April 17, 2014

The StartX Files: Things That Are Pointless

Pointless Thing No. 1: Living In a Branded World

  • April 17, 2001
  • By Brian Proffitt

Having just given my annual donation to the United States Treasury, I am hereby warning all concerned that I may not be my usual chipper self this week. The word used to describe the way I was feeling to fellow editor Michael Hall was "bludgeoned."

Taxes, for me, are not such a terrible thing, except during times when I have philosophical differences with the current administration and when I am self-employed and have to pay oodles of extra taxes for a social security program that will likely be bankrupt by the time I am old enough to retire. Since both of these criteria are currently true, I have a special pain in my chest on this particular tax day. I won't worry about it until it spreads to my left arm.

Of course, at this rate, I may be donating my left arm to the government in addition to my bank account balances.

To help in this regard, I am starting to explore the option of granting naming rights to my column. I got the idea when I read that the Warren, Michigan Public Library was trying to sell the naming rights to their new proposed main library for an estimated $10 million.

This is not a new idea, of course. Followers of American college football can likely remember the days when the Sugar Bowl was called the Sugar Bowl and not the Nokia Sugar Bowl. And the FedEx Orange Bowl was just the Orange Bowl. Millions of dollars are spent paying these organizations and others for the chance to get their names mentioned in legitimate news and sports broadcasts.

I figure the StartX Files could easily be worth a cool grand.

The question becomes, who should I ask? From a moral standpoint, I could ask the GNU Project, to make it the "GNU/StartX Files." But I don't think they could come up with the coin.

A hardware manufacturer would be good: something like the "Transmeta StartX Files," but somehow that does not seem catchy.

There are so many names to choose from, after all, it would be hard to pick. Then there would be the tricky issue maintaining impartiality after getting funds directly from one segment of the market. People might start thinking I favored one distribution or company over all the others.

To solve this sticky issue, I could approach Microsoft. Certainly there would be no inference of holding one aspect of Linux in more regard than others. Then again, I have heard tell that the Boys in Redmond have interesting ideas about sponsoring various forms of media.

So, for now, I think I'll put the column's naming rights on the back burner and try to make money the old fashioned way: with a trip to Vegas.

Pointless Thing No. 2: PLWM

Calling your own window manager "Pointless" may be rather self-depreciating, but that's the name Peter Liljenberg and Morgan Ekl�f came up with for their Python-based GUI for X, so that's what we're sticking with.

After examining PLWM this past week, I can assure you that there's nothing pointless to this window manager at all. But if you are not a programmer, there may be more here than you can handle. This is because PLWM is not a window manager, per se, but rather a set of Python classes that you can use to create your own graphic environment.

To run PLWM, you need to download the core C module, which is that interfaces with X, and the Python extension module, which controls everything else about PLWM and enables you to build the window manager exactly how you want to.

This powerful amount of configurability comes with a severe price tag, as you might expect: configuration ease is sacrificed to make PLWM work. In other words, if you are not a programmer, then it might be best to give this one a miss, because there are no namby-pamby configuration files in here for you to tweak. This is a true hacker's environment, in every sense of the word.

The payoff, if you can manage it, is one nice piece of code running on your desktop. After brushing up on my programming skills, and calling about every programmer I know, I was able to get PLWM running well enough on my machine. PLWM is inherently keyboard-centric, with good keymaps to let you started on migrating away from the mouse. Of course, the ability to go into the code and make your own keymaps is a huge plus for hacker/users, too.

The documentation provided on the PLWM site is pretty complete, and is more than enough to get you started on the nuances of this GUI hack.

Would I use PLWM myself? Quite honestly, no. I am just not skilled enough in programming to make things work well in it. It has a certain appeal, however, in that it was small, very simple, easy to work with (from the the user point of view). I think PLWM has a good future in instances where developers want to deliver a custom window manager in hurry for customers who need a GUI without a lot of frills, since much of the base work is already done for you.

PLWM should also appeal to those who firmly believe in the essence of Linux: that to truly own an application is to hack the source.

So if you are a hacker who wants something more than just window manager with standard configuration files, you might want to give PLWM a look-see.

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