Qt vs. GTK: Konqueror, Arora, Firefox, Midori, Epiphany

May 28, 2009

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that, at least in my opinion, KDE is losing out to GNOME because there simply aren’t as many Qt applications as GTK ones. Competition breeds quality, and as a result, I find Qt applications in general to be inferior.

Of course, I can’t just say that and not back it up. In fact, I’m not even sure if I’m right! Because I’m using KDE 4.2 at the moment, I thought this would be an ideal time to really test some Qt and GTK applications extensively. In all cases, I tried to use Qt applications first, and only installed the GTK alternative if it either showed bugs, crashed, or simply irritated me to the point of madness after several days.

This is the second in a series of articles comparing different kind of applications. The first one handled chat-clients, and in this post I’ll cover the following browsers: Konqueror 4.2.3, Arora 0.7.0, Firefox 3.0.10, Midori 0.1.6 and Epiphany 2.26.2. I did not install Opera because I blogged about it before, here, and I simply don’t like it. I’ve used it again after I wrote that article, and my experiences were a bit more positive, but it’s still far from my favourite browser. For fun, I also tried to install Chromium (there’s an AUR-build available in Arch), but although I got it working, all the text of the browser itself displayed as squares.

Introduction

Konqueror has been KDE’s browser since KDE 2, and also doubles as a file manager, even if in KDE4 Dolphin is now the default for that. In any case, Konqueror’s primary focus now is browsing the web. It’s a bit of a loner amongst browsers, using KHTML as the engine, but with a bit of tweaking/installing it can also use Webkit. It’s a bit less stable, and I don’t notice any speed differences, but the advantage is that Gmail gets displayed correctly. KHTML will have you switch to the traditonal view of Gmail, which I found a tad annoying.
Konqueror’s looks are, of course, perfectly integrated in KDE, and the font rendering is fine. It has a clear, simple layout, but as can happen in KDE apps, the configuration possibilities can be a bit overwhelming.

Konqueror 4.2.3

Konqueror 4.2.3

Arora is a relatively new kid on the block, being a lightweight Qt-browser that uses the Webkit engine. It aims to be minimalistic and stable, without being tied to any OS or Desktop environment. Of course, being built with the Qt toolkit integrates it perfectly in KDE, although there have been issues with the KDE 4.2 Oxygen theme. It looks very similar to Konqueror, but it does display the tab bar even when you have only one tab open, which in my opinion looks weird. Configuration options are few and easy, and font rendering is on par with Konq.

Arora 0.7.0

Arora 0.7.0

Firefox of course should need no introduction. It’s one of the most succesful open source projects, the second most popular browser in the world and the default in most Linux distributions. It’s relatively fast and secure, has great font rendering, and features an unparalelled extension system which can make it look at act like almost anything. It’s downsides are a long startup time and the tendency to hog memory when it’s been long running. It may have started as rather light-weight, but that’s definitely no longer the case.
This is how I have set it up. You may notice the ressemblance to a certain other browser.

Firefox 3.0.10

Firefox 3.0.10

The easiest way to describe Midori would be “Arora using GTK”, so that’s what I’ll do. Like Arora, it uses Webkit, aims to be fast, lightweight and straightforward, and like Arora it also still is in heavy development. Each release sees substantial improvements, and personally I’m keeping an eye on these browsers. They’re two of the most exciting pieces of software to have appeared the the last couple of years.
Midori has a clean, simple layout that’s easy on the eyes, and because it doesn’t have a million options, configuration is easy. Font rendering is as good as in Konqueror and Arora, but Firefox remains the champion here.

Midori 1.6.0

Midori 1.6.0

Epiphany is GNOME’s default browser, and can be compared to a trimmed down Firefox. It uses the same Gecko engine, although the following releases will probably use Webkit. Just like everything about GNOME, new releases aren’t very exciting, but have small, incremental improvements. It’s a perfectly capable, fast little browser, with again a simple layout that gives just a little bit less screen estate to the websites because of the rather large buttons. I’ve been using it in Openbox for the last two months.

Epiphany 2.26.2

Epiphany 2.26.2

Whew, that’s a lot of talk and we just got past the introductions. Let’s move on.

