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Rubber Turnip - My Desktop

[Screen Shot] I've written in the past about the state of Desktop Linux and it's suitability for Joe User. My conclusion was that it's not quite there yet. However, I'm not Joe User. As a System Administrator, I guess I fall into the category of "Power User", so how does Linux suit someone like me as a desktop OS?

The obvious answer of course is that it suits me very well, otherwise I wouldn't use it, but what about it do I find excellent, what lousy and what just downright frustrating?

I came to use Linux as a result of having been a UNIX puppy at university, I cut my teeth on X-Terminals connected to a Sequent Symmetry machine. I learnt how to configure FVWM (version 1) to behave and look how I wanted, while most of the applications I used were text/curses based. This UNIX background has caused me to have a number of fundamental requirements of my desktop interface.

My first requirement is Focus Follows Mouse. This used (I think, it's a long time ago to remember) to be called SloppyFocus in FVWM. Basically this means that where you move your mouse the window it hovers over is the one in focus. Forget clicking in windows, just moving to them speeds up how you work an incredible amount. These days you can get third-party add ons to Windows to allow you to do this, but you have to go looking for them, and frankly that would be too much hassle. Just about every UNIX/Linux window manager has a simple option (whether it be via a config file, or a graphical config tool) to turn this on and toggle auto-raise. Sawfish, which I use as part of my GNOME set up, even allows me to define the delay in milliseconds before focused windows are raised, so I can customize the feel of that aspect of my desktop specifically to how I want it.

My second requirement is Launcher Buttons. Let's be honest about something. There is one fundamentally bad piece of interface design that started with MacOS, was absorbed by Windows and subsequently adopted by KDE and GNOME. Desktop shortcuts. What genius decided that underneath the windows you're working in was the ideal place to put the launchers for other applications? No, launchers should be in the form of buttons the can be positioned where the user wants them (normally along one side of the display, and as small as the user can cope with). In FVWM1, these were called GoodStuff. For me now, they take the form of launchers on the GNOME panel. I work with two panels on my desktop, both of which are the full width of my display; one at the top, and one at the bottom. They are both a mere 24 pixels high, and the top one where I have my launchers placed is translucent. The point here is that Sawfish can avoid these when I maximize windows, and keep them above windows if I move them into the same space as the panels. This means I have access to my launchers at all times. I do not have to worry about keeping the area of my desktop that is covered in icons clear when I place my windows on the desktop, it maximizes my available desktop space, and as a result it again increases my productivity. I suspect that people who depend on GMC/Nautilus or KDE to give them desktop icons for launching applications simply have never experienced the pleasure of beng freed from this prison. If this seems like a rant, it's because it is. I've never understood desktop icons, and I dare say I never will.

My third requirement is Virtual Desktops. This is something else I first tasted when using FVWM, the ability to have multiple desktop areas the size of your display. I'm not here talking about having a desktop that is simply larger than the maximum your video adaptor and monitor can display, causing you to scroll around. That kind of setup is hideous and confusing. No, I'm talking about have a series of clearly defined desktop areas. Four of them tend to suit me, although the specific number is a matter of personal taste. This is one area that almost put me off using Sawfish. Not that it lacks this capability, but that it has far too complex an implementation of it. Sawfish has Workspaces and Desktops, and they behave in different ways. One of them is made up of instances of the other, although I can never remember which way round that is. Thankfully I managed to hit on a config that gives me my four desktop areas, and simple keyboard shortcut to switch between them.

There are a number of things that are nice, but I could live without about my Linux desktop. Hardware 3D acceleration is very nice. I have a GeForce2 card at work, and a GeForce3 at home, but I don't need to have my OpenGL screensavers really. They add to my pleasure to know that when I'm away from my desk, they show off the sheer coolness of my Linux box to my colleagues, but I could cope if I had to go back to my machine's onboard ATI adaptor. Anti-aliased fonts are something I just don't understand the fuss over. I use TrueType fonts, but I see no need for them to be anti-aliased, they look fine as they are. I can understand that because other desktop OS's have them, then Linux must also have them to be accepted in Joe User's world. For me however, they're unnecessary.

I'm a power user and proud of it. I've been using UNIX based desktops for a very long time, and the more time passes, the better they get. Joe User's turn to be happy with a Linux desktop will come. For now though, I'm very happy with mine.

© 2001 James Ogley