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31 October 2012, 12:23

Seeking Enlightenment

by Fabian A. Scherschel

Enlightenment is one of the oldest open source desktop projects in existence. With E17, the developers are gearing up to their latest release, an occasion that has been a long time in the making. The word is that the team will make some announcements at the EFL Developer Day taking place as part of Linuxcon Europe on 5 November. With a release likely being close at hand, The H spoke to project leader Carsten "Rasterman" Haitzler about how the desktop environment has been progressing and what the goals are for the project.

The H: Who do you picture as your typical user? Where is your focus for E17?

Carsten Haitzler: Our typical user is not "your grandmother" (or whoever is rolled out on the occasion of pointing to a novice computer user or one who knows nothing about them). Our typical user is someone who is keen to explore something new and different. Someone who wants control and power. They are probably already familiar with Linux and have reached the limits of what they have and want to push the boundaries.

We try and help and hand-hold where we can (for instance our first-run wizard is pretty plain and straight-forward at helping you set E17 up), but we don't have the dedicated resources to make this perfect, so you will find many rough bits too. We try and ensure there is some way to change everything via the GUI so you don't have to resort to text configuration files. This reduces the barrier of entry for the more advanced users, and thus makes doing "advanced things" seem friendly. In fact we have exposed almost every single configuration value E17 has via the GUI in one way or another, and then some extras E17 doesn't even have.

The H: In a world that has even more desktops than when you started coding on Enlightenment, where do you see its place today in relation to these other desktops?

CH: I'm not sure there are "more desktops" now than when Enlightenment started. They just changed what they do, and what their names were. When E started, the only thing that was a desktop was CDE. KDE 1.0 wasn't even out yet. KDE was founded at almost the exact same time Enlightenment started development, just E didn't have a big announcement or marketing effort.

Back then you had CDE, TWM, FVWM, OLVWM, CTWM, etc. The window managers were fairly lean and did little more in general than provide a simple way to launch an application (via a menu or keyboard shortcut mostly) and then provided virtual desktops, window frames and management. CDE was the beasty behemoth of the day providing a file manager, panel to launch things from and show status, etc. Today, most of these WMs are barely used, and only a few have survived.

Today we have GNOME, KDE, XCFE, Unity, LXDE, Razor-qt, Enlightenment and a few others (it depends if you count MATE and Trinity, etc.). It's actually probably a shorter list of widely used Desktop/WMs today, but they do much more. Incredibly much more than back when Enlightenment started.

Today Enlightenment offers most of what you get from GNOME and KDE, and probably the same if not a bit more than XFCE. It just doesn't try and ship a suite of apps with it. It is the desktop (Window manager, settings, file manager, application launching and management) minus the apps. In future we will expand our "application portfolio", but as it stands E offers most of what a techie user needs or wants with all the swizzle-knobs they might ever desire. Enlightenment also offers it for a fairly small footprint in memory, CPU and disk usage – considering its feature set. If you want less of your system consumed by your desktop and more left to your apps, then E17 is pretty much right near or at the head of that field.

Zoom Enlightenment E17 provides a fully composited desktop even on slower machines

The H: What does E17 bring to the table that is being ignored by other desktops?

CH: Unlike GNOME we give you configuration options by the bucket-load in the GUI. We offer insane amounts of configureability in the UI via themes as well. We support standards and have a fairly traditional UNIX/X11-style UI with a grid of virtual desktops, pager, key bindings and more. E17 thus would feel comfortable for anyone used to such a setup. We are fairly lean on resources and start up quickly. We also have a compositor with all the nice "turn itself automatically off for fullscreen applications", like KDE.

Next: The road to E17

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