Situation of the Linux Desktop #2: Habemus tumultum…

… qui nomen nominatur “pacem”!

Wow, Latin! Oh er, welcome back! Wonder what that strange sentence does there – and what it may have to do with the Linux Desktop? Well, due to unforeseeable incidents when moving houses along with some family matters, I was more or less cut off from any news. I didn’t have internet connection for about one month and was not in the mood to buy a newspaper (and since TV and radio programs are more or less useless to disgusting and a total waste of time, I don’t own a TV or a radio). You can probably imagine how surprised and amazed I was yesterday when I finally read what had happened in the meantime!

The news of not even a handful of weeks missed – and all of a sudden the Roman Catholic church has a new pope (even though the old one didn’t die!). That was what inspired my headline which translates (or at least should translate) to: “We have a turmoil… which is called (the name) peace!”

“Мир”

“Peace”?! Yes, peace. It’s one possible translation of the Russian word in the sub-headline above. Others are “world” or even “universe”, but I couldn’t resist to put together peace and turmoil. 😉 What the heck am I talking about? Alright, alright. You’ll know what I mean right away. “Мир” is pronounced… Mir!

Well, Mir! You’ve probably heard of the new display server which Canonical (makers of Ubuntu) announced. Even this announcement had a huge impact in the Linux world. A lot has already been written about it. But this is one topic that clearly affects the subject of my blog – the Linux Desktop. While I tried not to be too biased about Ubuntu in the past, Canonical are giving me a hard time once again.

Closed graphic drivers

My position on the efforts of Canonical, Valve and others was one of cautious confidence that it could be of great value to the Linux community. I’m not one of those Linux fans who want this operating system to “succeed” and I don’t really care for market shares and things like that. But there’s certainly some truth to the fact that we’d all benefit from good drivers provided by the companies who build the hardware. Yes, while I prefer open drivers (for obvious reasons), I don’t have a problem with closed drivers being available, too. It’s one additional option for those who need the performance, reliability, etc.

It’s common knowledge that X11 is really old now and that this is not just beginning to show. For the conservative desktop environment X will remain the display server of choice but the general next step, the future of the modern Linux Desktop would be Wayland. Almost everybody agreed with that – at least until early march. A few years ago even Canonical had praised Wayland and planed migrating to it in the future. Now said Company is developing their own display server Mir…

Canonical’s Mir and Wayland

Alright, Canonical have abandoned the classic desktop with Unity and are clearly aiming for the mobile market. That’s ok, I guess. But developing a new display server and convincing Nvidia (who already hesitated to support Wayland!) to support it instead of Wayland is not a nice move at all. Doing so at this particular time (before Wayland could actually play any role) really looks like an attempt at backstabbing that other display server for me!

Thanks to Canonical, Nvidia will be even less motivated to offer drivers compatible with Wayland. Canonical’s founder even boasted of Mir possibly running on more devices than Wayland! That sounds like a plan. A plan that may be very profitable for Canonical but also a plan that can prove to be devastating for the Linux community. How to treat the new situation? Curse and boycott Mir? That’s probably overreacting. Embrace and praise Mir? Certainly not at this time. Anyway all this is a development that we should eye closely. Perhaps Mir will provide a few interesting features in the future. Right now it’s just a concept – and a splitting one. Let’s see what happens next.

GNOME 3 and Consorts

Another thing has happened since I wrote the first “Situation of the Linux desktop” in November. MATE is no longer the only promising GNOME fork. Now there’s also Consort.

The difference between them is that MATE picked up the dead GNOME 2 and remains based on the GTK+2 toolkit. According to the makers of Consort, this is “dead technology” and their effort is maintaining a classic GNOME desktop based on GTK+3. GNOME 3 will be dropping their “GNOME classic” or “fallback” mode with the upcoming version 3.8. This mode resembles GNOME 2 in many ways – but the most important thing for many people is the fact that it does not require hardware graphics acceleration. So Consort will be picking up where GNOME 3 Classic left.

Currently Consort doesn’t work with Arch Linux so I didn’t test it, yet. So I can’t say much more about it right now.

The situation!

The Linux Desktop has fragmented even more since my last post. With Consort there’s a new desktop environment in preparation and with Mir there’s even a new display server in the making. The later could even be seen as a hostile attempt to sabotage Wayland. More than ever the situation is getting unclear and confusing. Probably a good time to work on the DDD again?

