Friday, June 24, 2011

Decluttering the Open Source desktop

Clutter is everywhere. It's in the real world, it's in your computer. It even builds up in your mind.

I guess reading ZenHabits has that effect on you. The idea of removing clutter boils down to just one simple idea: simplicity. It's an addictive concept.

Modern operating systems have tonnes of clutter in them. Sure, we've come a long way. But that just means we've had time to pickup a lot of excess baggage along the way.

With things like Unity, Gnome Shell, LightDM, and numerous other efforts I think the open source world is working out a way to declutter the desktop. Smartphones and tablets are trending right now so it's no surprise. We won't yet know which projects will end up the "winners" but here's some of the interesting ones.

Ubuntu's Unity desktop
It's Ubuntu's attempt at streamlining the desktop and giving the user a better, simpler desktop experience. Currently it's got a lot of kinks in it. With a migration to GTK3 going on I really don't expect much of an improvement in 11.10. If there is a huge improvement then that's all good.

This one's got potential. I know I've ranted negatively on Unity recently, but going back to Gnome-panel made me realise just how much I've gotten used to Unity's workflow. I keep trying to use Unity shortcuts and features in the classic desktop. It's scary.

Gnome Shell

Gnome Shell desktop
Gnome's own efforts at modernising the desktop is also really interesting. I'll want to try it out properly (as opposed to in VirtualBox) once Ubuntu 11.10 is out. It should be available officially as an alternative to Unity then.

It's a different workflow from Unity but one that also makes sense. At least it was okay for me in VirtualBox. The only major problem would be customisation and themes support but then Unity has that too.


A new session manager that aims to be lightweight and can be shared across desktops. It's supposed to replace GDM in Oneiric. While there are arguments against LightDM, there's no doubt it's being pushed forward in Ubuntu. It might end up getting dropped anyway if things don't work out. Only time will tell.


It's not yet ready for prime time, but apparently Ubuntu isn't the only one planning on using it in place of X. Like LightDM it's an effort to replace an existing component with a newer more lightweight and modern solution. Wayland even runs inside X if you want. Who knows how this one'll turn out?

Whether Unity will prove to be more popular than Gnome Shell, we won't know just yet. Ubuntu is a major distro but then Unity seems to be stuck on Ubuntu with others using Gnome Shell instead. LightDM and Wayland? Maybe they'll usurp their predecessors. They certainly look interesting enough at the moment.

What's your take?