Requirements

There are a couple of more or less important requirements I need from a browser:

  • Apple trailers and Youtube video’s have to work.
  • I don’t want ads or popups
  • I like to be able to use my favourite hotkeys
  • The faster pages are loaded, the better
  • I like to use the address bar as a google search bar, making the googlebar redundant
  • Perfectly stable. I can stand a crash every month or so, but not more
  • Standards compliancy is a nice bonus
  • Finally, if the browser is translated into Dutch, that’s a plus too

Let’s see how these browsers measure up.

Apple trailers:

For this test, I used the trailer of the new Sherlock Holmes trailer (the Standard > Medium version),  in which Robert Downey Jr. acts nothing like Sherlock Holmes at all. All browsers used the mplayer-plugin. Firefox and Epiphany passed this test with flying colours, but Midori crashed after the movie, when I tried to close the window. Arora crashed at the beginning, and Konqueror, both using Webkit and KHTML, stopped playing the video after a few seconds. This didn’t seem to be a problem with the video itself, but with the popup in which the video played. I tried to play the small Wolverine: Origins trailer, which now worked fine in Midori and Konqueror. Arora still crashed.

Youtube videos:

I had the Adobe Flash plugin installed, and all browsers played the hilarious 500 impressions in 2 minutes video just fine.

Popups

The entire internet using world population hates popups, and yet they’re everywhere, trying to convince me that I need loans, online casinos and whatnot. I don’t. The ideal behaviour here is letting the user know, discreetly, that popups have been blocked, with a possibility to display it in the rare cases you actually need it.

To test this I visited PopUpTest, and performed the first, second and fourth “Common” test. The results were the same in every case.

Firefox and Konqueror shine here, both displaying a small message telling you a popup has been blocked and offering you the choice of opening it anyway. Firefox is a bit better though, because it tells you how many popups have been blocked exactly and can display its warning even more discreetly if you want it to (a small icon in the bottom right corner). Small detail: after the test, there should appear a few lines telling you that the test is over. In Firefox this worked, but Konqueror reloaded the page, then halted.

Arora and Midori did not show any popups, but I didn’t see any warnings about it either. Furthermore, Arora kept reloading the page over an over again, possibly in an overzealous attempt to show goodwill and keep blocking popups?

Epiphany blocks popups too, showing a very small warning that it has done so, but de default settings is to allow popups all over your screen. Puzzling.

Ads

Same remark again: I hate advertising and it’s everywhere, flashing away and in some of its latest incarnations, doing sit-ups. I understand that some websites get their revenue from ads, but every browser should at least offer a possibility to block these ads. To test this I used this webpage, which tries to display 5 ads.

Firefox and Epiphany have an extension appropriately called AdBlock, which does exactly that. It works, and Epiphany’s extension doesn’t even need a restart to be enabled. Top marks.

Konqueror does not have AdBlock, but if you can add filters manually. The easiest way to do this is to hunt down an AdBlock txt file (the AdBlock extension in Firefox offers an option to export that list as txt, but it seems a bit ridiculous to install Firefox and AdBlock just to have AdBlock in Konqueror). In any case, afterwards Konqueror blocks ads just as well as Firefox and Epiphany, but it’s a clumsy way to get there.

Midori offers a nice surprise here: without installing anything whatsoever, no ads are displayed. Bad for aforementioned sites’ revenue, but nice for me. By contrast, Arora is the worst performer here. All ads are shown without an easy solution offered. It’s worth mentioning that both Konqueror and Arora were very slow displaying this page.

Hotkeys:

There are a couple of keyboard shortcuts I’ve used so much that by now they’ve left grooves in my brain. I use them whether the browser supports them or not, which can lead to some frustration if I don’t get the expected result. By now I’m too old and set in my ways to change hotkeys, so bad marks for every browser which can’t read my mind.

Luckily, all browsers here use CTRL + T to open a tab, and CTRL+W to close it. The only remark I have is that Epihany starts every tab with the homepage, so either you don’t set a homepage or you end up seeing it every time you create a new tab. The result is that what should be instantaneous (opening a new tab) takes a longer time in the lightweight Epiphany than it does in other browsers. There is a way around this by installing the Thirdpartyextensions package, but it’s rather puzzling default behaviour.

