Last Wednesday, when Larry Cafiero published his story negating the rumors of Xfce’s demise, a few snarky commenters on Reddit said the rumor might as well be true, given the snail’s pace of development at Xfce. I paid these comments little mind. Over the years, I’ve learned to expect Reddit readers to be glad to find fault with software projects, almost without exception.
Here on FOSS Force, the comments were a bit more thoughtful and a lot more mixed. Most of our readers agreed that the development process at Xfce is slow, but most seemed to think that despite the mantra “release early, release often,” sometimes a slow release cycle is a good thing.
A reader calling himself “woolie” maybe put it best:
“hey, chill off people, Xfce is perfect as is today, why would one add stuff that is not necessary? just to prove to some insecure, unstable person, that it is ‘still in development’?… preposterous!”
Woolie, I concur 100 percent.
Continued development on a project for the sake of continued development is often counterproductive. Sometimes a project arrives at a point where it’s time to take a rest and just concentrate on fixing bugs and staying on top of security issues for a while.
To be sure, this isn’t true of all software projects.
Large projects such as Linux and GIMP demand constant development, to keep up with the ever changing face of technology if for no other reason. If the decision were made tomorrow to pause development on Linux for a few years and just fix bugs and work on security issues, in rapid time Linux would begin to lose its dominance in the enterprise. After two years sans development, the operating system would already be well down the road to obsolescence and almost hopelessly behind. The same would be true of GIMP, even as it continues to gain ground on Photoshop.
But this isn’t true of all projects.
Sometimes it’s time to just coast for a while. Otherwise a project runs the risk of introducing unnecessary bloat or fixing what isn’t broken, thereby causing unnecessary problems for users — as has happened with GNOME, and before that (and to a lesser degree), KDE.
This would seem to be especially true of a project such as Xfce, where the purpose is to eliminate bloat and create an environment that’s as lightweight as possible. Here, strict adherence to the “release early, release often” mantra would inevitably lead to creeping bloat, or confusing and unnecessary changes to the user interface.
This doesn’t make new releases unnecessary; there will always be bugs to be fixed, newfound vulnerabilities to be patched, new hardware to be accommodated, and yes, occasionally new features to be added or outdated features removed. Along the way, a project might want to update the theme a bit, but that’s certainly not a necessity.
An example of this slow and steady approach can be found in the text and code editor, Bluefish. Although a new version comes out at least once a year, these mainly fix bugs and security issues, with new enhancements added sparingly. Because of this approach, the latest and greatest version of Bluefish has a look and feel almost identical to the version I began using about thirteen years ago — meaning little to no learning curve for users, even as necessary capabilities are added.
In the meantime, Xfce remains my desktop environment of choice because it does everything I need it to do without sucking-up resources I might need. As FOSS Force reader Lee Harvey put it in the comments to Larry’s article:
“Apart from a few missing features and a couple of rough edges, XFCE is pretty much ‘finished’ — in a good sense. It’s light, fast, very configurable and rock solid. Maybe it lacks glamour, but I don’t care about that.”
Me neither, Lee. I’ll take the utilitarian approach over bells and whistles any time.
As the Narnia lion says in the Food Lion commercials, “That’s just my two cents.” Feel free to post your two cents below.