An interview with the EDE developer

It’s summer solstice today and thus the longest day of the year. I promised something special and here it is: Sanel Zukan, the man behind the Equinox Desktop Environment (EDE) agreed to give me an interview (or to answer a few questions if you will).

If you’re not familiar with EDE, I tried to summarize it up for you before the interview.

EDE in short

What is EDE? It is a full DE you might not even have heard of despite it being one of the older *nix desktop environments. Of course it’s older than Unity, MATE, Razor-qt and the likes. But it is also older than LXDE and – hard to believe – E17! At the same time it’s more light-weight than any of these – including the ones which were created as light-weight alternatives themselves.

Said DE is something special. Where others talk about being light-weight, EDE seriously means it and takes the gloves off. Not making any compromise, it’s the only full DE which is based on FLTK (Fast Light Toolkit), a GUI toolkit which also lives up to its name.

Not being packaged by any major distribution, today EDE is mainly used on older pcs or other systems which are low on resources. It doesn’t provide its own applications for everything nor does it want to. Driven forward more or less by one lone fighter, it surely doesn’t have to hide and fear comparison with other DEs. Taunted as “poor man’s KDE” by some and appreciated as an insider’s tip without all the knick-knack by others it’s just going its way. And if it rightfully deserves one label that would be “No bloat here”. Seriously.

Interview with Sanel Zukan

The following interview was conducted by email.

Please introduce yourself first: Who are you, how old are you and where are you from?

I’m 32, from Sarajevo. By day I’m doing java/python stuff for a small local company and by night I try to hack various OSS projects; of course EDE, too.

Do you have any special interests aside the IT sector you would like to mention here?

Martial arts! 🙂 It is quite challenging to combine IT work with regular training …

For how long have you been using Linux?

Let’s see… For approximately 10 years.

Which is your distribution of choice and why?

Slackware. Because it is simple, lean and very, very stable. I really admire Patrick (Slackware author and maintainer) because he is showing us how a complex project can be and should be maintained.

Is there anything in the Linux or FOSS world you are not really happy with?

The idea to reinvent the wheel all over again. PulseAudio, systemd, gdbus, kdbus, *Kit, are some examples. Instead of improving the current state, those guys focus on rewriting it, making another set of mistakes which brings the full idea back to the beginning: a half balked product.

Also this is quite hard to follow from a developer’s perspective because APIs are changing often; no wonder that developers are going to OS X or *BSD land. This whole way of thinking makes Linux look bad, especially from a novice user’s perspective.

There are more than 15 desktop environments in use in the Linux world. Why did you decide to dedicate your time to EDE?

I like fast, simple and responsive environments without much of bloat that don’t get in your way. Desktops should be invisible and the user should be able to focus on daily tasks more than on desktop effects.

And I like to revive old computers: they are still usable for daily tasks so why to throw them away? Now, the last thing on those computers you want is a desktop that eats all of your memory or cpu power.

What can you tell us about early EDE?

Not much because I’m not familiar with its early history. When I came in, the project was pretty much dead and all original developers had left it. Not sure about the reasons because I never got any reply from them.

What do you think were the most remarkable achievements of versions 1.x?

The project gained some traction and people started to talk about it. One of the reasons for this were regular releases (5-6 months).

Most developers retired from working on EDE. Can you tell us the reason for that? Was it due to technical problems? Real-life issues? Or perhaps the fact that EDE never became popular and remained an underdog to this day?

Maybe a little bit of everything. Working on a desktop isn’t an easy task because there are a lot of pieces involved in it: UI development, low-level stuff, application incompatibilities, etc. Also, doing it in your free time requires dedication.

Do you still have contact with the retired devs and do you know if they still care for EDE (though not actively participating)?

Only with Vedran. Others (except Dejan) never bothered to even reply to my mails.

You took over EDE – and managed to rebuild the DE from scratch with version 2.0. Why did you continue to work on it and did anybody help you? Where did you draw your motivation from?

