Open Source

Open discussion: Linux desktops

On Jan. 6, 2000, Jack Wallen, Jr. hosted an open discussion on Linux desktops. Jack answered your desktop questions-from choosing a desktop to installation and configuration.


On Jan. 6, 2000, Jack Wallen, Jr. hosted an open discussion on Linux desktops. Jack answered your desktop questions‑from choosing a desktop to installation and configuration. If you couldn’t join us then, we hope to see you on our next live Guild Meeting.

On Jan. 6, 2000, Jack Wallen, Jr. hosted an open discussion on Linux desktops. Jack answered your desktop questions‑from choosing a desktop to installation and configuration. If you couldn’t join us then, check this issue’s Bookmarks page for future meeting dates and topics. We hope to see you soon on our weekly live chat.

Note: TechProGuild edits Guild Meeting transcripts for clarity.
Moderator: Welcome to tonight's Guild Meeting. don't forget there are prizes on the line for the most constructive participant. the winner will receive one copy of each: Quake III (for Linux‑duh), a VMware license, and IDG's Linux Web Server Toolkit. so get ready to chat about Linux as a desktop environment.

Which Linux desktop is easier for beginners?
Q: KDE Vs GNOME. What's one to do? With regards to ease of use, which one would you rec for a beginner, and why?

JW: Here's my take on the whole 'which is better' argument. if you are coming from a Windows environment and you really know little about Linux you would be best suited to go with KDE. why, you ask?

JW: KDE, you see, is the nearest thing to windows that Linux has. although GNOME is also very similar, the KDE environment not only 'looks' like Windows, it 'feels' like Windows.

Q: Thanks.

Q: //smiley.

JW: why, you are most welcome.

Q: Which can be most customized‑KDE or GNOME?

JW: GNOME, by far. GNOME has been written in such a way that nearly every aspect can be highly tuned and configured. And these configurations can be done (most of them) by either scripting (hacking), or with GUI tools.

Q: Cool.

JW: yes, and it's only going to get better! imagine being able to take your 'task bar' and put it ANYWHERE on your desktop‑even in the center if you like.

What are the drawbacks of Linux desktops?
Q: And what is the biggest drawback‑for a beginner‑in using Linux as a desktop?

Q: You mean I can do what I want with my machine? Not what someone THINKS I should do? :-)

Q: At the moment I am not using Linux for a desktop—but I've heard and seen great things‑and can't wait to have a Linux installation.

JW: the biggest drawback—for a beginner—in using Linux as a desktop, is probably getting used to the installation/upgrading process. as a new user, the very first thing I would recommend you do is learn the ins and outs of installing and upgrading packages.

JW: the second drawback is that of the frame of mind you must use when approaching Linux. with Linux you are not confined in any way—so the limitations and boundaries are removed. because of this you must think of your computer in multi-dimensions instead of a flat environment.

Q: I understand. With most people, they are pre-programmed to think in a Windows paradigm. in order to transcend this, one needs to cleanse oneself...Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Q: What I'd like to know is, what are some of the popular additions to Linux desktops?

JW: yes...with Windows the computing community has become accustomed to the 'my computer will do this' mentality. with Linux you have to get used to the 'I can do this with my computer' mindset.

JW: what genus of application are you talking about? mail clients? office suites?

Q: Like apps.

Customizing the desktop—commands to use
Q: I'm interested in the ability to change the way the desktop appears.

Q: What kinds of things can you do that make it different from Windows?

JW: if you are interested in changing the way the desktop appears you're talking about the combination of DE (desktop environment) and WM (window manager).

JW: for example, I use a combination of GNOME, AfterStep, and aterm (console emulator) to create a very unique desktop filled with transparent windows, transparent menus and borderless windows. if you really want to get a feel for the lack of limits put upon the Linux desktop environment go to www.themes.org. There you will see some of the wonders of the Linux desktops—created by some of the best.

Q: I like the idea of transparent windows. I've not seen that yet for MS, although the MAC has it.

Q: can you explain how to make those changes?

JW: yes it does (MAC) but it's not nearly as configurable as Linux. with a Linux desktop (using such tools as aterm or eterm) you can have transparent AND tinted windows.

JW: let's say you want to run Pine (a text based e-mail client) in a transparent and tinted window. in order to do that you run aterm in the following way:
aterm -tr -tint magenta -fg white -bg black -e pine.

JW: what that does is say I want to run pine in a magenta tinted transparent window with white text that highlights as black.

JW: now, if I don't want to have to type that out all the time, I can put that command in a menu entry (in AfterStep) by placing a file with the following:
Exec "Pine" exec aterm -tr -tint magenta -fg white -bg black -e pine &

in the /user/share/afterstep/start directory, and we'll call that file Pine. you have to create that file as root because only root can write in the /usr/share/afterstep/start directory.

