Minimal, Simple, Fast

So I’ve had some time to play with desktops and Linux distros over the past few weeks because I’m always up early in the morning and can’t make a lot of noise in the house that would wake anyone else. People who know me are like, “Make up your mind already for goodnessakes, dude!”

Really, my mind has been made up all along. I just like to explore sometimes. But until and unless I find anything to rival the speed, simplicity, and sheer awesomeness of Xubuntu Linux – and for as long as it works on this ancient-by-today’s-standards Dell desktop – I’m sticking with what works flawlessly and elegantly for me. I’m really not the Linux distro-whore I appear to be. It’s just that there’s a lot of new innovations and stuff I hear about and want to try out. For instance, Conky has a GUI (graphical user interface) now! Frankly I never bothered with Conky but when I get around to it maybe I’ll try it now that they’ve made it simpler (supposedly).

So this morning’s post is just a quick summary to defend my argument that I’m not a distro-whore!

My flirtation with the Enlightenment desktop (on PCLinuxOS and on Bodhi Linux) is over. To put it in bluntly, it’s experimental and beta-quality stuff, despite having been around a long time now. Wonderful, low-resource eye candy, but it didn’t stay where I put it on my desktop. It moved and morphed and migrated. Themes for it are pretty limited depending on what distro you’re using it on, and it’s not nearly as simple as the good ol’ Xfce desktop. Remember I’m only a sidekick, I need simplicity! But keep an eye on Enlightenment because I think it shows a lot of promise. Progress on it seems to be really slow, but worth the wait.

It was little different trying out a couple of docks (Cairo dock and Docky) on top of Xfce. Nice little desktop widgets and applets and gadgets and eye candy! But again, at least on this older hardware without the supercool video capabilities of anything newer than 5 years old or so, too many of these wonderful little goodies either wouldn’t stay where I put them, and/or they wouldn’t load and display after a reboot, and/or they insisted on being too big or too small. I like the quirky, bouncy way the icons behaved in Cairo Dock (it relies on Compiz, so buyer be aware), and I like the 3D shadows and reflective little “shelf” the launchers rested on. But the launchers seemed to be pre-programmed to launch only certain applications. I couldn’t create one for Abiword because Cairo-Dock thinks I should be using Libre-Office Writer instead. In Xfce I choose whatever icon I want and tell it to launch whatever application I want. It didn’t seem to be an option in Cairo and I don’t know why. That’s just weird. For now, I’ve decided that there isn’t much difference between a dock and panel anyway, and it isn’t worth the trouble to keep trying to figure out a bloated, misbehaving dock that needs a separate compositing window manager.

Bodhi Linux
is Enlightenment-only, so it’s gone.
PCLinuxOS scares me away with it’s all-or-nothing approach to updating. Maybe not an issue for folks with better hardware than mine, but that’s not the impression one gets from reading their forums. Cringing in fear during an update is just anathema to me. Still they have a warm, welcoming, helpful community of knowledgeable people, and their PCLinuxOS Magazine is absolutely first-rate no matter what Linux distro you use.

So today’s back-to-basics, minimal, simple, lightweight, trouble-free, quick-as-lightning desktop is Xubuntu 12.04 with the supercool Faenza icon set and two panels: One for my frequently-used launchers on the bottom (but put it wherever you like in Xfce!) and one for notifications and taskbar on top. Out of my way but instantly available even if I’m in the middle of two or three things at once.

Minimal, Simple, fast, flawless, fearless, rock-stable on this old Dell, and supported until April of 2017. See? I told you my mind was made up!

Oh, and that wallpaper, by the way, is a drawing, not a photograph!

More Enlightened

So, I’m a little more Enlightened now than I was when I posted this morning’s entry. And all it took was choosing an up-to-date theme to fix my weather gadget issue and an icon-editing issue that prevented me from pointing an icon to it’s root-only-accessible command.

My current E17 desktop with everything just the way I want it:

And that’s just one of several themes available for this amazing window manager / arguably a desktop environment. Here, just for grins, are a few more:

Remember you can change anything from the wallpaper to the gadgets and icon set, and even use different ones on multiple desktops (in Linux you can have more than one – and switch between them with a single mouse action). Try that in KDE, Gnome, Xfce, or LXDE, ‘nix users!

Getting more enlightened and loving it. You will too.

Discovering Enlightenment

I have written about some of the different desktops available in Linux, and today I’m fiddling with a new one called Enlightenment.

Actually, Enlightenment isn’t a desktop environment at all, but only a window manager. And it’s not really new, in fact it’s older than Xfce and Gnome; and only slightly newer than KDE! Either it’s a little buggy in PCLinuxOS or I don’t know what I’m doing yet, which is much more likely. 😀

Instead of a panel, we have a “shelf.” It can include an “Ibar” which acts like a dock for your favorite applications. But I like a “mostly clean” desktop, so I don’t use the Ibar gadget on a shelf. Mine has a weather gadget (in KDE it might be called a “widget,” in Xfce and Gnome it might be called an “applet”) and clock, and couple of menus. Yet I can reach a menu by clicking on any unused spot on the desktop, too!

Enlightenment offers several different themes which are gorgeous and can apply to all the gadgets and menus and windows as well as the wallpaper, or you can over-ride any one of them and use your own wallpaper and such. Mix and match!

Enlightenment seems to hover on the line between a window manager and a full desktop environment! It is far less resource-hungry than a full desktop environment though, yet it offers all sorts of “eye candy” like you might expect from KDE or Gnome with Compiz and compositing enabled and all that jazz.

Here’s a screen shot of my early customizations of Enlightenment:

Note the question mark over the weather gadget. That lil gadget was working until I rebooted to see if my settings would be saved. They were – all except for that gadget. And it wouldn’t let me input my location, so the question mark just hangs there until I figure out how to do it.

But dontchya just love that warm wood-grain shelf and the old-style antique wallpaper? I’ve got the clock up there on the desktop as well as the shelf just to demonstrate that the little gadgets which usually or “traditionally” go on a shelf (or panel) can be placed anywhere, independently of the shelf, unlike the applets in Xfce which must go in a panel. I might just throw the weather gadget up on the desktop and delete the shelf entirely, since I can instantly access all the menus with a click of the desktop anyway, and minimized windows appear in a simple middle-click anywhere on the desktop!

I was actually going to test-drive Bodhi Linux to try Enlightenment, but the LiveCD I burned refused to boot (prob’ly a bad burn, it happens). Too lazy to burn another one and worn out from moving furniture yesterday, I just opened good ol’ Synaptic in my trusty, awesome PCLinuxOS and added the task-enlightenment package along with several enlightenment themes and gadgets I found in the repository. I’m really impressed with the sheer size of that repository and the vast variety of software available there.

I have yet to try the Mate and Cinnamon desktop environments, and I’ve never messed around with the bare-bones window managers like Fluxbox and Ratpoison. But I did experiment with Openbox for a bit and that was when I learned just how powerful a “mere” window manager can be. Who needs a full desktop environment anyway when a “mere” window manager can do all the cool things that Enlightenment does? But I suppose it’s arguable that Enlightenment is kinda-sorta-maybe more like a full desktop environment than “just” a window manager. If it eventually get redefined as a “true” desktop environment, it will certainly be the most lightweight of all the choices available at the time of this writing!

I am thoroughly enjoying this new discovery and delighted to find it so fast and light on this old hardware.