Ximian Desktop 2 came out of few days ago and I gave it a go. This is not a usability experts review, and probably more of a first impressions thing than a review. I consider myself an intermediate user, (probably advanced intermediate). I installed Ximian Desktop on the following computer:
Please excuse any grammar/syntax errors found in this article.
AMD Duron 1.2GHz
512MB PC133 SDRAM
40+80GB 7200 Western Digital Hard drives
NVidia GeForce 2MX 200 64MB
Creative SBLive 5.1
Genius KB-18M Multimedia Keyboard
AOpen Optical mouse (dual USB/PS2 – used on PS2 right now)
I will start with the review of the install process. It is not going to be glowing at all. I have this suspicion they tested it from their own offices and their own network because it is giving too many problems they seem to not have anticipated. The idea was very good, but it lacked in the execution department. Here is to hoping for a updated installer for the masses.
Strike 1. It tried to download packages which would have been available from the Cd’s. And to tried to pull them from the Ximian servers which were absolutely swamped. It should have asked for the user to locate the packages if he had them already(such as Redhat Packages), and then downloaded them as a last resort if they were unavailable.
Strike 2. The installer had a local packages section, but this did not work You could have copied the files to the cache so that it skipped downloading them, but the installer is never supposed to assume users know to do that.
Strike 3. Even after copying the files to the cache to install them, it failed to install again. In fact I never installed it using their installer. It would quit without giving reason why, even though I had manually made every package I was installing available. I had to be very creative to install XD2 at the end of the day.
I success they did not try to install it from outside their own network, maybe from across the world and see how it could give problems in the real world.
So my installation was nothing like the recommended. I ended up installing red-carpet 2 first, and then installing the rest of the packages from red-carpet. It had its fair share of problems, but I will not review THAT installation route since it was (clearly) not the intended way to install XD2, although it did work and was easier in that regard.
So what happened now, how is XD2.
On first logging in it asks you whether you want to keep your old settings or use the ones prepared for you. I chose the latter and was presented with the new Industrial theme and a very nice looking desktop.
I must say, a lot of thought went into creating the ‘default’ settings.
By default you are given a menu panel and a normal panel at the bottom of the screen. The menu panel has the menu, or course, a clock, three apps (Evolution, Writer and Galeon) if you installed them of course. The bottom panel has the windows list, the ‘Show Desktop’ button and a workspace switcher. Some people do not like using two panel as it “hogs” screen space, but I like it. I will not consider that a scoring point anyway, although it probably does give me a better impression of the whole desktop.
It uses large icons in the menu which make it instantly look much better. The menus are also kept reasonably short hence the large icons do not make menus hog all your screen. This is a simple yet very effective trick. Other theme makers would do good to follow this.
You also have a nice default wallpaper for good measure. The wallpaper changer is slightly changed from the one that comes with Redhat. It allows you to add wallpapers to a list and simply select wallpapers from a list. Nice touch!!
The changes to openoffice.org are mostly to the icon theme to make it look more integrated with the desktop. Unfortunately, its still openoffice.org, which means it uses its own widgets to draw its menus and such. I hope it can be made to play better with Gtk in the future. I do not have a printer so I could not see the printer dialogs to review them. It does seem to still use its own printer dialog which is a bit off though. And its printer dialog does not have the print to pdf option ion the GNOME print dialog too.
What I already missed is oopadmin which gave me an easy (somewhat) way to install fonts from other sources. It seems I now have to really learn where the fonts are kept for openoffice.org and copy them there manually. This is for my Microsoft fonts though, it uses the ones that Ximian came with just fine. What is necessary here IMO, is to give a fonts path, or fonts paths in the options where openoffice.org can pick up its fonts.
Everything else about openoffice.org is as expected. That means it is stil a resource hog (I caught it eating 219 MB of my RAm in System monitor). Their work is most welcome though. Openoffice.org just feels nicer to use now and is better on the eyes.
Which brings me to the Evolution release. It looks like a port of 1.2 to Gtk2, which is fine by me. There does not seem much difference with 1.2, which probably explains not giving it a 2.0 release number.
Evolution was the last big non-gtk2 enabled app I used frequently. It does start much faster than 1.2.2. It takes about 3 to 5 seconds on first start up. On a 1.2 GHz Duron with 512 MB Ram, it seems reasonable. Outlook takes much longer to start up on this machine anyway under Windows 2000. Evolution finally looks very good and I found it snappy. I have never had reason to be unhappy with its performance here too.
