Full Frontal Linux: Focus on Eazel

Eazel is taking the idea of the Linux file manager one step further by turning it into a file manager/Web browser. Here, Jack Wallen, Jr. gives you the scoop on Eazel.

I've been preaching the strength and power of Linux for a long time now. Many times I've been scoffed at, mocked, taken for granted, shushed, and downright bludgeoned... but never will my penguin squawk be silenced. Although within the last 10 months I’ve concentrated on educating new users, supporting enterprise-level users, and highlighting developers, I have not forgotten what brought me here. In a word: passion.

It was a passion for the Linux operating system that helped me understand both the OS and its community. It's that same passion that has led me to offer a new weekly (or bi-weekly, or whenever I can pull myself away from writing about procmail or any of the wonders of Linux) column with off-the-cuff tidbits, news of note, and just plain fun! Here we are going to devote our time to getting to know the Linux community and the developments within.

So get on with it!
Okay, okay, I'm on it! I’d like to dedicate my first column to the members of a group of ex Mac'ers known as Eazel. Here’s a note from the official Eazel site:

Eazel was founded in the Fall of 1999, with the intent to help make Linux the desktop of choice for millions of people. To achieve this, they are creating a next generation file manager, Nautilus, along with internet-based services designed to make Linux easier to use.

It's been said. It's been done. GNOME does it. KDE does it (birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it). So just what is Eazel doing that no one has done before? It seems everyone these days is creating the desktop of choice. But who is going to win? Who is going to walk down the red carpet to pick up the reward for finally creating that perfect desktop environment for the computer age? If the Linux community has its way, it won't be Microsoft. But will Eazel lead the Linux community in this endeavor? It all depends on one major component of the Eazel desktop—the Web browser. Yes, the Web browser!

Does the computer industry actually need a new user-friendlier file manager? Not really. There are already very strong applicants for the best of file managers in Linux. So what is it that Eazel can do to bring its product to the forefront? Help the Linux community to oust Netscape as the only full-featured browser for Linux (and I use the term full-featured very loosely).

As it stands, Netscape is a rather poor excuse for a proprietary browser. It's slow, it's buggy, it crashes, and it takes leaping through major hoops to get it to comply with today's feature-rich content (Java, JavaScript, Flash, etc.). So where does Eazel fit in? Working in conjunction with the Mozilla group, Eazel is taking the idea of the file manager (like Windows Explorer, KDE, and GNOME) one step further by turning it into a file manager/Web browser. But which comes first? Is the priority of the Nautilus application to be the file manager or the Web browser? If Eazel knows the Linux community (as it should), it will prioritize the Web browser side of things.

What is it doing and how does it do that?
Nautilus (in case you don't know) is the flagship application for Eazel. The application, which is currently in beta form, works like the standard file manager with a shot of Web browser. To install the application, you must first install Mozilla M17—a clue to the functionality of the utility.

As I stated earlier, Nautilus does two things:
  • It works as a file manager.
  • It serves as a Web browser.

Nautilus as a file manager is quite a sight. Flexibility would be the play of the day, in my opinion! As you can see in Figure A, Nautilus is laid out like all standard file managers.

Figure A
Here you see Nautilus in File Manager mode viewing the contents of /home/jwallen/.

On one side is the tree and on the other side is the main window. So where is the flexibility in this setup, pray tell? Well, if you'll take care to notice, on the tree side of things there are various tabs you can use/add/remove that handle specific tasks. You have the following tabs to play with:
  • Tree: This is where you get an exploded view of the file contents. Standard fare.
  • History: Here you have the history of where both the file manager and Web browser have been. A touch of the Orwellian or handy? You decide.
  • Help Contents: Self-explanatory. Need help with any installed application on your system? Go here or go home!
  • Notes: Need to scrawl a note or two? This little tab will allow you to take notes as you're working through your file management. Don't get too dependent, however, because these notes don't stick (close Nautilus = lose your notes). Don't worry—I submitted a suggestion.
  • Web Search: Here you start seeing the Web aspect of the application. Within this tab, you enter your search criteria and choose from 25 search engines to query. Now that's hardcore searching!
  • Sidebar Loser: I have no idea what this tab is, nor can I find any information on its function. I'll keep looking.

Once you get beyond the sidebar, the functionality of the file manager is nothing out of the ordinary (except the ability to zoom in and out, alter the icon captions as you please, and change the background). The file manager functions the way that we (computer users, geeks and all) have come to rely on. Now Nautilus is bringing to Linux those typical features and the full functionality we've come to expect—without attempting to reinvent the wheel.

But then you begin to browse
Now we're talking about stepping outside the box. By placing Nautilus (a front end based on the amazingly stable and efficient Bonobo) on top of the Mozilla engine, Eazel was able to eazily (pardon the pun) create a very sleek and sexy Web browser that will, although currently cum-alpha, eventually grow into the Gecko engine and evolve into a stunningly stable and flexible application. Take a look at Figure B to get a glimpse of the PogoLinux site as rendered within the Nautilus Web browser.

Figure B
Here’s the PogoLinux Web site as viewed through the eyes of Nautilus.

As it stands, being based on the developer builds of Mozilla, the Nautilus Web browser is not for nondevelopers. The current state of the browser is slow and unstable. What do you expect for version 0.1.0? This version, however, is still pretty amazing. The rendering is as good as Netscape's, and the stability is as good as the environment in which it was built. The main issue you’ll have to deal with is a horrendous lack of speed.

Of course, the Eazel gang has a long way to go and a steep, complex hill to climb. Not only do they have to count on their own abilities and development speed, they have to depend on the Mozilla developers. If Mozilla slows down, so does Nautilus. And keep in mind that the Web is a rapid, vapid beast and will continue its exponential growth until no single application can keep up. With every day comes a newer/improved/demanding technology that only proves to squash any and all smaller developers. Think big, Mozilla, or you're going down.

Focus, Eazel, focus
Think for a moment about where the computer industry is heading. Soon enough (for a while at least), it's going to be a Web-based world. Any OS/browser/application that is not compliant with those demanding needs is going to fail. If Eazel and Linux are going to continue taking such huge upward strides, they are going to have to do one thing: Focus on the Web. I'm not talking servers, security, and networking; I'm talking browsing the Web with full functionality and enabling users to work with the standard toolsets available today (Shock, Flash, Java, and JavaScript, among others).

Eazel needs to continue the push, not only toward Gecko but also toward developing a truly friendly and usable desktop—and nowadays that must include the Web! If Eazel is honest in its claims, it will shift its model's primary focus away from the services and aim it toward the application. Let's face it, the first company to offer up a full-featured Linux Web browser will Konguer (was that pun intentional?) the Linux community.

Jack Wallen, Jr., editor in chief of Linux content, was thrown out of the "Window" back in 1995, when he grew tired of the "blue screen of death" and realized that "computing does not equal rebooting." Prior to Jack's headfirst dive into the computer industry, he was a professional actor, with film, TV, and Broadway credits (anyone see “The Great Gilly Hopkins”?). Now, Jack is determined to use his skills as a communicator to spread the word—Linux. Ladies and gentlemen, the poster boy for the Linux Generation!

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein, but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website