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19 August 2006 @ 09:12 am
Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!  
At last, at long last! Linux has real transparency:



And yes, it actually does serve a purpose. I'm copying many gigs of data today while I perform some housekeeping. Now I can sit here and tick away at the command line, while glancing occasionally at my web browser in the background. Ditto with actual useful background tasks.

gcrumb does a happy dance.

I've been playing with GLX and compiz on Ubuntu, and while it's pretty pokey on my i810 onboard graphics card, I expect it would be appropriately snappy with a 'real' 128-256 MB NVidia or ATI card. (These, along with the Intel graphics chips are the only chipsets currently supported.) The UI benefits are, surprisingly, more than just geekish eye candy. A few observations:

  • The smooth fade-in and fade-out when windows are opened and closed is a good deal less alarming for people who aren't confident at the computer. I find it quite soothing, too.

  • For as long as I've been using X windows, I've tried to come to terms with virtual desktops. My big hang-up is that out of sight means out of mind. Regardless of those tiny inconised displays of desktop contents that many desktop managers have, I just couldn't visualise what was there, and as a result, found it difficult to use them. But the three-dimensional desktop switching has given me a metaphor I can 'see'. Compiz treats each of the virtual desktops as one face on the interior of a cube, so switching desktops is an intuitive as turning your head to view what's on the wall beside you. Suddenly I'm using three desktops where two was too many before.

  • Push the mouse cursor to the top right corner and you get a Mac-like display of all the windows nicely arranged against a muted background. It's a straight rip-off from another platform, but that's one of the things that Linux sometimes does very well.

  • ALT-TAB switching renders too slowly on my machine to be useful to me, but the design clearly has merit. Again, the background recedes and is muted while the candidate windows step to the foreground one by one. Big functionality gap though: SHIFT-ALT-TAB (i.e. go backwards) is currently unsupported.

  • The 'wobbly window' effect, in which a window takes on a Jello-like consistency when moved, really is just silly geek eye candy. It's only purpose seems to be to encourage me to buy a proper graphics card.

  • Update: And imbuing min/maximising windows with the same physical dynamics as the surface tension of water, so that windows SNAP-BOINGGG! into their new size is just plain weird. The animation effects are straight out of a Chuck Jones animated short - fine for Saturday mornings, but.... I'm definitely turning off that feature.

  • 'Nother Update: Window borders of background apps become partially transparent when there's no activity in them, opaque when there is. Interesting way of giving visual cues when multi-tasking. I'll wait to see how they behave with a proper graphics adapter before I make a decision about this feature. I've got a multi-gigabyte rsync running in a console at the moment, and it's pulsing faintly in behind this edit window as it sticks on larger files, then moves on. Right now, the transition is smooth enough not be be distracting, but that might be a side-effect of slow screen writes.


All in all, I really like the look and feel of Compiz on GLX, and with this week's release of true window transparency, I'm hooked. I'll be making it my default X session now.
 
 
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