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Today, LXDE is available in many distributions. Fedora includes an LXDE spin, and Lubuntu makes LXDE a choice in Ubuntu. Other distributions supporting LXDE include Debian and openSUSE. Alternatively, you can download a Live CD based on Debian from the LXDE home page.

How did LXDE become so popular? From its earliest days, the project has appealed to those who wanted a smaller, faster alternative than leading desktops like GNOME or KDE. However, in the last few years, the rise of the netbook computer has created a new demand for lightweight desktops, which LXDE has been able to fill without straying far from its original design philosophy.

LXDE desktop

The main adjustment that LXDE has had to make is to include larger popular programs and to develop its own interface for netbooks. If LXDE perhaps lacks a little user-friendliness, it is still worth a closer look.

LXDE remains true to the Unix roots of free software by borrowing when possible, instead of reinventing. Rather than building their own toolkits, LXDE desktop developers work with GTK+, like GNOME. Similarly, instead of a unique window manager, LXDE is generally packaged with an existing small one, such as Openbox, which is used on the Live CD.

In the same spirit, LXDE frequently borrows GNOME or GTK+ applications, such as the Leafpad text editor or Foomatic-GUI for configuring printers.

At other times, LXDE favors existing applications that are front ends for command line tools, such as Xarchiver for compressing files, or Xscreensaver, the generic screen saver collection for the X Window System. These applications typically have the low memory demands and fast performance that are part of LXDE’s philosophy.

LXDE panel preferences

When the LXDE project does produce its own software, the results resemble the type of application that it borrows. For instance, GPicView is a graphics viewer with an extremely basic set of controls that allows you to zoom in, rotate images, save or delete them, or move through the contents of a file — and not much else besides. These are only the contents on the toolbar in an application like KDE’s Gwenview, but, where GPicView also gives you menu items to resize, crop, and even reduce Red Eye, GPicView offers nothing more.

This is not the inconvenience it might sound, since any given implementation of LXDE is likely to include The GIMP or some other graphics editor that is better suited for editing images. It’s just that LXDE tends not to duplicate functions needlessly.

For those used to KDE and GNOME, the result of such philosophy may be that LXDE often looks likes a bare bones interface — functional, but with few extras. However, this view is not always accurate, as the PCMan File Manager demonstrates.

With multiple tabs and a dialog for file characteristics and program associations, PCMan compares favorably with KDE’s Dolphin or GNOME’s Nautilus, with a surprisingly complete set of features, most of which can be easily found. Some users, too, might view PCMan’s depiction of directory hierarchies, rather than an abstracted view of the current user’s desktop, as a refreshing return to basics.

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Why I Switched To Gnome

Also see: GNOME or KDE? The Old Question Is New Today

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with GNOME since its early days, from its fledgling beginnings up to its current state as the GNOME 3 desktop we all know today.

As a long time XFCE fan, I tinkered off and on with GNOME 3 in hopes of making the switch a permanent one. After finally settling on running GNOME full-time, it turns out the switch was much easier than I had anticipated.

I think the best thing I did when I decided to make the switch a permanent one, is to stop comparing it to other desktop environments. This allowed me to fully experience the GNOME 3 desktop without comparing it with KDE, XFCE and so on. With this new mindset, I found that the integration and work-flow were actually quite refreshing.

So, what do I mean by comparing it to other desktop environments? Allow me to break this down a bit.

XFCE: When I was considering GNOME 3 as a replacement for XFCE, I was looking at GNOME as it used to be – designed for absolute simplicity. Easy access to Applications, Places and System were the first on my list. Second up was expecting a non-flashy desktop experience. XFCE lacks the cool compositing effects found under GNOME, so once I realized that on a modern computer these effects weren’t actually “hurting” my ability to run programs or play games, I was then able to better enjoy what GNOME had to offer.

KDE:Without question, KDE is a powerful and very customizable desktop. But KDE is not going to appeal to those who prefer to avoid an over abundance of GUI options within the various menus.

