Saturday, March 12, 2011

Preliminary thoughts on the Enlightenment desktop (E17)

Background:
OS: Arch Linux
Architecture: x86_64

So I had to reinstall my computer the other day. For some reason, likely my haphazard tinkering, My home partition wouldn't mount. This is a big deal because everything is on my home partition and really I made my root partition too small. I knew it wasn't a problem with the partition itself, rather a problem with the operating system. I COULD mount the partition when I booted up into other OS's (ex. Ubuntu 9.10 and Arch setup disks). I was hesitant at first about reinstalling. I actually wanted to find out what was wrong and fix it for future reference. So I headed off into the world of linux forums. I posted my problem along with the output of of several commands (mount /dev/sda4 /home, dmesg | tail, fdisk -l, blkid, fsck.ext4 -fv /dev/sda4) as well as a few files (/etc/fstab). The help I received there was swift, within minutes of posting someone already responded. However, the help I got was of little use. While I probably could have gotten it fixed eventually with the help I was receiving, I'm impatient and decided just to reinstall. One thing though. I did as a bit of a stupid question and I got a bit of a sarcastic remark, but that's kind of to be expected. Looking back on a few things, I think it may have had something to do with an invalid journal inode.

So I was reinstalling when the thought occurred to me that this was a golden opportunity to try out the Enlightenment window manager v 0.17. I had heard good things about it and I was unsure as to whether the path that GNOME was taking was what I wanted. One of the first things I noticed was the lack of good user-level documentation on their website. This could have been due to the fact that their wiki was in migration, but I'm not totally sure. Installation was easy, a single command through the terminal.

Starting up the desktop for the first time a quick questionnaire pops up asking you for things like what you want in your quicklaunch. Once that was over you are shown a mundane desktop with a single dock/panel (they call it a shelf). I must say Enlightenment has a bit of learning curve. First of all, switching desktops is triggered by moving the mouse to the edge of the screen. This is a hassle if you aren't used to it. Don't know how many times I've switched desktops trying to close a window. But this kind of behaviour has benefits too. Making the switch easier, fewer buttons etc. The next thing you notice is that clicking on the desktop opens the application menu. This is kind of nice. This gives a previously unused space into something useful. Middle clicking the desktop opens a list of windows. This means that so long as you've a piece of desktop open, you can access any opened applications as well as open anything. The window menu (right clicking on the title bar) gives a wide variety of options, including: adding to the quickstart, always on top, lower, raise, pin to desktop. You can even customize the window borders for that particular window. This makes the look of Enlightenment very customizable. One thing I have to say about it though is that it takes a lot more to 'always on top' a window, it's nested in a few menus).

Now onto the 'shelves'. You can have as many as you wish but there are only 12 spots to place them (one on each side). I guess you could have individualized panels for each of your desktops but that's probably excessive. The shelf itself is a bit glitchy. Trying to remove 'applets' will cause the whole desktop to freeze. As a workaround one can disable the module associated with the applet.  These applets are pretty standard, sound, taskbars, quicklaunch, weather, time, etc. Most of these work really well.

Finally, there's the settings manager. Here you can configure almost EVERYTHING. It's nice to have a graphical way to access all your desktop settings.

Overall I think that with enough tinker time, I can get this desktop to look and behave jsut the way I want it to. I think I'll keep using it until I find something better. I wonder what it will be like once it's out of beta stage of testing.

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