February 17, 2019

From the Desktop: AfterStep Into My Parlour - page 2

AfterStep: Love it or Loathe it

  • September 26, 2000
  • By Brian Proffitt

Because AfterStep went through a couple of years of feature adding, it has undergone a separate evolution from the NeXTstep environment it emulates. Some things, however remain the same. For instance, the AfterStep Wharf, which is derived from the NeXTstep Dock. The Wharf is a toolbar interface that holds applications and utilities for a user to click on to activate.

The Wharf, like all of the other parts of this window manager, is a module. AfterStep's toolset is completely comprised of modules. All of the modules are like bricks comprising a really solid wall. Besides the Wharf module, two other modules are started by default in AfterStep: the WinList and the Pager.

The WinList, by default, appears at the top of the desktop, and looks and behaves much like a taskbar from other interfaces. The Pager controls which one (of the six default) desktops you choose to work in. Combined, these three modules make up the bulk of navigation tools within AfterStep.

Menus in AfterStep are handled in a different manner than in other window managers. In keeping with the NeXTstep interface standards, all menus pop-up as completely separate objects on the desktop. In fact, a parent menu will simply disappear when the child menu appears, unless you double-click the parent menu first to "tack" it into place.

While this interface would take a new user just a little extra time to get used to, the true hurdle to introducing newbies to this environment comes from configuring the desktop.

Beware of the Modules?

Configuration of AfterStep comes in two forms. First, there is the GUI-based configuration that lets users manipulate the look and feel of the desktop. This is all pretty straight-forward and easy to understand.

Not so some of the other configuration tasks, such as adding an application to the Wharf. To accomplish this, you need to open the ~/GNUstep/Library/AfterStep/wharf file and hand-code the exec command into the file. This kind of procedure makes AfterStep a bit above the heads of the average new user, for which Sasha Vasko makes no apologies.

"I would hope that AfterStep will become a solid window manager for the production desktop for general *nix users, with experience greater than beginner[s]," Vasko wrote.

Vasko responded to my question regarding this approach to configuration with this comment:

"AfterStep does not have [a GUI control panel] yet...," he wrote, "In fact, it was the most voted for feature on as.themes.org poll not while ago.

"Why we don't have one yet? Insufficient developers resources. [It] takes a lot of effort to come up with decent configuration tool, and none of us developers are employed (meaning paid for :) ) for the sole purpose of writing [AfterStep], so it progresses slowly," he continued.

Vasko elaborated that he did not feel this was a detriment to the AfterStep users, since all control panels are manipulating configuration files at some point anyway. AfterStep's methodology actually gives users a huge advantage, as well.

"AfterStep allows you to configure different running instances of the same module--you simply add *InstanceName before any particular option to make it specific for the given module that was started by running executable InstanceName (for example, you may have two Wharfs running at the same time--Wharf and SecondWharf). This gives user quite a lot of power, and I presently cannot think of an easier way to provide the same type of configurability via GUI, without sacrificing simplicity," Vasko wrote.

Many of AfterStep's users tend to agree. Proponents also like the small size and speed of the environment, which is an added boon for anyone running X on a slower machine.

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