On the Desktop
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I managed to put together a small test machine this week in order to begin real world testing of both GNOME and KDE. The motherboard is old - it doesn't even recognize modern DIMM memory - but the graphics card, disks and everything else is up to date. At least now I can begin to examine these two desktop environments more fully without forcing myself to switch from the warm, comfy and ancient confines of FVWM2 and friends.
After installing the latest version of KRUD, a Red Hat Linux 7.0 variation with added security, and configuring the box to run through my home network, I grabbed the latest version of Ximian's GNOME 1.4 distribution. This is my first serious look at this environment even though I've grown up with GTK+ (I was around when GIMP was a Motif application).
I started by going to the Ximian web site and following the instructions listed there. Installation gets started through the Lynx browser; you are told to run the following as root:
lynx -source http://go-gnome.com/ | shThis, of course, should make even the least security-conscious administrator nervous; Ximian is asking for a great deal of trust from its users.
Once you make that leap of faith, this operation eventually opens a graphical interface to query you about what to install and to show progress of the installation. Since I already had GNOME installed from the KRUD installation I wasn't sure if the update would work properly. It did. At one point installation of Ximian's GNOME stopped due to a lost network connection, but I didn't have to leave the installation program to restart it. I just went back (using the Back button in the graphical interface) and restarted it. This took a couple of attempts before it continued, but eventually the network problem cleared and installation proceeded just fine.
Installation requires root access so I was logged into GNOME as the root user initially, but after installing I logged back in as a normal user. The login screen provided the first time you log in with Ximian's GNOME 1.4 is very professional (and cute with the little monkey splash screen) and allows you to interactively configure your desktop for the new GNOME environment. This is a new feature for GNOME which Ximian calls Doorman.
The default GNOME environment I used with KRUD (Red Hat 7.0) had a different appearance than the Ximian desktop. First, the default GNOME setup with my KRUD/Red Hat Linux 7 installation provided a panel (a status bar with extra menus) that ran only across the bottom of the screen. With Ximian, the appearance is more Apple-ish, with a menu panel across the top and the status panel across the bottom. The pager stays on the bottom right. This setup is much more usable, in my opinion, because it separates out status from menus. The old way was a bit too crowded, even on relatively large displays.
With 64MB of memory the GNOME Control Center was a bit sluggish. Switching between configurable options (background, screensaver, and so forth) caused noticeable delays. While the question might be "why were you only running with 64MB?" the response would have to be "What happened to Linux running on older, cheaper hardware?" Well, the truth is Linux still runs just fine on such hardware, but the desktop portion of Linux may not. That said, the rest of GNOME seemed to function fine on slightly limited hardware. So the sluggishness may be isolated to the Control Panel itself.
There were few problems with my initial encounter with this new environment. According to the GNOME Hints window, the Global menu should be displayed with an Alt-F1 keystroke, but that didn't work with my keyboard. There are a whole host of terms here that need investigation. I suspect KDE will be the same way. Since I grew up with minimalist Unix environments, where my biggest concern was making sure ksh was available on Solaris, this will be a bit of a new experience. But my first impression says that with GNOME it will be a comfortable one.
This wasn't meant as a review of Ximian's GNOME 1.4 release by any means, just an introduction, a way of saying I'm now prepared (well, after my honeymoon next week, that is) to do some real probing of GNOME - and KDE as well. Expect better coverage as the year progresses.
Ximian GNOME 1.4 heads out the door (ZDNet). Prior to the official releases on Tuesday, ZDnet examined Ximian's newest version of GNOME. "Nat Friedman, Ximian's president and co-founder, said his firm has been working around the clock since the GNOME (GNU Network Object Model Environment) 1.4 release to ensure that its offering would be easy to install and provide users with a robust desktop environment."
KDE Project Releases KDE 2.2alpha1. The KDE project also had a release this past week, KDE 2.2 Alpha 1 for bleeding edge users who aren't quite ready to compile from CVS.
Kernel Cousin KDE #6. Also released this week was the latest issue of the KDE Kernel Cousin. This week's developer discussions included a lengthy thread on KOffice, KDE 2.1 and duplicated code.
KOffice 1.1beta1 Released. The KDE Project announced that KOffice 1.1beta1 was available for testing. KOffice is an integrated office suite for KDE. The official release of KOffice 1.1 is scheduled for later this summer.
AbiWord 0.7.14. The AbiWord team released a new version of the AbiWord word processor. It's not a 1.0-release but it's getting pretty solid.
Websphere Homepage Builder for Linux (LinuxLookup). LinuxLookup briefly reviewed Websphere Homepage Builder 4.0 for Linux. "As I suspected it took awhile to load, due to the Wine interface and I really don't have a slow system. Other than the slow loading everything ran smoothly. I fiddled around with some of the wizards and found them relatively easy to use. I was able to create a basic site and publish it to my test Apache Web server in 20 minutes. It didn't look half bad for a test site." Note that this is the product for personal use, not the Java-based applications server known as Websphere 4.0.
GNOME applications for kids. Dov Grobgeld posted a link to some software he's written for his kids that makes use of the GNOME Canvas widget. While not quite production quality, these games do show some of the quality you can achieve with this widget.
GNOME Summary April 15 - April 21, 2001. Absent for a time, the GNOME Summary returned to publication this week. This week's summary includes news of Ximian's new CEO, news of the GNOME and KDE camps approaching a truce, and the release of GTK+-1.3.4.
Loki: 'I'm not dead yet' (ITWorld). LWN.net interviewed Scott Draeker last past week about Loki's rumored troubles. This week ITWorld interviewed Draeker about cutbacks and the future of Loki. "Not that Loki wouldn't benefit from a sudden surge in users of the Linux desktop, you understand. But certain things are needed before that can happen, Draeker believes, and not only are they not present today, he doesn't see them appearing anytime in the near future. What are those things? According to Draeker, before Linux can become mainstream, it must have a basic suite of applications and interoperability among them."
Advanced Theming Tutorial: Programming in *Style. This developer-oriented discussion explains how to program Qt widget styles, something akin to user themes but which requires actual programming to achieve.
Telsa Gwynne, the Bug Mistress, talks to Linux.com. Linux.com interviewed GNOME bug mistress Telsa Gwynne during GUADEC2. "Telsa Gwynne: I never tried KDE. When the KDE project started, I wasn't using X, and I was introduced to GNOME very soon after I got a machine that would run X. And I'm too busy trying to break GNOME to try KDE. (laughs)"
GNOME, KDE put Linux on the desktop--almost (ZDNet). ZDNet reviewed both GNOME and KDE, stating that KDE "comes much closer to delivering the sort of smooth interface that users have come to expect from the Macintosh and Windows operating systems." But both environments still need polishing. "In a few weeks, Ximian Inc. is expected to come out with its own distribution of GNOME 1.4, along with an easy installer program. We recommend that most sites interested in installing GNOME wait for the Ximian release to do so."
Section Editor: Michael J. Hammel
April 26, 2001