Wednesday, March 01, 2006

David Reveman's Response

Many have been asking what hardware XGL and Compiz would need, so I thought I would ask David Reveman myslef. Below are my question and his response.

"Hello Mr. Reveman

I am a big fan of your work who has followed the progress of your many
OSS projects for a long time. I am VERY impressed with your recent XGL
code and I have to admit that it was six months ahead of what I
thought to be possible in such a time frame. Amazing
work- thanks for your progress!

Yet the recent code drop has ignited the same questions all over Linux
forums. Instead of speculation I wanted to ask you so I could get the
answer directly from the person who would know best. I promise if you
answer my questions I will use my popular Linux eye candy blog, Digg,
and other forms of communication to get the message out so everyone
will know.

What do YOU recommend for running XGL now and in the future in the
graphics card department? How much video RAM is enough? Do the very
popular (due to their open source drivers) ATI r200 (say.....a 9000 or
so) series cards and Intel Integrated graphics cards have enough
horsepower to use XGL in the long term? On the other side of the fence
there is a big deal about "directx9 cards" vs "directx8 cards" with
the latter being not good enough for the future. Are Directx 8 cards
up to the task of the nice XGL effects?

Thank you in advance for you time, and thank you for the most
excellent work you have done so far. You have many big fans in the
Linux community so please know that if nothing else you are getting
plenty of recognition and respect for your work. Good luck in the

Jonathan Smith"

Here is the response.

"I don't know exactly what hardware that will be needed to run Xgl and
compiz. It's design so that it should run OK on old hardware but still
allow you to get the most out of the latest graphics cards. So if you
want the most out of it, you should get one of the newest cards.
However, it should eventually be very usable on r200 hardware and Intels
latest integrated chipsets, almost all the effects should work OK on
this kind of hardware as well, the drivers just need some attention


Monday, February 20, 2006

Compiz Release Reflections: This Changes Everything.

Sorry to blog about the same thing two times in a row, but this is important.

Many of us have been using compiz and XGL now for a decent amount of time. If you are willing to try Dapper then the guide I made for Nvidia is here:

While the guide for ATI is here:

Guide for compiling from CVS here (needed for older Nvidia cards):

Guide for AMD64 here:

Screenshots here (thanks PsyberOneZero):

If you must have stability I might not recommend it, but I can admit that once the shift + backspace bug was squashed then it all got pretty stable for me. Opengl applications work well if you disable the composite extension in your xorg.conf. For some people compiz seems to not work without that extension though, which means yet another problem we have to chalk up on drivers not being ready ready yet.

But today is not a story about what does not work in this brave new world. I could go on and on about how Twinview (maybe Xinerama) is broken or this or that thing. I thought that after it came out I would have a whole blog entry about that. “What will XGL break?” was the question I wanted answered the most.

Whats amazing about this HUGE release is not what is broken, but what is fixed. What problems are gone:

  • The problems with the official ATI drivers (and in some ways the Nvidia driver) had with composite? Gone.
  • The problems of a fragmenting acceleration landscape (renderaccell vs. EXA vs. ATI's nothing)? Suddenly less worrying.
  • The problems of damage issues with certain apps, drop shadows, or other simple things that need composite to be fixed? In the past.
  • Problem with the fact that the years of poured resources into accelerating only two things (Opengl and Directx) by ATI and Nvidia were not getting used to the full potential for Linux eye candy? Fixed.
  • Problem that Gnome with its conservative window manager philosophy might take two releases to use this stuff? Or that something made for Gnome would piss off KDE guys? Fixed in an amazing way- a separate, agnostic window manager. Compiz seems to be made to work with Gnome more (but it works with KDE too). The next KDE release will surely have incorporate the tricks wanted from it. And until Gnome jumps on this its users can be happy with compiz (and maybe even after Gnome jumps on it if they do it conservatively). Its the best of all worlds.
  • Problems with XGL not being a end-product Xserver? Fixed with full screen mode. I don't think anyone (who is not not incredibly nerdy) would sit in front of an XGL box and say “this is just junk running on top of another Xserver.” It's really seamless. Xegl will be nice one day, but we don't have to wait for it.
  • Problem with ATI support for newest eye candy? IF they keep their promise to Novell to support XGL fully this is gone as well. Something finally impressed them.
  • Problems that future development eye candy would lead to greater desktop fragmentation? This is a part of the Xserver that is one of the few common threads on the Linux desktop.
  • The problem that such high end eye candy will exclude those who don't want to use closed drivers like ATI's or Nvidia's? This problem can't show its head for a while- this will probably work well on Intel graphics (with open source drivers) and the old Radeons but no one knows until the drivers are updated. Anyone who would complain will have their hands busy with that problem so that they can know if their argument have any merit in the future.
  • Problems with composite artifacts or hard Xserver crashes because of composite? I have not seen a single artifact and I am picky about these things. It's gone for the most part.
  • Problems of comparisons with Vista or (God Forbid!) OSX about eye candy? Now a little more pleasant.