Unfortunately, the only browser that uses CTRL + ENTER as a shortcut to transform “xxxx” to “http://www.xxxx.com” in the address bar, is Firefox. I use this one all the time. IE has it, Firefox has it, Chrome has it, but the others don’t. When I tried, Midori and Epiphany did a google search, but Arora and Konqueror gave me a file error and a protocol error respectively. Pity.

Speed

This is very subjective, because I didn’t actually measure anything. Starting up, Firefox was slowest, followed by Konqueror. Epiphany came next, and Midori and Arora loaded almost instantly.

Surfing the web, Konqueror (Webkit) and Arora seemed slowest, with big differences between pages. Some loaded very fast, others very slowly. Konqueror using KHTML performed more evenly, but a bit slower than Firefox and Epiphany, which use the same engine. Midori always felt fastest.

Google search function in address bar

I can be short here: the GTK browsers all have it, the Qt ones don’t. Konqueror can do this if you add “gg:” in front of the search string, Arora just shows a file error, but of course has a seperate (Google) search bar.

Stability

Stability to me simply means: don’t crash. Of course, Midori and Arora already scored badly here by crashing displaying the Apple video. Let’s see how they behave when really put to the test. This page tries to crash your browser (and also to add a bookmark to your favourites, don’t say I didn’t warn you). All browsers passed this test…except Midori, which fell at the “Apple QuickTime MOV file JVTCompEncodeFrame heap overflow”. Konqueror using Webkit didn’t crash during this test, but didn’t complete the test either. This could be the same issue that appeared during the Apple trailer test, but strangely enough, Arora didn’t crash at all.

Standards compliancy

I remember some time ago there was a big hoopla because Konqueror was the second browser that passed the Acid2 test (Safari was the first). By now, all of these browsers pass the test without issue, and Acid2 has been succeeded by Acid3. In this test, to be perfect the the score has to be 100/100, the animation has to be smooth, and the image must be exactly like the reference. None of the browsers had smooth animation, but otherwise there were some pretty big differences:

Firefox and Epiphany score lowest, with 71/100 and black and white colours

Konqueror using KHTML was next, with 87/100 and black and white, except for yellow and purple. I also had to hit the reload the page otherwise the test wouldn’t start. Using Webkit, the page loaded very slowly but the score rose to 95 and all the colours were there. There also was an extra red box that wasn’t supposed to show up though.

Arora scored good with 96, showing all colours except blue.

Midori was the only one to get a perfect score, 100/100 and showing all the colours.

Language

Of all the browsers, only Arora didn’t have a Dutch translation.

Conclusion

This article turned out much longer than I intended, but considering how much I use a browser and how important it is for me, maybe it’s not that surprising. In the end, I have to conclude that if you want a stable, full-featured, great looking and reasonably fast browser in KDE 4, Firefox is still the best choice. If you like Firefox, but you prefer your browser to be a bit less memory heavy, Epiphany is the choice for you. It displays everything Firefox does, has some interesting extensions, and is stable. It didn’t crash once using KDE 4. Konqueror is a close third but loses some points because because it’s configuration is a bit messy, it’s a bit slower for me, and doesn’t have all my favourite key shortcuts. If you stick to KHTML, it’s very capable and stable, safe for the one issue with the Sherlock Holmes trailer.
The lightweight Webkit browsers come last because of their stability issues. On the one hand this is to be expected, since both projects are still in their infancy. I also have to add that if Midori didn’t crash, it would be my first choice. It’s faster than Epiphany and looks better than Firefox. It doesn’t have unnecessary fluff, and still does everything a browser supposed to do. Of course, that all amounts to nothing if it crashes every now and then…
Arora disappointed me a bit. It’s loading speed is very variable, ranging from very fast to rather slow. It’s lightweight, but unlike Midori here that means not offering some handy features I like in a browser, and one I find absolutely necessary: ad blocking. If you absolutely need a Qt browser, I’d suggest sticking to Konqueror or trying out Opera.