While this has improved over the years, I still prefer to handle most of my configuration via a configuration file or from the terminal. Obviously this is not a good match for everyone, but it’s something I happen to prefer myself. To be clear, I’m not saying one can’t do this in KDE, rather the flow of the desktop prompts one to use tools I prefer to avoid myself.

Like GNOME 3, KDE also has neat compositing effects that provide a very modern feel to the desktop. But after spending time with both desktops, I’ve found that GNOME is better at matching my vision of what I want to use in my desktop environment. At this time, KDE simply isn’t a match for me personally.

When I first switched to GNOME 3, I found myself using a tweak tool to provide the functionality I had become accustomed to in XFCE. One of those tools gave me the ability to minimize applications. Sometime later, I decided to fully embrace the desktop and try using the GNOME desktop features to switch between various applications. For me, it turned out the left corner “hotspot” area, was a useful alternative to minimizing applications.

After trying this approach a few times, I was shocked at how easily I was able to re-train my brain to accept this approach to application switching. Even more recently, I’ve been revisiting Alt-Tab, which with the coverflow Alt-Tab extension looks like it may be an even bigger hit with me personally.

Kde On Windows: Subversive, But Useful

KDE on Windows is such a subversive project that it is impossible to resist. Who else except the free and open source software (FOSS) community would take a desktop for Unix-like systems and port it to Windows, co-opting the very operating system that community members love to hate?

On second thought, however, the idea is not so quixotic as you might expect. Ports of FOSS desktop to Windows like Ubuntu’s Wubi and the Ulteo Virtual Desktop already exist, and the Qt toolkit with which KDE is built already has a Windows version. Under these circumstances, a release of the current KDE 4.2 on Windows is less unimaginable than you might initially think.

True, the dependability and functionality fall short of what could be called a stable release. Still, version 0.9.5-0 of KDE on Windows is reliable enough to give a tantalizing glimpse of what it should soon become, as well as an unparalleled chance to compare FOSS and proprietary applications side by side. The only real question is what audience KDE on Windows is supposed to be aimed at.

The easiest way to install KDE on Windows is to download the installer and run it from your Windows desktop. Windows 2000, XP, and Vista are all supported. The installer is possibly complicated enough that it will make the average Windows user uneasy, but, since it results in a non-destructive installation that’s easy to remove, nobody should be intimidated by it.

Mostly all you need to do is follow the instructions slowly and carefully, accepting the defaults wherever you don’t understand. In this way, you can quickly move through the first part of the installer, choosing to install from the Internet, using C:Program Files as the installation directory, and choosing Enduser as the install mode.

Then you can navigate the mysteries of selecting a mirror by choosing the download site nearest to you, and choosing the latest stable version of KDE on Windows to install. At that point, you just need to select everything to install, and choose any additional language support you want besides the default American English. After that, installation is a matter of watching a progress bar for fifteen minutes.

You can also use the installer to remove KDE on Windows. Since all the files are in the same directory, the removal is trouble-free.

So far, KDE on Windows includes only a limited number of applications. Applications not specific to KDE, such as Firefox or the GIMP, are not installed — although you can find Windows version of many of them. Other KDE applications, such as the KRunner application center or the Klipper clipboard, are still unavailable. However, what is installed is a well-rounded set of programs, including the latest beta of KOffice 2.0, the Gwenview image viewer, the Amarok media player, and the Konqueror web browser. Games and educational software are particularly well-represented.

The performance of most of applications is as quick as on GNU/Linux, but there are occasional lapses in performance. For example, some programs, like the Klines game, are slow to start. On my system, Amarok crashes, while the Kate text editor sometimes locks up briefly for no obvious reason. Nor can you make a FolderView your desktop, although the menu item to do so is available. No KDE on Windows program is able to use the Windows clipboard yet, and closing any program gives you a notification of a memory error, though you can close the message window and continue working without any consequences.

Another problem is that KDE programs cannot use Windows versions of Flash or Java, and KDE on Windows does not provide free versions of these programs such as Gnash or OpenJava — perhaps because they are not native to KDE.

