Tabs in file managers

July 25, 2008

These days, everyone agrees that tabs belong in webbrowsers. For example, as I’m writing this article, I have nine tabs open, one to write this and eight with the articles I’ll link. Without the tabs, I’d have to alt-tab between nine browser windows, like in the days I used Internet Explorer 6. I think tabs are one of the best things the new generation of web browsers have. But do they belong in file managers?

It seems like the people actually creating the file managers don’t know either. If you ask the KDE devs, tabs are for power users. That’s why Konqueror has them, and Dolphin hasn’t. At first glance, that seems to be correct. The current branch of Nautilus doesn’t have tabs for the same reason. Neither has Thunar, and (never?) will.

But the tide seems to be turning. When PCMan found all the available file managers lacking and created his own, he made sure that PCManFM had tabs. It has been one of its selling points: “lightweight like Thunar, but with tabs”.
But the real thunderclap has been the news that the next version of Nautilus will have tabs too. This was announced on the 12th on July, and already the SVN version has this feature. If you’re not big on compiling software, just have a look at the latest Ubuntu alpha release.

It seems like the question whether tabs belong in a file manager or not is a moot one. Apparently, users want this feature, so it’s up to the devs to implement it.

As for my own, personal take: a file manager should either have tabs, or a twin pane view. Otherwise, copying and moving many files in a complicated directory tree becomes a chore.


Give KDE and Gnome a unified look

July 23, 2008

Out of the box, both KDE3 and Gnome look like crap. There, I said it. Default KDE still uses Everaldo’s Crystal SVG icon theme, which dates from 2001. That’s about the time I started using KDE, and I loved it at the time, but these days, icon sets tend to be a little less bright. I remember KDE being compared to Playmobil a lot at that time… The default theme, called Plastik, isn’t much better. It’s perfectly all right, and more than a little bit boring.

Gnome is even worse. The default icon theme is so completely drab it doesn’t even deserve its own name. Concerning the widget theme, I think Gnome comes with Clearlooks as the default these days. Just reread what I wrote about Plastik. If I were your general average internet troll, I’d write “yawn” here (to all you trolls out there: stop doing that. It drives me nuts).

But all that doesn’t really matter. I might as well start complaining about the default theme of one of Ubuntu’s alpha releases. Themes and icon themes are easily changed, and with sites like gnome-look and kde-look, there are enough possibilities to keep you experimenting happily for years. No, the problems start when you mix KDE/QT with Gnome/GTK applications. Ever had a Quattro Stagioni pizza? That’s how well KDE and Gnome applications go together.

Look, I don’t mind that visually, KDE and Gnome are very different. They should be. I just wish more (icon) themes were made for the both of them. QTCurve is a nice example. This theme isn’t very exciting, but at least it makes your KDE and Gnome applications look the same.
Using GTK-QT-engine is another possibility, but that only makes your gnome applications look like KDE, not the other way around. If you happen to like a particular GTK-theme, you’re out of luck.

Icon themes is a little bit easier. Gnome-look and KDE-look are filled with people who produce icon set after icon set, and many of those are ports. It didn’t take me long that the (excellent) KDE4 icon theme Oxygen has been ported to both KDE3 and Gnome. The ports don’t look exactly the same, but they’re close enough to my tastes.
Of course, I just had to notice an excellent black version of Oxygen on Gnome-look, without a counterpart at the KDE side…*sigh*.

Anyway, this is how my desktop looks now:

Comparison of Gnome and KDE themes

Comparison of Gnome and KDE themes

Yes, I have a lot of applications open and it’s a bit hard to see where one application stops and where another begins, but that’s the point. From left to right you can see Amarok (KDE), Transmission (Gnome), K3b (KDE) and Abiword (Gnome). As you can see, there’s no difference in the appearance of the menu bars. At the bottom, there are two file dialogs. They’re not exactly the same, but the buttons are. That’s all QTcurve.
As for the icons, they look the same too, apart from some minor differences and the lack of a “Desktop” icon in the KDE file dialog. I think it looks okay.

But it would be nice if more themes were made for both KDE and Gnome. There are a lot of zealots on either side of the fence, but I don’t prefer one over the other. In fact, I’m using Openbox. Most of my applications are Gnome, except K3b and Amarok (they’re just better than everything else)…and Thunar as a file manager (It doesn’t have tabs, but I just can’t live without batch renaming).

So come on, all you artists and theme-ing enthusiasts out there. Give us some cross-desktop-environment artwork.


KDE 4.1 doesn’t like me right now, but I’m stupid

July 20, 2008

Two days ago Brasero stopped working for me, and inthe process of fixing it I accidentally deleted my openbox .config files…while making a backup of them. Don’t ask.