Seems like another clear win for GTK, but of course, Firefox isn’t a “real” GTK application. Still, it’s telling that a successful open source project like Firefox uses GTK instead of Qt. Chromium has done the same for their Linux version, by the way, and Midori seems to be on its way to be a fantastic browser. All those are GTK-applications.

In the end of course, don’t let the toolkit determine your choice of software. Use what works best for you.

San


Qt vs. GTK: Kopete, KMess, Pidgin and Emesene

May 25, 2009

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that, at least in my opinion, KDE is losing out to GNOME because there simply aren’t as many Qt applications as GTK ones. Competition breeds quality, and as a result, I find Qt applications in general to be inferior.

Of course, I can’t just say that and not back it up. In fact, I’m not even sure if I’m right! Because I’m using KDE 4.2 at the moment, I thought this would be an ideal time to really test some Qt and GTK applications extensively. In all cases, I tried to use Qt applications first, and only installed the GTK alternative if it either showed bugs, crashed, or simply irritated me to the point of madness after several days.

This should be the first in a series of articles comparing different kind of applications. In this post I’ll cover chat clients: Kopete, Kmess, and two GTK alternatives, Pidgin and Emesene.

Kopete has been KDE’s default chat client since I started using Linux. At that time GNOME felt alien, but even then I used Pidgin. I simply didn’t like Kopete. Its configuration felt clunky, cluttered and unnatractive…and it still does. That’s because it hasn’t changed since forever, even during the switch from KDE3 to KDE4. It still looks and feels like it did 8 years ago, as you can see from the screenshot on the official homepage…which is till the KDE3 version. The latest News item is dated August 2008, which tells you a lot about the stagnation of the development of this application. It does support video chat, and of course it lets you connect to and chat on all major chat protocols, so I decided that this time I’d try and use it for a week.
Unfortunately, it only lasted a day, because every time I start the program it complains about the MSN password. It’s actually correct, and works when I enter it again…until I shut down Kopete. At that point, I decided that it simply wasn’t good enough, and installed something else.

Kmess seems like a better alternative. It has a beta version for KDE4 and like Emesene, it only supports MSN chat, but it has more features, like showing and saving MSN winks, choosing how to open links, and of course it integrates better in KDE4, especially when it comes to notifications. I like it a lot, but the layout is, ironically, a bit of a mess. I’ve noticed this in other KDE4 applications too, where icons overlap text until you widen the window. In any case, with the windows stretched out everything looks fine. It did manage to crash the KDE4’s notification applet, and not all the winks showed perfectly, but I’d recommend it over Kopete.

Pidgin is GNOME’s default chat client (*), and like Kopete, this is a golden oldie. Unfortunately, and also like Kopete, not much happened with it since quite some time. In fact, it’s safe to say that since the upgrade to version 2, when Gaim changed its name to Pidgin, all the changes have been minor. Pidgin still does not support saving moving icons, it still doesn’t offer voice chat, and like Kopete, its configuration is a bit all over the place. Settings can be changed in Account Settings, in Settings, and in Plugins. It’s a bit chaotic, but it works just fine and it looks a whole lot better than Kopete does. Unlike Emesene, it does open links, and you can configure how it does that too (in which browser, and new window or new tab?).
It has been less than stable for me though, at least outside of GNOME. I’ve suffered one crash in KDE4, but on my Windows laptop from work it crashes at least once a week.

Emesene is what I’ve been using in GNOME and Openbox the last couple of months. Most of the times, I’m only using the MSN protocol anyway, and Emesene takes everything that’s good about MSN (simple layout, easily configured), makes it even better (I just love the slick look of those icons), and wraps it in a fast, lightweight chat client. Even my girlfriend loves it, because it feels so familiar, and you can save and use custom icons 🙂 It doesn’t support video chat, but since this is an application claiming to be fast and lightweight, I don’t mind.
This is my chat application of choice, and to me it looks better in KDE4 than even KDE applications do.

A clear win for GTK and Emesene here, because of its simplicity, speed and looks. KMess is a close second though, and even in beta looks like a better, easier chat client than the dinosaur Kopete.

