Linux looking good, behaving badly

I’ve been trying to get my Linux machine to look nice and this has been causing some amount (read LOTS) of headaches. I just wanted to start a post about all the things that Linux folks need to fix in order for Linux to look nice and work well.

– Focusing in compiz is pretty much horrible. If you have a window that laps over onto another desktop, that window will retain focus for both desktops rather than the desktop it’s center exists on. This causes major focus headaches unless all you windows are maximized or they don’t lap over

– Compiz breaks Java. I’ve updated to the latest version of everything and even patched the rt.jar with some compiz hacks and things still don’t work correctly. This really needs to be fixed in a more general manner for Linux/Unix distributions that are going to be using compositing. Perhaps the composite manager needs to provide a hook method that allows Java native to get at the constraints and properties of the manager. This would have to be standardized across all managers on all *nix flavors, but would make life much better for VMs.

– Windows don’t draw the decorations correctly sometimes when switching desktops. This makes windows seem unfocused but they are in fact focused.

– gDesklets and other desktop daemons (these are windows that are shown on every desktop) steal focus for all desktops because they exist across all desktops, which makes it impossible to use Compiz/Beryl with anything of this nature. Major bummer because they make Linux look good and are great tools.

– I’m using avant-window-manager (AVM) and it is pretty rough thus far and looks like it might die. Gnome-dock looks dead, Cairo looks dead, and the other docks are for KDE (not a fan).

– AVM lacks support for applets/desklets which forces me to run a single gnome panel with the time. This makes Linux look ugly.

– AVM doesn’t allow for menus to be nested. This would be nice because it would remove the need to keep a panel around just so I can get to less commonly used programs. This can be fixed using a launcher, but most of those are pretty rough.

– AVM doesn’t support grouping and really lacks a lot of configuration and features.

– AVM sorta loses its mind with applications that go into the notification area like GAIM. Now I’ve seen folks fix this, so if someone knows how, let me know what you did.

– Thus far I’ve only got gnome-launch-box to work and it is pretty rough. It doesn’t integrate well into gnome and should provide a method for auto-start and much more configuration. I think it uses beagle or something else behind it, but I couldn’t figure out how to control it or configure it. This needs a control dialog that is seamlessly integrated into the gnome configuration system.

– Deskbar is too verbose and not fast enough. Plus it doesn’t have enough options when you do find the file you are looking for. Plus, it doesn’t look nice enough to really be cool. It also jumps around the screen way too much. Not sure why it does this.

– KDE launchers just plain don’t like Gnome for some reason and I couldn’t figure out how to make them work correctly. Plus, they have that KDE feel and it clashes with the gnome stuff.

– I would guess that 99% of the applications that provide a transparency setting are hacking it via some background image magic. Most gnome stuff (panels, desklets, etc) don’t really work with a composite manager and need to be fixed to check for one and then fall back to their hacking if it isn’t running. If one is running though, they should use it.

4 thoughts on “Linux looking good, behaving badly

  1. Thanks for the info Brian, I was actually just about to start messing with Beryl on my Ubuntu box but now I think I’m going to wait a bit. Hopefully it will smooth out with time. I think there tends to be enough focus problems with X in general (especially with Java)… any more would make me pull my hair out.

    BTW, I saw you speak at NJFS in Minneapolis and even talked to you about Ubuntu very briefly after one of your sessions. Keep up the good work on the blog!


  2. Yeah, I would definitely wait a bit. Hopefully Ubuntu will be picking up Compiz 0.5, which seems to fix a lot of the focus issues. However we need to wait until JDK 7.0 or JDK 6.0 update 2 until the dialog issues get fixed. The hack I found online that requires recompiling part of AWT doesn’t work very well. Seems like a race condition to me.


  3. Interesting post. I’ve got Beryl running on my Feisty machine at work with GDesklets and no problems. The backgrounds are transparent so the wallpaper shows through, and when I switch desktops they float out just like the other windowed applications do, and don’t steal focus. Now that I think about it, JRE 6.0 runs fine with Beryl too. Hmmm. I’m new to linux, and am quite fond of Ubuntu so far, but maybe I’ve just been really lucky!


  4. Ah, Beryl is probably why things are running fine for you. I’m running compiz, which is pretty unstable right now and has many more issues than Beryl does. It looks like they are merging back into a single project, so hopefully the next Ubuntu version fixes a lot of these issues and updates to compiz 0.5+ (hopefully the next major release of compiz and beryl merge).


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