Friday, 26 March 2010

Desktop Environments and Window Managers

It seems like I revisit this all too often. But for those of you interested in Gnome Topaz aka Gnome Shell, you might find parts of this interesting. And if you like Gnome Shell, be ready for some unpleasentness.

Go back a few days. I'd finally decided to see what all the fuss was about, and use Ubuntu Tweak's Gnome Shell testing repository, and install it.
No problems there.
Everything advised me to shut down Compiz, and revert to basic Gnome/Metacity, before opening a terminal to enter the command 'gnome-shell --replace'
This is the first big glaring mistake.
When you run any window manager with the --replace operative, the current one is remembered and shut down. Remembered, because if the new window manager is killed, it'll be reloaded.
So you don't, it seems, need to shut down Compiz - it'll do it for you.
Now, that aside, I let it spend a few minutes starting up. I admit my computer isn't recent, but it's fairly robust, and can handle KDE with only a few problems, but more on that later.
Gnome Shell, however, brought it to slower than a snail's pace. As I'd lost the CPU applet on my Gnome panel,I couldn't tell how much of that it was hogging, but evidently the hard drive wasn't doing anything.
Then finally, things started to appear. The new bar (It's not a panel until it can support Gnome panel applets) my normal Gnome desktop, and the Avant Window Navigator that I keep running.
Then after a few more minutes, the terminal reappeared. Slowly.
I figured it was now ready to use. Boy was I wrong.
The mouse is perfectly fine, but to actually interact with anything, you have to mouse over, and wait. And wait. And wait. And wait.
I tried to launch Firefox from AWN. I tried to write this post. I gave up after 30 minutes, summoned back the terminal (Eventually) and killed Gnome Shell with Ctrl-C.
I will not be using Gnome Shell again until it runs far better than this. If this is what the so called future of Gnome is going to be, then expect to lose your users, Gnome. Gnome Shell is worse than Windows. Any incarnation of Windows. Even Vista.
Fix it. Oh, and while you're at it, since we can't use Compiz with the Gnome Shell, at the very least, offer your own implementation of it, so you're not cutting out chunks of things that people actually want.

With that bitter taste left, I decided I didn't want to run Gnome any longer, and went off to look at other things.
Of course, for a start, there's the other two Desktop Environments, KDE and XFCE, both familiar to me.
KDE came first, and though as said my system isn't exactly good, it performed respectably. I couldn't have many desktop plasmoids, but I don't really mind that.
What's a big let down in KDE, however, is the high resource requirements. I can't run Firefox in KDE at all. Everything slows right down, though it's far faster than Gnome Shell.
So KDE disqualified itself, after trying to run other Window Managers with it caused it to crash and reset my session.
XFCE lasted a little longer, it's XFApplet (The one that allows you to import Gnome panel applets) making up for a lot of missing things that I have in Gnome, and it performed relatively well.
What was wrong with XFCE? Several things.
There's no way to edit the menu. Gnome has Alacarte, KDE has it's own too, but nothing for XFCE.
Compiz doesn't play nice with it. It's usable, but not ideal. This isn't a necessity, but I prefer it.
No GlobalMenu. The Gnome GlobalMenu mimic's Mac OSX's universal menu bar for all apps, though some (Firefox, Openoffice, aMSN) don't work with this, and continue to use their own.
There is an XFCE applet for it, but it didn't work, and using the XFApplet to import it didn't work any better. Again, it's not a necessity - but it'd be nice.
Long login time. Now, I have several apps I like to start with login, Qwit for monitoring Twitter, my journal app, AWN, and the Guake terminal. But even KDE handled these small requests fine. XFCE, even with the options to launch Gnome and KDE services disabled, slowed right down and took a long while to get to usable.

This leaves me looking for alternatives.
Openbox has long been a friend of mine, and I did, for a time, have an Openbox session on this currently Karmic box - however, Dropbox refused to launch, and as I make use of it a lot, this is a major downside.
Blackbox and Fluxbox are in the same boat as Openbox here, though each acts differently. Still neither could launch Dropbox.
IceWM is nice, but doesn't have the right feel or touch to me. Same goes for JWM.
There are others, of course, some of them I've even tried, but none of them measure up.
So, I'm back with Gnome again. I don't want the Gnome Shell, and if they don't give users the choice between current Gnome and the Shell... well, it looks like I'll be moving to a distro that doesn't have it - and I'll keep having to do that until there isn't a distro left without it.
Then, I'll probably save up and buy a Mac. Despite everything bad about them, in my books, they still beat Windows, and it'll be a better option than running a Desktop I don't want, just to keep Gnome around.

In summary? Gnome Shell needs tons of work.

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