Sure, there are a lot of people who come and go, give some ideas, fix issues; this project would not be alive without their help that’s for sure. Why do I continue to work on it? Because there is no desktop that satisfies my needs: be simple and stable. And it is fun.

“eFLTK” – can you tell us what that was and why it was created?

eFLTK was a fork of the never-released FLTK 2.0 and it was created with the idea to speed up FLTK 2.0 development and make desktop development easier.

FLTK, following true UNIX philosophy, is a GUI only toolkit and you need much more for a functional desktop environment. That is the main reason I still prefer FLTK over other popular GUI libraries; I’m paying only for what I use.

This modified toolkit was one of the main reasons to start over with 2.0, right?

Yes. Maintaining a desktop and a complex toolkit (eFLTK got a tons of new stuff) isn’t an easy task so we decided to drop it and go on using something with much better support.

Why are you using FLTK? Why not for example FOX (which has its own desktop project that however seems to go nowhere)?

Probably by accident. 🙂 When I started to use and develop for Linux, I didn’t have much experience with UI development, so I searched for something that is easy to pick up, small enough to grasp and have good OpenGL support.

I needed OpenGL because, in that time, I tried to build some level design tool for my pet game.

According to their site, LXDE considered using FLTK as well. In the end it was rejected in favour of GTK+ because it offered too little internationalization support. What about EDE in this regard?

One of the main reasons why we pushed eFLTK for so long is because FLTK 1.1.x, in that time, didn’t have UTF-8 support, which is probably the reason why the LXDE guys ditched it.

Do you use EDE on a daily basis? What other DEs do you like?

Yes. I’m using it on all my computers, including on work; that is why I’m focused on stability so much. It is not good idea to lose all of your daily work because of a bug in the WM or panel.

Other DEs I like? I like Étoilé (http://etoileos.com) because they are doing some really cool stuff; I’m not sure what the current status is because the project looks dead to me, which is quite sad.

Those who followed the development of EDE mostly thought that the project was dead when all of a sudden 2.0 final was released. What had happened?

We (Vedran and I) went silent to focus on 2.0 development and release it as soon as possible. It took some time because there was a lot of work to do, and we did it twice!

To explain this, I need to tell some of FLTK’s history which greatly affected EDE. FLTK project had two main branches, stable 1.1.x and 2.0.

FLTK 2.0 promised a lot of new and shiny things, like namespace support, UTF-8, advanced X stuff (RandR, Render and etc.). EDE initially started to use FLTK 2.0 (even before I joined) which was forked at some point and eFLTK created.

After some talk with the FLTK 2.0 devs, they promised us to make a release soon; we ditched eFLTK, started to rewrite EDE in FLTK 2.0 and started to contribute to that toolkit.

Unfortunately that library (as if it was cursed) never got released. I got really mad and rewrote everything (with Vedran’s help) again in FLTK 1.1.x and never regretted it. This should have been done long time ago.

Are you happy with 2.0 in general?

Pretty much.

What about EDE users – do you get a lot of feedback? Are there any features which are often asked for?

Yes; I’m getting more feedback by mail than on the EDE forum, which isn’t good as people new to the project tend to think it is inactive. However, I understand why people sent me the mails: SourceForge forums are extremely bad and they get a reply much faster. 🙂

Main features asked for are more configuration support, a file manager and support for internationalization. Funny thing: no one ever asked for compositing or blinky blinky stuff.

EDE 2.1 is on its way and might be available soon. What new features can EDE users expect from it?

More stability, more speed and tons of little improvements including full panel configuration.

Let’s talk about the future. What are your plans for EDE after 2.1? What is your “goal” with EDE?

Truth to be told, after the 2.0 rewrite I learned not to do any big changes anymore but small incremental ones instead. So after 2.1 I’m planning to add a File Manager, fix remaining bugs and add more DBus support.

Ultimate goal? I really like and admire Smalltalk environments (like Pharo) where you can change, adapt or remove programmatically any part of it. I would like to add some of those things in EDE but it will be quite challenging, because Pharo is powered by Smalltalk and EDE is done in C++ which isn’t suited for runtime dynamism. That is why I added a Scheme interpreter and plan to use it more often in the future.

