The search for a new desktop

As I mentioned here, I’m less than happy with the move Ubuntu have made towards adopting new desktop environments that seem to be more suited to touchscreen devices than desktop computers. So I’ve been test-driving a few of the alternatives to try to find something that will let me get on with my work, without getting in the way all the time.

So far I’m very impressed with LXDE, which is available pre-packaged onto the underlying Ubuntu 11.10 base as “Lubuntu”. Admittedly it’s very basic out the box (or off the USB key), but that seems to be because it’s been designed for very low-powered or old computers. All the default applications have also been selected to keep memory and CPU usage to a minimum. Nothing wrong with that, but in my case, I have a ridiculously powerful laptop with lashings of disk and memory to run it on – so all I want is the good old fashioned desktop metaphor back. Lowered system requirements are simply an added benefit.

So I’ve gone about hacking Lubuntu into something better suited for me. So far I’ve removed sylpheed sylpheed-doc sylpheed-i18n sylpheed-plugins mtpaint osmo xpad ace-of-penguins abiword abiword-common libabiword-2.8 gnumeric and gnumeric-common. That got rid of most of the default applications, and makes way for me to replace them with something fuller-featured.

I then added thunderbird xscreensaver-data-extra xscreensaver-gl-extra recoll inkscape scribus gimp gimp-data gimp-data-extras gimp-help-en gimp-help-common dia shotwell libreoffice aisleriot gnome-sudoku freemind audacity musescore easytag pitivi and conky-all. That adds most of the applications that I would expect to need from the standard Ubuntu repositories.

I then reconfigured the panels. Lubuntu comes with one panel on the bottom of the screen, a la Windows XP, but I’m used to the Gnome approach. So I moved the original panel to the top of the screen and added a second panel to the bottom. I then reconfigured the panels to match what I’m used to in a Gnome 2.x environment by moving around the various panel items – which was far easier than configuring the Gnome panels. So far so good.

Interesting to note that at this point, my test laptop (which is “only” a dual core 2Ghz machine with 2GB of ram) absolutely flies. But I still have a lot of things to try:

I know it’s just eye-candy for the sake of it, but I tried to add a simple Conky installation, showing some key facts and figures to the desktop – date/time, CPU, RAM & disk monitoring etc. It turns out that Conky and LXDE’s FilemanPC (which manages the desktop) don’t play well together out the box. You can get Conky scripts roughly working by altering them to contain “own_window_type normal” rather than “own_window_type overlay” or “own_window_type desktop”. However, the window can easily get minimised, with no way to recover it. Low priority, but more research required on that.

Currently most of the Thinkpad Fn-F1-12 key combinations aren’t recognised. The only one I really care about is Fn-F4 for suspend, which I can workaround using the menus, but I’d like to get at least that one enabled.

Next I need to test all the IBM-specific software that I normally use. I suspect that there may be some issues around the support of some of the Lotus products, which are built on top of an Eclipse base, and hence may not play well with my different desktop environment. Time will tell on that, but its critical for me.

Finally, assuming I can get all these basics working, I think I’ll be looking into producing a custom theme, as the standard Lubuntu (cold) blue isn’t at all to my taste.

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