Artist's Guide to the Desktop, Part 2
Most of my research for this article and others in this series has been done on two systems: a Pentium II 400MHz box with 256MB of memory and an IBM ThinkPad i1410 (Celeron 200MHz) with 32MB of memory. By using two significantly different systems, I was able to compare some visible performance differences for the various window managers.
Performance on the Thinkpad was reasonable, even with animations turned on. The slide-show change to different desktops is a little jumpy, but not really slow. Translucent moves—windows appear partially transparent when being dragged around the desktop—were extremely slow, and shaded moves were nearly unusable. Use Shaded moves only if you plan on shading the windows first or have a fast CPU. Technical moves are fairly interesting visually and quite fast, since they draw only the boundaries of the windows. Box moves aren't as visually stimulating, but are quite fast. Box and Technical moves are the options of choice for slower, memory-limited systems.
Another thing to look at for performance issues is the Imlib Configuration tool. By default, you can get to this from the User Menus-->User Application List--> Imlib Settings option (left mouse click in the root window). From here, you can set the color quality of the window rendering, and the amount of cache to use for images and pixmaps. The Color Correction page is quite interesting, although its effect is not obvious unless you have high-quality background images. On lower-end systems, try reducing the Image Cache, Pixmap Cache and Shared Memory sizes to their lowest settings. Also, disable the High Quality mode for 15/16bpp systems. Many laptops are likely to run in 15/16bpp, so you'll want the High Quality mode disabled on these systems.
E is still in development, so it may possibly cause system lockups. I tried to access the Audio features from the Settings Menu, even though I had turned off the sound options during compilation, and this caused a segmentation fault. Interestingly enough, E caught this problem and offered me the option of restarting or continuing. Although the fault is a problem, it handled it gracefully.
E is cool and more than likely has a very interesting future to come. It's fairly stable—I had only two lockups in all my testing on both systems—but lacks end-user information to make serious use of all its features. It comes with one of the most interesting default interfaces available. Many people are recognizing the potential of E. It works happily in both the GNOME and KDE environments.
E is also resource-intensive—it can chew up memory fairly quickly. Because it's still in development, installation can be a pain for the inexperienced user. You need to understand how to build and install multiple software packages just to get it running properly. Configuration of menus can be complex and requires manual editing. Stylized, themed interfaces are possible, but it's not yet clear how to create these. There isn't any real documentation that begins to explain the process.
My purpose here was to talk about what the desktop environment can be to end users—distinctively personalized. E offers the potential for this more than any other window manager, but it's a long way from the simplicity that typical desktop users expect. Its complexity notwithstanding, if you've got the determination to experiment and research the default configurations on your own, you may find that E will have its place in your world.
Michael J. Hammel (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a graphic artist wanna-be, a writer and a software developer. He wanders the planet aimlessly in search of adventure, quiet beaches and an escape from the computers that dominate his life.
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