So I thought that would be a good time to try out KDE 4.1 RC. I used a spankin brand new Arch install, and the packages provided by KDEMod. Things didn’t go well. I started KDE 5 times, and only twice things worked. The first and the fifth time locked up while loading the desktop. The third time the panel was all messed up. I also found things very slow, and opening the menus left artefacts everywhere.

THEN, I read about the issues this RC has with nvidia cards. D’oh. I guess I have to wait untile 4.1 final comes out.

I also had a chance to try out the KDEMod pacman front-end Shaman, used to install software. Because the .config map was owned by root, I don’t know why, it immediately threw an error. In Dutch. With a huge spelling error.

Which is a bit embarassing, because I’m the one who wrote that translation.



July 16, 2008

I’m always searching around for interesting Linux distributions, and tonight I tried to download the latest stable release of Elive.

I couldn’t.

The official download throws an error, and visiting the Elive page on Distrowatch doesn’t help either: the iso on Linuxquestions is outdated, and doesn’t have it anymore. At this moment, it seems like the only way to actually get Elive is a torrent on Isohunt (which has only 14 seeds at this moment).

I remember reading that Elive simply wasn’t available as a free download, but that can’t be right, can it? It’s not mentioned anywhere on the site, and there’s a download page, it just doesn’t work.

I’m sure this isn’t the way to promote a distribution…


Too many Linux distributions?

July 14, 2008

That’s one you often hear, right? There are too many Linux distributions, and that’s a problem. To some people, who then feel compelled to blog about it. Most of the times, the reasons stated are confusion for new Linux users, and lack of a unified install method for all Linuxes.

Let’s start with that confusion. Apparently, the new Linux user won’t know what to choose when faced with all the (over 300) possibilities, but be honest here, to the “outside world”, Linux has become synonymous with “Ubuntu”. I’m not saying Ubuntu is the best, but when I see Linux mentioned in PC magazines in Belgium, it’s always Ubuntu. That’s not a bad thing…Ubuntu’s pretty easy, so that hypothetical new Linux user shouldn’t have too many problems with it.
In any case, installing an OS is not something you should do without preparation. Someone who searches for a Linux distribution to replace Windows, and decides on Devil Linux (just an example), should have known better.

Then, the different package managers. Yes, there’s rpm, and deb, and tar.gz, and pacman and pisi etc. But why should this matter to end-users? It doesn’t. Yes, it creates extra work for the packagers of each distribution, but the user doesn’t notice that. He’s using the front-end provided by his or her distribution. It doesn’t matter if that piece of software is called Yast, or synaptic, or adept or whatever…it’s always easy. Search for a package. Click. Installed. No hassle.

Are there any real advantages to having so many distributions around? Perhaps not, but I won’t deny anyone the pleasure of releasing his own distro, just because he can. Or her, of course. That’s the fun of it. And every now and then, there’s a new distribution that really makes an impact, like Ubuntu.

In the end, there isn’t any advantage to having only one dominant Linux distribution either. Yes, new users wouldn’t be confused and there would be only one way to install software, making it easier for package maintainers. But what would be the point? To lure in new users? To take on Windows and OS X? Why? There’s this feeling among some people that Linux HAS to grow, that it HAS to become the dominant OS, because it’s (arguably) so much better. I don’t agree. It would be nice if some people knew that the answer to their virus-ridden problems is freely available, but that’s all. Otherwise, let people use what they’re happy with.

Plus, a little competition never hurt anybody. It improves quality. You want to write a CD-burner? You better make it as good as K3b. A music manager? Amarok’s your target there. The same goes for distributions. I believe that Ubuntu gave the other distributions a good kick in the rear. It came on the scene being the best. These days, OpenSuse, Mandriva, even Pardus…are (almost?) as good.
So let Linux users and developers tinker, and write new programs, and create new distributions, and try stuff with their PC, and find new ways to do the same stuff. It’s just Linux way. It’s FUN.


What the…? Fork KDE?

July 8, 2008

Bashing KDE has become the new black. I’m pretty sure that it started out as legitimate concerns about KDE’s direction, and then some out-of-control internet flamers/trolls/foaming at the mouth crazy people jumped on the bandwagon. By now, KDE4 is actually the AntiChrist and we will all be murdered in our beds.

Let’s back up here for a bit. KDE 4.0 was by no means a stable, feature complete release, so releasing it with a “4.0” number was a bad idea. I think we can all agree on that.
But to be fair, the KDE devs told everyone at the time that it wasn’t stable or feature complete. Of course, people went ahead and installed it anyway. Even more baffling, some distributions included it in their releases, sometimes as the only KDE alternative. Possibly some people at the helm of Fedora were very high when they decided to do that.
Enter the complaints: “This is not stable or feature complete!”. Well, duh.