A little statistics: How many daily hits does the project homepage currently have in average?

Huh not sure; the last time I checked EDE had ~5000 hits per hour; now if half of that are bots, the stats aren’t bad considering the last release was a year ago and the project isn’t mentioned much in the media.

However, there are very big peeks each time a new version is released.

What do you think are the reasons for EDE to be still quite unknown among Linux users despite existing for more than 10 years? How to change this fact?

Probably a few things:

1) lack of frequent, predictable releases
2) more advertizing
3) support from a big company

If you remember, LXDE gained wide traction when RedHat created a Fedora spin for LXDE.

There’s also the FLTK applications project – but it hasn’t really released anything, yet. Do you know anything about that or about any FLTK applications in the making?

Not much. It was probably some attempt to document and collect popular applications, but never got significant traction. Probably one of the reasons is that more people develop commercial applications with FLTK, because it still has a quite liberal license.

You awake at night, a strange light surrounding you. The good FOSS fairy is floating in the air before you! She can do absolutely everything FOSS related; whether it’s doxygen with zero dependencies, FLTK 2 revived and actively developed or something a little less unlikely. 😉 She grants you three wishes!

LOL. Well:

1) Live kernel update
2) File system with good snapshot and history support (like ZFS)
3) Webkit with FLTK backend

Ok, back to serious. A coder with some time on his hands is searching for a new project. He stumbles over EDE and likes it. If he asked you how he could help with it what would you advice him to do?

He could try to fix things he don’t like or create applications he would like to see. I’m always open to ideas and ready to give some guidance.

Which FLTK application that was never made do you miss the most?

Webkit with an FLTK backend. There was some project a long time ago including even a screenshot, but author never made any code public.

Why was EDE’s own WM replaced with PekWM? What are your plans for the future of the WM used in EDE?

To speed up the release. Developing a WM from the scrach, or porting it to another toolkit, is quite time-consuming so I used pekwm as temporal replacement. There are plans to replace it, but I’m not thinking about it right now, because there are more important things to be done, like the file manager.

Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer these questions – and of course for EDE! I wish you success with your further work on it.

What’s next?

My next blog entry will be about EERIE turning 1 year old and about what has been accomplished so far.

Winter solstice, Equinox and Hardware

Dear readers! Since you are reading this, the world has not ceased to exist. *g*

As you have probably noticed, things are a little slow right now… This is due to the fact that I had a hardware failure of my main PC. I didn’t lose any data, so it’s actually not too bad. However it struck me in not at the best time either. I’m going to move houses in late January and therefore I won’t have much time to work on EERIE in early 2013 (probably I won’t even have any internet connection for a while in February). Because of that I would have liked to make a few posts this December – but that obviously didn’t work.

This little post is just to keep you updated. I’ve neither grown tired of EERIE nor did I cancel the project. It will continue sooner or later!

In other news: It was Winter solstice yesterday, the longest night of the year is over. Quite fitting to that astrological theme, the first packages of the Equinox Desktop Environment (EDE) were released, too. This light-weight desktop is available for Arch Linux now without any compiling. Hopefully more distros get supported sooner or later!

And since ELDER (the upcoming experimental distribution) will be following a Nordic / Viking theme, too, here’s a burning sun wheel for you:

“Victory of the light!”

DDD #3: Advanced Live-CD/DVD creation

In post 19 (Creating an Arch Live-CD) I blogged about building a simple Live-CD on Arch Linux. It was the summary of my first attempts relating to that topic. In the meantime I created another ISO and published it as a first preview of my “Desktop Demo DVD” project in post 21 (The Desktop Demo DVD).

This new entry will describe how my “DDD” was built (and thus how you add things like a graphical login manager and add users to a live medium).

Preparations

First I create a new virtual machine to keep things clean and tidy and then build and install the archiso tool. Next is building AUR packages edelib and ede as well as creating a custom repo for them. (I won’t repeat it in detail here. You can look up both things in post #19 if you wish).

