Thursday, November 01, 2007

KDE, Gnome, Xfce or what desktop you like

After re-installing my XP and Xubuntu Linux systems I couldn't help wondering what the next step in desktop design would look like. All eyes once again have turned to Apple. Actually Apple can not really make a claim to fame for having the most original desktop, the new Leopard OS desktop has features that have been introduced in Linux years ago. But Apple can say they have perfected and extended an idea that Linux folks should have developed further. I'm talking about a desktop icon docking system. If you are familiar with Linux at all, you might recall Window Maker had a docking system. Anyway Apple has taken the string of icons, in reality application launchers , and integrated the file system with them. Sort of like drawers that pop out of the icon revealing the contents of the folders behind them. It is very sweet once you learn to work it. Sounds like Window Maker? For one thing, Apples' Leopard Desktop is polished to perfection and is the one to emulate. Is there any hope for Linux? Well, as we speak or write, there is a load of icon docks for Linux. Some have sought to copy Apple's look and feel and some not. Please, don't get into the rip-off and copy-cat argument, borrowing ideas is a big part of the computing industry. If we felt that about ink pens we would still be using quills.
As usual, Linux folk aline themselves with a desktop environment. Kool Dock, Ksmooth Dock, Kira Dock, KX Docker, Tuxbar, and a couple of others are all compatible with KDE. Avant Window Navigator and Enlightenment's Engage will work with any window manager. XFCE has a built-in icon bar. Each of these icon docks have an assortment of features and requirements. Some require the support of special video drivers to do what is called compositing. This makes for transparency and animation and such. I myself am a little shy on the special effects. It's a resource thing. Of course I am amazed that Enlightenment has a history of doing special effects without special drivers. The Engage dock comes in two packages. One integrated into the Enlightenment desktop and one stand alone program. The stand alone program is sort of hard to find. They are not pushing it out there. Then there is Avant Window Navigator (AWN). It is absolutely beautiful, like Apples' dock system. AWN is still kind of new, buggy for some and is being sought after by many. I hope they develop it more and put it out there for us to enjoy. From what I understand, AWN does require special sauce to work. Then lastly there is the icon bar in XFCE. This is what I am using now. It is not a real looker or is it tweakable to the degree that the other icon bars are. I tried the transparency and shadowing effects and was not impressed. Xfce is a low resource user, but I hear that more development is on the way. Oh, by the way, MS Windows users are not really left out, there are a few Apple like icon bars for Windows. RKLauncher which I have used is pretty cool. The single click icons are such a relief over the double click ones. I don't exactly know just how much you can do to a desktop, because the object is to get at your files and stuff. It all has to be very usable. But as software developers try new tricks and revisit rough old ideas, we users get new desktops to rave about.

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