Q: Now do those changes stay permanent or are they lost at the next boot?

JW: if those changes are in the menu entry they are permanent.

Just how much can you configure the Linux desktop? Themes, colors, and more
Q: You're using console commands here—is the desktop configurable through the GUI as well?

JW: yes the desktop is most certainly configurable via GUI. with GNOME and Enlightenment (a highly configurable and gorgeous window manger) you can configure every aspect of the DE via GUI.

Q: Thank you. So if I understand you, you can configure the desktop transparency, text, etc., differently for each application.

JW: yes you can. on my home machine I have one aterm that is tinted magenta, one green, I have Pine that is transparent completely, and I call Netscape that is totally black with green fonts (in the 3D bits).

Q: What are some of the other changes to the desktop that can be made?

JW: let’s see...well, you can add or remove icons just like in Windows (only you can easily remove all the icons) ;-)

JW: you can also use 'themes' that really push the limits of the look of the desktop. these themes go so far as to remove the standard 'squareness' to the windows. Imagine 'round' windows! it's possible.

Q: Round windows‑that's really cool.

JW: there is also a theme that has gargoyles that sit on the corners of your windows.

Q: But isn't "round" reallyhard to do?

Q: Awesome.

Q: I've heard that it can be difficult, yes.

JW: yeah, and some of the more boundary-testing themes really can push your resources.

Q: What about the colors—is it a limited standard list, or—well, how do you set the color, just through certain names? How many colors can you set?

JW: in fact you might not have the resources to do it.

Q: i want to recycle a 486—can it run a GUI like you’re talking about?

JW: well, a 486 can run a GUI, of course. you will certainly be limited to what you run with it. certainly not either GNOME or KDE. but you could run the fvwm2 window manager, which is a full Windows-like GUI that is very sleek and fast.

Running desktops on slower machines: Think AfterStep, fvvm2, or Window Maker
Q: How resource-intensive is the GUI? I've read tips that suggest for Win98, i.e., it's best to turn off Active Desktop to save processor cycles.

JW: you might be able to run Window Maker or Blackbox.

JW: the Linux Desktop Environments are less resource intensive than the Windows Desktop. especially when you get into running just a window manager and not a true desktop environment like GNOME or KDE. running say, AfterStep or fvwm2 or Window Maker will allow you to use a much slower machine than you could with GNOME, KDE, or Windows.

Q: window Maker, Blackbox, cool. Is that part of Red Hat?

JW: think about it this way: you have Xwindows, and on top of that you have the desktop environment, and on top of that you have the window manager. That is what you have when you run either GNOME or KDE (and Windows works the same way). now with just running the window manger (like AfterStep, Enlightenment or Window Maker—the list goes on and on), you cut out one very large step.

JW: you can download Window Maker and Blackbox. actually, I think that Window Maker comes with Red Hat, though it doesn't install by default. let me check on that right now.

Q: I'm a newbie, so help me out, jwallen—Window Maker does not run on top of XWindows? Is it a completely different system?

JW: well, it looks like there are two wm files on the 6.0 CD. just in case, however, you can go to www.windowmaker.org.

Q: great.

JW: and bb.themes.org/php/downloads.phtml will get you Blackbox.

JW: but www.themes.org is the place to go to find out about the various window managers—at least it's a place to window shop.

Moderator: Ezra, are you aware of what prizes we're giving away tonight?

Q: tell me.

JW: well, tonight we are giving away one copy of each: VMware, Quake III for Linux, and the IDG book Linux Web Server Toolkit.

Moderator: And it seems that you entered the meeting at just the right time. This is the first Thursday night Guild Meeting. And...YOU are our winner.

Q: oh man! Thanx.

JW: <insert sound of screaming fans> Simply send your e-mail address and snail mail address to me, Jack Wallen, at jwallen@techrepublic.com and we'll get those prizes to ya.

Moderator: And thanks for being a member.

Q: will do.

Moderator: Come back Tuesday night for a chance to win more.

JW: and come back next week when we have Elliot Lee as our host talking about Linux development. tell your friends and family! bring 'em all. then next Thursday we have Michael Jennings (writer of eterm) joining us.

Q: thanks. i thought it was a great meeting. now, I feel like I liked it better!

JW: just keep coming back for more! we'll see you around. thank you for joining us.

Q: thanks, jack—Really learned a lot.

JW: you're welcome! good night all! and grease for peace.
Our Guild Meetings feature top-flight professionals leading discussions on interesting and valuable IT issues. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly TechProGuild Notes Techmail, or on the Guild Meeting calendar.

About

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

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