Configuring archiso

Just like in my previous building attempt, it’s necessary to create a new directory and copy over the “releng” dir from archiso. After that the various steps at configuring the iso can be taken.

Packages

The first thing to do is adding the right packages to the file packages.i686. Since we want a graphical environment, it’s a good idea to have xorg-server installed (we’re going to use a graphical login manager this time, so we can do without xorg-xinit).

Since the system is meant to run on about every hardware, X11 needs the proper graphic drivers. You may want to look for all xf86-video-* packages and add them. The only issue with that was that the openchrome and unichrome drivers were conflicting, but later (and older) one has been removed from the “extra” repository recently. Whatever you do, be sure to leave xf86-video-vesa in there – that’s the fallback driver that will work on most machines even if none of the others does (which is pretty rare however). Also it might be a good idea to add xf86-input-evdev just to make sure, you can use e.g. your keyboard in X. Adding virtualbox-guest-modules, too, will let X.org use the appropriate driver if running inside a VirtualBox VM.

Next I added the desktop environments that I wanted to be available. I chose mate (remember to add the additional repos for it and ede!), xfce4, lxde and e-svn as well as libxpm (needed by ede) and the packages edelib and ede. Finally the display manager lxdm is added as well.

Display manager

Thanks to systemd, much of the wiki page about archiso is outdated and no longer of any use. This is the case e.g. when it comes to starting the display manager automatically after booting. It suggests using an inittab and we could actually do so and use a sysVinit compatibility package as well. However it was already announced that this would be dropped in the forseeable future so it’s best to do things the proper way right from the beginning.

LXDM comes with its own service file for usage with systemd. So the default command to configure the system for starting it after booting is systemctl enable lxdm.service. However this will of course not work in our case: First we don’t even have LXDM installed on building system and second – even if we had – enabling it there would not affect the live system. However for that reason there’s a folder called root image where we can make changes that will affect it!

So what does the above command really do? No more actually than creating a softlink! Of course we can do that by hand, too. Let’s change our PWD (present working directory) to /root/archlive/releng/root-image/etc/systemd/system. Now let’s create the proper link, shall we? The command for that is ln -s /usr/lib/systemd/system/lxdm.service display-manager.service.

Next step is creating a new directory (that is normally created when LXDM is installed): mkdir ../../lxdm and then I change into that dir. Afterwards I install lxdm on my build system and copy its configuration file into the new dir: cp /etc/lxdm/lxdm.conf . (if you’ve got LXDM installed on any other system, you can of course also copy it from there). Now it’s time to edit lxdm.conf: I simply add user “arch” to the blacklist (right at the end of the default configuration file). It’s a user automatically created by the install scripts and I have not yet looked into how to prevent its creation. For that reason I decided to just block it there so that it’s not offered by LXDM.

Adding a user

This step is important since we disabled the user “arch” and cannot log in as “root”. The solution suggested for this on the Arch wiki is simply copying over the files passwd, shadow and group (all located in /etc) from a system set up the way we want it. This is actually a fine way and since we’re using virtual machines anyway, it does not hurt to simply clone one, adding the desired user (“desktopdemodvd” in my case) there and copying said files over to root-img/etc on our building VM (using a USB device is probably the most confortable way).

That was the easy part. Many DEs will however not work if there’s no proper /home/$username directory present. We could of course create one in root-image/home, but that would be owned by root on our live system so that’s not quite what we want. Again the wiki is outdated (while I’m at it anyway, I should dedicate some love to it when I’m done here, I guess). We want to do things the systemd way! So how to do it in this case? Let’s write a new service for it (woah)!

Luckily things are easier than it might look first. Ok, I admit that it took me a few attempts before things finally worked right. But you can save yourself some time and simply copy what I did. Change into the dir root-img/etc/systemd/system again. Now create a new service file – I called mine “autostart.service”. The content of my file is like this:

[Unit]
Description=Autostart

[Service]
Type=oneshot
ExecStart=/bin/mkdir /home/desktopdemodvd
ExecStart=/bin/chown desktopdemodvd /home/desktopdemodvd

[Install]
WantedBy=multi-user.target

Note: “ExecStart=/bin/chown desktopdemodvd /home/desktopdemodvd” is one line!

