By many (but not all) accounts, the Linux desktop has achieved something
close to parity with some of the proprietary alternatives, in terms of both
capability and usability. The desktop developers are certainly not ready
to declare victory and sit back, however; the pace of development is, if
anything, still increasing. As an example of where things are going, we
decided to take a quick look at a couple of bleeding-edge applications
which have been attracting attention recently.
The first of these is tomboy, a simple desktop
note-taking tool. Tomboy implements a set of note cards, each of which
contains text and links to other cards. The idea is not particularly new,
but the implementation has been thought out well. Some of the best ideas
from Wiki-style web sites have been absorbed - typing a WikiWord into a
note creates and links to a new note using that word as its title. Links
can also be created through a "link" button or by dragging and dropping. A
simple search capability can quickly find notes containing a given string.
Nat Friedman was
impressed by this application:
Note taking is something I do all the time, and which previously
was the realm of "emacs ~/randomname.txt" for me.... We all had
our horrible little solutions to this problem, and Tomboy has
stepped in to fill the gap in a big way.
I'm not sure it's clear to everyone just how big a space Tomboy has
carved out. If Tomboy can own note taking for me, that's one of
the main purposes of my computer.
Your editor was, with some effort, able to get tomboy running on a Debian
unstable system; this application requires a number of highly-current Mono
and GTK libraries. There are some rough edges and missing capabilities,
which should come as little surprise for an application this new. Even so,
tomboy makes note taking and organization into a quick and easy task; it is
good at staying out of the way. If the current trend continues, tomboy
should quickly reach a level of functionality and stability that will earn
it a place on most distribution disks.
Meanwhile, quite a bit of attention has recently been focused on beagle, which is currently
at a lofty 0.0.2 release. Beagle appears to be the GNOME project's answer
to Microsoft's search plans and Google's (Windows) offering; it provides a
quick way to find things on the desktop. Think of it as a modern version
of locate, but with a few enhancements.
One core beagle feature is its collection of "filters," which enable
searches of a wide variety of files typically found on a Linux desktop
system - and some that aren't. Supported file types include Microsoft
Office, OpenOffice.org, PDF, source code in a number of programming languages,
and a number of image and audio file formats (only metadata is indexed).
Beagle can also search email (mostly limited to evolution users for now),
tomboy notes, weblog entries in the "Blam!" format, application launchers,
Underneath it all, beagle uses the (still unmerged) inotify mechanism to learn about
changes to the filesystem. New or modified files can be indexed
immediately; there should be no need for a massive "thrash the disk" job
running in the middle of the night. As an added touch, search results
which are currently displayed for the user are updated to reflect the latest
There is a command-line search tool which may be used to search beagle, but
the primary interface to the system is best ("bleeding-edge search
tool"). The project has put together a
collection of best screenshots which gives a good idea of what beagle
can currently do.
While tomboy is primarily the work of one developer (Alex Graveley), beagle
is a rather larger affair. The beagle
roadmap posted on October 4 shows that quite a few Novell hackers
have been set to work on beagle. At the top of their list is basic
usability work, things like "Not crashing or failing, most of the
time." Among other things, it seems there are memory leak problems
in Mono which have to be worked around. Email integration remains on the
list ("The primary goal will be Evolution mail integration; patches
for other mail clients will, of course, be accepted."). Work
continues on the search interface; among other things, search will be
integrated into the GNOME file selection dialog.
Longer-term goals include reworking dashboard to sit on top of beagle,
adding beagle searches to nautilus,
and, somehow, better encapsulating the relationships between desktop
Beagle is very much an early-stage project; it can be difficult to install,
and it is not available in packaged form for most distributions. There is
also that "not crashing for failing" issue. But it has reached a point
where the suicidally early adopters are finding it useful, and progress is
happening quickly. Linux, it seems, will not be left behind when it comes
to desktop search capabilities.
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