posted by Kostis Kapelonis on Tue 14th Mar 2006 18:59 UTC

"Desktop, 6/6"

Enlightenment (Rasterman and team)

Enlightenment is a very active project which advertises itself as a desktop shell instead of a desktop environment. It is not finished yet. There isn't an official release and all code exists in CVS at the time. The development version is E17.

Enlightenment (as was also clear from version 16) goes for great looks while still presenting a usable interface on screen. Its screenshots reveal nothing extraordinary at first sight. The desktop does not have any icons apart from the application launcher engage which looks and acts like the Mac OS X dock. The "live" desktop is present here with separate modules as well. Some of them are are already started appearing on the net.

Enlightenment (at its present state) is not showing however its full potential. The technology behind it, the EFL libraries are truly unique. The Evas is an image-based-state-aware canvas which compared to (your-favourite-canvas-widget-here) is years ahead. Rasterman is the same man behind the ultra-fast imlib and imlib2 image libraries which have a large user base even outside of the Enlightenment community (Gnome also used imlib at some point). The edje technology is itself a breakthrough. Although users will often perceive it as theming on steroids, in reality edje allows for truly dynamic user interfaces with complete separation between the application logic and the application appearance.

Several Enlightenment applications are in the works, but none can really show what Enlightenment will present to its users when finally realized. Overall a very interesting project which should be closely monitored by those looking something impressive for their desktops.

Outsiders (The community)

And last but not least we are presented with the idea that there should be no desktop at all. This was started with ratpoison and ion Unix Window managers and has found its more mature form in wmii.

Ratpoison and Ion are non-overlapping window managers. They support the idea that the desktop is a waste of space and all available screen estate should be given to application windows. At the same time they automatically arrange all windows dynamically on the screen so that no window is over another one. Check out the screenshots [ratpoison],[ion],[ion].

Unfortunately this idea does not work for several applications which either were not designed with this kind of interface in mind, or they completely break the window manager standards. Interactive dialogs are known to have serious problems.

Wmii is the latest offering for this kind of window management. It is based on the same principles but at the same time offers the usual window management style (called floating layout) as an option. This means that even applications like the gimp can easily be run under wmii in this compatibility mode. The tile mode of wmii which is the most well thought one has its roots on Plan 9 (and acme). Wmii has also inherited file-system-like configuration which will show its full abilities when the 9p protocol is equally available to the Linux kernel (newer than 2.6.14) and applications too.

Wmii is the current window manager of choice for the author. Working with it is a different experience from all past ones. Although it is heavily based on keyboard control and clearly aimed at experienced Unix users, its ideas will certainly be loved by people who will devote some time learning it.

Expect the next major version of wmii (v.3) in April 2006.


So is the desktop metaphor here to stay? Do we need an alternative? Is everyone happy with the situation? It is clear to us that many people have started seeing the problems of the traditional desktop. Realizing that there are problems is indeed the first step. The next step which is acting is rather difficult. The traditional desktop is deeply trenched into everyone's mind. A lot of development time and money has been allocated for it already. Companies expect it to develop their applications. Users expect to find it on their computers.

We don't have to wait for voice-recognition or even face-recognition to become part of our lives in order to build a better user interface. And we certainly don't need 3D windows to present a usable interface too. What we need is open minded developers who will implement new ideas and open minded users who will accept these new concepts. Slowly but steadily we should attempt this.

About the author
Kapelonis Kostis is a computer science graduate. He has recently finished his military service. After guarding the borders of Greece for 9 months, he has many ideas on the perfect User Interface. Currently he is researching what programming tools will allow him to present his ideas to the open source community. He believes that the desktop metaphor is obsolete.
If you would like to see your thoughts or experiences with technology published, please consider writing an article for OSNews.
Table of contents
  1. "Desktop, 1/6"
  2. "Desktop, 2/6"
  3. "Desktop, 3/6"
  4. "Desktop, 4/6"
  5. "Desktop, 5/6"
  6. "Desktop, 6/6"
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