Stardock's Brad Wardell paid me a visit recently, during which he asked for a tour of Linux window managers and then showed me Windows software he had in the works.
Stardock Corporation is best known for its OS/2 desktop enhancement software, Object Desktop. Well, that's not strictly true. Stardock is probably most widely known for OS/2 games, starting with the blockbuster hit Galactic Civilizations. But the Stardock product most relevant to business is Object Desktop. Object Desktop for OS/2 is a set of object-oriented user interface tools that fills in the gaps in the OS/2 Workplace Shell. Those who get their hands on Object Desktop can no longer live without it.
Once it became obvious that there wasn't going to be a boom in OS/2 desktop sales, Wardell ported Object Desktop to Windows. Once again, anyone who gets his or her hands on this product will quickly become hopelessly spoiled by it. But the best is yet to come. Wardell gave me a preview of the greatly expanded version that is in the works. The product, which will probably sell under a name other than Object Desktop, works best on Windows 2000. So all of you folks who plan to standardise your companies on Windows 2000 for the desktop should keep an eye on www.stardock.com. I think both of you will be very pleased.
The Windows desktop enhancement software Wardell showed me has more gee-whiz features than Microsoft has enemies. And I have to admit that at first I was a bit embarrassed when I couldn't show him anything quite like it running on my Linux box.
It isn't that you can't get a Linux box to look and run like Wardell's souped-up Windows. You can. Take a look at some of the available themes for the Enlightenment desktop. (You can find Enlightenment at www.enlightenment.org and available themes at e.themes.org). I assume Enlightenment inspired many of the features Stardock put into its newest software, although Stardock deserves credit for taking the ideas further and making the features much easier to use.
Wardell's software made me realise that my priorities have changed quite a bit since I traded my beloved OS/2 for Linux. I have somehow transformed from a GUI power addict to someone who just wants the desktop interface to get out of my way so I can work.
What really brought the message home was when Wardell asked me if KDE (the K Desktop Environment) had a virtual desktop pager that lets you drag and drop applications from one virtual desktop to another. I had to think for a minute before I could answer because I use the simple default virtual desktop pager under KDE that doesn't have that capability. (The answer is yes, by the way.)This week I used a spartan environment window manager called Blackbox. Its desktop user interface is a pop-up menu for starting applications and a relatively useless toolbar that lets you switch between tasks and virtual desktops. But it's fast, runs on less than 2MB of RAM, and is all I need. Not that Blackbox is the "answer". If I were configuring a desktop for others, I might use Enlightenment to create a specialised desktop that feels more like an appliance. I would replace traditional icons and cascading menus with a few simple visual gadgets that start only the handful of applications my users need.
So am I caught up in a trend toward greater simplicity, or is this just a unique personal transformation? You tell me. Where do you want to go with your desktop and the desktop you provide your users? More features? Or specialised appliance-like simplicity?
Nicholas Petreley is the founding editor of LinuxWorld (www.linuxworld.com) and works with Linux Standard Base. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.