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Lightweight Equinox Desktop Environment needs polish

By Leslie P. Polzer on May 23, 2008 (9:00:00 AM)

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Desktop environments like KDE and GNOME offer a popular interface to computing. Unfortunately they are also often heavy on resource usage. By contrast, the Equinox Desktop Environment (EDE) is the fastest desktop environment I know of -- but its lack of standards support and a few missing features may be troubling to some users.

The boundaries between desktop environments and window managers are often blurred. No window manager by itself offers the things included in a run-of-the-mill point-and-click environment: a desktop with icons, a task bar that shows the running programs and a system tray. Of course, you can always piece together a solution featuring your favorite WM along with Idesk and the right now unmaintained PerlPanel. But such a solution will never look coherent and appealing.

EDE feels as light as a window manager but also offers the features mentioned above. The speed advantage of EDE most likely lies in its foundation, a modified version of the Fast Light ToolKit GUI library. EDE started almost instantly on the 500MHz machine I tested it on, whereas the other environments needed at least a few seconds. EDE provides a coherent and simple interface that requires little effort to learn.

Installation

To use EDE, you need to install its EFLTK library and the EDE package itself. You can find Ubuntu packages of EDE's previous 1.x branch, but it is highly probable that you will have to install EDE's latest 1.2 version from source. A script from the EDE maintainers called netinstall helps you installing both EFLTK and EDE. A line like sudo sh -c 'wget -qO- http://equinox-project.org/netinstall | sh' should download and extract the current sources for you and build and install the software in /usr/local.

If you use GDM, you can now just enter your login screen and choose "EDE" as session type. Otherwise, you need to edit your $HOME/.xinitrc file if you start X from the command line via startx, or $HOME/.xsession if you use a login manager like KDM or XDM. Start the startede script is started by placing the line exec startede at the end of the file, but before other calls to exec. The startede script starts the single components that together make up the basic desktop environment of Equinox. Save the file, log in again, and now whenever you start a new X session, you will run EDE.

Components

Upon first start you should see a desktop with a sample icon that lets you start xterm, and a horizontal panel in the lower part of the screen. The panel in turn consists of a menu button, a quick launch area, a workspace chooser, a task area, and a system tray area.

The system tray area offers quick access to a volume control application and lets you change the keyboard layout. There's also a nice CPU utilization monitor. A control panel lets you configure basic aspects of the desktop environment, such as screensaver, colors, and fonts.

I like the clean, simple, and well-integrated way these applets function. For example, the screensaver dialog offers just the basic things you would expect from it: graphics style and activation time. There's also a power management part that lets you explore further options, but it is clearly separated from the rest. Even a front end to basic software installation from the RPM, DEB, and TGZ package formats is included in the control panel.

Weak spots

While using EDE, you will notice some minor features missing. For instance, you cannot draw a square rubber band around a group of desktop icons, and icons don't react to mouse actions aimed at their text labels.

I also miss functionality that lets you resize a window by holding the Meta (or Alt) key and the right mouse button. Most window managers offer this, and it's really handy compared to finding the magic spot on the window border that lets you resize it. And there's room for more improvement and innovation: the corners of the screen could be sensitive to user actions, for example.

But a major problem is EDE's non-conformance to the popular freedesktop standards. For example, it didn't show the icons that were in my Desktop/ folder, preferring its homegrown $HOME/.ede/desktop directory. Interoperable drag and drop seems to be an unknown protocol to the desktop component, too: icons dropped onto windows just land on the desktop surface below them. EDE's menu system doesn't seem to follow the widely accepted menu specification used by package installers, leaving it up to you to manage it. There's no launch feedback for applications, either.

EDE doesn't claim to adhere to these standards. It would be highly useful if it did, though, since a lot of popular applications (for example, most Qt and GTK+2 applications) and other desktop environments build on them.

The bottom line

In summary, the EDE project is on its way to achieving its core goal of providing a fast and small working environment for users. If you like innovative user interfaces like tiling window managers, you won't be happy with EDE. Its focus is on being a conservative lightweight environment. With minor modifications, such as correcting the drag-and-drop functionality, it would be ready for deployment in a production environment. Unfortunately, development seems to move at a slow pace, so don't count on things being fixed in the near future.

