The Linux Desktop Beauty Pageant, Round Eleventy

Well the Fourth of July may have come and gone for another year here in the Land of Stars and Stripes, but for Linux fans, every day is Independence Day.

Freedom from the dictates of a few giant software behemoths is what we celebrate each and every time we use our computers, as well as the world of choice that comes along with that freedom.

Yes indeed, we’re free to choose the operating system we like best, free to tailor it as we see fit, free to customize it with our favorite desktop environments — and, as longtime Linux advocate Ken Starks demonstrates every day, we’re free to use Linux to help improve the lives of others.

In Search of Scrap RAM

Starks is no stranger on the pages of the Linux Blog Safari, of course, and recently he reached out to Linux Girl with a request. Specifically, Starks’ Reglue project, which focuses on equipping underprivileged kids with refurbished and Linux-powered PCs, is now looking for old or unused RAM and other small components to be traded in as scrap for much-needed funds.

Linux Girl

“If you happen to be in the position to do so, we would appreciate you shipping us your old or unused RAM or other small components,” Starks wrote in a recent blog post on the topic. “It stands to help us raise badly-needed funding for Reglue and possibly give you some space for other stuff. We will gladly supply you with a tax receipt.”

So, Linux geeks and FOSS fans: It’s time to clear out those closets and storage rooms and bombard Reglue with your unused equipment! Hard to imagine a much better cause.

‘Desktop Bling or CLI?’

Of course, there’s freedom to help others with Linux, but perhaps equally valuable to many in the Linux community is the freedom to bicker about the OS.

Case in point? “Desktop Wars,” the topic of the latest TuxRadar Open Ballot poll.

“What’s your favorite desktop environment for Linux?” the TuxRadar mavens wrote recently.

“Are you using the latest GNOME 3 or a kustomised KDE?” they went on. “Do you like desktop bling or a black and white CLI? Do you use a mainstream choice or an esoteric option?”

More than 100 contributions soon deluged the posting’s comments section, giving Linux Girl all the encouragement she needed to raise the topic down at the blogosphere’s seedy Punchy Penguin Saloon once again.

‘I’d Have to Go with Xfce’

“This has been the age-old question for me,” Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone told Linux Girl.

“Right now, I’d have to go with Xfce,” Stone added. “I’ve been using it for a while, and I’ve been loving it. It’s customizable, lightweight, and just flat-out pretty.”

Of course, “ask me this question again next month, and my answer may very well be different,” he said. “I have GNOME 3, Unity, KDE, Xfce, E17, LXde, Cinnamon, Mate and at least one other that’s not coming to mind right now installed on my system.

“That’s one of the greatest things about using Linux,” Stone pointed out. “The superficial stuff can change easily without sacrificing your apps, files, or the underlying stability of the operating system itself.”

‘Just Enough Graphic Effects’

Similarly, “Xfce is still my favorite,” agreed consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack. “It’s lightweight, taking few system resources, yet has just enough graphic effects to make the whole thing pleasing to look at.

“I also enjoy their tendency to make small changes rather thanbig ones, and I find that things like USB mounting tends to work evenbetter than some more popular desktops,” Mack added.

In addition, “I find it interesting that Xfce 4-terminal has features such as per-tab titles that really make my life easier but even heavier-weight terminals lack support for it,” he said.

‘Exactly What I Need and No More’

Blogger Robert Pogson took a similar view.

“Xfce 4 does exactly what I need and no more,” Pogson told Linux Girl. “I have plug-ins to give me the local weather; I have icons to activate my favorite applications; and I have a set that start on login. Of course, I rarely log in because I can hibernate the Beast.

“I use three virtual desktops for particular uses, so Xfce 4 is really three desktop environments for me,” Pogson added. “What more could I want? I have a PC and a network to get things done, not to look pretty and agile.”

Indeed, “this discussion should be settled by looking at why we have operating systems at all,” he suggested.

‘We Don’t Need That in FLOSS’

“I am old enough to remember ‘standalone’ programs which used to do everything from serving interrupts to interacting with users,” Pogson explained. “They were terribly limiting, so the operating system was invented. The operating system should manage the hardware resources for a user and whatever applications he/she chooses to run.”

