Ashton Mills05 April 2007, 7:24 AM
They say a clean room is a sign of a clean mind. Or at least, an organised one. And your desktop is no less a virtual room. If yours is full of clutter, it may be more a sign of the software you use than your mind. Clean it up with these great alternatives.
If you're like me and use your desktop heavily for work, it's really important it serves you like any other tool, and helps not hinders you. It's not just about what you dump on it, it's how it works and whether it serves your needs.
Recently I've been becoming increasingly frustrated with Vista's UI -- I don't know how, but Microsoft has managed to take a step backwards compared to XP, and more often than not the UI gets in the way.
Linux is no good guy here either though. While not quite as bad, Gnome and KDE seem to be heading down this route too. KDE has always been like a monkey on crack: visual information overload, with every feature and visual cue you'd ever need splattered all over the desktop and applications. It's got some great advantages, but that sort of aesthetic overload is draining for long periods of time.
Gnome is a lot better here -- a cleaner, sharper look that's easier to focus on, but even then it appears the 'I know what's best' mentality that makes Windows such a PITA to use has crept in -- I'm sick and tired, for e.g., of Ubuntu's update manager popping up to tell me when it's downloading updates and then when it completes installing them -- stealing the focus away from whatever I was actually wanting to look at.
Don't. Ever. Do. That. It's not the job of the interface to judge what's important enough for my eyes to see -- funnily enough, that's my prerogative. What's that? A major system error has occurred and the entire universe is going to implode as a result? That's fine, let the popup appear in the background and let its entry in the task bar flash red softly to let me know it needs my attention -- when I'm good and ready to give it.
Somehow, the concept of 'user friendliness' has been twisted to the extent that it actually gets in the way now, as Vista so clearly shows.
But I digress, so what do you do if you're sick of the bloated windows paradigm? Sucks to be on Windows since it's, well, built around it but for Linux we fortunately have a choice of not only alternative desktops, but interfaces too (technically, window managers). Believe it or not, there are developers who also feel that the desktop doesn't have to be defined by the window frame. Here are some great alternatives you can install to free your cluttered desktop, and with it your mind:
Fluxbox -- based initially on Blackbox, Fluxbox makes minimalism its cornerstone, and while you might at first think 'where the heck did my desktop go?' you quickly realise the sense of freedom it gives you. With support for KDE and Gnome applications (including Tray support) there's no reason not to give it a go. Pretty much all distributions provide Fluxbox packages.
|Fluxbox: Keeping it simple and clean |
XFCE -- A lot of people overlook XFCE for its sometimes simplistic interface. It doesn't look as polished as Gnome or KDE, but it does everything you need just the same, and with less clutter too, aAnd the accompanying Thunar file manager is greatly underrated. Additionally, its small footprint makes it fast , while its configurability in some places rivals KDE. Some of the less mainstream distributions default to an XFCE desktop, especially for Live CDs.
|XFCE: A clean GUI without all the bloat |
-- Harking back to the Windows 98 style, icewm is simple and lean, ensuring you spend more time being productive and less time working around the interface itself. To quote the homepage 'The goal of IceWM is speed, simplicity, and not getting in the user's way.' Sounds like a mantra all user interface designers could learn from.
|icewm: Closer to the traditional Windows interface than Vista. |
Windowmaker -- Windowmaker has been around forever, but it still holds its ground. Based on the NEXTSTEP interface, Windowmaker keeps functions, gadgets and running applications in contained blocks, freeing up most of the desktop to be a useable workspace. Tons of applets provide pretty much any function you need, while keeping out of your way.
|Windowmaker: One of the oldest Linux GUIs, and still one of the best |
Ion -- Now this is how pushing UI development should be: don't assume the status quo is the best way, and try something new. Ion forgoes the windows paradigm and even does away with the mouse. Instead, the working area is always full screen and the real estate divided among the running applications with tabs for like programs -- windows tile, rather than overlap. Navigation is via the keyboard which, as any Linux hacker can tell you, is quicker than the mouse anyway. Not for everyone, but don't be afraid to give it a go, you might be surprised.
|Ion: No windows and no mouse. Beautiful! |