The Changing Desktop Trends - A Linux Perspective

Discussion in 'Reviews and Guides' started by Dark Star, Aug 27, 2011.

  1. Dark Star

    Dark Star Well-Known Member

    “The Changing Desktop Trendsâ€

    A Linux Perspective - KDE vs Gnome3 vs Unity

    UI enhancements and eye candy has always been proprietary OS turf, but with time and massive development developers has turned the table and made the free and open source environment an eye candy galore. Ranging from the black terminal to the regal and boggling 3d effect, the Linux desktop experience is now far cry from its counterpart. We jump in to get a sneak peak of the UI developments.

    Often touted as the developers resort and a geeks delight, Linux desktop has now changed the way we compute and has come of ages when comes to user experience. With the home grown black terminal and the sluggish UI, Linux has been blamed upon to be a less usable and the taxing learning curve has always been a led down for mainstream acceptance.


    Modified KDE Desktop

    With time and development Linux has now become a tweaker's delight, many designers and developers are working round the clock to make Linux more usable, friendly and topped with a brilliant user interface. As a result the UI changes are compelling and has brought in tremendous amount of changes with every new release. The Linux desktop has gone through massive facelift and upbringing a new perspective altogether.

    Unlike other proprietary operating system Linux boasts of handful of display managers, windows manager and desktop environment, to enchant and offers plethora of options to every set of audience out there. Be it a full blown 3d environment or a crippled GUI/X.

    Before we jump into a detailed outlook of Linux graphical makeover we must know about the basics of terminologies that I'll be using over the article.

    1. Tele Type (tty) : tty or Teletypes are black screen with text on them, its kind of a multifunctional writer and display where you can input and see the output of and from the system. Tty's are generally used to debug the system when the Display manager doesn't work or they are generally used to probe the system for fixing errors or amending and inserting commands and editing files. Tty's forms the basic of Linux base system and works instrumentally in configuring the system. There are 12 ttys in Linux out of which only 7 are operational. Rest of the TTY's are kept for future reference and doesn't work. You can access any tty by pressing CTRL+ALT+Fn key where Fn is the Function key ranging from 1-12.

    F7 is a specially tty which allows graphics environment to run over it.

    2. Display Manager (DM): Display manager is the first graphical screen that you see during boot up. A display manager lets you log in into your linux installation by providing you options to enter the required credentials. There are several Display managers available for linux desktop, namely gdm (Gnome DM), kdm (KDE DM), lightDM (A new DM that will be used in Ubuntu 11.10 )

    3. Windows Manager (WM): A Windows manager is a enhanced graphical manager that lets you control the windows management system by providing requisite tools and entities. A Windows manager forms the basic of a graphical desktop, it provides you option to control and maneuver windows system. Some of commonly know WM are Kwin/KDE, Metacity or Mutter from Gnome , XFWM from XFCE, Fluxbox, and Compiz.

    4. Desktop Environment (DE) : A Desktop Environment provide a user with a complete ecosystem to sustain its basic needs provided with handful of useful applications. A desktop environment is an amalgamation of Windows Manager, a graphical X and many useful applications and provides useful API and ABI for application development. Making life easier for users to churn the most out of the environment. Some of the commonly used desktop environment are Gnome and KDE.

    With such diverse and complex ecosystem, Linux operating has now emerged as a top dog when it comes to provide a rich and compelling desktop interface. With escalation in hardware support and meliorating drivers experience, Linux has become worthy enough to sustain an end users enthusiasm and ever lasting need in the environment.

    Unlike proprietary market the changes in Open Source world is rather radical and swift. The first enthusiastic change in the market was the introduction of KDE and QT desktop (Trolltech) at that time. The release not only triggered a new momentum but created a stir in the Opensource world. Following the trail was the GNU foundation releasing the GTK+ tool kit counter acting against the (then) closed source QT toolkit, and the Gnome desktop was released.

    With time, development and a surge of interest and burst of users interest in Linux, new development paved the way for a highly customization and efficient desktop experience that came to existence today under different alias and under different bandwagon.

    KDE 4 : The Plasma Intervention

    KDE4 lit the fire, bursting out with enticing feature and created a new benchmark in the open source desktop innovation. Surprisingly even with laden features and a completely written desktop and plasma workspace KDE4 initial release went through massive reprobation by the end users. Touted as the most usable desktop until KDE 3.5.x release, developers failed to meet the expectation and deliver a solid desktop experience. Too perplexing for an end user on the other hand the lack of stability paved the way for user disagreement. As a result developers were forced to get their hands dirty while fixing the pits and holes of the new release.