The only problem that remains lies with those who don't want this because for some reason they want to keep things more primitive. Whether that's because they personally dislike eye candy or they think it's not appropriate, suddenly that faction of Linuxland matters less. Why?

Because the enthusiasm XGL + Compiz has created ensures its success. Its level of quality ensures its success. Its backing by a big power in the Linux world (Novell) ensures its success. The army of enthusiastic desktop users like myself and the over 100,000 people that have peeking into the Dapper Forum in order to try XGL ensures its success.

Also the way it was designed will ensure its success. Right off the bat the first pluggins make it so that compiz almost has every eye candy trick Vista and OSX have/will have. An Expose copy, live Alt + Tab thumbnails, translucent window borders, cube flip, etc. But beyond that the fact remains that compiz is versatile- Firefox proves that extendability is a forte of our community. Before the year ends pluggins that are insane concepts will be made. It seems that the most exciting thing to happen for the rest of this eye candy year (and maybe the next) will be new compiz pluggins. This person (who made the first third party pluggin) says that its pleasant to make them:

“Obviously this is a very simple plugin. But the source code for the others is available for you to look at. Things like switcher show you how to temporarily move and scale windows, while wobbly shows you how to render the window as something other than just a rectangle. The world is your oyster. In theory.”

Here is guide to using that pluggin:

The only questions are related to how quickly the drivers can be fixed and distros can add this. If integration started now then most major Linux's could have this solid in a year or less. Novell seems to plan to. And I bet others will too. This is the future of the Linux desktop.

Its a whole new landscape.

One guy changed it all

Last note this week- it seems that Gnome (and Dapper) are not going to have Cairo themes by default. I might be wrong about this, but I do know that when I upgraded my Clearlooks Cairo went away for me and others. I will have to compile it myself I guess. I was not too disappointed because I was amazed at first when I thought it was going to get in. But hopefully some third party debs will pop up.

Till next time....

Friday, February 10, 2006

Compiz Cometh

Hello eye candyland.

Lots of things have been going on recently so this might be a big blog article.

The biggest news by far might be the biggest news of the year for eye candy lovers: Compiz was released! David Reveman is a genius- proof that one good developer can do the work of entire teams!

From Miguel de Icaza himself:

“Compiz is a new joint window manager and composition manager. David Reveman had to merge these into a single process to provide the kind of functionality that we wanted on the desktop”

There are some good videos of the effects on that site as well.

Some might have wondered why I did not blog about the Novell presentation. Well the answer is simple- it was all old news! It was just some hype on Novell's part. The best thing to come from it was new videos and an answer to a question many have asked- why did Novell wait so long to release the Xgl code? Its obvious now that the reason was that they wanted to release a whole solution at once to improve the image of the company during a time that best suited the schedules of those who do marketing at Novell. I am almost sure that if certain members of the open source community had not complained about it then Novell would have released the code after their presentation. All of this is ok by me since they paid for development. My only regret from their hype is that it creates expectations (users wanting to use this NOW) that the distro community cannot live up to. But like all things, it will be alright in the end.

I personally have gotten compiz to compile and run, but not very well. Not even well enough to get screenshots. Sorry. If that changes another entry will come. It seems that drivers need to be made for it and so a small delay must occur in order to really enjoy the effects. Honestly after playing with it some, the experience cannot be captured in screenshots. With the XGL and a OpenGl compositor your desktop seems to come alive! its impossible to explain, but its the biggest single leap I have experienced on the Linux Desktop. And its more stable and feature rich than I thought. David Reveman has the XGL to a point that is about six months ahead of where I thought it would be. The guy is a miracle worker.

