentioned below may, to some, seem small or inconsequential when compared to the major DEs. Even so, they are welcome fans of the core Xfce user experience.

Some notable new desktop tweaks

The Xfce4 Panel selects a couple of new preferences. First, the length of the panel is now set in pixels instead of percentages like before. Second, there is a new “keep panel above windows” option. This allows maximized application windows to fill the area behind the panel instead of maximizing its bottom or top edge to be flush with it.

New flexible font options are available in the Xfce4 clock applet. Now we can change the clock font family and font size. New options let you show only the date; just the time; date and time; or time and date (or enter a custom layout of your choice).

It’s time for more options in Xfce 4.18

And if you don’t want the calendar to appear when you click on the clock, you can now assign a custom calendar command to run.

Definitions

Xfce’s “control center” analogue bundles all the various desktop modules together to manage the system in one easy-to-use window. New options are present in many of them.

You can disable header bars in dialog boxes Appearance module; show or hide a ‘delete’ option in file context menus Workspace🇧🇷 and choose a default multi-monitor behavior before you attach an additional screen – very useful, that.

The Xfce4 app finder app has better default settings and a wider window size by default (although it remains resizable).

Summary

All in all, there are some exceptionally interesting (and in some cases often desired) changes targeted at the Xfce desktop. Also, there is more work to improve Wayland support in the various modules that make up the Xfce desktop (although it may take a few more releases before everything is 100% perfect in Wayland).

This post is a handpicked snapshot of the most notable changes I noticed when testing the latest development version of Xfce (on EndeavourOS, FYI). So no, this post is not comprehensive. I recommend combing through the commits and merges during the Xfce 4.17 development cycle to learn (even) more details.

Are you excited for Xfce 4.18? Share your hopes and expectations in the comments section.

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