What’s next?

Next I’d like to release a new version of the DesktopDemoDVD.

DDD #1: Situation of the Linux Desktop

It took me a bit longer to write this post (and when I finally did, I forgot to post it to the public). Sorry for that. But now it’s here – and like I promised, it’s introducing a new EERIE subproject!

Situation of the Linux Desktop

No, I don’t want to predict when the “final breakthrough” will happen nor do I care much for current market shares. And no, I’m also not going to repeat what Linus said about this topic – we all know it and if somebody really doesn’t, it’s easy to find out.

To be precise: I don’t mean the situation of the Linux Desktop at all but rather that of the Linux desktop. So – what’s noteworthy here? Well, I can’t put it better than a headline I read in a German magazine quite a while ago: “the desktop is fragmenting / splintering”!

Major desktop environments

Over the years many people have complained that Linux is not “successful” because there’s no standard desktop. There may or may not be something to this claim. The important thing is that it was raised in a time when there were essentially two big DEs which had such a high user base that other desktop environments were only playing underparts. Those two were KDE and GNOME.

Things have changed since then and ironically not in the direction that one of them established itself as the clear “winner”. What happened in fact is more like the contrary…

Forks

First KDE Plasma was released and left a lot of people perplexed. Some didn’t like the new style. Others found the system requirements to be ridiculously high (at that time). People who had used KDE for years were not happy with the direction Plasma was taking and were looking for alternatives. Some changed their default DE, some wanted to go on with KDE 3. Efforts of the later resulted in a new project: Trinity DE!

The other big desktop environment followed the same path; the idea was to modernize things. Some people liked the new GNOME 3, many others hated it (that word is not an exaggeration). The results? Same thing: Some former GNOME users were unhappy and switched their default DE and a few others decided to go on with GNOME 2’s codebase – and thus MATE was born.

Upward climbers

Of course this way DEs that were previously more or less underdogs were getting more and more popular. This is especially the case with Xfce which has been around for quite some time but has attracted many former GNOME 2 users since the release of GNOME 3. Another winner is surely the rather young LXDE: Anybody interested in Linux has at least heard of this light-weight DE today.

Other than that there are more noteworthy players now. First, there’s Unity. It’s one more modern DE that benefits greatly from nowadays being the standard desktop of the extremely popular distro Ubuntu. Another one is Enlightenment which already has a formidable user-base.

Outsiders

Apart from the DEs previously mentioned, new readers of my blog may be surprised just how many other desktop environments there are out there (I’ve blogged about them). Are those inferior to the more popular ones? Hell no!

The biggest problem with them is just that they are not well-known! However there are other problems as well. Many distros (especially the smaller ones) do not offer packages for these. Getting them to run on your distribution can be rather tricky and take some time and effort. In case of novice users it can also prove to be a barrier hard to cross.

The solution

Luckily many DEs offer Live-CDs so that you can easily take a look at them. But having to download multiple ISOs for that reason is also an unnecessary inconvenience. What about a single DVD image that comes with all Linux desktop environments?

This way each of them can be tested easily! It also has the advantages that you won’t miss some less-known DE and that you can compare them directly.

For those reasons I’d like to introduce project “DDD” which stands for “Desktop Demo DVD“!

What’s next?

I’ve already prepared the ISO for the DDD version 0.1. Expect it to be available during the next days!

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. 4): Less common GTK+ DEs

This is part 4 of our desktop testing series. We’ll deal with some of the less common desktop environments in this entry which by chance are are all GTK+ based.

These are:

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

GNOME 2

GNOME was the most used Linux desktop before the new version 3. GNOME 2 is quite old now but it is still a standard desktop in several more conservative distributions. And while it is not nearly as common anymore as it once was, it may still be the most used DE of this part of our test!

The GNOME 2 desktop

Installation

Using mirror from 04/30/2011 (Kernel 2.6.38)
pacman -S xorg-server xorg-xinit dbus xf86-video-vesa gnome

Statistics

Memory usage right after starting up GNOME 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 + GNOME 2 (2.32)
MemTotal: 1028476 kb
MemFree: 888080 kb
Buffers: 15672 kb
Cached: 63488 kb
Rootfs: 1299288 / 1.3G
RAM used at startup: 140396 / ~137 MB
Disk space (less basic system): 645000 / 630MB

ROX DE

ROX is best known for ROX-filer, a widely used file manager. A little less common is the ROX desktop. Like one would expect, ROX-filer is the heart of it, but there are several other parts which form the ROX DE together. In its default shape it is very simplistic – and certainly not nice-looking. But don’t be fooled: With a little customization it can look a lot better than it does on this screenshot!