Done configuring

Yes, if I remember correctly, that was all. You should be able to build the iso now.

I don’t know if I did any changes beside these, but this blog entry at least shows two important things: Adding users and using a graphical login manager.

There are of course a lot of things you could customize as well and perhaps I’m going to explore some of these in the future, too. But right now I’m going to wait and see what happens with the “DDD”.

What’s next?

My next post will deal with what should be considered essential graphical applications – and afterwards we’re getting back into the world of toolkits.

DDD #2: The “Desktop Demo DVD”!

In the last entry I discussed the situation of Linux desktop environments in general and how it encourages taking various less-known DEs into account for your system, too. Now it’s time to talk about the first alpha version of the actual DDD!

If you just want to download it, have a look here.

The idea behind the DDD

There are four reasons why I decided to create the “DDD”:

  1. Because I found out that there are many Linux users today who would like to know more about alternative DEs
  2. Because I think the less known DEs deserve some publicity
  3. Not every DE can be installed easily on each distro and thus it can take a lot of time and effort to try them out
  4. Because I’m interested in different DEs and building “DDD” is another informative thing

The version I release today is just a little preview. But before I describe what 0.1 includes right now, I’d like to share my vision of what DDD 1.0 should be.

Vision

  • A perfect Desktop Demo DVD should come with all available desktop environments the Linux world has to offer.
  • If possible it should also showcase some default applications of the particular DE which are not in the menus of the other ones so things don’t get confusing.
    (I think that this can be done with the desktop files or probably by other means.)
  • Localization at least for the most common languages.
    (Better: As much languages supported as possible.)
  • Only list the real DEs in the display manager (and not probably confusing variants with different WMs).
  • A short html tutorial which helps the users to discover the most important features of the various DEs could be very beneficial.
  • Some nice artwork would be great, too.
  • A few other “cosmetics”.

Desktop Demo DVD

This project is to provide an ISO file that can be downloaded and used in either a virtual machine or burned to a disk and then used with real hardware. It is meant to showcase the various DEs that work with Linux and thus give anybody interested the oportunity to quickly take a look at them without all the hassle (i.e. finding out that they even exist, often building them yourself, getting them to run on your distro, etc.).

You can download version 0.1 of it from Bitshare.

If you want to check the integrity of the downloaded file, you can just put this into a new file and use md5sum:

f9d57debb8d83cba46f4dada042133a5 desktop_demo_dvd_0.1.iso

As you would guess when you read the version number, this release is mearly a first attempt. Right now it fits on a CD but that’s going to change. I’ll try to improve DDD if I find time for it and then release a second version.

Currently it provides a graphical login (using lxdm) and comes with as much as 5 DEs:

  • MATE
  • Xfce
  • LXDE
  • Enlightenment 17
  • Equinox DE

Using the DDD

If all goes well you should be greeted by the graphical login manager LXDM after startup. First open the list of available desktop environments (if you don’t change anything, LXDE will be started as default). To do so, click on the list to open it.

Graphical login: First step

Now select which one to start and then click on the user “desktopdemodvd”.

Graphical login: Second step

The password for the primary user desktopdemodvd is simply ddd. Enter it and then press the return key.

Graphical login: Last step

That’s it! The DE you selected from the list should be starting.

Issues with version 0.1

There are a few issues I didn’t find a solution for yet, but I didn’t want to postpone things again for an even longer delay. Probably the worst thing is performance: Even when using the ISO in a virtual machine on a fast PC it takes quite a while until the DEs finish loading. Please be patient. Because of that I can’t recommend burning it and using a disk. Also for some reason loging out of E-17 does not work.

Please report other problems, make suggestions and give feedback of any kind. I’d very much appreciate it!