Good news not everyone might have picked up on is that ATI has committed to XGL, which is rare for them:

“Ben Bar Haim, vice president of ATI Technologies' software engineering division, said: "ATI believes that the Xgl framework is a fundamental building block for powerful new enhancements to the Linux desktop, and we are committed to supporting Novell's efforts in making Linux a viable desktop platform."”

This is REALLY good news because ATI was slow to get on the EXA train and it seemed like composite with newer ATI cards might never come. I don't think they will be up to Nvidia's standards overnight (who will probably still have an XGL compatible driver out before ATI does) but anything better in that field is better for the desktop as a whole. Currently newer ATI cards DO work with XGL so the future looks brighter than it has for a while for owners of such cards.

Here is a REALLY good video of whats going on with Compiz, I recommend it:

Another interesting aspect of this release is the new message that Novell and David seem to be implying. Some might remember that Jon Smirl quit the Xegl project back in 2005 because he saw development on EXA as a waste (aka resources should have been spent on Xegl instead). His argument was that eventually Linux would soon need more than just EXA or even XGL. I quote:

“Xgl was designed as a near term transition solution. The Xgl model was to transparently replace the drawing system of the existing X server with a compatible one based on using OpenGL as a device driver. Xgl maintained all of the existing X APIs as primary APIs. No new X APIs were offered and none were deprecated. Xgl is a high level, cross platform code base. Is is generic code and needs to be ported to a specific OpenGL environment. One port, Xglx, exists for the GLX API. Another port, Xegl works on the cross platform EGL API. This combination provides everything needed to implement a windowing system (like the current X server) on bare video hardware. But Xgl was a near term, transition design, “

At that time Mr. Smirl made it clear to the Linux world that the XGL was just a stop gap, yet another technical demo on the way to the final solution called the Xegl. The Xegl was supposed to be the perfect Xserver that FINALLY broke away from all the problems of the traditional Xserver's past. That was the plan at least.

I think the plan has changed. I don't think Novell sees Xgl as a transition solution. Why? Well partially because they have not sponsored development on the Xegl but have sponsored “less important” developments such as a new compositor. Another reason is what David has been saying. He has made it clear he wanted to make XGL a module of Xorg that can be loaded at will.

Instead of a clean break of the old Xserver it seems that Novell (heck, the entire development of the Linux desktop) is pushing towards what some call a “kludge.” Xgl would just be another part of the Xserver for the near (as in the next few years) future, loaded by default if your computer can handle it. It will run on top of a regular xserver which will use things like EXA to fix up some of its traditional problems. The good part about a kludge is that EXA was not a waste and that such a solution could scale VERY well. Mr Smirl had this to say about the Xegl on old machines last year:

“But new systems are being designed around new hardware and they may perform badly on old hardware. You may want to consider upgrading your video hardware; graphics cards capable of decent OpenGL performance can be bought brand new for $40 and for even less used. Alternatively, you may choose not to upgrade and to continue running the same software that has served you well in the past.”

So basically “sorry, can't help you.” This always seemed like a solution that did not fit an OS that people use to revive old machines probably more than it is used on the modern hardware (an advantage Vista will have). But a kludge will scale very well. Old machines get the old Xserver with XAA and maybe some EXA. Middle and high range machines get the XGL with EXA and renderaccel. It will work.

Its not the most elegant solution, and the mere thought of such a future must seem painful to those who dream of a modern, fully OpenGL framework like OSX has. Honestly though- doesn't a kludge sound exactly like the usual Linux approach to such a problem? It has served on the past in other projects and I'm sure it will work this time. At the very least these new developments are the first really big benefit to regular users to come from a modular Xorg.