The ROX desktop

Installation

pacman -S xorg-server xorg-xinit dbus dbus-glib virtualbox-archlinux-additions gconf libxxf86vm openbox rox
pacman -U rox-session-0.41.0-5-i686.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U appearance-0.9.1.ml-1-i686.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U rox-clib-2.1.10-2-i686.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U appfactory-2.1.5.ml-2-i686.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U archive-2.2.git.ml-1-i686.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U mini-clock-2.0.0.ml-2-any.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U resolution-0.3.ml-1-any.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U rox-edit-2.2-1-any.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U rox-font-0.9.2.ml-2-any.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U rox-keyboard-0.11.1.ml-1-any.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U rox-mouse-0.10.1.ml-1-any.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U rox-trash-0.3.0.ml-2-any.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U traylib-0.3.2.1-1-i686.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U rox-trasktray-0.7-1-any.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U python-pyalsaaudio-0.7-1-i686.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U rox-volume-0.4.14122008-1-any.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U systemtray-n-0.3.2.1.ml-2-i686.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U tasklisk-0.5.ml-1-i686.pkg.tar.xz

Statistics

Memory usage right after starting up ROX (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 + ROX (0.41.0)
MemTotal: 1030652 kb
MemFree: 955128 kb
Buffers: 10084 kb
Cached: 36784 kb
Rootfs: 1087652 / 1.1G
RAM used at startup: 75524 / ~74 MB
Disk space (less basic system): 433364 / 423MB

Enlightenment E17

Enlightenment started as a hacked window manager that was amazingly customizable. E16 is the current stable version. With E17 however, so many things have been added that it is no longer considered just a WM but in fact a real DE. E17 is officially in beta stages but it is already pretty stable and used for everyday work by many users.

The E17 desktop

Installation

pacman -S xorg-server xorg-xinit dbus virtualbox-archlinux-additions e-svn

Statistics

Memory usage right after starting up E17 (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 + E17 (snv-72693)
MemTotal: 1030652 kb
MemFree: 934808 kb
Buffers: 8772 kb
Cached: 50312 kb
Rootfs: 896992 / 876M
RAM used at startup: 95844 / ~94 MB
Disk space (less basic system): 242704 / 237MB

Sugar

Sugar is not really a general-purpose desktop. It’s a DE made for children. It would probably not be known by many people if it wasn’t the standard DE on the sub-notebooks of the well-known “One Laptop Per Child” project. It’s also available as an optional package in some of the bigger distributions.

The Sugar desktop

Installation

pacman -S xorg-server xorg-xinit dbus virtualbox-archlinux-additions python-pygame
pacman -U sugar-base-0.94.0-2-i686.pkg.tar.gz
pacman -U python2-xapian-1.2.10-1-i686.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U sugar-datastore-0.94.0-1-i686.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U icon-slicer-0.3-5-i686.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U sugar-artwork-0.94.0-1-i686.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U sugar-presence-service-0.90.2-1-i686.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U hippo-canvas-0.3.1-2-i686.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U sugar-toolkit-0.94.0-1-i686.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U sugar-0.94.1-1-i686.pkg.tar.xz

Statistics

Memory usage right after starting up Sugar (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 + Sugar (0.94.1)
MemTotal: 1030652 kb
MemFree: 911100 kb
Buffers: 12092 kb
Cached: 57340 kb
Rootfs: 1272052 / 1.3G
RAM used at startup: 119552 / ~117 MB
Disk space (less basic system): 617764 / 603MB

Conclusion

GNOME 2 is the biggest DE this time and it’s doing a little better than MATE in terms of RAM needed. Sugar needs some less RAM but it’s not a DE many people will want to use, anyway. E17 is beautiful and still rather memory-saving. And the ROX desktop is by far the most frugal one so far when it comes to memory usage!

What’s next?

The next entry will cover some rather exotic Linux desktop environments.