Such shortcomings aside, performance is more or less adequate. In general, applications run well enough that you can give KDE for Windows a thorough exploration, and even do a little work using them, so long as you remember the limitations.

Editing Partitions With Kde Partition Manager

Every time you install Linux, you’re given the option to partition your hard drive.  This is necessary because – in most cases – Linux needs its own partition to operate.

Partitioning a hard drive is basically slicing the hard drive into separate, discreet sections, each of which is viewed by the computer as an individual hard drive. Partitioning allows Windows to say “this is my disk,” and Linux to say “this is my disk” and since each operating system needs its own file system, problem solved.

Table of Contents

Sometimes, however, you may need to partition your hard drive during times when you’re not installing.  Maybe you purchased an external hard drive and you’re getting it ready for installation, or maybe you just need to convert some unused space to something usable.  For KDE users, a program called KDE Parition Manager, is a fantastic option.

A Few Notes About Partitioning Hard Drives

Before talking about KDE Partition Manager, there are a couple things to keep in mind regarding partitioning.  First is that you can’t modify an active partition, so if you need to modify a partition, be sure and unmount it first.  If you want to modify something on your boot partition, you’ll need to boot your computer using a flash drive or Live CD.

Installing KDE Partition Manager

In spite of its name, KDE Partition Manager can be used on any variety of Linux, so whether you use GNOME, KDE, xfce or any other desktop environment, as long as the KDE libraries area available, KDE Partition Manager will work.  In Ubuntu, KDE Partition Manager is launched by the  “partitionmanager” command, so intalling it is just as easy.  First, open up a Terminal:

Then type the following command:

sudo apt-get install partitionmanager

If you’re running a KDE-centric distro, you probably won’t need to install much other than the actual KDE Partition Manager, but if you’re using Ubuntu (which uses GNOME) or Xubuntu (which uses xfce), you’ll likely need to grab a few KDE libraries – which will be installed automatically – in order for KDE Partition Manager to work properly).  This is what gets pulled in when installing in Ubuntu:

Once installed, the KDE Partition Manager will be found under the System Tools menu (in GNOME).  In KDE, it will be in the System menu.  In either environment, it can be launched by typing “partitionmanager” in a Terminal window.

Using KDE Partition Manager

What can KDE Partition Manager do?  It can be used to delete partitions, move partitions, resize partitions, and convert partitions.

Once again, be sure to unmount any active partition before doing any work.

Deleting partitions is what you’d expect it to be.  Before you start, you have a partition with data on it and when you’re finished, the partition (and data) is gone, leaving only unused space.

Moving or resizing partitions can be done for a couple different reasons.  Maybe you just deleted a partition and want to fill the now empty space with one of your existing partitions.

Or maybe you have a large, mostly-empty partition that you want to shrink to make room for another.  In this case, you would resize the partition.  Simply choose the Resize/Move option from the menu when the partition you want to edit is highlighted.

Now simply choose whether you want to have free space before or after your partition, and the new size the partition should be.

KDE Partition Manager scans your drives before any operations, so if you have more data on your drive than would fit on your resized drive, the operation won’t succeed and wouldn’t be allowed to proceed.

Converting partitions from one file system to another is basically two steps in one.  There are many different types of file systems used in computers.  Windows uses NTFS, Macs use HFS+, and most Linux distributions use one of the extended file systems: Ext2, Ext3 or Ext4 (and there are many others available, such as XFS and ReiserFS).

This will bring up a large Properties window, which offers the ability to change your partition’s label, file system, view partition information (such as mount point, UUID, size and sectors), and to change flags.

The KDE Partition Editor allows you to do all this and more.  You can use it to work on your local hard drives or portable drives.  It can make changes as well as check your drives for errors.

You’ll be asked with every step to verify that you want to do an action, and the KDE Partition Manager provides a step-by-step list of actions for each process, so if something does go wrong you can see where the error happened.

