Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Desktop Workspaces

This is a random post, but I've been thinking about desktops.

I've never really been a harsh critic of the Windows desktop idea. It seems pretty straight forward, and like it would be easy to use for people who aren't used to computers. That is, until Vista, but there aren't so many people now who have never used a computer. Maybe the need for simplicity is gone in the Windows environment. Either way, it always seemed to work, if a little slowly in some cases. After I got used to the various X Windows managers, though, Windows definitely seemed far more rigid, in terms of configurability, and completely hampered by only having one desktop, as opposed to multiple.

One thing was that it always seemed to be getting in my way. I could hide the task bar, and use keyboard shortcuts, but I never got the shortcuts set up the way I wanted. Sure, I could download some shareware programs to setup the keyboard right and launch programs that I wanted with the keystrokes I wanted, but it stopped working unless I paid $20, and anyway, it seemed like a hack.

When I got started in Linux, I tried KDE, and it was pretty ugly at that time (1997ish). I tried FVWM, and I used that for a while, or it's modified FVWM95, but they wore on me pretty quickly. It wasn't until I tried WindowMaker that I found my groove.

Fast forward to now. With the exception of the background image, I have used the same desktop environment for essentially 7 years. The exact same keyboard shortcuts and window preferences have followed me around (thanks to everything conveniently living in ~/GNUstep). I even carried my exact environment from Slackware when I switched to Ubuntu.

I've got pretty heavily customized Gnome and KDE installs on my Ubuntu box, but I never log into them unles there's a very specific (and rare reason). The rest of the time, I'm in WindowMaker, and the reason is that, after 7 years, I'm blindingly fast.

I can open terminal windows, type commands, and get the responses faster than someone in Windows could click on the putty icon. I've got WindowMaker setup to dynamically create desktops, so if I need a new working space, I just scroll past the last existing one. It consumes nearly no resources, and it gives amazing amount of desktop space.

Overall, if I was just running a desktop that I expected to be doing useful things locally on, I'd probably run KDE, but as an admin who constantly needs to ssh into remote hosts to get things done, I can't recommend WindowMaker enough.

I spent some time this past weekend working on my laptop at home. I've mentioned before how much fun it is, which is to say, very little. This time was different, though. I brought a 19" LCD from the office, because I knew I'd be working quite a bit, and I've got to say, it made a huge difference. I almost liked it. I felt like I was being productive again.

In fact, the only down side was that I was using OS X, which in my opinion is the finest laptop OS available, as a desktop. It was still slow and kludgy compared to my linux machine, but it was far better than trying to do serious work on a small little screen.