Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 25th Nov 2007 23:05 UTC
Graphics, User Interfaces This is the seventh article in a series on common usability and graphical user interface related terms [part I | part II | part III | part IV | part V | part VI]. On the internet, and especially in forum discussions like we all have here on OSNews, it is almost certain that in any given discussion, someone will most likely bring up usability and GUI related terms - things like spatial memory, widgets, consistency, Fitts' Law, and more. The aim of this series is to explain these terms, learn something about their origins, and finally rate their importance in the field of usability and (graphical) user interface design. In part VII, as promised in part VI, we focus completely on CDE, the Common Desktop Environment.
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by Doc Pain on Mon 26th Nov 2007 06:57 UTC
Doc Pain
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I really liked this article, let me give a little feedback, having been a (quite happy) CDE user on Solaris and HP-UX years ago (last remains: Sun SS20, Sol. 8).

It has a Sun Type 5 keyboard, and sadly, that one uses a proprietary connector. The special Sun mouse is attached to the keyboard, so you are more or less forced to use the Sun keyboard - [...]

"Forced to"... Don't comlain about the Type 5 keyboard - I'd be glad to use one on a PC! :-) Reason: Better hardware quality than the next models.

For Sun hardware, there are adapters available that allow you to use a PS/2 (6pol. Mini-DIN) keyboard and mouse. Vice versa, you need to build a microcontroller around a MAX232, if I remember correctly, in order to make the Sun keyboard work on a PC. What a luck, Type 6 and 7 have USB interfaces.

The same way, you could complain about Apple's non-standard (or let's say, non-PC) keyboard and mouse plugs, where the mouse was connected to the keyboard, too - an idea I really like, by the way.

[...] which does have some cool tricks, like a dedicated keypad for often-used functions such as copy, paste, and cut. Additionally, it sports Mac-style volume keys, and you can turn the machine on and off (or suspend it) using a special key on the keyboard.

Amd again, today's Apple keyboards have this functions. On a PC with USB connection capabilities, xmodmap and a good window manager (let me call it WindowMaker), you can even to the same, for example, make the function keys on the left open applications or insert text, control the volume, lock the screen (e. g. big "Help" key, good position to simply slap on) log out (top right) or shut down (Ctrl + Alt + top right).

Don't forget to mention the "compose" key which allowed you to construct arbitrary characters, as long as supported by your charset, for example compose(ss) = , compose(A:) = , or compose(ae), compose(o/) and so on.

The integration with all (!) CDE applications was very good. Just think about the fun you have running a Gnome / Gtk application within KDE for internationalization reasons... :-)

This lack of memory does not affect CDE itself in any way. It is extremely fast and responsive, and window management happens without any form of noticeable lag. Any lag that you do encounter is caused by the applications themselves, not the desktop environment or window manager.

I'm glad you stated this.

So, if you believe your reason for existence can only be derived from the amount of bling on your computer screen, then CDE is definitely not for you, and it most likely never will be.

You could say, CDE has been designed for pure work, not for entertainment. I had to setup an X86 PC (300 MHz) in an administration setting in our healthcare system. XFCE 3 which resembles a good CDE equivalent has been my choice. The persons working on this machine are happy with it. This was my biggest surprise: My boss, coming from some "Windows", asked me why his (much faster) "Windows" PC wasn't that fast and comfortable, and easy to use. Strangs, isn't it?

Okay, this was no real CDE comment. :-)

It is hard to put into words, but when you are using CDE, you are rarely, if ever, surprised by the results of your actions.

This is an approach worth to be mentioned in regards of user education: Because of this strict mapping of user actions onto computer behaviour, you can learn to use CDE very quickly, because it constantly confirms what you are knowing to do.

It is focused on just one thing: serving you, The User.

It is an answer to the request: "Stay out of my way and let me work." The emphasizing is in "let me work", don't confuse it with "entertain me". :-)

Where Explorer, KDE, GNOME, and the Finder are more like cats, CDE is more like a dog. And even though I am a total cat person, I really like CDE for it.

So THIS is some elaboration that really surprises me and makes me smile. :-)

In addition, moving a window is done by grabbing the titlebar: the only place any sane graphical user interface should allow for moving.

If I remember correctly, you could also press the Alt key and grab the window whereever you wanted to move it around. But this involves the keyboard.

I am not sure exactly what the reasoning is behind using a dash for the menu button, so this is one of the instances where CDE breaks expected behaviour.

I know, I know! *jump* :-) The dash like symbol has been inspired by early MICROS~1 GUIs. Remember what you needed to press (on the keyboard) to open the system menu (MS's word for the window specific menu)? Hm? Correct, Alt + Space. Now look at your keyboard. What does the space bar look like? Exactly: Like a dash. This is your answer.

It's like Compiz 1991 style, dude.


Sadly, there really is not a modern equivalent of CDE that you could use on your Linux box. Even though Xfce used to be based on CDE, this is definitely not the case any more. Xfce has chosen its own path, and also made quite a few concessions to appeal to a wider audience.

As I mentioned before, XFCE 3 is a good CDE lookalike (usealike and feelalike), XFCE 4 isn't anymore.

Finally, to have a look at the very special beauty of CDE, refer the the GUI gallery:

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