Again, partition managers aren’t for the faint of heart.  Many people will never use one, or won’t feel comfortable using one even if the need is there.  But that’s okay… partitioning isn’t something that’s done on a daily basis.

Configuring Places, Bookmarks, And Locations In Kde

Locations

All KDE location bars support traditional Unix paths, including “~” for the home folder. By using the “.”, it is also an easy way to access hidden folders. If you type in the full path of a file, KDE will open the file with the appropriate helper application.

KDE’s kio-slave protocols are also accepted in the location bar. For example, if you type, “remote:/” you will see the available networks and network folders you have created. If you type “programs:/”, you will see the categories for all applications in your menu.

Places

In addition to Dolphin, KDE file dialogs also use the same Places, making it easy to access the files you want to open or save. The Kickoff and Lancelot menus also display the same places, and the shelf widget can be configured to show them as well.

Like the rest of KDE, Places support shortcuts to kio-slaves. Therefore, you can have quick access to network folders, the trash, Nepomuk searches, and much more.

Bookmarks

Just as Locations and Places can make use of kio-slaves, Bookmarks can use them too. This means you can quickly save to remote network locations, something particularly useful for using applications like Kate to edit remote scripts and websites.

Other Tools

With the breadcrumbs feature enabled in Dolphin, you can drag and drop files into any one of the breadcrumb spots to easily copy or move files. If you drag and drop into a text editor, it will display the full path to the location in text form.

With any location, you can access it with Krunner by pressing Alt+F2 and then typing in the location. This includes remote network locations and even website URLs.

KDE supports dragging and dropping of files, folders, and even remote locations across its own applications and even works with some non-KDE applications. With full control over how you access your files and folders, you should be able to use KDE exactly the way you want.

Tavis J. Hampton

Tavis J. Hampton is a freelance writer from Indianapolis. He is an avid user of free and open source software and strongly believes that software and knowledge should be free and accessible to all people. He enjoys reading, writing, teaching, spending time with his family, and playing with gadgets.

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Dropping Gnome Fallback Mode: The Right Decision, Wrongly Handled

You have to pity the GNOME project these days. Even when it does the right thing, it does so in a way that maximizes controversy.

I’m talking about the project’s recent announcement about dropping support for fallback mode. Since it was first introduced with the GNOME 3.0 release the fallback mode has provided an approximation of the GNOME 2 desktop for users who lacked the hardware acceleration needed for the latest desktop environment. Now, GNOME developers have announced that the upcoming 3.8 release will not include the fallback mode.

From any perspective, this decision was correct. Although described in the GNOME 3 release notes as “an excellent experience [that] incorporates many of the improvements contained in the release,” fallback mode has actually been a crippled version of the last GNOME 2 releases.

Far from attracting users, fallback mode appears to have been widely regarded as a contemptuous gesture to those who either lacked the necessary hardware or who preferred not to use the proprietary drivers needed for the hardware acceleration required by the GNOME 3 release series.

Part of the problem may have been, as GNOME developers suggest, that “Some distributions labeled this mode as something other than fallback mode. This caused some grievance as it gave an impression that it was intended to provide a GNOME 2 experience.”

Moreover, while fallback mode was inadequate from the start, in the last year, GNOME Shell extensions, and Linux Mint’s Cinnamon and Mate have all begun offering an experience far closer to that of GNOME 2.

How much such considerations played in the decision is uncertain. For GNOME developers, a large part of the decision was simply practical. According to the initial proposal, fallback mode was not being tested and was simply in maintenance mode.

Just as importantly, an increasing number of applications, including Totem, Empathy and Cheese no longer worked in fallback mode, and some core features, such as keyboard configuration, would require an overhaul if they were to continue to work in fallback mode.

In addition, as users of the latest Fedora release have found, a new technology called llvmpipe offers a way around video drivers without hardware acceleration.

Despite a small reduction in performance with llvmpipe and its lack of support for a few chip architectures, the efficiency of maintaining only a single desktop environment speaks for itself.

