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From the Desktop: E Stands for Enlightenment (Really, I Promise) - page 2

Beginning to See the Light

  • October 31, 2000
  • By Brian Proffitt

They call him Rasterman, and this man, also known as Carsten Haitzler, is on a mission to move Enlightenment beyond the realm of window manager and into the realm of a new paradigm known as the desktop shell.

Looking at Enlightenment 0.16 today, you can quickly see this is no ordinary window manager. The first thing new users notice is the quality and edginess of the graphic interface, starting with the eye-catching door-opening effect when Enlightenment first starts.

Almost everything about Enlightenment centers on how it looks to the user. Rasterman and his fellow developers have clearly spent a lot of time integrating the best looking graphics and fonts into this window manager.

Enlightenment is not just about looks, of course, but like noticing a cute person across the room, it certainly grabs your attention. And what a surprise when you walk across the room and discover there's a brain behind those looks, too.

Applications in Enlightenment are managed by the User Menu, which neatly organizes all of the existing apps based on easily configured menu configuration files in the $HOME/.enlightenment directory. Nothing really complicated to edit, just straight-forward text files that display menu commands in an easy syntax:

"Proper name of app" NULL exec "execute name"

The display is very flexible, with virtual and multiple desktops that can be configured in a snap. You can flip across the edges of the virtual desktops, if you so choose, but this feature drove me slightly nuts whenever one of my window's scrollbars was too close to the edge, so I turned it off.

All of the desktops can be accessed a number of ways, such as the ever-present Pager tool, which lets you grab representations of any window on any desktop and move it to another desktop instantly. And, any desktop other then the root desktop can be grabbed and dragged in and out of view.

If this last feature sounds familiar, you may recall it from the Amiga desktop, which Rasterman originally was trying to emulate when he first started putting Enlightenment together. Unlike AmiWM, which maintains strict adherence to its Amiga roots, Enlightenment takes broader steps into new territory.

The road to get to Enlightenment 0.16 has been a bit bumpy. By the time the release was up to 0.13, even Rasterman knew it was getting too bulky.

"E13 was getting unwieldy, so it was time for a cleanup and rewrite, he said.

"Admittedly the amount of code in E14 is tiny--I've written that amount of code several times over this year," Rasterman joked.

Fans of Enlightenment got a bit of a shock when GNOME began releasing with Sawfish as its default window manager, but Rasterman wasn't surprised.

"I didn't really care," he revealed. "Enlightenment is not part of GNOME. I don't see why everyone gets so fussed about it. GNOME had no choice but to use Enlightenment since it was the only window manager with full support at the time.

"Enlightenment and GNOME don't mesh. Enlightenment was around a long, long time before GNOME was even started and our goals are different--[they] always were," Rasterman continued.

Right now, Rasterman is focusing much of his efforts on the next big Enlightenment project: EFM. With this new file manager in place, Rasterman envisions Enlightenment moving away from being a window manager and towards being a desktop shell. To him, this model involves a few extras beyond the window manager model.

"[A desktop shell] is a window manager plus a file manager, application manager, and configuration tools for your general environment," Rasterman said in a recent online interview. He stops short, though, of calling future versions of Enlightenment a desktop environment.

"I'm not going into doing applications," Rasterman explained, "That is the job for GNOME and KDE. I want to make the shell that surrounds your applications better, sexier, more useful, etc. People aren't really working hard on that in the other projects. They are working hard in the application space."

The immediate future for Rasterman will be working hard on the EFM project for the next release of Enlightenment. With this desktop shell, he hopes to bring a unifying presence to the conflicting X desktops:

"I'd like to unite the core desktop shell by producing one that works with KDE and GNOME apps and legacy X apps, and then leave the application space up to other projects."

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