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Ximian GNOME 1.4: The Monkey Has Landed - page 3

The long wait is over.

  • April 30, 2001
  • By Michael Hall

The Ximian installer is a friendly, easy-to-use tool that does a very good job of sorting out how to best move over 100MB of files onto a machine and install them with very little interaction. The error messages we received usually "just went away," though we'd count ourselves as "unusually persistent" on that score. Whatever their source, we hope they weren't a widespread issue for many others, as they'd quickly back an end user off with frustration.

One other minor problem we'd note is the lack of flexibility when it comes to package selection. Very little user choice is involved here, especially considering that the contents of each of the package sets available is never documen1ted. We'd prefer a little more control of this part of the installation, though the installer does, at least, note what packages are about to be installed. This deficiency is more than taken care of by Red Carpet, as we'll see later on, and we're willing to credit Ximian's distribution designers with a desire to keep options simple enough to keep things smooth during installation.

Our inability to simply grab a single package with apt-get under Debian was a genuine gaff, though, and made installation much more problematic. Though the upgrade went smoothly, this is the less preferred method until the package is added to the apt archives.

Setting Up the GNOME Desktop With the Ximian Doorman

Once the installation is complete, Ximian launches the GNOME display manager (gdm). We restarted it by hand on our Debian machine by using /etc/init.d/gdm restart from the console. The next time a user logs in, the Ximian Doorman program is invoked.

Doorman is designed to make getting a basic, somewhat personalized GNOME desktop in place. A non-mandatory registration screen is presented that offers users a chance to register and sign up for Ximian announcement mailing lists. It then steps the user through customizing the GNOME desktop.

The three broad choices offered are a "Redmond-like" panel configuration, with a single, small (24 pixel tall) panel at the bottom of the screen and the traditional GNOME G/foot menu; a CDE-like approach where the full-sized (48 pixel) panel sits in the bottom center of the display and provides a few basic icons and a pager; and the Ximian GNOME look, which provides a menu bar at the bottom with task list and pager, plus a menu bar at the top that includes program, configuration, and help menus, plus a clock that links to the GNOME calendar and a new feature to GNOME 1.4: a drop down task list in the upper right corner of the screen that indicates both the task that has focus at the moment as well as a drop down list of all tasks on all desktops.

Doorman offers a choice of file managers: users may either select Eazel's Nautilus, which is a real highlight of the larger GNOME 1.4 release; or the traditional GNOME Midnight Commander (gmc); or even no file manager at all

There's also a choice of themes for Sawfish (the default window manager), and GTK, the GNOME toolkit. Eazel chipped in both a GTK and Sawfish theme that complement each other, and there's a wide range of others to choose from from the fairly staid to some garish GTK themes.

Finally, Doorman offers a small collection of wallpapers to choose from.

We liked Doorman a lot because it not only served to provide a customized environment, but because it gently introduces users to a few key concepts they'll need to explore making things fit them better in the future by demonstrating how flexible GNOME is when it comes to individual preferences.

Next Installment

In the second part of this review, we'll delve into the Ximian GNOME desktop proper. Not only have they repackaged GNOME, they've added some interesting packages of their own and released Red Carpet as an integral part of the overall environment. In addition, they've branched away from the core GNOME distribution in terms of menu configuration and some features they've decided to leave out. We'll take a look at all of this, plus Monkeytalk: Ximian's live help chat feature, which we couldn't help but stress test a little.

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