Dashboard for Linux users 26 Mar 2008
miscellaneous linux

With the release of Mac OS 10.5 (Leopard) I found myself in a tough spot, I liked certain features added into Leopard, but I couldn't stand some of the stability issues I was having and the other bugs that would interrupt my normal workflow during the day. In an effort to alleviate some of my frustrations with Leopard, I experimented for a week with running Gnome (with Compiz) on my openSUSE workstation. In general all the important bits were there, By this point, I had already switched from using any sort of GUI editor to work, but instead had switched over to using vim on a shared development server here at the office. Pidgin in Gnome Given that Drosera still wasn't fast enough for my normal day-to-day web development debugging, I was also using Firefox and Opera for most of my web browsing as well. Chat was covered by Adium, so using it's Linux/Windows counter-part, Pidgin was no trouble at all.

After switching for a week and falling in love with Compiz and some of the features it offers, I feel like I can accomplish far more now on Linux than I was on Mac OS X. For me Mac OS X became the new Windows, I was fighting the system to work almost as much as I was do actual work (between the IMAP code in crashing and Safari leaking, I was not a happy camper). The one missing feature however was Dashboard. I'm not a religious user of Dashboard, but I always used it to keep little chunks of information stored away either in post-it notes, via clocks, or tickers, etc. I'd not found a good solution until recently, by way of Opera and a combination of widgets and one of the default Compiz Fusion plugins.

(click to enlarge)

The concept behind Opera Widgets is the exact same as behind Dashboard widgets, tiny little web applications running on your desktop, by default however they run on your desktop. This wasn't going to work for me, I like to stash widgets away, and access them through the trusty F12 button as per usual with Dashboard.

In enters the "Widget Layer" plugin for Compiz Fusion , which allows you to assign rules for placing regular windows sitting in the window manager, into this special widget layer that appears just like Dashboard does on Mac OS X (with the actual desktop faded out in the background). In order to group all Opera Widgets in the Widget Layer, you can set the "Widget Windows" field to:

Which will cause all enabled Opera Widgets to be availabe at a keypress of F12, if you're on Linux, I highly suggest you try it out, it's extremely useful, especially if you grab some of the more developer focused widgets from the widget directory

Of course, there's plenty of reasons to use Compiz. One of my favorite plugins is the "Annotate" plugin that allows you to draw on your screen, which comes in handy for going over interfaces with coworkers.

In general the addition of Compiz to the Linux desktop I feel is an important one, it drastically improves the rendering of windows since it's essentially doing what Quartz Extreme is doing on Mac OS X in terms of offloading some rendering on the graphics card's GPU. Having really bitching eye-candy certainly doesn't hurt either, So far with Compiz I have what equates to "Spaces", "Expose", and "Dashboard" from Leopard, along with a myriad of other goodies like "Wobbly Windows", true transparency and reflections on arbitrary UI elements and of course, a fish tank inside my desktop. (If you're using openSUSE, the one-click packages for Compiz Fusion can be found here on the wiki).