Next: Browsers (Konqueror, Firefox, Arora, and probably some stuff about Midori, Epiphany and Opera)

San

(*) Edit: As has been pointed out by mtz in the comments, Pidgin is not the default chat client in Gnome, Empathy is. It’s actually developing fast, and probably will be included as default in GNOME distributions in future releases, but I didn’t include it here because I have no experience with it.
In any case, I was wrong. My apologies.


64-bit Arch and KDE 4.2 on ext4

May 20, 2009

I wrote my this post last Sunday, but completely forgot to actually publish it.  In any case, I’ve been running x86-64 Arch on an ext4 partition with KDE 4.2.3 since. It has been interesting, to say the least.

  • Arch: I must say I’m not really happy with the way Arch users have to hack around hal, PoliciKit and Xorg to get their keyboard working these days. Apparently, Xorg input hotplugging is in a case of flux these days, and the solution is to add some fairly complex lines in multiple config files. It works, but trial and error is not much fun when your mouse and keyboard refuse to do anything and you can’t get out of X.
    Otherwise, no problems whatsoever. Arch remains my favourite distribution by far.
  • ext4: I’ve been installing Ubuntus, Mintses and Arches using ext4 filesystems on laptops and desktops galore, and never had a problem. They only thing that’s very noticable is the speed boost. Moving on.
  • x86-64: A first for me. Can’t really comment on any speed difference. The system is very snappy, but that can be because of a number of reasons. In any case, I haven’t encountered any problems, not even with flash, with works very well in 64-bit these days. Only one footnote: Arch doesn’t provide a 64-bit wine package. Installing the 32-bit version is possible from AUR, the user repository, but also installs 32-bit libraries. Again, it works.
  • KDE 4.2.3: Ah, here’s the really interesting one. I’ve been enthousiastic about KDE4 before, but I haven’t really installed it as my day-to-day-desktop. Usually I install it, look around, tweak some stuff, and then run back to Openbox. Not this time, I vowed. I promised myself to use KDE at least a week. What’s more, I wouldn’t use my favourite GTK-apps, but I’d stick to the defaults provided by KDE as much as possible.
    Well, we’re half way, and I can’t say there haven’t been any difficult moments. Figuring out how to add custom keyboard shortcuts was one. Struggling with Konqueror, Kopete and Amarok were others, and I still don’t know if the latest k3b (alpha) is actually capable of burning anything. Configuration issues aside, I also hit a couple of crashes and lockups, which definitely doesn’t happen as much in GNOME or my own Openbox. Konqueror dissappeared on me sometimes, some Plasmoids made Plasma crash entirely, caused weird skipping issues in Amarok, or simply didn’t work as intended, and Juk frequently planted itself handling my 5000+ mp3 collection. I have been able to work around almost all of these issues, but it’s apparent KDE4 is still rather young and wobbly on it’s feet.
    And while I succeeded (I still use KDE), I’ve also failed (I installed GTK-apps). I’ve said something like this before, but I still think that the main problem KDE has is the fact that its applications simply aren’t as good or as many as the GTK ones. I had to trade Kopete for Pidgin, Konqueror for Firefox, and Koffice for OpenOffice, not because I didn’t “like” them (I don’t, but that didn’t stop me using them), but because of bugs and crashes forced me to do so. I plan to go into this with a series of posts, comparing Qt and GTK software in different areas. The first one should be about Kopete, Pidgin, and Emesene, but I’ve never been good with writing series (I hate deadlines 😉 ).
    In the end, what’s important is that after compromising a bit, I still use KDE. It’s possible that I switch back to Openbox after the week is over (for example, if K3b really can’t burn yet), but I don’t plan to. I like my desktop very much the way it is now, and I’ve been able to impress my co-workers with the following screenshots. KDE makes your peers like you! Try it out now!

    Arch and KDE 4.2

    Arch and KDE 4.2

    Alt-Tab in KDE 4.2

    Alt-Tab in KDE 4.2

    San


My Arch needs updates

May 20, 2009

At the moment I’m using Arch and Openbox, and I love it. But the filesystem is ext3, and as I have said before, ext4 offers a real performance boost. Also, I haven’t installed the 64-bit version, and since Arch’s latest April Fool’s prank I’m convinced that I don’t need to install i686 anymore.

