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GNOME Do Launcher Starts Apps on the Right Foot

By Jack M. Germain
Aug 4, 2010 5:00 AM PT

I have a problem with Linux! It has too many cool ways to navigate the desktop and launch programs. I fell in love with the really awesome GNOME Do recently and started a feud with my other computing personas. One relishes the panel, and another is enamored with the desktop draped in icons of my always-used programs.

GNOME Do Launcher Starts Apps on the Right Foot

(click image to enlarge)

The desktop icons fetish is a carry over from my earlier Microsoft Windows daze. It's easy to set up in Ubuntu Linux and similar distros with a right-click from the applications' menu. Launching apps from desktop icons is hard-wired into Puppy Linux.

The launch panel infatuation comes from my first exposure to the Linux OS. I use four or more workspaces (virtual desktops) to segregate related project apps onto the same screen. Desktop icons are quick and available for launching an app in a virgin workspace. Clicking an icon in the panel eliminates having to find the desktop when open windows hide its icons.

My launch-lover's quarrel is far from over. Until now the desktop icons and the panel icons complemented each other. But the GNOME Do interface is radically different. It needs no shared usefulness with my other two launcher heartthrobs.

Even worse, GNOME Do comes with a BFF (Best Friends Forever) option called "Docky." Together, they bring an entirely new look and feel to living in Linux.

Putting Do in GNOME

GNOME Do is an app launcher, program switcher and file-searching tool wrapped into one really cool interface. Depending on what options you select, it can do even more. For instance, you can right-click to run, play, chat, etc.

Use Do (the app's nickname by admirers) to quickly run applications, find Evolution contacts and Firefox bookmarks, locate files, artists and albums in Rhythmbox or IM buddies in Pidgin. You also can open a new email window for a name entered from your address book.

Do not let its name fool you. If you run other desktop environments like KDE, you can still use GNOME Do. This baby is a kin to the Mac OS X's Quicksilver and the GNOME Launch box.

GNOME Do is plug-in-based. It comes preset with a handful of plug-in helpers already engaged. Scrolling through the Plug-in tab under the Preferences option presents a hefty list of more cool stuff.

Do Basics

GNOME Do's basic interface opens a small window in the center of the screen over whatever program is already there. To bring up this search window, just click the GNOME Do icon in the notification area on the desktop. Another option is to press the Super or Windows key and the space bar simultaneously.

Type a letter to bring up an alphabetized menu of corresponding apps and related search items. Or type the first few letters of an app you want to run. The results appear in a window under GNOME Do's splash screen.

Scroll through the listing with the arrow keys and press the Enter key to launch your desired app or open the listed file in its associated program. Using Do is quick and simple.

Theme Choices

Do comes with several appearance settings that blend in nicely with the various Linux desktop themes. Choose from Classic, Mini, Glassy or Nouveau.

At one point in GNOME Do's growth, its developers mated the interface with what is also a stand-alone launch app called "Docky." This is now another theme choice in Do.

If you run the Docky option, you can place the docking bar at the top or the bottom of your screen. You can hide it or not as well as scale its size and animations.

With and Without

Using the Docky theme adds a much different atmosphere than the other themes. It gives the interface a much more functional look and feel.

In fact, you can install the stand-alone version of Docky from here and bypass the features found in GNOME Do.

But you get so much more usefulness from the combination. So it does not make much sense to choose one over the other. Perhaps that was the rationale GNOME Do's developers had in mind when they merged the two separate apps.

Mac-Like Docking

That is what the Docky component brings to GNOME Do and the Linux desktop. It is pretty nifty.

Other Linux apps attempt the recreate the functionality of the Mac OS X dock bar. Even Microsoft Windows 7 tried to put more Mac-like pizazz in its latest rendition of the Windows program bar.

But none of these efforts pulls it off as nicely as Docky does. It provides configurable dock space. As you traverse the pointer over the icons on the bar, the icons raise or magnify above the bar.

Dock Space

Docky remembers what you open. It keeps those selections on the bar. You merely have to click on the icon to switch to that item.

Adding and removing programs could not be easier or more Mac-like. Drag an icon from the desktop or menu list to the dock bar to add a program. Drag an icon from the bar to the trash can icon to remove it. Neither of these actions affects the installed status of the apps on the system.

Much like the OS X dock, GNOME Do's Docky component places application shortcuts on the left and active applications lacking shortcuts on the right. You can add Gnome Do actions to the dock as well. This makes those actions easy to execute.

A dot under a docked icon shows you which applications are active. Even better, Docky bounces the icon for notifications. Right-click an icon to see the windows associated with that application and select other options including minimize, maximize and close all.

Plug-In Playthings

A bevy of plug-ins takes GNOME Do well beyond the confines of just launching apps and opening files or folders. Plug-ins function as task doers to help you quickly post messages to Twitter, look up stock quotes and add appointments to a Google calendar. Much more is available to perform a wide range of other tasks.

Docklets are a special type of plug-in. They provide system monitoring tools similar to what are available in Screenlets. See my review here. For instance, GNOME Do comes with four Docklets for monitoring the battery and CPU activity, providing an app switcher function and viewing weather alerts.

Hovering the mouse pointer over the CPU Docklet, for example, shows basic system details for CPU and memory usage. Clicking on the icon launches (in my case) the Ubuntu System Manager app. Hovering the pointer over the clock face (which is a setup option from Do's preferences) shows the day, date and time. Clicking on the clock icon shows a row of dates for the week.

Some Setbacks

Despite my newfound love for GNOME Do and its Docky theme, the affair is not without some let-downs. I can only hope that a new release will remove the distractions.

One problem I experienced on two laptops and a netbook is that the battery monitor fails to engage. Even though the battery icon shows up on the Docky bar, the icon is grayed out. The label reports that no battery is found. Yet the battery icon in the system notification area reports that the battery is fully charged. I get this response whether the computer is running on AC or battery power.

Another unhappy problem involves the weather docklet. I could not get the icon to appear on the Docky bar at all.

Perhaps the most disconcerting problem with GNOME Do is that it sometimes crashes. When I click on the same particular name in the search window, GNOME Do drops out. I have to restart Do. No other system performance is affected. This problem visited my two desktop computers and my three portables.

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