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Editor's Note: One (Strange) Man's Hunt for the Linux Desktop

May 28, 2004, 23:30 (11 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

Linux on the desktop.

It feels like there should be an echo effect there, doesn't it?

Linux-inux-inux-nux... On The Desktop-top-top-top...

With all the reports we have seen of late about getting our favorite operating system on the desktop of corporate and home users, I don't think the echo chamber effect is going overboard, do you? Then, picture in your mind a giant Tux, standing on a dark mountaintop, sword in hand, the bones of proprietary code strewn on the jagged mountainside below him. Do the echo chamber again. See? Not a bad scene.

Sam Raimi had better watch out, there's a new director coming to town.

But to the matter at hand. Linux on the desktop. I have a problem with this description. After a day or two of fiddling around with some cool desktop tools and theme, I have come to the conclusion that worrying about Linux on the desktop is a misnomer, because 99 percent of the time I can't even see the desktop and all of the cool toys I have put on it!

This all started last week, when I upgraded to Fedora Core 2. I had tried to point yum and up2date to the new Core 2 mirrors, but they were still heavily trafficked, so I finally muttered some obscenities and tried this new BitTorrent thing-a-ma-bob to pull the ISOs down for CD burning.

Boy! Was this a pleasant surprise! For those of you not familiar with it, BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer system that lets you share files across a completely distributed network. So, instead of finding and linking to a single peer who has the file I need and praying they have the bandwidth and the will to stay online long enough for me to pull the file down, I downloaded a .torrent file that indexed the files I needed and allowed me to download the files from multiple sources at once.

This jigsaw-puzzle approach to downloading spreads the load across multiple sources and (if there are enough sources online) makes your download go much faster. The karmic is that while you download files, you become a source, too. So your system uploads while it yanks files down. For courtesy's sake, users are urged to keep sharing the files after the download is complete, to keep the number of sources to share high. (I did good, I left the files in place for two days.)

After I upgraded to FC2, I wanted to try out some new eye candy for my system. After reading Marcel Gagné's recent article on SuperKaramba, I was intrigued enough to give it a whirl.

I tried the binaries first, and that seemed to work. But after running SK, I tried to load some themes and got nothing but black boxes. Well, after pulling the source down and trying to compile, I discovered that I supposed wasn't running the right version of the Python libraries, which was odd, since I had a version that was way past what was required.

I faced a choice: get the libraries into my system's path or try something else. I'm more into instant gratification, so I chose the latter and shifted over to GNOME to try gdesklets.

PCLinuxOnline ran a tutorial about this GNOME eye candy recently, and I thought it would be worth a look.

And it was, actually. It took a little while to get everything sorted out, because the documentation was a bit lean, but ultimately I got the GoodWeather, Popmail, and RRS-Feed desklets up and running. I think they look really sharp... when I can see them.

The problem is, at least for me, that I never actually get to see my desktop. All day long, virtually every day, I have Mozilla open with its multiple tabs looking at every Linux site you can think of, a Gnumeric spreadsheet with the day's storyboard, and Evolution churning out whatever e-mail makes it past spamassassin. With these three windows open at any given time, I hardly every get to see the actual desktop.

Since I have Weather Report 2.6 running on the GNOME panel, and Evolution beeps when I get new mail, I only missed the added functionality of the RSS-Feed. But, setting up some bookmarks in Mozilla to alert me when a page updates was a workaround for that.

I still wanted a cool desktop, though, so I went hunting about for a nifty theme instead. And therein lies another tale.

So, Linux on the desktop? Well, in the most literal sense of the termd, I'll believe it when I see it.

In the meantime, it's a holiday weekend here in the States, and you know what that means. Linux Today's newsfeed will not be running this coming Monday, May 31, as the staff (me) enjoys a weekend of relaxation (watching sports). To those celebrating, have a safe Memorial Day weekend, and for the rest of you, please feel free to relax amongst yourselves. :)