Archive for the ‘User Interface’ Category.

I’m thankful for Arch Linux

I had four days off from work this week thanks to Thanksgiving, and I decided to spend a lot of that time trying out some operating systems. Here are my extremely simple, quick, superficial experiences.


I used to be a Slackware user, as can be seen in my Linux history. I appreciate that the outstanding installation program hasn’t changed since the last time I used it in 2003. I was excited to use a very stable and nicely setup system with KDE.

Well, I was reminded why I don’t like KDE. First of all, I find the default appearance to be incredible ugly. Second, there are so many little applications working together that make up KDE, and one of them always seems to be either crashing or causing a graphical glitch. So, I erased Slackware.


I was interested in trying GNOME 3. After looking around a bit, I realized Fedora was the only major distribution that comes with the standard GNOME 3 Shell by default.

I realized I don’t like GNOME 3. Everything just took so much mouse movement and so much clicking. Maybe I was using it incorrectly. Anyway, I erased Fedora.


I wanted to try Frugalware because it’s one of the only distributions that comes with the Etoile Desktop Environment, based on GNUStep. Frugalware didn’t like it when I told it not to install the boot loader into the MBR. I couldn’t get it to boot after that, so I gave up trying to get it to load.


I love MenuetOS. I love the story of MenuetOS. A programmer is fed up with people always saying “Sure, assembly language is incredibly fast, but it’s impossible to write any big or serious application with it”, and so he decides to write an entire operating system in assembly language. That includes both the kernel and the GUI (with transparency effects!). It has a text editor, web browser, image editor, music / video / DVD player, Doom, and Quake.

I was able to run it from a live CD. Unfortunately my USB mouse was not detected, but I was able to move the mouse cursor around with some keyboard shortcuts (Ctrl – Meta – arrows / space). If it had worked, I would have installed it onto a partition, just for the geek cred.


My wife liked openSUSE from her experience from a few years ago, so I decided to give it a try. What a beautiful and polished experience openSUSE is! The installer is amazing and the default setup is gorgeous (even with KDE!). So I decided to keep it as another platform to compile and test the video game I’m making on.

…until I discovered two simple packages I need (Allegro and GNUStep) are not in the openSUSE repositories. I’m going kind of crazy. These are pretty basic packages. Does openSUSE really not provide them? I searched and searched on the Internet, but I don’t think I care enough to look into it much further. So, I’ll probably erase openSUSE.

And this is the point when I started to realize something about package managers: they don’t provide any useful information. The first thing I do when installing a new OS is apply updates. These new GUI package managers don’t tell me what is being downloaded or how much is left. It’s like a window that says “Click here to update”, then “Updating…”, then “Done.”. I’m sure it’s possible to see the details somehow, but it sure wasn’t obvious to me.


I plan on keeping FreeBSD for two reasons: to tinker with and learn on, and to test the video game I’m making on another operating system. It’ll become one of my primary three operating systems.

So, in the end, I end up triple booting Arch Linux, Haiku, and FreeeBSD. I’d still like to have some sort of popular fancy Linux distribution installed, so I might try out Linux Mint with Cinnamon if I have some more time.

I had fun trying out some new operating systems. It’s been three years since I started using Arch Linux and lost any desire to do any more distro hopping. But trying them out again has made me realize how thankful I am for Arch Linux.

A quick rant(s)

I have a software pet peeve. Have you ever seen something like this:

1 update(s)

or, even worse, this?

1 updates

Well, I think this is ridiculous. Do you know why I think this is ridiculous? Because it’s 2012, and programmers have really good “if” statements available to them! :P

Window placement

Window placement is kind of a big deal to me. Out of all the different styles and algorithms for window placement, my favorite for the longest time has been “Random”. Random window placement had a better chance of putting an application window where I wanted it on the screen than any other option – until now.

But first, a bit about window placement:

Microsoft Windows tries to place a window where it was the last time you had it open. I thought this was a good idea at first, until I remembered I use many windows from the same application. Anyway, after that, I don’t know where Windows tries to put new windows.

GNOME 2, FVWM, and many other user interfaces I’ve tried seem to have a thing for the upper left corner of the screen. I hate the upper left corner of the screen! It’s the last place I want a new window is in the upper left corner of the screen, especially when I have a big empty desktop.