Linux desktop comparison (pt. 2): Traditional GTK+ DEs

This is part 2 of our desktop testing series. We’ll deal with 4 traditional gtk+-based desktop environments in this entry.

These are:

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

GNOME 3 Classic

GNOME 3 Classic – also called “fallback mode” – is a re-implantation of GNOME 3 resembling the “GNOME 2 way”. It offers the familiar panel instead of the shell. However it is not on an equal footing with the shell but really meant only for those machines which cannot run the later (most likely because of missing 3D acceleration). It’s not working exactly like GNOME 2 as there are a number of (mostly annoying) differences but it may be dropped anyway in the future.

The GNOME 3 Classic desktop

Installation

pacman -S xorg-server xorg-xinit dbus virtualbox-archlinux-additions gnome

Statistics

Memory usage right after starting up GNOME 3 Classic (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 + GNOME 3 Classic (3.4.2)
MemTotal: 1030652 kb
MemFree: 804524 kb
Buffers: 15868 kb
Cached: 94984 kb
Rootfs: 1732056 / 1.7G
RAM used at startup: 226128 / ~221 MB
Disk space (less basic system): 1077768 / 1.1 GB

MATE desktop

The MATE desktop begun its life as a complete fork of the latest version of GNOME 2. Many people doubted (or continue to do so) if the project will last. While it started with one developer renaming all the applications (to avoid incompatibility with GNOME 2 and 3), in the meantime some people have joined the project, additional features have been added and with Linux MINT a big distribution has adopted it as one of its standard DEs. To just name one of the new features: Caja, the file manager (formerly Nautilus), now has an undo option available in the menu (this was actually something that I had been missing since I left the Windows world)!

The MATE desktop

Installation

Additional repo “mate”: http://repo.mate-desktop.org/archlinux/$arch
pacman -S xorg-server xorg-xinit dbus virtualbox-archlinux-additions mate

Statistics

Memory usage right after starting up MATE (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 + MATE (1.4)
MemTotal: 1030652 kb
MemFree: 878688 kb
Buffers: 13536 kb
Cached: 58112 kb
Rootfs: 1348280 / 1.3G
RAM used at startup: 151964 / ~148 MB
Disk space (less basic system): 693992 / 678 MB

Xfce

Xfce started as a light-weight desktop environment but over time it has grown into a full DE. It’s still quite a bit lighter than GNOME/KDE, of course. But if you’re looking for something really light, Xfce may no longer be what you may want to install on your machine. If you however want a good compromise between a rather light-weight DE and great usability, give it a try. In some aspects it’s somewhat like a less bloated GNOME 2 but it’s going its own way in other cases.

The Xfce desktop

Installation

pacman -S xorg-server xorg-xinit dbus virtualbox-archlinux-additions xfce4

Statistics

Memory usage right after starting up Xfce (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 + Xfce (4.10.0)
MemTotal: 1030652 kb
MemFree: 918092 kb
Buffers: 11388 kb
Cached: 49092 kb
Rootfs: 1226416 / 1.2G
RAM used at startup: 112560 / ~110 MB
Disk space (less basic system): 572128 / 559 MB

LXDE

LXDE is currently the most popular light-weight desktop environment available for Linux. It’s designed with low resource usage in mind and build completely modularly. If you just need some of the applications it consists of, you are encouraged to do so. It is in a rather early state, however, and people who are spoiled by a full-grown DE might miss quite some features which LXDE simply does not provide. Yet if you are not looking for something that is primarily appealing visually but just want a working DE with the basic functions – LXDE might well be your desktop environment of choice.

The LXDE desktop

Installation

pacman -S xorg-server xorg-xinit dbus virtualbox-archlinux-additions lxde

Statistics

Memory usage right after starting up Xfce (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 + LXDE (0.5.x)
MemTotal: 1030652 kb
MemFree: 938660 kb
Buffers: 9744 kb
Cached: 41816 kb
Rootfs: 986260 / 963M
RAM used at startup: 91992 / ~90 MB
Disk space (less basic system): 331972 / 324 MB

Conclusion

Well, no surprise: These GTK+ based non-3D-desktops are generally quite a bit lower on system resources. While it shows that GNOME 3 Classic is not optimized in this regard, even the full-grown MATE does rather well in comparison. Xfce is yet a little lighter and LXDE the smallest DE so far.
I’ve dropped the “minimal RAM” thing this time as it is not of much use with these DEs. Each one can run actually with as little 32 MB – with heavy swapping of course. Like one would expect, GNOME 3 Classic is totally useless in this case while LXDE is a lot more responsive (but still far from being useful).