Admittedly, GNOME never made clear to users (although they might reasonably have guessed) that “fallback mode was always meant to be a temporary stopgap.”

Still, the alternative would have been to increase efforts to support something that simply “does not provide an acceptable experience” and was no longer needed anyway.

Despite all the reactions to the decision as GNOME’s abandonment of users, it was obviously nothing of the sort. The switch to llvmpipe improves user experience, and the decision to drop fallback mode was a well-considered decision made over several months.

True, you might argue that GNOME should never have implemented such a half-hearted decision as fallback mode in the first place — or perhaps not depended on hardware acceleration. But at the very least, the project is finally correcting its original mistake.

The Marketing Fail

Properly handled, this decision could have been at least a minor marketing triumph for the project. Ever since the start of the GNOME 3 release series, some users have complained that GNOME ignored users and that its developers cared more about their own vision of the desktop than users’ needs.

Yet here was a case where GNOME was making a decision that benefited users as much as developers. Without any exaggeration whatsoever, the project might have announced the decision as an improvement of the user experience.

The project might then have suggested that users nostalgic for GNOME 2 check out GNOME Shell Extensions, perhaps providing a list of a half dozen or so extensions needed to re-create — so far as that is possible –GNOME 2 on top of GNOME 3.

But from the GNOME project itself? Nothing. No news release was issued about this moderately important piece of news. The Marketing team, if any of its members were aware of the stakes, never discussed the possibilities on its mailing list, much less did anything.

Instead, the final decision surfaced in a posting to the release mailing list — a perfectly reasonable choice for a purely technical decision, but one that removed all control of a potentially important marketing message.

Meanwhile, what were GNOME’s leaders talking about? Most were not talking about the project’s image problem at all. And those who were discussing it were mostly complaining about the problem and offering excuses for it.

Then she pleaded that “it really takes time to get things right” and, citing the fact that GNOME 2 also took time to be accepted, added that “this is how that happens in a true free software community run project — through slow incremental improvements that may only be acknowledged as afterthoughts.”

Federico Mena-Quintero expressed similar sentiments in his blog, but more aggressively. According to Mena-Quintero, developments in GNOME have been fiercely attacked since the project’s earliest days.

Although he acknowledged that many of the attacks on GNOME have been from ordinary people, Mena-Quintero particularly blames “yellow journalists” — poorly informed writers who give the most sensationalist interpretation to every development.

Calling them “hater bloggers with a job,” Mena-Quintero went on to say, “They pick up the latest flamewar, however minor, and make a big deal out of it. They summarize blog posts and quote things with not enough context . . . . They predict the decline and fall of a software project because there is a flamewar going on. They build an ongoing, not entirely consistent, self-serving narrative of the soap opera that they want free software to be.”

The result was inevitable: When the news was picked up by sites such as LXer and Slashdot, the reporting lacked any perspective from the GNOME project.

By default, the stories became another center for the same old discussions by users annoyed by GNOME 3: suggestions about what other desktop environments to try, criticisms of GNOME’s design philosophy and comprehensive dissections of the problems with recent GNOME releases.

A Mixed Problem

I don’t want to exaggerate the important of dropping fallback mode. Still less do I want to attack GNOME mindlessly. But I have gone into some detail on the subject because I believe that GNOME is missing opportunities. Nor is it the only project to do so.

Instead, as the opportunities slipped away, hurt feelings were expressed. Such feelings might have been understandable when the first complaints surfaced, and the members of GNOME were disappointed by the reception to all their hard work. But two years later, the expression of hurt feelings has become as routine as the criticisms for which they are meant as a response. Even more importantly, they are unconstructive, if not outright harmful.

GNOME cannot control what its members say in public. Its members would understandably object if it tried. But, like so many other free software projects, it is badly in need of some official responses, or at least some coordinated ones.

The brutal truth is that GNOME has a marketing problem as much as a developmental one. And, until it realizes the fact, no amount of counter-attacks or analogies to the past will help it move beyond the user revolt that has already lasted far too long.

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