Leslie P. Polzer is an independent professional specializing in the development of dynamic Web sites.

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on Lightweight Equinox Desktop Environment needs polish

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Lightweight Equinox Desktop Environment needs polish

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 81.170.235.51] on May 23, 2008 01:04 PM
w00t!
A wm that looks like win95! Finally the linux community id catching up...

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Re: Lightweight Equinox Desktop Environment needs polish

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 196.212.67.10] on May 23, 2008 02:21 PM
Hmm its been around for some time now and yeah it looks like 95, its supposed to. Try disabling your XP/VISTA themes and it will look like 95 also. Themes for windows 95/2000 was only possible via 3rd party apps and XP had very limited native theme support. Where as desktop enviroments like GNOME,KDE and XFCE has had native theme support long before windows even thought about it.

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Lightweight Equinox Desktop Environment needs polish

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.242.108.74] on May 23, 2008 02:34 PM
Enlightenment DR 17 (aka e17) has quite a bit of polish, is fairly lightweight, and is stable (if you get a good build. ;))

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IceWM has decent functionality

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.158.161.126] on May 23, 2008 08:18 PM
I use IceWM, which is extremely light weight (depending on the theme used--my favorite is IceCrack2). It doesn't have desktop icons, but that's okay since I don't use desktop icons to begin with.

I appreciate that IceWM has a system tray that works with everything I use (Pidgin/Gaim, GNOME's nm-applet for handling wireless, GNOME's volume control).

IceWM does have a Win95-like layout, but it's a lot prettier and theme-able. The taskbar works like Win95, which is perfectly fine by me. It also has multiple workspaces, which is an absolute must-have.

By default, IceWM does NOT have a GUI interface for configuration. It's all in human-readable text configuration files (NOT barely commented XML like jwm). There are a couple graphical configuration editors for IceWM, but I prefer editing the text file since it's faster and easier.

As for the menu--in Debian, IceWM automatically uses the universal menu, so software packages are automatically added/removed from the menu. Very nice! However, this functionality seems to be broken in Ubuntu.

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Lightweight Equinox Desktop Environment needs polish

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 80.254.84.207] on May 23, 2008 11:28 PM
Why is it supposed to look like Windows 95? What's the obsession with it? I'm all for speed, etc, but I'd rather have a GUI that doesn't look like crap.

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Lightweight Equinox Desktop Environment needs polish

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 198.182.208.51] on May 24, 2008 02:48 AM
Personally I think the Win95 user interface was pretty darn good. I'm not joking. It has all the essential features; it's consistent and straightforward to learn, understand and use; it's very fast; and it doesn't have a lot of dumb clutter and distractions.

Everything Microsoft has done to it since, in Win98 (Active Desktop), WinXP (Playskool), and Vista (animation, jiggling, transparency), has only served to ruin it more and more, making it more bloated and harder to use.

The first thing I do on every Windows machine I have to use is turn off as many of the UI bells & whistles as possible. It's a pain in the butt, and the result is still never as clean or snappy as Win95.

I'd be very happy to have a perfect clone of the Win95 desktop on my Linux machines. And that's the *only* Microsoft-esque thing I'd *ever* want on my Linux machines!

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Lightweight Equinox Desktop Environment needs polish

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 77.91.22.107] on May 24, 2008 08:57 AM
I admire every programmer making something useful but why does it look like Windows ?
How can people using Windows completely switch to Linux when it reminds them of their former os ?
Nevertheless this project looks promising and I hope it will evolve to something serious.

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Lightweight Equinox Desktop Environment needs polish

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 123.204.17.95] on May 25, 2008 11:49 AM

Lightweight Equinox Desktop Environment needs polish

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.128.181.208] on May 26, 2008 10:45 PM
Looks like an ugly copy of Windows 95.

Sorry :(

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Lightweight Equinox Desktop Environment needs polish

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 203.144.27.9] on May 27, 2008 12:03 AM
For speed, it was fvwm2 for me! Nowadays it's fluxbox! Just awesome - almost everything just right - not too much, not too little.

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Re: Lightweight Equinox Desktop Environment needs polish

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.31.187.238] on May 27, 2008 12:15 AM
I second fluxbox's awesomeness. While it may not be designed for your grandma, it's lightweight, attractive, fast, and stays out your way.