Unfortunately, the complaints went further than that. What the KDE devs are trying to do is to radically change the way we use our desktop, and people don’t like change. I can actually understand this. As far as I can see, getting used to KDE 4 will take some time…but then again, the same applied to switching from Windows to KDE, from KDE to GNOME, from GNOME to Openbox…you get used to everything. Change isn’t necessarily change for the worse.
Again, I can understand why people complain here. It’s only natural. But it’s not just complaints, is it? I’ve seen people on message boards demanding from the KDE devs that they keep things the way they want them to be. Worse, I’ve seen someone claiming that he wouldn’t touch KDE again until he got an apology from the KDE devs, for screwing up his beloved KDE. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, but don’t ask me for more examples. I tried to stay away from the KDE4 hoopla, but it’s just impossible.

And now some people want to fork KDE. I think it was Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols who first suggested it, and now this guy suggests exactly the same thing (while presenting it as his own idea, mind you). Forking KDE, what a great idea. They probably hugged themselves in their sleep when they dreamed that one up.
As can be expected, reactions are divided. Some people think it’s a great idea, smart people point out that it’s impossible. See, the ones who do want KDE forked, don’t want to do it themselves. They don’t have the time. Or the knowledge. That’s because nobody does.

Consider the work that goes into developing KDE. We’re not talking about an abandoned music player, or a chat client, or an office suite, or even a graphical server. It’s an entire desktop environment! Companies like Trolltech, Novell and Mandriva employ developers to work on it, and there are many, many others who work on KDE as a volunteer. I think “thousands” isn’t an exaggeration here, not when you consider all other projects that use KDE as an umbrella, like K3b and Amarok.
Furthermore, KDE is sponsored, and not by small names. We’re talking about Intel, Novell and Mark Shuttleworth here. How are you going to match that?
You won’t. But hey, that stuff isn’t important anyway. Let’s all think of names for our new KDE instead.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what people think anyway. We don’t decide what the direction of KDE will be, the developers do. Should they listen to what users want? Yes. But they’re the ones doing the work, and the final decision of how things will be done is up to them. If they’re as spectacularly wrong as some people would like us to believe, KDE4 will be used by absolutely nobody, and the KDE devs will realise their failure and commit suicide. KDE 3.5 will be forked and remain just as it is now forever and ever until the end of time and possibly beyond. Problem solved.

I for one will wait until KDE 4.1 comes out, and I’ll give it a fair chance. If I like it, I’ll use it. If I don’t, I’ll use one of the alternatives.

But that’s probably just me being too rational about it.


Using the Desktop…why?

July 7, 2008

Messy Desktop

If you wonder why this article starts with a screenshot of a windows desktop, it’s because almost every PC I ever had to fix looks like this. And I wonder what genius ever got the idea of using the background as a desktop (according to Wikipedia, it’s Commodore. Curse them).

Just look at it. It’s just a bunch of maps, files, and application launchers thrown together in no particular order. Desktops get messy. It’s what they do. At least this person made some effort by lining up the icons…I know many who don’t. Supposedly, files on the desktop are easier to find, but that cannot possibly be the case here. If I had a choice between this and a nice, alphabetic list, I know what I’d choose.

There’s another problem with using the desktop as a place where you store files: every time you open a program (as computer users tend to do sometimes), you hide them all. I guess that’s why the “Show Desktop” function was invented…so you can open even more windows, which will instantly hide your icons again.

Applications are guilty of this too. Almost every Windows program will add a launcher on the desktop by default. And in your QuickLaunch bar. And in the menu. Don’t forget the systray icon, and the “launch program at startup option”.
Windows applications tend to crap all over your desktop.

In Openbox, I’d need an extra program just to add icons to the desktop, but I don’t. I don’t have a “QuickLaunch bar” either. Why should I? I have the menu, and maybe ten keyboard combinations that open my favorite applications. I have a panel at the bottom, but I noticed I don’t use it to navigate between my open windows…it’s only there so I know what applications I’ve already opened. I have conky at the top, so I know how much work my processors have to do, how bandwidth I’m wasting, what song I’m playing…that kind of thing. It’s all I need, and it’s not intrusive.
I reach my files the way they’re supposed to be reached…with the file manager. Every new file goes to a “download” map first, and then to the appropriate map on a separate partition. I never have any trouble finding a file.

And that way, I can actually enjoy the pretty picture I have as my background.