What’s next?

The next entry will cover the QT based desktop environments.

Linux desktop comparison (pt. 1): Modern GTK+ DEs

This is part 1 of our desktop testing series. We’ll deal with the 3 modern gtk+-based desktop environments in this entry.

These are:

Test criteria

I’m just going to fire up the desktop to see how many RAM is used at that time. No windows opened, no menu clicked. That means the value is the amount of RAM that the system has allocated on a 1 GB RAM virtual machine. When actually using the desktop, the needed amount of RAM will of course increase, often multiply.

I’ll also tell you the amount of space the DE takes up on the hard disk and, just for fun, test what the minimal amount of RAM is that the DE really needs just to start up. This value is not of much use actually, since the system will relay heavily on swapping then and even just starting the DE may literally take several minutes. Of course productive working is absolutely impossible under these circumstances.

Basic Arch system

I’m using a virtualbox VM that I’m cloning for each of the desktop tests so every one has the same base on which to build up.

Installation

Our basic test system is a clean Arch installation with only “basic” pacstrapped onto the new partition. No development tools are needed since I build a binary package for everything that is not on the repos on another virtual machine.

Memory usage right after booting up (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 08/11 2012
MemTotal: 1030652 kb
MemFree: 992524 kb
Buffers: 5500 kb
Cached: 14988 kb
Rootfs: 654288 / 639M
RAM used at startup: 38128 / ~37 MB
Absolute RAM minimum to still boot: 27 MB

GNOME 3 Shell

The GNOME 3 Shell is the default interface of GNOME 3. It works entirely different from the old GNOME 2, bringing in “a new desktop metaphor”. The old panel is gone and instead GNOME 3 offers “activities”. While some people like the approach, there are a many former GNOME 2 users who state that they can’t work with a desktop like this. 3D graphics are obligatory for the Shell; on systems without it, a fallback mode is provided.

The GNOME 3 Shell desktop

Installation

pacman -S xorg-server xorg-xinit dbus virtualbox-archlinux-additions gnome

Statistics

Memory usage right after starting up GNOME 3 Shell (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 + GNOME 3 (3.4.2)
MemTotal: 1030652 kb
MemFree: 773200 kb
Buffers: 14888 kb
Cached: 114584 kb
Rootfs: 1732056 / 1.7G
RAM used at startup: 257452 / ~251 MB
Disk space (less basic system): 1077768 / 1.1 GB
Absolute RAM minimum to still start up: 81 MB

GNOME 3 Cinnamon UI

Cinnamon is an alternative shell for GNOME 3. It was born when the developers of Linux MINT realized that GNOME was not going into the direction that they had in mind for their distribution. They started a project called “Mint Gnome Shell Extension” but soon realized that this did not give them enough control of how things developed. Then they decided to fork the GNOME Shell and this was the beginning of Cinnamon. It aims towards a more classical desktop metaphor.

The Cinnamon desktop

Installation

pacman -S xorg-server xorg-xinit dbus virtualbox-archlinux-additions
pacman -U gnome-menus2-3.0.1-1-i686.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U muffin-wm-1.0.6-1-i686.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U cinnamon-1.5.2-2-i686.pkg.tar.xz

Statistics

Memory usage right after starting up GNOME 3 Cinnamon UI (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 + Cinnamon (1.5.2)
MemTotal: 1030652 kb
MemFree: 781996 kb
Buffers: 14936 kb
Cached: 107280 kb
Rootfs: 1620556 / 1.6G
RAM used at startup: 248656 / ~243 MB
Disk space (less basic system): 966268 / 1 GB
Absolute RAM minimum to still start up: 72 MB

GNOME 3 Unity UI

Unity is another alternative Shell for GNOME 3. It’s developed by Cannonical, the company that is famous (or infamous, depending on whom you ask) for Ubuntu Linux. It’s “going new ways” – and that shows. For fans of the classical desktop this one is a total mess whereas other people prefer to call it inovative. Anyways it’s the default desktop of Ubuntu since that is without any doubt a big distribution, it has a solid user base despite all objections towards it. It uses the rather uncommon nux toolkit. Unity is basically a Compiz-plugin and thus needs 3D graphics. A Unity-2D variant, build upon Qt also exists.

