Thursday, 18 August 2011

Moving off again

As so often happens with any box, little niggles crop up, gremlins find their way in and leave bugs strewn all over the system. We try our best to oust these pests, but sometimes they win.

This is such a case. Gentoo has it's good points, no one can deny that. The USE flags allow for instant removing or adding of functionality, compile-time optimizations result in a snappier system - but as time's gone past, I've found that it starts to become difficult to maintain.
So though it has served me well, and as always I've learned a great deal, I feel it's time I moved off it and began the search for a new distro candidate once more.

Some time back, I would have defaulted back to Ubuntu for a time until I found another one that caught my interest. However, with what I see as the stupid choices to go with Gnome 3, Gnome Shell and Ubuntu Unity, three of the biggest unmitigated failures I've ever seen disgrace a desktop, this is no longer an option. And that's not to mention the simple fact that I dislike Canonical's habit of hiding away things to make things easier for the users.

On Gentoo as it is right now, I've gone and nicked parts of Crunchbang to give me a nice Openbox desktop, and I like the minimal yet functional set up it gives me. Conky delivers what I want to know easily and tint2 provides a nice panel which neatly integrates running apps, the systray and a built-in battery monitor.
But the issue with Crunchbang is that they only offer torrent downloads, which are not a favourable method of downloading anything on my home network for many reasons.
Most of what it offers is easily obtainable in any distribution though, if one takes care to examine their wiki to obtain various config files.

Crunchbang is based on Debian, one of the oldest and most venerable distros out there. There's little it hasn't tried to do, and even less it's failed at. A great many distributions can be traced back to it eventually, though most through Ubuntu.
Debian is also an old friend to me, and somewhat of a frequent curiosity. Within it's vast repositories of packages lies nearly everything and anything one could ask for, and unlike Ubuntu it doesn't seem to want, need, or care much for third-party repositories. Certainly they exist, but seldom have I found reason to use more than a few.
But one of the most attractive features about Debian as I've discovered time and again is that it remains stable - nearly always with complete disregard to whatever you may be trying to do.

So where Ubuntu has made bad choices in desktops, and K/X/Lubuntu hardly seem to be much better most of the time, Debian takes over. Until I find another Distro out there that piques my curiosity, it's time for me to move back to the tried and tested, and get a stable system that doesn't take forever to set up and get configured.

If you have any non-Ubuntu based suggestions for other Distros to try, do feel free to suggest them.

Until next time folks.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Mix it up or stick to one?

Obviously, I'm on about desktops again. This time it's not anything specific as such though.
One of the best points I've always held about Linux is that immense amount of choices you have - this Window Manager over that one, the text editor from there instead of there, and so on.
It could be said that in places there is too much choice, and that the overwhelming number tends to be, well, overwhelming. But that's a topic for another time.

Like anyone else, I like thing to work my way. This means that while I'm now running a KDE4 desktop - which hasn't managed to disappoint me yet, a fair feat given past experience with this troublesome DE - not all my apps are KDE, or even QT based.
For example, while I'm running KWin as the window manager, the effects don't seem to want to stay on, even if all I want is the compositing. And of course, even if I can get that to work, the moment I start to use Portage, it disables them again because the compiling uses too much resources.
Compare this to Metacity with it's own built in compositor. It only disables itself if you tell it to, and doesn't get in the way at all. On the other hand, there's no standalone application to set the window border without pulling in a lot of Gnome.
Now, while KDE offers the option to use another Window Manager instead of KWin, besides having to remember how to set themes for that Window Manager, it also isn't going to integrate well.
The solution? I'm running KWin, with effects disabled and using 'xcompmgr' to give me Metacity-like compositing that doesn't turn itself off, though I have a handy plasmoid that looks like a little switch. Turning it on starts up xcompmgr, and turning it off kills it. There's a similar plasmoid available on that does this for KWin's own, but this one can be customized to do anything really.
Problem solved.

The programs I use also tend to be similar. Chromium is a GTK+ based application, as is GEdit, but both of them have a few things about them that I like and want to keep.
Konqueror has, rather impressively, managed to overcome both Chromium and Firefox as the default web browser (and file manager too, an invaluable feature for me) but I keep Chromium around because sometimes it does have it's little issues.
Similarly, while Kate and KWrite are decent applications too and also have their good points, GEdit is a long time friend of mine - it's familiar, I know it, and I know how to make it do what I want.

Some people say this is wrong, and one should stick to apps from one single toolkit, but with GTK+, QT, and ETK (Enlightenment, in case you're wondering) not to mention any other toolkits I've not noticed and of course anything running through Wine, you're never going to be able to get one single unified toolkit. There'll always be people who like applications for one toolkit, while running a desktop for another.
So in short, don't feel that because you're running one desktop, you can't choose applications from another toolkit. They may not look right, and sometimes they may need a little work to make them play nice. My workaround to compositing proves that.
But never be put off doing it - mix things up, go with what you want regardless of what others suggest.

In slightly unrelated news, has anyone ever managed to get KDE 4.7.x to emerge successfully on Gentoo? It doesn't seem to want to play nice with me. Not that I have any problems with the 4.6.5 I've got now, except a periodically segfaulting Konqueror, but I feel like giving it a try.

Right, that's all. Keep rocking, people.