After a few problems using red-carpet in the beginning, it seems to like me now. The problem seems to be that you cannot start up the front-end until rcd has connected to a mirror. This is bad IMO. I really like Red carpet as a package manager, with or without the update capabilities. They should find a way to start it and make the on-line channels unavailable until rcd has managed to connect. I imagine it is useless without an internet connection like it is. I could be wrong about the whole starting up thing though, but it never allows me to connect until a long while after starting the daemon.
What new in Red Carpet. It allows you to use directories as channels, which is pretty nifty. Since I keep the iso’s for Redhat 9 on my hard drive, I automount them at startup and have added them as channels to Red Carpet. So now I can pull dependencies from there if I am installing new rpms if I use Red Carpet to install them. Pretty neat heh.
This is actually looking very good, but the best (return for Redhat users) is the menu editing. I can now add menu items using Nautilus. I have already customized a few which were not appearing there. The control panel works very well and is ultra intuitive. I remember missing Mandrake’s one, but this is turning out to be very handy indeed.
Galeon is used here as the browser. This may actually become interesting as GNOME has adopted Epiphany for 2.4, but it works well. I do not know how to clear my drop down list in the Location bar. This is minor but can irritate. It works well though and looks very nice too.
They have added a few of their own things there. Although it now calls my hard drives CD Roms in ‘My Computer’ and in fact, anything I mount in fstab. This is what it looks like now. The first 2 are my CD Writer and DVD-ROM and the next 3 would be hard drives (partitions) and the next 3 would be mounted iso’s. I have no way of changing this that I know yet.
Acme is provided too for all your multimedia keys, and there is the volume icon for volume changing.
I can also not rename the My Computer icon, or remove it. It may be a little annoying.
The gFTP package provided by Ximian was not compiled with the gtk2 flags, and therefore looked a little ‘old’. I promptly removed it and reinstalled the Redhat provided one.
We also got a new skin for XMMS, which is welcome. The more the merrier I say. It does help to give the desktop a uniform look.
I have lost the ability to use apt-get to keep my install up to date. Apt-get says there are conflicts there. If we had a contributed packages channel in Red Carpet, this could be not too big a problem, but I was accustomed to installing my 3rd party apps from there. Since I am going to be keeping XD2, apt has had to go. Red Carpet should step in its shoes nicely for all other purposes though. I don’t know which has the problem there though, whether it is Red Carpet or apt.
It would not be a proper review if I did not mention the file selector. It seems a little work can actually go a long way. But the file selector stil needs improvement. It is now much easier to use with its Documents, Desktop and Home buttons. The new Gtk file selector is badly needed though because it ruins an otherwise next to perfect experience. But, then again, I would rather wait for a good selector than have a rushed one.
And this may sound improbable, but even my XMMS seems to be skipping less now.
I would like to conclude by giving score for each of the sections I have reviewed.
Installation – (No score). I shall not even score this as it would be embarrassing. Ximian, fix this. An good idea in my opinion is to provide a iso for the installation. Then people could run an automated install from a CD. Could help matters immensely here.
Look and feel – (9/10). I rate what they have done very highly here. Everything looks top notch and is very professionally done here. It goes to sow that at times, you just need a budget(for maybe user testing) to get these things correct. This is not done by people scratching an itch, (Unless money counts as an itch), therefore it is focused for ease of use and providing excellent defaults
Customizability – (8/10). Its GNOME and therefore you will have to dig into Gconf to make much headway. But what is provided is adequate, especially comparing with Windows where you cannot change the look and feel of widgets that much.
Speed – (8/10). It does feel faster than the default Redhat GNOME, but Redhat has never been a speed demon anyway. But everything looks tweaked well.
Defaults – (9/10). The defaults provided are impressive. The only thing that prevented it from getting a perfect 10 was that the theme seemed a little too light colored and at times lacks definition. Otherwise impressive.
Usability – (8/10). Openoffice.org, whilst probably being one of the most important apps here, badly needs serious integration with the rest of the desktop. A lot of the integration here is on the surface, but it still suffers from using its own widgets. Maybe it is time to make a full fledged Gtk port whilst retaining full functionality and document compatibility. But then again, getter said than done. But the whole thing is still usable overall.
Provided apps – (8/10). The desktop comes with nearly everything necessary to have a fully working desktop which does not need too much more. The productivy apps are good, but could use even more polish and full Gtk port. (What ever happened to the Gtk port)
About the Author:
Maynard Kuona is an undergrade student at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. He is doing a third year in Actuarial Science (damn hard course), and he enjoys computing immensely.