We’re in for a little “desktop philosophy” today. It’s also going to be all text and no pictures this time.
What does an operating system really need? The answer to this question certainly depends heavily on what you expect it to do. Does it have to come with a graphical desktop environment? Surely not per se, but it can be of great use if it offers one. Does it even have to provide access to hard drives? Again: Not necessarily. Yet it would be severely handicapped without such support!
Text-based vs. graphical
Even today there are many computers running a recent OS but without any GUI. And in fact a text mode user interface is completely sufficient for installation or maintenance e.g. of a server. But most users will expect a graphical UI instead of a text-based one on their home pc for their daily business – which is certainly comprehensible.
Even though the shell is extremely powerful (assuming the user knows it well enough) there simply are tasks where a graphical environment is a lot more convenient to work with. And Eerie is about Linux for desktop use.
Why not simply a full-grown DE?
Most desktop environments today are cramped with “features” that often only few people really use. Just have a look at KDE plasma. Do you like what you see? It’s alright if you do (and each of your pcs offers what this resource-hungry DE demands). However many people are not interested in eye-candy and other fancy stuff but in fact prefer to turn it off. I’m one of those.
Also not everybody has the money to buy a new pc every few years (or simply does not want to do so). Or think of the people who have several pcs among which are rather old ones, too.
An “elementary” desktop?
There are many reasons why one would use a desktop environment that’s not top full loaded with unnecessary ballast. Of course bare X11 may already be good enough for some users: It’s sufficient if you just want several terminals on your screen and perhaps a few simple applications. Adding their favorite WM is actually enough for a surprisingly high amount of people. Many window managers are fairly customizable and offer a lot of functionality.
But if it has to be a “real” desktop environment – what does an elementary desktop need to provide? What are fundamental necessities, what basic functions?
I guess, this is even harder to decide in times where big companies think that it’s a good idea to offer strange DEs. DEs for desktop pcs that clearly show that they were made with handheld devices in mind.
All the so-called “innovative” or “modern” solutions aside, a desktop environment usually offers (at least) a fixed menu of some sort or another and some kind of panel where you can switch between your running applications.
Does your ‘elementary’ translate to minimalism?
To give the answer straight away: No. A minimalistic approach to operating systems is often exciting, informative and fun. However the result will be far from what but a few people might actually use. What’s a better term then? I thought about it for a moment. Among often used catchphrases, there’s “purism”, too. Purism is certainly closer to usability and can still be fairly minimalistic.
But those -ism words are problematic in general. What’s the opposite of purism for example? “Opulentism”? Maybe that’s not such a bad word for it, after all. But these things are hard to grasp.
Back to minimalism. Is “maximalism” just its opposite? Certainly not! It’s actually a bit confusing as they are both antonyms and at the same time rather close to each other… Minimalism as I understand it, means to get things running with as few features as necessary and perhaps as little drive space needed as possible, etc. Maximalism on the other hand should not mean to do things as bloated and resource-wasting as possible but on the contrary try to get as much as possible out of the valuable system resources. So both minimalism and maximalism are linked by the idea of extreme optimisation.
So what is ‘elementary’?
While I think that the minimalistic way can make a very interesting experiment, I really like the idea of maximalism. But since I’d like to concentrate on older hardware, we’ll explore the “lower reaches of maximalism” with “eerie”. If it can’t be done with an old system and it’s not really needed: cut it from the standard installation. But also: Leave it in as an optional component for those who have a better machine and want it! A good system should be customizable or scalable as some people say.
Let’s put it this way: An (ideal) elementary desktop offers every feature that is commonly needed and, while concentrating on these, could easily be extended.
There are several approaches that may apply to how a desktop system can be built. Eerie aims for an elementary approach being somewhat minimalistic (by putting its focus on what is really needed) but without losing sight of the possibilities to add more features.
The next entry will describe what the second ‘e’ and the ‘r’ stand for. It will also begin a comparison of several Linux desktop environments.