Get off my lawn.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


I got a chance to play with Xgl, an up-and-coming window manager on Linux. It's pretty cool. It's an X server architecture layered on top of OpenGL, to form a hardware-acclerated compositing window manager.

To the uninitiated, I'm sure that sounds really sexy. What it means is that a Linux desktop can now have the same cool/weird graphic effects as those in MacOS X and the (always in-progress, never finished) Windows Vista. You get:
  • Semi-transparent windows and frames
  • Fading/flexing/flopping window and control surfaces
  • A mouse cursor that leaves watery "ripples" as it travels around the desktop
  • Other cool and wild effects
It's pure eye candy, and it serves no useful purpose. I like it! All the little effects add a new dimension to normal desktop usage. When you grab a window with the mouse and move it around the screen, it flexes as if it's made of warm jello. The faster you yank it, the more it stretches out of shape. You can "fling" the window to another spot on the desktop, and when it stops moving, it wiggles a few times. Press F12, and all the windows on the desktop arrange themselves so you can see them all, and they scale themselves so they look in proportion. I think I saw a Mac do that once, and it's pretty slick.

Probably the coolest thing is the desktop switch: When Xgl is active and you switch between virtual desktops, the whole desktop zooms away a bit, exposing a cube, which then twirls to the next face of the cube, and then zooms back in. It's a clever effect, and if you hold down on the "desktop switch" keys, the cube twirls at about 400 rpm until you release the keys.

Xgl was probably put together to provide an alternative to the desktops of Mac OSX and Windows Vista's Aero interface. I think they did a good job. The picture I provided (not a picture of my desktop, by the way) doesn't really do it justice. A normal desktop set up with Xgl is much nicer looking.

The Xgl effects, along with the usability improvements that have gone into the latest version of Gnome (on Ubuntu "Dapper") makes for a pretty darn cool desktop environment.


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