What’s next?

I can’t promise when (or if!) a new DDD version will be released. The next post will be about the technical side of it and describe how to build an extended Arch live-cd including users other than root and with a graphical login (display manager).

Linux desktop comparison summary – 20 solutions for your desktop!

Our first Linux desktop comparison is over. I took a look at quite some projects during the last weeks. 20 of those (including modes that are behaving differently) proved to be full DEs which should be covered by a broadscale test.

Some others, like UDE for example, had to be skipped. While it does have a very interesting concept, it’s not currently a DE but only offers a window manager (despite the name “Unix Desktop Environment”). In the end 18 DEs were actually tested (I failed to get the other two to run on Arch).

Problems

Comparing DEs over the time of several weeks on a rolling release system might not really wield the best results. I also wanted to add something new to this post so that it’s not just a boring summary for those who have read the past entries. Therefore I decided to add the size of the packages that are downloaded to install the DE, too. After all network traffic can still be an issue for some people. Well, and for some DEs new versions have been released in the meantime and I’d feel stupid to write a new entry by just warming up old stuff.

For these reasons I repeated most of the tests last Monday and Tuesday and use the new values here (which sometimes make a huge difference!). Only CDE uses the old package; I was able to build a current package but did not succeed in making the DE start. Unity2d is now obsolete just like the old GNOME 2 (which I essentially added so that MATE can be compared to it, anyway).

Overall Ranking

I’ll begin with the overall rating here since that’s the most important thing. I’ve compared all DEs in terms of 1. memory consumption (most important for me and thus weighted *3), 2. disk space used (weighted *2) and 3. size of packages to download. So, here’s the result:

Rank DE Version
01 OpenCDE 620
02 Equinox DE 2 2.0
03 CDE 2.2.0a/b
04 LXDE 0.5.x
05 ROX DE 0.41.0
06 Enlightenment 17 svn-75246
07 Razor-Qt 0.4.1
08 Xfce 4.10.0
09 Sugar 0.94.1
10 MATE DE 1.4
11 Cinnamon UI 1.5.7
12 GNOME 3 Classic 3.4.2
13 GNOME 3 Shell 3.4.2
14 Trinity DE 3.5.13
15 Unity 3D 6.4.0
16 KDE Plasma 4.9.0

RAM usage

Here’s the table that compares memory usage of the tested DEs:

<101 MB 101 – 200 MB 201 – 300 MB >300 MB
obsolete not working
Rank DE Version Memory usage
00 Arch Linux 08/2012 37 MB
00 X11, VBoxadds, xterm 08/2012 54 MB
01 OpenCDE 620 57 MB
02 Equinox DE 2 2.0 71 MB
03 CDE 2.2.0a 72 MB
04 ROX DE 0.41.0 72 MB
05 LXDE 0.5.x 83 MB
06 Enlightenment 17 svn-75246 97 MB
07 Xfce 4.10.0 104 MB
08 Razor-Qt 0.4.1 117 MB
09 Sugar 0.94.1 122 MB
10 GNOME 2 2.32 137 MB
11 MATE DE 1.4 139 MB
12 Trinity DE 3.5.13 202 MB
13 GNOME 3 Classic 3.4.2 211 MB
14 Cinnamon UI 1.5.7 224 MB
15 GNOME Shell 3.4.2 253 MB
16 Unity 3D 6.4.0 312 MB
17 KDE Plasma 4.9.0 354 MB
18 Unity 2D 6.0.0 404 MB
xx Ètoilè 0.4.2 ??
xx Mezzo ?? ??