    With community support and ever lasting bug report along with third party developers churning out missing applications for QT4 desktop, KDE4 was finally becoming functional and till date KDE 4 provides the utmost user experience courtesy of the Plasma desktop.


    The Default KDE Desktop

    Plasma : - Plasma is a new desktop shell / widget interface the integrates kicker, super-karamba (widgets) and various other KDE sub projects into a single being. Plasma not only diversify the KDE approach towards radical computing but further aids to and fortify KDE desktop experience. Plasma is not limited to a particular device thanks to the upbringing and unblemished QT toolkit.

    With plasma written in QT / C++, KDE has an ample sector to aim to, not only just providing support to various devices, with Plasma KDE developers has leveraged the eye candy in every spectrum of compute device be it the full blown desktop or the lowly smartphones. With KDE nipping on the heels of every compute device, its has escalated Linux infrastructure and the eye candy to the available platforms.


    The Netbook Edition of KDE featuring Plasma Interface

    The most beautiful aspect of Plasma is the kind of integration option and customization it provides. Unlike the newly release Ubuntu Unity and Gnome-Shell, KDE offers behemoth customization options coupled with fascinating widgets and different work-space behavior. In addition to general widget the plasma desktop can be folded into activities. For example. If you want an activity just to fetch news and other similar task you club an activities with the requisite widget and save it. Next time when you roll over to the activity you will be greeted with new laden in a proper manner.

    With the recently released KDE 4.6 the KDE SC(Software Compilation) has up the ante by delivering a rock solid release not only boasting of superior bliss but providing a rock solid environment with plethora of native and 3rd party platform dependent application.

    Gnome 3 : Reinventing the desktop

    Arguably the most usable yet minimalist desktop environment, Gnome has got refurbished in a brand new avatar. With massive improvements under the belt and newly crafted Gnome shell, the much hyped Gnome 3 is knocking on the doors laden with brand new shell and hosts of other improvements. Gnome-Shell is the new avatar of the till date ubiquitous Gnome desktop environment.

    Gnome3 marks the beginning of a completely new desktop experience, that has never been into the play code-named ToPaZ (Three Point Zero). The very change in the Gnome3 look has been courtesy to the astounding acceptance of tablets and similar devices. The interface of Gnome3 is an amalgamation of the very tablet mix interface and the old gnome release.


    The new Gnome-shell

    The idea behind the change is not only to provide a glossy looking desktop but to provide a robust interface and clutter free desktop experience. Just to make things better the developers took a long time in carving out the ideas and testing the very release. Years of testing and implementation has been done in-order to present a rock solid desktop environment, given that, almost all of the components were ready previous year but just to make things more profound, the foundation delayed the release in-order to double check and further enhance the usability front of the new desktop.

    The biggest change in the new Gnome environment is the introduction of a brand new shell. The new Gnome shell now offers a more practical approach towards lucid desktop environment. The gnome shell built by using the Clutter drawing toolkit offers a decent work experience and thrives on hardware acceleration to work in full swing.

    Gnome3 has also introduced a new Activities. Unlike KDE activities the new The Activities pane serves as one stop shop for the gnome environment. It acts as a windows navigator, incorporates workspace switcher, dock and application manager.


    The Activities Pane showing Application Browser

    The overall interface of Gnome3 is very usable, although on needs a grip on the different working aspect of the DE but once we get that part under our belt, using gnome3 is fun and and is productive. The new Activities Pane works well and offers unobstructed desktop experience coupled with a new work-space switcher and an application browser, it works very well.

    Unlike KDE initial release, Gnome release is very much controlled and even though its a new desktop things work very efficiently and without any glitch. Over months of usage and testing I had experience no crashes or lag whatsoever. However even though it works well doesn't mean it perfect. The missing tid bits like extra configuration options, fonts wizard and many other gnome2 application makes is a shallow release. What makes even worse is the inability of Gnome-Shell to work with proprietary drivers, leaving you with mediocre mesa driver performance in other demanding application.

    Ubuntu Unity : A Mixed Bag

    Ubuntu is the most used linux desktop out there, and to cater such a huge mass Canonical the company behind Ubuntu tries to pour in something extra every time it release a new candidate for the users. Ubuntu has brought many radical and bold functionality till date and added some new and intuitive software in the mainstream release, but this time the Ubuntu developers turned the table and presented the user base with a complete new desktop code named Unity.