The Unity desktop

Installation

Unity is currently incompatible with glew1.8. Also I had to install the whole unity repo because just installing the basic unity package and its dependencies does not give me the full system (e.g. no menu to shut down in the upper right corner etc.).

Forbid updating of glew1.7
pacman -U freetype2-ubuntu-2.4.10-1-i686.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U fontconfig-ubuntu-2.8.0-10-i686.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U libxft-ubuntu-2.3.1-1-i686.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -U glew1.7-1.7.0-1-i686.pkg.tar.xz
pacman -S xorg-server xorg-xinit dbus virtualbox-archlinux-additions
Add additional repository “unity”: http://unity.xe-xe.org/$arch
Accept to uninstall and replace several conflicting packages in next step
pacman -S $(pacman -Slq unity)

Statistics

Memory usage right after starting up GNOME 3 Unity UI (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 + Unity (6.0.0)
MemTotal: 1030652 kb
MemFree: 637268 kb
Buffers: 26052 kb
Cached: 148020 kb
Rootfs: 2862336 / 2.8G
RAM used at startup: 393384 / ~384 MB
Disk space (less basic system): 2208048 / 2,15 GB
Absolute RAM minimum to still start up: <64? MB

Conclusion

Like one would expect, the 3D desktops are quite a bit on the heavy side when it comes to their resource needs. It’s no surprise that the more traditional Cinnamon needs a little less RAM compared to the GNOME 3 Shell and that Unity needs by far the most. The needed disk space loses a little comparative value since with Unity I had to install the whole repo while for both Gnome 3 Shell and Cinnamon I just installed the full basic package.

In terms of absolute minimal RAM needed to launch I was quite surprised to find GNOME 3 Shell and Cinnamon as low as 81 and 72 MB! While they are far from usable with that little RAM, it was an interesting find (at least for me). While these two seem to check for a minimum of available RAM, Unity doesn’t seem to do such a thing and tries to start with however little RAM the system has, even though it takes minutes to load with 64 MB of RAM! I didn’t have the patience to try even lower values.

What’s next?

The next entry will cover the traditional GTK+ desktop environments.

First things first – how I came to Linux (pt. 2)

Welcome back!

Where was I? Right… Windows XP.

Windows XP

When I first saw it, I just thought: “You’ve got to be kidding!” What was this? A blue task bar with a green start button and a terribly colorful background! I still recall what came to my mind next: “Don’t do drugs, man!” Of course, a few seconds later, I had it all set back to classic. Then I attempted to update the system. Guess what? It didn’t work – IE crashed. I tried again, but same thing. Great stuff!

Reboot. What’s this? The desktop is back to ugly! Alright, let’s change it aga… What? It’s still set as “classic”? Wow, if that‘s classic, I don’t know where I’ve been all the years. Let’s set it to “new”. Of course nothing changes. And now back to classic. Ahh, much better. Windows update again? Crash! You know what, buddy? Just go to hell (from where thou must’ve risen)!

Put DOS boot disk in floppy drive, reset. Wait a moment. FDISK.

Yes, that was my first contact with Windows XP. And as you can see, we didn’t really get friends right away… Actually I disliked about everything of this new OS. The exorbitant size when installed, the wasteful usage of RAM, the way it dares to tell me what I wasn’t allowed to do (on my system! Who the heck decides this? Myself – or Micro$oft?), and so on. Not even to talk about forced registration, which is completely unacceptable. M$ got our money and my father used to register every version of Windows with M$ – voluntary. Which is fine. But I was really angry and this was the moment when Redmond begun to lose me, too. I decided to go on with Win2k for as long as possible and then abandon the Windows platform.

Windows 2000 with control panel right after installation: Clean looks.
Freshly installed Windows XP with control panel: Could be called “CandyOS”!

Alternatives?

But where to go then? I had been playing around with FreeDOS and achieved some incredible things (burning CDs in DOS, watching DivX videos on a Pentium 90, browse the net graphically, running Windows applications on DOS, etc.). I liked the system a lot since I knew what every single file on my system was good for and there was not one program or anything there that I didn’t want to have on my drive. But frankly speaking… DOS is not a modern desktop system – especially since drivers are a huge problem and FD-32 seems to go nowhere. It’s very nice for tinkering but not a real alternative.

