09 July 2012

203. Gimme a desktop I can use and love...the OTHER reason why I use the terminal

* The first, obvious reason for using the terminal is that it's the most efficient way of processing data -- the DE is good for presenting data but is awful at handling data input, the terminal is great at input but is often found wanting at presentation. 

[this is a fairly meandering post without any real purpose -- originally it was meant to show how to set up a quick E17 DE which wouldn't feel too foreign for a GNOME refugee, but that was not to be]

I like gnome. It works. It's pretty. I know how to use it and I can be productive with GNOME. Also, I do think GNOME 3 make GNOME 2.3X look dated. Functionality-wise, once I've installed enough extensions, GNOME 3 works as well or better than GNOME 2.3. Almost... 

 The problem is: it often feels like my trust has been betrayed and I constantly dread the what features the next update are going to remove. The problem lies very much with the applications that combine to make up what we know as gnome:

+ Evolution is constantly breaking. In particular, whether you'll be able to use google calendar or not is always a gamble. Actually, almost EVERYTHING to do with the calendar functionality of evolution tends to be problematic: at the moment I can't see the names of my calendars, I can't select a default view (e.g. day/week/month) of calendars and more...

+ A direct insult was what recently happened to gnome-screenshot. Screw that.

And yes: this probably means that I can stick with gnome but look for other pieces of software instead e.g. use thunderbird instead of evolution etc. In fact, I already do...

At any rate, not trusting the GNOME project anymore, instead of waiting for the disaster to strike, like many of us I'm constantly exploring alternative desktops.

First of all familiarise yourself with: 
sudo update-alternatives --config x-session-manager 
sudo update-alternatives --config x-window-manager 

The first command changes what starts (in the absence of a ~/.xinitrc) when you do startx. The second command select the window manager. 


Xmonad always seems like the logical destination for me since I spend most of my time working in the terminal. The whole idea of having a completely keyboard driven DE is awesome -- yes, it makes the learning curve steeper, but ponder this: you should never ever select a tool because it's easy to learn how to use, you should select a tool that is easy to USE (for your intended purpose etc. etc.). After all, you may spend a week learning a new skill, but you'll be spending the next 10 years using that skill.

In spite of everything about xmonad that sounds so, so right, somehow I just can't warm to it.

XFCE and LXDE are ok, but I'm feeling a bit lukewarm about XFCE in particular -- remember that my issues with GNOME aren't really about their focus on eye-candy, but about the removal of features: essentially treating the users like something verging on idiots. 

Be a bit careful about what you're doing windows manager wise -- e.g. openbox and metacity will create two completely different LXDE experiences out of the box. Metacity is what underpinned gnome 2.3. Openbox doesn't seems to be associate with a default menu bar or anything along those line.

I won't comment much on KDE. That's for some other day. Suffice to say that for you should make sure to do
sudo update-alternatives --config x-window-manager 
and make sure to select kwin, or you will not be able to switch between virtual desktops in KDE. KDE is pretty, but it's different enough that you should devote a reasonable fair amount of time to learning the proper workflow before making your mind up.

Enlightment: I've had a look at it over the years, and it's looked fast, and responsive. Checking it out again today on two different desktops., it proceeded to eat up all my ram, then all my swap (8+16 GB) and then die an undignified death. Of course it might just be a temporary bug, but it does make me think twice. And here, since I tired it out on two very different systems, I think the problem lies squarely with E17.

So after my little safari I'm back in the familiar gnome shell. Maybe we'll switch tomorrow instead...


  1. Install Debian with netinst CD then install the "kde-core" to add only a basic KDE desktop.

    Add any apps as and when you need it. This way, you will find that KDE4 is very usable and it doesn't "treat users like something verging on idiots" :D

    Don't bother with the many flexibility that KDE4 allows if it overwhelms you, play with it when you are in the mood. This is Linux, you have the freedom to choose (in KDE4).

    1. I do enjoy the net/business-card isos, and have been increasingly using sparse installs when setting up systems for other people.

      I used KDE back in the early 2000s (knoppix, red hat and, later, yarrow) but drifted into gnome via Simply Mepis (Mepis is using KDE today though). Or that's how I remember it anyway.

      In spite of how the history has been written, I don't remember it as being overwhelming in terms of options -- what the gnome devs seem to sometimes forget is that options are GOOD. The key to avoiding a feeling of 'too many' options is really just to select default sane ones -- those who wish to tinker will do so, those who are satisfied with the stock functionality will not. Making it difficult to change settings is just counter-productive.

      But then I'm not an expert...