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Lightweight Equinox Desktop Environment needs polish

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 202.138.139.170] on May 27, 2008 07:30 AM
is this linux 98 SE? ... it's nice to have these desktop standards etc. but i think we're at the point where... a new innovation in window management... something to maximize the area... interoperability of windows on top of each other are some things to look forward to

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Lightweight Equinox Desktop Environment needs polish

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 59.92.58.117] on May 27, 2008 09:11 AM
I am pretty pissed off that neither the author nor the people who wrote the above comments took a minute to look at this page:

http://lxde.sourceforge.net/screenshots.html

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Lightweight Equinox Desktop Environment needs polish

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 59.92.58.117] on May 27, 2008 09:20 AM

What about a file browser

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 192.38.72.70] on May 27, 2008 10:39 AM
I have been increasingly annoyed by KDE GNOME and the likes. KDE was OK in the start. Then it grew and grew. I need the desktop to have some items a start menu and means to open several programs. I want to do some work, not to admire features.
What I need most is a fast and stable File Browser. Mind you, most of files are mounted over a NFS, and amount of data easily goes over 1/2 terra byte. There can be more than a 1000 files in a directory. Generating previews, and what not is just slowing the whole thing down.

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Lightweight Equinox Desktop Environment needs polish

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 63.116.109.10] on May 27, 2008 06:38 PM
The upshot of this discussion seems to be that there are several lightweight desktop environments for GNU/Linux. Although they tend to start out with the dowdy but functional Win95 look they can be extensively tweaked. If you have old hardware, this is a godsend. I for one have an old still-functional laptop with 256 Mb of RAM running Xfce on Ubuntu 8.04. That gives me spanking new software that runs well on an aging box. I also have a mail-server in the garage with the same setup. Although it has 1 Gb of RAM, it is a Celeron system, and I don't want to burden it more than necessary with other stuff. I only use the GUI for occasional maintenance tasks. I have some pretty large IMAP mailboxes on it, so it is by no means overkill.

It's good to know that I have several options. Old boxes can be useful for a lot longer than they would if you had to keep running their original Windows distros, which would almost certainly no longer be supported. With these GNU/Linux environments you can run current software on them with quite reasonable responsiveness. Such a deal...

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Lightweight Equinox Desktop Environment needs polish

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.235.17.209] on May 27, 2008 06:40 PM
I'd like to see a Puppy linux version using this Desktop environment.
The looks of EDE are plain but that's part of the charm. It's not meant to be eye candy, just fast and functional. I still use Windows NT at work ant it looks eerily similar to EDE. Would love it if Wine apps would use something like it. They'd look prettier.

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File Browsers

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 209.117.233.58] on May 27, 2008 06:41 PM
For a good fltk based file manager, try xfe: http://roland65.free.fr/xfe/

For a good gtk based file manager, try thunar: http://thunar.xfce.org/index.html

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Lightweight Equinox Desktop Environment needs polish

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.224.94.193] on May 27, 2008 10:34 PM
EDE was recommended on a distro forum, where its lightweight and cohesive tools would be useful on older computers with low resources. After installing it, I found that it started up a tiny bit faster than IceWM, came with its own configuration tools, and looked very good in 800x640@256, my mummy-like laptop's highest screen resolution. Although it has its own batch of 'supah speshul' .desktop files, they're easy to work with and emulate. Would be better to have it work with freedesktop standards. Also, keyboard shortcut for the main desktop menu would be /great/.

Just little things, but they count.

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icewm + pcmanfm

Posted by: Michael Shigorin on June 02, 2008 06:20 PM
> What I need most is a fast and stable File Browser.

http://pcmanfm.sourceforge.net/ (yep it's better than Thunar with your IceWM or any other non-XFCE desktop -- and XFCE4 seems quite bloated -- or leaky? -- by now, I dare say that in ALT Linux 4.0 KDE 3.5 would take up less resources on average session after several days)

PS: once upon a time there was ROX-Filer but we had to drop it completely due to braindamaged XML-file-contained desktop concept (imagine dropping something from flashdrive there and removing it... just to find out that there's now an "xml symlink" on the system but not a copy of the file).

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