Drive space needed

Here’s the next table:

<301 MB 301 – 600 MB 601 – 1.2 GB >1.2 GB
obsolete not working
Rank DE Version Disk space used
00 Arch Linux 08/2012 561 MB
00 X11, VBoxadds, xterm 08/2012 +68 MB
01 OpenCDE 620 +83 MB
02 Equinox DE 2 2.0 +174 MB
03 CDE 2.2.0b +192 MB
04 Razor-Qt 0.4.1 +226 MB
05 LXDE 0.5.x +325 MB
06 Enlightenment 17 svn-75246 +340 MB
07 ROX DE 0.41.0 +497 MB
08 Xfce 4.10.0 +559 MB
09 Sugar 0.94.1 +604 MB
10 GNOME 2 2.32 +630 MB
11 MATE DE 1.4 +675 MB
12 Cinnamon UI 1.5.7 +947 MB
13 GNOME Shell 3.4.2 +1023 MB
14 GNOME 3 Classic 3.4.2 +1023 MB
15 Unity 3D 6.4.0 +1121 MB
16 KDE Plasma 4.9.0 +1232 MB
17 Trinity DE 3.5.13 +2098 MB
18 Unity 2D 6.0.0 ??
xx Ètoilè 0.4.2 ??
xx Mezzo ?? ??

Download size

And here’s the last one:

<51 MB 51 – 100 MB 101 – 200 MB >200 MB
Rank DE Version size default / max
00 Arch Linux 08/2012 123 MB
00 X11, VBoxadds, xterm 08/2012 +15 MB
01 OpenCDE 620 +19 MB
02 Equinox DE 2 2.0 +38 MB
03 CDE 2.2.0b +49 MB
04 Razor-Qt 0.4.1 +53 MB
04 LXDE 0.5.x +53 MB
05 ROX DE 0.41.0 +75 MB
05 Enlightenment 17 svn-75246 +75 MB
06 Xfce 4.10.0 +82 / 99 MB
07 Sugar 0.94.1 +89 MB
08 MATE DE 1.4 +119 /169 MB
09 Cinnamon UI 1.5.7 +147 / 347 MB
10 Unity 3D 6.4.0 +163 /302 MB
11 GNOME 3 Shell 3.4.2 +167 / 366 MB
11 GNOME 3 Classic 3.4.2 +167 / 366 MB
12 KDE Plasma 4.9.0 +306 / 774 MB
13 Trinity DE 3.5.13 +485 MB

Conclusion

The most light-weight DE tested is OpenCDE, based upon Motif. The second best is Equinox DE using FLTK as its toolkit. The lightest GTK+-based DE is LXDE, ranked No. 5 and the lightest Qt one Razor-Qt which scored rank 7. So these will be the candidates to examine closer in a future testing series.

What’s next?

The next entry will deal with what Eerie’s last two letters stand for.

Linux desktop comparison (pt. 5): Exotic DEs

This is the final part of our desktop testing series. We’ll deal with the rather exotic desktop environments in this entry. Most of them are built on top of some unusual toolkits.

These are:

For test criteria and the basic Arch system, please refer to the first part of this test.

OpenCDE

OpenCDE was a project to recreate the proprietary Unix desktop CDE. However the original CDE has been open-sourced recently and OpenCDE is likely to be discontinued since its developers joined the developement of CDE. It is however a very light DE but also quite incomplete.

The OpenCDE desktop

Installation

pacman -S xorg-server xorg-xinit virtualbox-archlinux-additions libxpm
pacman -U opencde-620-4-i686.pkg.tar.xz

Statistics

Memory usage right after starting up OpenCDE (with a second login on tty2) and used disk space after removing pacman cache. Here are the values I got with cat /proc/meminfo and df respectively df -h:

Arch Linux + OpenCDE (620)
MemTotal: 1030652 kb
MemFree: 971424 kb
Buffers: 7348 kb
Cached: 28084 kb
Rootfs: 739756 / 723M
RAM used at startup: 59228 / ~58 MB
Disk space (less basic system): 85468 / ~83 MB

CDE

CDE or “Common Desktop Environment” is the original Unix desktop that was often bundled with retail Unix versions. It was quite innovative in its time but today it shows that the opened source code of the program is really dated (it was last worked on in about 1999). And while this DE is not extremely popular with Linux users, it does have a certain user base and is actively worked on again. It comes with the full load of tools that were part of the DE back then.

