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Eye Candy: So Bad, Yet So Good

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Even though I consider myself a fairly advanced Linux user, there are some things in Linux I haven't gotten around to yet.

This isn't usually through inability to do something; it's usually a matter of not seeing the need for it. So it is with Compiz--I realize that I'm very late to the party, but I finally got around to installing it this week on my Kubuntu machine.

First impression? Very pretty, but what the heck do I use it for?

The reason for my very tardy entry into the world of enhanced desktops is simple: none of my machines had the RAM to handle Compiz. My work box had a mere 512 MB, and thanks to a leaky aRTS instance, could barely handle Swiftweasel and Gnumeric running at the same time.

Then two things happened to change my somewhat apathetic behavior. I got off my butt and ran top to see what was what and located the malfunctioning program. After killing aRTS (who needs sound, anyway?), things ran much more smoothly. (I'll reinstall it later; right now my Ubuntu laptop is sitting nearby generating music from Amarok.) The second thing was the death of my daughter's PC, caused by another dead power supply. I cannibalized a 512-MB DDR chip and stuck it into my work machine on Monday while I awaited a new power supply and more RAM from my online supplier.

After the RAM upgrade, I fired up the "Desktop Effects" command in Kubuntu and clicked the Install button. apt-get ran, pulled the right files down, installed them, and... nothing. No fancy special effects. No configuration settings. Nothing.

First off, it should be noted that there's some additional steps you need to take in *buntu to get Compiz running, not the least of which is running compiz --replace in the terminal, to actually put Compiz in the role of window manager. There are other steps too, which are well categorized in this excellent German blog post I found. Whether you are just starting out or have been around the Compiz block a few times, it's a nice resource.

After a few commands and setting changes, Compiz is now up and running on my work machine. As a geek, I totally love it. The wobbling windows, and the burning fire are very neat effects (the latter being very satisfactory when I point the mouse-as-firestarter at certain pundits' bylines), and the cube desktop switcher, I have to say, is suh-weet.

But here's my thing: other than eye candy, is any of this stuff really useful? Granted, the accessibility tools are solid and very needed. You get no argument from me there. But the pragmatist in me was wondering if these eye-catchers were going to do anything for me to get my work done.

And the answer is (so far): no, they're not. But the rest of the answer is: who cares?

Many of the Compiz tools are simply there for fun; to expect otherwise is silly. If something productive can be done with them, then great. But sometimes we all need a little distraction, something to keep our minds fresh and our morale up.

It reminded me of the earlier days of Linux, when things used to be done for the sheer joy of it. I remember my first installation of Linux (Caldera OpenLinux, if you can believe the irony) and being giddy and amazed that during the installation you could actually play a Tetris-like game instead of waiting for the installer to finish churning. It was unique, and it served no real purpose, other than to entertain.

So when someone says, that stuff is just a waste of time, tell them (like I have told myself) to lighten up and learn to play a little.

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