    Unity is nothing new, it was a part of the previous Ubuntu remix for Netbook Pc's. Being aimed initially for netbook's Unity has added benefits for better windows management and provides users with additional space and workflow for lucid work experience. Off lately Ubuntu has been churning out many releases making it hard for end users to choose. To provide users with more subtle options Ubuntu developers choose to shut the door on many not so used remixes and merge them under a single project. Ubuntu has merged the Netbook Remix with the desktop version, now dubbed as a single entity Ubuntu.


    Ubuntu Unity in action

    Unity is a fork and mixture of ideas taken from many other projects already running. Unity is nothing new but its a shell which sits on top of Gnome desktop and works in conjugating with Compiz composite effects. What Ubuntu did is removed gnome-shell and replaced it with new unity shell, Ubuntu still use the gnome application stack and utilities to get things done.

    Since Ubuntu 11.04 is the first release to bring Unity on board for the masses, there are lots of niggles and missing pits for Unity. First and foremost its not stable at all. There are lots of performance lags and rough edges over Unity. When I used Unity it became unresponsive now and then, making performance of the overall desktop sluggish and fragile.

    Being worked in league of Gnome-shell its quite similar in features and looks to the new gnome-shell. However the performance of gnome-shell is much better compared to Unity. Perhaps a bit more work needs to be done on the Unity before it can be accepted by the mainstream. Considering this point of view developers still ship the classic Ubuntu desktop along side unity, providing you an option to switch in case you are not satisfied with the performance and looks.

    Apart from performance, Unity has given up with many more useful utilities. Gnome applets is one such thing. If you are used to keeping an eye on cpu/network usage by nifty panel applets then with Unity you simply cannot. Add to that the new Global Menu which is reminiscent of Mac Menubar does have its own underpinnings. The menu still resides over the panel even when the application is unmaximized. Makes navigating an eyesore.

    The Future of Desktop computing

    The pace and the kind of evolution open source desktop has shown is mind boggling. Developers has carved out every possible way to make open source desktop usable and eye candy, adding more oomph and usability to a rock solid and cutting edge technology. With the recent release of the aforementioned De's and shell's Linux has now up the ante and stand in its own league, providing users with ample options to choose from.

    KDE with its meager toolkit and profound application perhaps is the best possible desktop environment you can get for your PC. If you still want the rudimentary desktop with mixture of cutting edge technology and eye candy then KDE fit the bill. With the latest 4.6 release, KDE has become more mature and stable for prime time usage. Users now have access to all the application which were previously part of the KDE 3.5.x/ QT3 package. With everything under its belt KDE is a strong distro to choose from.

    Gnome 3 and Ubuntu Unity share the same fate, however Gnome 3 still bags the prize for being simple. Unity interface is kind of stuck and half baked. With niggles, Unity is surly far behind the Gnome 3 interface. Both of the shell be it the Ubuntu Unity or the Gnome shell is not at all sympatico with the previous desktop metaphor.

    With developers focusing more on tablet oriented desktop, it seems the effect of tablet PC is really escalating the pressure on developers to move in a new design era. However table and its design for big screen doesn't feel or work very good at least with Ubuntu Unity. Also working with touch oriented interface might not be everyone's cup of tea. But give the software giant M$ itself moving its interface to tablet kind of look, I guess the old desktop look will get a break.

    In Linux if you still want the desktop look either use KDE or resort to using not so reliable Ubuntu classic interface which will come to halt eventually with Ubuntu 11.10. Wrapping up all, the scenario is not to shabby either, working with new interface is fun and quite refreshing keeping the niggles aside. If you are still bothering about old desktop frenzy, you wanna give the new zing a ride. Might this new oriented desktop fit the bill for you.
    2 people like this.
  2. vivek.krishnan

    vivek.krishnan Error Code 451

    Nice Article. +1. Hoping to see a future review from you on Windows too...
  3. sunny27

    sunny27 Stig's Indian Cousin!!!

    Nice compilation, well written.
  4. Rogues

    Rogues Active Member

    I'd like to add that if you are a minimalist like me, you'd be better of using a Window Manager such as Openbox. No sizzles, only the stuff that you need.

  5. Ellimist

    Ellimist New Member

    Or use XFCE/LXDE.
  6. Compiler

    Compiler Active Member

    More such stuff is needed here.
  7. OP
    Dark Star

    Dark Star Well-Known Member

    ^^Thanks a lot sir :)
  8. Prosenjit

    Prosenjit Active Member

    Can anyone help me , how can I get those OS?

    Thanks in advance.
  9. abirokz

    abirokz New Member

    ^^They r all linux os and images shown above are diff desktop environments Gn0me,Gnome-shell,KDE,Unity like that..!

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