Now, “imagine the trash that’s been added since then: rounded corners, wobbly windows, fades, transparency, searching for applications instead of clicking on icons,” Pogson mused. “These are indeed the MIPS-eating applications that M$ was seeking more than a decade ago to cause PCs to slow so that newer machines would be bought to top up M$’s licensing pail.

“We don’t need that in FLOSS,” he concluded. “Our users should be free to get the performance they want from their hardware, not to suffer if their hardware is not recent. Xfce 4 works for me, giving me and my applications the lion’s share of resources.”

‘You Stick with It’

Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien had a different preference.

“I’ve been a KDE user ever since my first Mandrake installation, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth,” O’Brien told Linux Girl.

“These days I run Kubuntu, but I have also played around with OpenSUSE and Fedora, both with KDE,” he added. “When something works for you, you stick with it.”

‘Just Feels Like *nix’

For Google+ blogger Brett Legree, the answer depends on the hardware, he told Linux Girl.

“For a laptop between 11 and 15 inches, I would gravitate towards stock GNOME,” he offered. “Something about GNOME’s design appeals to my eye.”

On a larger panel with a more powerful workstation, on the other hand, “crazy as it sounds, I’d go for something like Window Maker,” Legree said. “Window Maker was the first Linux graphical shell that caught my eye way back when at a local LUG meeting — I’m an old NeXTSTEP fan and I was immediately drawn to it.”

Something about it “just feels like *nix to me,” Legree explained. “Fast, clean and stays out of my way.”

Finally, for a less capable machine, Legree chooses awesome.

“It uses practically nothing, works with just the keyboard and yet it still looks ‘awesome’ in a minimalist way,” he concluded. “I could actually use awesome on any machine, to be honest — dynamic window management is great once you start using it.”

‘Like a Widget Factory Exploded’

Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza has no favorite desktop environment, he told Linux Girl.

“I found Cinnamon unreliable, KDE still looks like a widget factory exploded, GNOME is castrated, LXDE limited and Unity loses features every time I run it,” he explained.

“I’m about an inch away from just keeping a shell open to launch things and going back to fvwm,” Espinoza concluded.

‘The ‘Touch UI for All’ Kool-Aid’

Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol, on the other hand, prefers to focus on window managers.

“The problem with desktop environments is that the developers are all drinking the ‘touch UI for all’ kool-aid, limiting the choices of the user for a traditional desktop,” Ebersol explained.

“That’s why I’m fond of OpenBox (which can be used to build beautiful desktops), IceWM (yeah, old but gold) and, as a complete DE, E17, which matured into a very beautiful, light and functional desktop.”

‘A Billion Reinventions’

Last but not least, Slashdot blogger hairyfeet wasn’t even sure the debate is worth having.

“This is yet another example of arguing over where the deck chairs are while the boat sinks,” hairyfeet told Linux Girl. “I mean, has nobody read that study where too much choice is just as bad as not enough?”

With Linux “it is a thousand times worse as you have VERY limited resources, but instead of everybody rallying around just a handful, say KDE and GNOME, desktop/laptop, mobile/tablet, and server, you have a billion reinventions of the same wheels over and over AND OVER,” he explained.

‘Quit Quibbling’

“Can you imagine how far Linux would have come if everybody had poured their heart and soul into just the few I named?” hairyfeet went on. “Apple and MSFT wouldn’t have had a prayer, everything would be so polished and smooth; instead, you click on help and find a “to do” placeholder, and you have KDE and GNOME and Cinnamon and KDE Classic and E17 and on and on and on.

“I mean, how bloody sad is it when MSFT puts out the most hated OS since WinME, answers every complaint with the middle finger and telling customers ‘deal with it,’ and even with all that Windows 8 had more users in six months than Linux has had over 20 years?” he suggested.

“Good grief, guys,” hairyfeet concluded. “Quit quibbling over stupid stuff, quit making a fork every other day so that Distrowatch looks longer than a list of countries, get your heads out of your collective rears and compete already.”

Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered ECT News Editor by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

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