Of course many will ask “how can I try out this great stuff?” The answer is one many users hate to hear- wait. Its a big deal- way more than just installing a new window manager or compositor. Wait until its in the SUSE repos or until its released on some Live CD someone makes for it. I have dug through the many Linux Forums and it seems no community really has a lock on getting to to work consistently. Gentoo is closest at this point as this overlay has gotten it to work for many:

I can tell you from experience that it is VERY hard to get this all to work. You have to compile and patch all this CVS code that even then does not work together well without some minor hacking. I noticed that David is still putting it changes today so its best to wait for the dust to settle. SUSE might find itself a lot of new users if its the first to have packages.

I'm sorry to say that Ubuntu might not get any official XGL love for longer than some of its users would want. I have asked around and it seems there is a very small (as in almost none) chance that it will even be in the Dapper Universe repository- it changes too many things after a feature freeze. Ubuntu fans who love eye candy might have to learn how to dual boot with another Linux or get really good at compiling. Luckily in the long run (Dapper + 1) this should be made a priority if the bleeding edge history of Ubuntu has anything to say about it. Its just that XGL came during the wrong part in the development of what is meant to be the most stable and polished Ubuntu yet. If Novell wanted something exclusive that Ubuntu could not have for a while they could not have picked a better time to release. But everyone has waited so long for XGL a few extra months won't hurt- by then most of the driver bugs and other bugs will get worked out. Plus I'm sure eventually someone in the Ubuntu (and Arch, and Fedora, and etc. ) community will make some unofficial packages for Dapper.

For those Ubuntu users that JUST CAN'T WAIT I offer you one option to make you happy: use this guide on Breezy to get XGL to work with older Glxcompmgr.

With this setup you can get a taste of what all the excitement is about and see how amazing some of the effects are for yourself! Thanks to terrax and all of those who host and made the debs posted there for allowing the community to try these things out.

Another recent development in the Linux Desktop world is the release of the Metacity compositor:

There are some RPMs provided to try it out and I'm downloading Fedora right now just for that reason! I will report on how well it works, but it seems like that might involve some waiting too. From the notice:

“Things are still quite raw, so expect things to crash, your system to
lock up, effects to be unpolished, etc.”

Despite this I must congratulate on Metacity on catching up to the modern age. It might be trendy to replace it with compiz and Kwin but in the end Metacity will remain the default Gnome window manager. That means that the faster it gets better the faster it benefits all Gnome users! Keep up the good work Red Hat folk and don't let the seemingly more exciting XGL project over at Novell get in your way.

Now I must end with some sad news for Ubuntu fans. It seems that “The Great” Daniel Stone is not longer a part of the Ubuntu team. I recently emailed him about the possibility of compiz of the Dapper repository and here was his response:

“So I was thinking about putting Xgl in a while ago; I still would, and
Compiz (when it actually gets released -- there's no source for a couple
of days, unless they just released it while I was asleep). Basically,
it requires xserver/xorg from CVS, which could potentially break binary
drivers, which is a bit hairy, but I ran out of time to investigate it.

The reason I haven't been around on #ubuntu-devel or anything was that I
finished up at Canonical on the 20th of January, and I'm spending my
spare time, such as it is at the moment, on hacking rather than

So no, I don't have any plans personally, and unless someone else takes
it up, I can't see it making dapper.”

This troubles me greatly as Mr. Stone (or Dr. Stone as I call him because he fixes what ails Xorg so often) kept Ubuntu on the bleeding edge as far as Xorg goes. Ubuntu might lose its status as the premier eye candy distro after this. Its his doing that my friend's laptop works so well with EXA (running Dapper BTW) or that its so easy to install Nvidia drivers in Ubuntu. He is moving on to get more involved with Xorg and that's a good thing (as such events are accelerating) and the Ubuntu user's loss is an overall gain for the entire Linux desktop. Its just sad to see him go.

I don't know how the distro can make up for his loss- as far as I know no one else at Canonical knows near as much about Xorg as Mr. Stone does. Branden Robinson needs to stop being leader of Debian so Mark can hire him for the job. Or somebody.....even if they never do as good as job as Mr. Stone did.

So if you ever read this- goodbye Mr. Stone! You made Ubuntu THE distro for me and many others because of your hard work and we all will miss the fact that you were the developer with the largest presence on the forums (by a factor of 100). Good luck in you future with Xorg and life!

