Wednesday Aug 19, 2009

Desktop OS for Personal Computing

I have been using OpenSolaris as my primary desktop for quite a while - it has been working well, all the devices except blue-tooth work. Features like suspend-resume and network auto manager have made life easier. With ZFS boot environment and Image packaging system, it has been easier to eliminate unwanted software and services to keep the desktop lightweight. I do not want to waste CPU cycles on fancy cruft that comes with default installation which may not required for desktop usage.

I usually keep upgrading to the latest builds, but noticed that few things have been degrading compared to previous builds I have been running. Mainly it looked like the boot up time had increased to more than a minute compared to something which it look 20-30 seconds previously. Rather than spend time debugging what went wrong, I surveyed a number of available Desktops to see if I am missing anything by running OpenSolaris, looking for something that works well and has a fast neat UI. I use virtualbox extensively to get access to different versions of Solaris as needed. In this Survey I used trial on VirtualBox as the first yardstick, followed by USB or CD booting it on my laptop.

1. Windows 7. A trial version is available for download - It looks like they rearranged few things on Windows Vista, fixed few bugs and called it new - like expired food in a new can. Slow and sluggish and certainly I may not buy it even if they give a 99.99% discount on it. I ran it on Virtual box as well as installed it on a spare partition, to try it.
Rating 2 out of 5.

2. Ubuntu Netbook Remix - the same old Gnome user interface with an additional launcher which looks like was assembled in a hurry. Tried it on VirtualBox but did not consider it worthwhile to try it further.
Rating 1 out of 5

3. Intel's Moblin - seems promising given it is still being worked on. Interface is much better than other Linux distros out there. It worked on Virtual box, but it panics when booted with USB stick. May be I will giver it a try when they get it working.
Rating 2 out of 5 (would have been higher if only it worked)


4. Live-Android - booted really fast, and has a refreshingly new GUI interface that is years ahead of the Windows 7 and Gnome. The USB booting does not seem to work. Booting from CD works. They are still working on it, and there are hacks to install other Android apps on it. Working with browser is tough and it doesn't look like it gives any access to the file system. However it has what I was looking for in my personal computer desktop - a fast and usable interface.
Rating 5 out of 5 (hoping it will mature into a full Desktop)


5. It seems Google is working on an OS called Chrome OS. If it is similar to Android and delivers on speed and usability, I am sure it would replace my existing Desktop. It might also mean the end of Windows Desktop and many other copy cat Linux Distributions out there.

6. Tinycore - offers a neat way to start with a cruft-less operating system that weighs less than 11mb and then add applications like firefox. Rating 2 out 5 (requires a bit of work to install and to get it working)


7. Webconverger - another distro that launches just the browser, worth mentioning.


There were a bunch of other distributions that I wanted to try like Fedora, Ubuntu and gOS, but looking at their screenshots, my guess is that they aren't any better than Android at this time so it would be futile to try them. At the moment I may install tinycore on the spare partition and upgrade to a better option if one becomes available.

Monday Jun 04, 2007

Desktop Two dot Oh

After listening to Prof. John Maeda recently, I had a look at his laws of Simplicity. As I had noted earlier in the story of OpenGrok, it is difficult to make things simple. Maeda's work provides a set of tools achieve simplicity in a more methodical way.

These laws are generic and I can see how they can make a difference to day-to-day things. I am interested in using them for software. Also because principles of Security intersect with Simplicity. Since simple things are considered more secure than complex things.

My eyes then turned towards the Gnome JDS desktop I was using and that seemed like a good subject to experiment with laws of Simplicity. At first each window has three boxes to represent itself! One on desktop as the window itself, again on the window list in bottom panel and again in workspace switcher. That lends to first law of reduction. There is also the "launch" main menu, that could be reduced too, since there are hundreds of applications and 90% of the time I only use few applications: terminal, browser, mail client...

That raises a question, do we really need a 200 megabyte desktop that comes with 100 tiny applications? or just a browser kiosk that can also run one or two other applications... I would call that Desktop 2.0, just like network is the computer, browser is becoming the desktop.
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