I’ve tried a few tiling window managers, but they just weren’t my thing. Oh, well.

Finally, I started using Openbox. I was sad at first, because everything looked great about Openbox except for one thing: the only options for window placement are “Smart” and “Under mouse”. I’m too lazy for “Under mouse” and when a window manager says “Smart” placement I usually don’t find it to be too smart.

I decided to look at the source code for the “Smart” placement, and I was pleasantly surprised! It goes through these logical steps:

  1. If a window knows where it wants to go (like Pidgin instant messenger does) then just put it there.
  2. If there are no windows open, then put it at the center of the screen.
  3. If there are windows open, then find a space where it will fit and center it in that space.
  4. Finally, if it can’t fit anywhere without overlapping another window, place in on the screen randomly.

I love it!


I finally gave in and started using the Openbox window manager.

I didn’t want to use it for the longest time for two primary reasons:

  1. It didn’t have any like a task bar, and I couldn’t find any stand alone task bars that I liked.
  2. It’s too popular. So many Arch Linux users use Openbox!

I had an epiphany recently, and that was that I really don’t want anything like a task bar. I use window shading a lot. When I want a window to be hidden, I simply iconify it to nowhere and bring it up again using the root menu. It’s great!

I have conky setup to give my all the heads-up information I need, and a slick theme to make everything look nice.

Openbox supports full compliance with things like full screen applications and changing the screen resolution, which my previous window manager lacked.

I’m happy with Openbox so far, and look forward to using it for a long time.

GNOME 3 pre-release opinions

It was announced on the GNOME developer list that GNOME 3 won’t have minimize or maximize buttons:

That’s a huge change. My initial reaction was “Whaaa?”, but then I started thinking about how I use my window manager (currently FluxBox). I almost never use the minimize and maximize buttons, and certainly wouldn’t miss them if they were gone.

The mailing list message talks about helping users learn a new work flow. This reminded me of when I started using Haiku. Haiku has a powerful file manager called Tracker. Tracker is a spatial file manager, which means every folder opens in its own window. The first thing I wanted to do was change it to a navigational file manager. So, I went to the Haiku documentation.

I found the information I was looking for, which included this comment:

Before you switch Tracker to Single Window Navigation mode, because that may feel more familiar to you, we recommend giving the menu based browsing a try first, as that may actually work much faster for you after getting used to.

So, I decided to continue trying Tracker as a spatial file manager, and now I really like it.

Now, in regards to GNOME 3, it’s hard for me to express how I feel about it. Let’s see if I can summarize it:

  • There are too many things that move around the screen. Things go from the window view, which shows almost nothing but the window you’re actively using, to the activities view, which shows everything at once. And I mean everything, every workspace, every window, every running application, every recently used document, directories, and search. And those things were all designed to move and live and grow as you use your computer, which means things are shifting around a lot.
  • It forces a new workflow on users that doesn’t appear to be better than another workflow. This may not be a bad thing. Haiku kind of enforces a new workflow, but I quickly learned to like it. With GNOME 3, I have no idea how the new workflow is supposed to benefit me. Which leads to:
  • How will they train people? When GNOME 3 is released, the new design may be great for many many people, but they need to learn how to use it before they can benefit from it.
  • It requires accelerated graphics.

GNOME 3 hasn’t been released yet, and my opinion will probably change. I hope the GNOME developers know what they’re doing, because I sure don’t know what they’re doing.


I’m very unhappy with the situation of icons in Linux.

When I started using Linux around ten years ago, it seemed like every application had it’s own way of adding an application icon. Nowadays, it seems like most applications use the standard method, but a few don’t, or something. I don’t know. All I know is, I always end up with a few applications that have icons that either look horribly out of place or simply just don’t exist.

Haiku is another open source operating system. It has beautiful icons compared to any other operating system, and I think there are a few reasons for that:

  1. The one and only Haiku API encourages software developers to use the official method of adding an application icon.
  2. All of the other icons in Haiku look so nice that, if you don’t make a beautiful icon for your application, it will stick out like an ugly application icon.
  3. There’s hardly any software for Haiku at the moment.