The CDE desktop

Installation

pacman -S xorg-server xorg-xinit virtualbox-archlinux-additions
pacman -U ncompress-4.2.4.4-1-any.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U openmotif-2.3.3-archcdepatched-1-i686.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U cde-git-20120828-1-i686.pkg.tar.xz

Statistics

Memory usage right after starting up CDE (with a second login on tty2) and used disk space after removing pacman cache. Here are the values I got with cat /proc/meminfo and df respectively df -h:

Arch Linux + CDE (2.2.0a-alpha)
MemTotal: 1030548 kb
MemFree: 956616 kb
Buffers: 8748 kb
Cached: 34344 kb
Rootfs: 756248 / 739M
RAM used at startup: 73932 / ~72 MB
Disk space (less basic system): 101960 / 100 MB

Equinox DE 2

The Equinox Desktop Environment is the result of a project aiming to create an extremely light-weight DE. It has been around for a while but never got much attention. With version 2.0 released this year the project proved to be alive even though many people thought that it was already dead. This new version is a huge step ahead: EDE 2 is now fully FreeDesktop.org compatible. It just offers a simple DE – no more, no less. A very promising project!

The EDE 2 desktop

Installation

pacman -S xorg-server xorg-xinit virtualbox-archlinux-additions libxpm
pacman -U edelib-2.0.1-1-i686.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U ede-2.0-3-i686.pkg.tar.xz

Statistics

Memory usage right after starting up EDE 2 (with a second login on tty2) and used disk space after removing pacman cache. Here are the values I got with cat /proc/meminfo and df respectively df -h:

Arch Linux + EDE 2 (2.0)
MemTotal: 1030652 kb
MemFree: 959044 kb
Buffers: 8084 kb
Cached: 30896 kb
Rootfs: 832676 / 814M
RAM used at startup: 71608 / ~70 MB
Disk space (less basic system): 178388 / 174 MB

Étoilé

Étoilé aims to be a resource-saving, modular and easy to use DE. It uses the GNUstep toolkit and kind of resembles the Mac OS X style in many aspects. The last stable build is quite old now and the newest versions are not in usable shape right now (not even recommended by the developers). So if you like the idea of this DE, it’s more or less something to keep in mind for the future.

The Étoilé desktop

Installation

I have not been able to compile and install it on a current Arch machine. The screenshot is from a modified Ubuntu version from 2009. It *might* be possible to get the DE to work with a current Arch system, but that would most likely be a lot of work and it surely is far beyond my skills. If anybody is up to that challenge – please tell me! I would be very much interested to get the last stable version 0.4.1 (spring 2009!) working!

Mezzo

Mezzo was a DE that tried to go new ways. It places control icons in all four corners of the screen; system-related items are in the upper left, file-management in the upper right, restarting / shutting down in the lower right and applications in the lower left. It avoids nested menus and tries to abandon the concept “the desktop is a folder”. This innovative DE was developed as part of the now discontinued SymphonyOS and was never really available outside of it.

The Mezzo desktop

Installation

I have not been able to compile and install it on a current Arch machine. The screenshot here is from the 2008 edition of SymphonyOS which was the only one I could still find on the net. There has been a 2011 release as well, but I had no luck finding it. Honestly, I have not even been able to even find the source code for Mezzo, the DE I’m actually interested in. Looks like it’s gone (which is a real shame). Perhaps it’s not gone for good?

Conclusion

We have two DEs that could not be tested this time; Étoilé and Mezzo are interesting projects for sure but not available right now.
OpenCDE is really tiny in every aspect – with less than 60 MB of RAM needed and just about 80 MB installed (including Xorg)! However it also doesn’t offer much and is most likely dead. CDE does well with little more than 70 MB of RAM. It’s quite old now but actively developed again – yet it’s uncertain if it can be turned into a modern DE without breaking the CDE concepts. And then there’s EDE 2. This one is very frugal with about 70 MB of RAM needed. A great DE with a classical feeling perfectly fit for systems with low RAM.

What’s next?

The next entry will be a summary of all five parts of our test.