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!

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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. 3): Qt-based DEs

This is part 3 of our desktop testing series. We’ll deal with the 4 Qt-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.

KDE Plasma

KDE was the first big Linux desktop project. In the beginning it was inspired by CDE (Common Desktop Environment), the classical Unix desktop. Depending on the at that time unfree Qt toolkit, many people stated that a free DE should rather be based on something else (This was in fact why the coding of GNOME begun). Qt was later released under the GPL so this is no longer an issue. KDE has become a heavy-weight DE in the meantime – it consists of a huge amount of applications and there’s probably nothing you would ever miss there. All these programs are coordinated so that they provide a assortative experience and feeling. Since KDE version 4 the whole project has been renamed to “KDE Software Compilation” and the former actual “K Desktop Environment” is now known as “Plasma Workspaces”. KDE has always tried to offer a visually appealing desktop. Many people also like it because it is multi-functional, very configurable and highly customizable. Others call it a classical example for unneccessary bloat.

The KDE Plasma desktop

Installation

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

Statistics

Memory usage right after starting up KDE Plasma (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 + KDE Plasma (4.9.0)
MemTotal: 1030652 kb
MemFree: 650340 kb
Buffers: 18348 kb
Cached: 181256 kb
Rootfs: 2001712 / 2.0G
RAM used at startup: 380312 / ~371 MB
Disk space (less basic system): 1347424 / 1.3 GB

Razor-Qt

Razor-Qt is a rather young project with the aim to deliver a light-weight DE based upon the Qt toolkit. So far it is rather “bare bones”: it doesn’t come with a lot of its own applications (e.g. no default file manager!) or its own WM (Openbox is suggested). It just offers a simple, light-weight DE; nothing more and nothing less. It’s a bit like “LXDE on Qt” – in its early stages. Definitely a promising project!

The Razor-Qt desktop

Installation

pacman -S xorg-server xorg-xinit dbus virtualbox-archlinux-additions openbox
pacman -U razor-qt-0.4.1-3-i686.pkg.tar.xz

Statistics

Memory usage right after starting up Razor-Qt (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 + Razor-Qt (0.4.1)
MemTotal: 1030652 kb
MemFree: 911849 kb
Buffers: 9724 kb
Cached: 58784 kb
Rootfs: 885320 / 865M
RAM used at startup: 118803 / ~116 MB
Disk space (less basic system): 231032 / 226 MB

Unity 2D

Unity2d is merely the “fallback mode” of the Unity UI on machines that do not provide hardware accelerated 3D graphics. Except for it being build upon Qt, it’s more or less the same thing without too many differences. It is more than questionable whether this desktop will continue to be developed in the future.

The Unity2D desktop

Installation

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
Additional repository “unity”: http://unity.xe-xe.org/$arch
pacman -S $(pacman -Slq unity)

Statistics

Memory usage right after starting up Unity2D (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 + Unity2D (6.0.0)
MemTotal: 1030652 kb
MemFree: 616580 kb
Buffers: 25884 kb
Cached: 163848 kb
Rootfs: 2862336 / 2,8G
RAM used at startup: 414072 / ~404 MB
Disk space (less basic system): 2208048 / 2,15 GB

Trinity DE

The Trinity DE is a fork of the former KDE series 3. Not everybody was happy with what Plasma is all about – not even every KDE user. Because of this some people have volunteered to continue development of KDE 3 under the name Trinity DE. The next version which is expected some time this fall should fix all incompatibilities so that KDE 4 and Trinity can be installed on the same machine. HAL will still be used in this version but will be replaced in the future. Quite some new features have been implemented since the latest 3.x release of KDE. Trinity DE is for KDE 3 what MATE is for GNOME 2: More than just a “keep-alive-project”! If you used KDE in the past but did not like the way that Plasma took, take a look at Trinity!

The Trinity desktop

Installation

Additional repo “tde3513”: http://archlinux.us.to/3.5.13/i686/
pacman -S xorg-server xorg-xinit dbus virtualbox-archlinux-additions tde-base

Statistics

Memory usage right after starting up Trinity (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 + Trinity (3.5.13)
MemTotal: 1030652 kb
MemFree: 823912 kb
Buffers: 18272 kb
Cached: 97764 kb
Rootfs: 2720876 / 2.6G
RAM used at startup: 206740 / ~202 MB
Disk space (less basic system): 2066588 / 2.02 GB

Conclusion

The Qt-based DEs are quite a bit on the heavier side in terms of general RAM usage. Trinity is rather high and KDE Plasma even higher, just as one would expect. Only Razor-Qt is a lot more slim than the others and doing rather good. I guess, we don’t need to even talk about Unity2d and the demand of RAM…

What’s next?

The next entry will cover some of the less common 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’!”.