And I have some time to fill while I’m listening to the Belgian Soccer competition playing out, so I just downloaded the latest Arch iso image. Let’s try to install it to my free partition, and while Im’ at it, let’s try to use the latest KDE without installing gtk.

I don’t know why I keep doing stuff like this.

San


Linux Mint 7 (Gloria) RC: A Review

May 11, 2009

It’s been a while since I did one of these, for one because they’re time consuming, and also because after you’ve done a couple of reviews, it’s like you have nothing new left to say. These days, it’s rare that a Linux distribution is anything else than a different repackaging of traditional open source software. When Linux Mint first appeared, it seemed that it was nothing more than “Ubuntu with codecs”, but that doesn’t explain it’s popularity (at the moment of this writing, Linux Mint is third in the rankings, after Ubuntu and OpenSuse, but before established distributions like Fedora, Debian and Mandriva).

The new Linux Mint Release Candidate, named Gloria, is based on the fresh Ubuntu 9.04. but why would anyone choose it over it’s “parent”?

Installation

Well, it can’t be the installation, because apart from the theme it’s exactly the same…which is a good thing. Ubuntu’s installer works well, is easy, and fast. In fact, the less said about the installer, the better. These days, installing Linux is as easy as clicking “Next, next, next, done”, and there’s hardly any configuration needed after install. Gone are the days where I had to edit xorg.conf or /etc/fstab to get a system working. You install, you boot into the new OS, and that’s it. Everything’s done for you, and everything works. Let’s move on.

Look and Feel

Probably the most noticable change from Ubuntu is the look of Linux Mint. I can live with the orange and brown, but if you browse certain internet forums (here’s a tip: don’t), it’s obvious that some people don’t, and would rather walk hot coals and drink boiling water than look at a default Ubuntu install.
Apart from the green, minty theme, Mint drops the top panel in favour of a more traditional (read: Windows) layout and menu, which may not be a bad move. After all, it’s what most people are familiar with.

Mint: Menu

Mint: Menu

Looks can  be debated, but I believe Mint looks absolutely gorgeous. The combination of black and green works very well, and I love the wallpaper, which features a Mint logo behind a rained-on window. The black menus work well too: they look good without being unreadable. All in all, I can’t find much reason to change the default look, but if you want to, all the other Mint themes are available.

Mint: Theme

Mint: Theme

In fact, the only hiccup here is the OpenOffice theme, which looks very…orange. I don’t know if OOo will still use the Ubuntu theme in the final version of Gloria, or if a true Mint theme will be provided. As it is, it rather stands out, and not in a good way.

Applications

Mint comes with all the Usual Suspects: Firefox, Thunderbird, Rhythmbox, Brasero, Mplayer, Pidgin, Transmission, and a selection of other interesting but not unusual software, like Gnome Do, Tomboy and Giver.

Far more interesting are the applications which are unique to mint. For starters, there’s mintMenu, which to me is the KDE4 menu done right. It offers access to Places, System and Applications without taking up too much space, it has find as you type search (so you never actually have to scroll through menus to find the application you want to start), and it even offers options to install any software you’re looking for but haven’t installed. For example, if I feel like playing Battle for Wesnoth, which isn’t installed by default, I just open the menu, type ‘wesnoth’, and I’m offered with four choices: Search Portal for “wesnoth” (which opens the software portal on the LInux Mint website), Search repositories for ‘wesnoth’ (which does exactly what it says), Show package ‘wesnoth’ (which shows the output of ‘apt search wesnoth’), and Install package ‘wesnoth’ (which is pretty obvious). It all works perfectly, and it’s a very easy way to install new software.

Mint: Looking for Wesnoth?

Mint: Looking for Wesnoth?

Other mintSofware includes mintUpdate, which performs the same function as Ubuntu’s Update Notifier, but gives updates a grade from 1 to 5, with 1 being the most critical/recommended, mintBackup, which lets you take a backup of your home directory, mintNanny, which lets you create a list of blocked websites, mintInstall, which combines every way of installing software on a debian system and combines them in an attractive GUI, and mintDesktop, which provides an easy way to configure your desktop without entering the juggernaut that is gconf-editor. All of these tools are original and provide useful features. For example, mintInstall downloads a screenshot of an application you might want to install, a feature which has since been copied by Synaptic.

