posted by Richard McKinley on Wed 9th Jan 2002 17:55 UTC

"What is So Simple about Simply GNUstep?"
As a BeOS refugee looking for the next-great-desktop I was overjoyed by the invitation to download Simply GNUstep as an CD-ROM ISO image at about 110 MB in size. Users of BeOS know how simple it was to download FreeBe at approximately 50 MB and boot into BeOS about 3 minutes thereafter. Considering GNUstep includes developer tools (a separate download for FreeBe) it is very comparable to BeOS in size. FreeBe used a BFS image inside a large 500 MB file that lived inside your Windows partition. GNUstep must be burned to a CD-R before you can boot it. I would imagine, however, if there was a demand (which I doubt there is) the FreeBe method could be applied here as well.

After downloading, extracting and burning Simply GNUstep in about 14 minutes with broadband Internet and a 12x speed CD burner you are booting straight to the GNUstep desktop. During the Linux boot procedure you do see the common kernel messages as it loads this driver and that daemon. The creator of Simply GNUstep, Chad Hardin, could have disabled these messages like the popular Mandrake Linux. They serve a purpose, however, and for a 0.0001 release, expect some rough edges. As your graphics adapter is initialized the Linux experience fades into the background.

For a second or two you are met with the all too familiar hounds-tooth wallpaper of X Windows. Don’t panic as the GNUstep desktop is served up nicely by the excellent WindowMaker. WindowMaker is a popular X Windows manager which, unbeknownst to many, is a full OpenStep style application. The fact that many Linux users choose WindowMaker without knowing or caring about GNUstep serves as a testament to its features and style. You are greeted by a clear desktop, a virtual workspace switcher and an application dock. Finding your way around is easy. Just remember to try double clicking and single clicking with the mouse button. Also, explore with your right mouse button.

Without having to install the OS you can try out applications right off the CD-ROM. Application launching feels a little slow, but that is sure to improve after installing to a hard drive. One thing you may notice is that all your GNUstep applications have a consistent look and feel. In my opinion, I think they look consistently like junk, but I will explain why this doesn’t bother me.

Creating GUI applications on Mac OS X, and before that NeXT, is said, by almost everyone, to be a complete joy. When developers create applications in GNUstep they have access to high quality APIs and standard dialogs. GUI is a dream and event handlers are the best of any platform. GNUstep has all these benefits and widget classes are used with functionality, not appearance in mind. As you use the applications on Simply GNUstep imagine those sharp grey widgets softened to smooth, semi-translucent Aqua style effects. When something like this is added to GNUstep these application will look beautiful. I would imagine this would happen without a recompile. Develop for GNUstep today, look beautiful tomorrow. Just update the base libraries and voila!

The application set on Simply GNUstep is not too great. There is a email application but no web browser and only a Rich Text editor. Take a look at the IDE, however, and you can see that these developers have their priorities straight. They are focused on building an excellent IDE with a drag-and-drop GUI builder. These applications will provide the same tools that Cocoa developers enjoy on Mac OS X. It is a case of “if you build it, they will come” and I applaud GNUstep for it. Expect to see cross platform development between Mac OS X and GNUstep, in both directions!

Table of contents
  1. "Getting to Know You"
  2. "What is So Simple about Simply GNUstep?"
  3. "The Future"
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