However, to my mind, the most interesting enhancement is what Xfce 4.6 refers to as Fill. Earlier versions of Xfce have had the ability to manipulate the positioning of windows by the use of keyboard shortcuts, but Fill takes this manipulation to its logical extreme, allowing you to resize a window so that it uses any available free space without overlapping other windows. You can even activate commands so that Fill only operates vertically or horizontally. Like many of the new features in 4.6, Fill is a minor enhancement, but one that you can quickly learn to rely upon.
These enhancements are accompanied by an awareness of usability issues. Changing the name of a sub-level in the settings from User Interface to Appearances may seem minor to the casual observer, but the difference is that between a label that is meaningful to a developer and one that a casual user will immediately understand.
Such changes become important when they are multiplied dozens of times over, resulting in a desktop that is easier for new users to navigate with a minimum of though. Likewise, demoting splash screen settings from a top level item in settings to a tab under Sessions and startups shows the effort that Xfce developers have made to think of user priorities, and to make minor ones less accessible than major ones.
The same priorities show in the desktop's context menu. Instead of expecting, as in the previous version, that users who want to add a desktop icon to remember to go to an existing icon to begin the task -- a starting point unlike that of any other major desktop, version 4.6 adds the options for adding icons to the desktop's context menu. In addition, now users can access help from the context menu, and choose whether or not to have the complete main menu in the context menu.
The menu for each window is also improved, with basic options such as resizing and moving to another workspace reorganized into sections for easier use, and options renamed, with "Roll Window Up" replacing "Shade" and "Always on Visible Workspace replacing "Sticky." Once again, the difference is between language for experts and language for everyone.
Yet another usability enhancement is so obvious that you wonder how it could have been overlooked before: the ability to select multiple icons for copying, moving, or deleting on the desktop. You might argue that such oversights show that the Xfce team is still relatively new to usability issues -- but, given that, in 4.6, they have caught such obvious omissions, you also have to add that the team is learning quickly.
In the last year or so, KDE has been rethinking the desktop (and sometimes leaving its users behind), while GNOME has seemed to lack a united design philosophy. Xfce 4.6 is in striking contrast to both these directions. While neither strikingly new nor full of changes for change's sake, its features represent a return to desktop basics. Xfce has always been fast and efficient in the best UNIX tradition, but, with the 4.6 release, the desktop has finally found a balance such traditions and the usability of a modern desktop.
I don't know about anyone else, but the fact that Xfce has achieved this balance makes me reassess my view of it as the third desktop in free software. I am seriously thinking of switching to Xfce 4.6 myself. Moreover, the next time I introduce someone to GNU/Linux, I think I'll encourage them to use Xfce rather than GNOME or KDE.