Problems

None whatsoever. I’ve been using the RC of Gloria for a couple of days now, and I haven’t encountered a single problem. Everything works out of the box, including Flash, youtube, Apple trailers, mp3 playback, video playback, installing software…everything I tried to do worked as intended. Of course, Ubuntu deserves credit here too, as it’s their solid base which makes this possible.

Conclusion

Even if Linux Mint was nothing else than Ubuntu with a different look, it would have its followers, since it looks just so good. But Linux Mint does more than just provide its own theme, it tries to rethink Ubuntu’s interface, not drastically but subly, which together with added codecs for multimedia layback, should make Mint easier and more logical for new users or Windows converts. As far as I’m concerned, they’ve succeeded. A big thumbs up to everyone who made this wonderful OS possible.

San


Virtual Desktops: Brilliant or Nuisance?

May 11, 2009

One of the best things about any Linux Desktop Environment/Window Manager, is the ability to have as many virtual desktops as you like. On any system I set up, I stick with the default of four, and reserve the first one for chatting, the second for browsing and e-mail, the third for any multimedia-apps and the fourth for file managers and terminals. My system feels uncluttered, and my panel isn’t filled with a thousand applications. Whenever I’m working on a Windows system, I feel like everything is a mess and I have to search way too much where I put every window (at work, I have a second screen. This helps, but it’s still no match for four virtual desktops).

Funnily enough, whenever I put a Windows user on a Linux system, this is the thing they struggle most with. Most of the time, they just can’t grasp the concept, or don’t understand how it could be useful. As a result, they always stick to the first workspace, and whenever a window ends up on another, they can’t find it again.

I was reminded of this because apparently, the developers of Linux Mint feel the same way. Unlike most Linux distributions, there’s no pager in the panel that lets you switch from one virtual desktop to the other. Personally, I find this a pain, but when it comes to Windows users, this makes sense…and Linux Mint is definitely geared at Windows converts. Different workspaces can be a marvelous tool to organise all your application windows, but if all your “customers” are baffled by it, why include it at all? You may disagree, but in the end, it all comes down to “what’s your target audience?”.

That being said, I find it very strange that the way Linux Mint implements this is by simply getting rid of the pager. The four virtual desktops are still there, but you have to switch between them with the Ctrl+alt+Left/Right buttons. This makes no sense to me, and only leaves the possibility for a user to move an application to another workspace without giving him or her the possibility to find it again. As a sidenote, Ubuntu, it seems, strikes the middle ground here, and includes two workspaces, with a pager.

For me, switching between workspaces is the same as switching between applications, but apparently it’s a difficult concept for most people, and the only reason I can think of why this is so, is because users have become so accustomed to Windows (or MacOS X), that they can’t think of screen estate beyond the actual borders of the screen.

So, not only is Linux free as in speech, and in most cases, free as in beer, it also frees you of the boundaries of your hardware 😉 I just love this OS!

San


Linux Mint 7 RC: Quick Look

May 10, 2009

I’m testdriving the Release Candidate for the new Linux Mint (Gloria, or 7) at the moment, and it looks very, very good. This is more than just another Ubuntu with a different theme (although it looks much prettier than Ubuntu out of the box). Clement Lefebre, maintainer of Mint, really adds enough to make it a different distribution. Best of all, the things he adds are unique to Mint, and that’s why this distribution succeeds where others (and in my opinion) fail, like Xubuntu, or Kubuntu or one of the other Ubuntu-but-with-codecs distributions out there.

Mint offers its own menu (KDE devs, have a look at it), its own way of installing software, and about have a dozen other nify little tools which names that start with “mint”, and make the life of the computer user easier. Thought has gone into this, and it shows.

It’s about the opposite of my Arch install, which is my own baby, with only the parts I want an nothing else (and which is quite a bit faster, without making Mint a slouch), but it’s easily installed, easily used, it just works, and it looks great too (love the new theme, especially the wallpaper).

I may review the final version in full. We’ll see.

San