Meh, Linux…

I had known Linux for a while. That means I had known that it existed. A teacher who tried to get into it himself had founded a “Linux club”. Being interested in computers in general, I had joined it. But while the teacher was trying to get things working, the rest of us typically had Windows running on their machine and played network games or surfed the net. As far as I can remember, we started with SuSE 6.2 back then (SuSE was the most popular distro in Germany at that time). I looked at the system only briefly and found it to be far too complicated. What I disliked most at that time was the case-sensitive file system. I just witnessed it cause trouble all the time.

SuSE favored KDE over GNOME. Being a Windows user at the time I didn’t quite get it how there could be more than one DE and I thought: “If KDE is the standard one, it must be the better one, too.” Fatal thinking! While I liked the bash a lot, I hated KDE. So I decided that Linux wasn’t a choice for my home pc…

At home I had convinced my father that we needed a router pc so that all our pcs could access the internet at the same time. We had another old pc that was just collecting dust anyway but no idea how to set up a machine as a router. Thinking about our club, I proposed Linux. It was allowed to copy it freely after all and I knew that it was perfectly suited for such a task. My father agreed but instead of downloading it for free, he bought SuSE 7.0 Professional. Primarily because of the support option for it as he said.


Our SuSE 7.0 Professional box

It came with kernel 2.2.17, XFree86 4.0, KDE 1.1.2, GNOME 1.2 and StarOffice 5.2!

Thanks to a friend who was a bit into Linux, we managed to get a router up and running. It was painful, though, and took us more than one evening/night of configuration work… But once the server was up, it just worked. And it did so for a very long time. Only after a power outage it refused to boot up again, since the filesystems were reported damaged.

We reorganized our network so that we no longer needed the router pc. I kind of forgot about Linux for quite some time.

Win XP – again

When I bought a new pc, I got a dual-core CPU. Finally I realized that I could not really go on with Win2k anymore. I thought that I had no other option but to install XP. And as I had a legal license for it, anyway, I did. I was never happy with this OS, though and I still consider it a bearable operating system but surely not a decent or even great one.

“Vista”

I heard about this new “Windows Vista” and of course read about it on the net. Now this time I wasn’t angry. “Vista” didn’t even deserve it. It was just plain laughable. Not an OS at all but rather an abomination. This time it was clear that I would never buy it. No sir, I’ve really had it this time! For a while I might stick with XP – but what to do then?

One day when I was really fed up with my Win XP, I decided to give Linux a shot again and see what had happened in the meantime.

Linux!

Everybody was talking about Ubuntu these days. I knew that there were live-CDs and I thought that this was a pretty nice thing that I just had to try out for myself. So I downloaded an Ubuntu image and burned it on a cd. Shortly thereafter the fun started.

It took quite a while to start up, but this was because of the slow cd drive. After it finished loading, I was immediately impressed. Now this was a desktop to my liking! Something way different – but for the better. Very clearly laid out and simple to use. At first I found it strange to have two panels, but I soon liked that, too. I played around with it for a while and for the first time in years, I “felt at home”. It was also great to have Open Office pre-installed just like many other useful programs.

Since I was willing to change anyway, I made a backup of my drives and then installed Ubuntu as a second system. It worked well and I used it more and more often. After finding out how things work and getting replacements for programs I used to work with, I soon booted into Windows just rarely and finally decided to kick it. I also was a bit older now and didn’t consider things like the way the drives are organized “strange” but actually realized that it was superior.

KDE 1 (SuSE 7) – this is what actually prevented me from using Linux in 1999.
GNOME 2 (Ubuntu 8.10) – and this got me back to it!

A lot has happened since then. My beloved GNOME 2.x is dead (save for MATE), Ubuntu has changed for Unity (which I deem unusable on a desktop) and so on. I tried out a lot of distros and desktop environments and learned to live with the big ecosystem that is Linux (GNU/Linux and other software but also the community and the spirit). There’s a mass of things going on – many that I like and some which I don’t like. But this is where you begin to do things your own way, right?

What’s next?

The next entry will have the title: “Eerie’s first ‘e’: ‘elementary’!”.