Anyway, I recently started using the Fluxbox window manager. I chose it because it has a clean and simple user interface, and I can disable all application icons.

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion reactions

Some of the features of the upcoming Mac OS X 10.7 Lion were announced today. I am very disappointed in the changes Apple is making to the OS and the UI.

I used to really like Mac OS X, but in recent years I have been liking it less and less. I don’t actually use Mac OS X, except when I visit my mom and use her iMac with version 10.3 on it. Even so, I like to follow its development.

It’s been hard for me to describe, but I think today’s announcement finally made it clear to me. I think the original idea of Mac OS X is wonderful. There is a windowing UI with lots of drag and drop. It has great default settings and appearances. There is pretty much one way to do everything: UI is Aqua, software installation is drag and drop, and so on.

What I mainly don’t like about recent versions of Mac OS X is the “layers”. Apple keeps adding layers and layers to the UI, and it looks like a mess to me. Spotlight adds search to the desktop which should be in the file manager. Dashboard adds a literal extra layer of tiny applications that run on top of your other applications. Time Machine “takes over” your entire desktop with a space theme. That springy thing in the dock is the “answer” to having too many icons down there, and it isn’t even consistent in appearance with itself all the time. Newly announced features include super-fullscreen mode for some applications that breaks the established window model, a new method of cycling through open applications (while leaving the old methods), and a new screen to store and launch applications from. It all looks very nice and flashy and like a load of crap to me. You see this screenshot from the Mac OS X early public beta? It looks fabulous. I wish it still looked like this.

Another thing I greatly dislike is the tendency for applications to do everything. iTunes, the music player, now plays movies, stores mobile applications, and includes a store. iPhoto, the image viewer, connects to Facebook and can send emails. Garageband, the music writing software, now teaches you how to play an instrument.

Lastly, the “transition” from Aqua to brushed metal is terrible in my opinion. The UI doesn’t look nearly as nice and consistent as it used to.

My general feeling after hearing about the updates was for how grateful I am for Haiku. I started using Haiku because it was free and open source software and it was unified like Mac OS X. Now I’m thinking Haiku is a better Mac OS X than Mac OS X.

Somebody already made that!

I wanna write an application for Haiku, but every time I think of something to make and begin writing down ideas for it, I find out it already exists!

I was all excited to start working on a personal finance and budget application when I found out about BeFinancial. Recently it’s even been released as open source software.

With Linux I think of it as normal to have many different applications that have very similar functionality, but with Haiku that just doesn’t seem to happen as much. Reasons that happen with Linux include:

Different toolkits – On Linux there is GTK+, Qt, FLTK, Fox, GNUStep, and on and on. On Haiku there is one standard toolkit.

GUI vs CLI – Haiku was designed from the beginning to have a fast and easy GUI, although it is still simple to a terminal window with BASH.

Heavy vs light – Haiku applications feel fast and light, even when they are “heavy”. Haiku applications are written to use functionality provided elsewhere as much as possible. For example, emails are saved simply as files in a folder.

Maybe I should think simpler. Maybe I should think, “What do I want to use my computer for that could be made easier and faster by having a special application?”

Stable, pretty, convenient GUI

No matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to find a simple, nicely pre-configured graphical user interface for Linux.

I’m used to spending a lot of time setting up things on Linux. I’ve done it for years. It’s been a fun hobby. I remember the first time I started using my mom’s new iMac, many years ago. I remember thinking it was so boring. There was nothing to setup or configure. It didn’t bother me, though, because I thought the default configuration and appearance was really nice.

I want something like that for Linux. I want a GUI that:

…has attractive default settings.

…includes complete window management functionality.

…has only one way to do everything.

…requires little configuration and maintenance.

…does not look like Windows 95.

I really want to like KDE.The recent 4.5 release behaves a little strangely with my video card, but it works. I’ll probably stick with it for now.

I’m also a big fan of Window Maker, but I always end up “using” it too much instead of “doing” stuff with it.

As for other operating systems, Haiku meets the requirements of the kind of GUI I’m looking for. Maybe instead of trying to find the perfect GUI in Linux, it would be easier to write all of the software I need for Haiku and use that.