Well thats if for this time. See you after I get something to work!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Moving from Metacity to a Better City

Ok. It's time. I have used my own new guide long enough I can suggest others try it too. It may not be perfect, but it works really well and I think it's the best solution to the problem for now.

But lets start at square one- what is the problem?

The problem is that Metacity is really boring. Not kinda boring. Really boring. In Breezy I begged and pleaded to make sure it was not compiled with a compositor so that excitement could be bolted on (by running Xcompmgr) easily...but that solution had a certain shelf life.

The essential problem is that Metacity was never meant to be exciting. Here is the description from the authors own words:

"Boring window manager for the adult in you. Many window managers are like Marshmallow Froot Loops; Metacity is like Cheerios."

Well I don't know about you, but I get tired of eating plain Cheerios everyday. Sure you can add some sugar and some fruit (xcompmgr) but eventually even that gets boring. After a while I want to go to the store and buy some Frosted Flakes, some Fruity Loops, or some Lucky Charms. I have a sweet tooth, I will admit it. But I am sure others do too.

Lucky Havoc Pennington brags that even though he made Metacity boring, he spent a lot of time making it easy to replace. Well....not too easy. But possible. And I thank him for that. At least he had the wisdom to see that not everyone could stand to eat Cheerios all the time and act like adults.

Heck, it's my personally belief (based on reading many mailing lists about the subject) that Metacity would not get a compositor built in for a VERY long time if it wasn't for the fact that it can possibly help usability (by having a really nice screen screen zoomer). The Kwin concept of adding this stuff for the fun of adding it seems to be lost on the Gnome community (except for the actual person making most of the Metacity compositor- Soeren Sandmann- who lucky cares enough about eye candy to include things like a minimize effect). That is what happens when you hang out with the business crowd I guess.

With many things in life you do not know what you are missing until you are actually sitting on the other side of the fence. Personally I did not know how boring Metacity was till I starting making a report for my blog about KDE eye candy (that is now so large I think I will have to do many entrys to cover it). The compositor in KDE's window manager- Kwin- could do so many amazing things by default I knew I could never live with xcompmgr again. I had to steal Kwin for my own purposes.

Some might ask “why not just KDE you freaking idiot?” And that is a good question. My official answer is:

1.I like Gnome Applications more. Firefox. Gaim. Nautilus. Gimp. etc. I hate for them to look like crap in KDE. Running gnome-settings-daemon in KDE would do the trick, but they do not play well together always. The "use QT themes on GTK apps" trick is buggy.

2. I dislike the kicker (KDE panel). I prefer the Gnome panels.

3. I like for Nautilus to draw my desktop. I prefer Gnome's automounting.

4. The Industrial theme is better than any KDE theme I have tried. In fact...I have never found a KDE theme I like (compared to GTK themes- even Clearlooks is better). Plus it's easier to install themes in Gnome.

In fact recently I found a Cairo Industrial theme that changed my life. The pure white of Industrial combined with the candy scrollbars of Clearlooks Cairo. I tried to make this myself for a month but then this one came along and blew my work away. With this in existence I will never be able to switch to KDE. Find this theme here:

5. Ubuntu is the primary distro of all the buntu's so it gets the most work done on it.

I just want KDE's window manager, so I took it. Now there is no need to switch to KDE for me and others. Its the best of both worlds.

And overall it works really well. I do not have the conflicts with mixing the two like in Hoary, even after two weeks of solid use.

And now the question is “what does Kwin offer me to make it worth the switch?” Good question and one I get a lot. Well, first is the translucent gnome- panels. Second is drop shadows in a better form- using drop shadows for a long time with Xcompmgr is painful because it has a bad memory leak. Kwin has the same leak, but it is WAY better. Third is smooth fading just like the trick xcompmgr can do.

But thats just the tip of the iceberg.

Of course, only screenshots can do it justice. So first of all here is a screenshot of how Kwin's compositor even makes the Gnome Panels translucent- notice the “CNN” shining through:

Also notice how well the blue scrollbars from Clearlooks Cairo work so well with the Smooth Blend KDE theme. It really looks like they were meant to go together.

Finally notice in that screenshot how the maximized window in the background had a maximize button next to the close button while in the smaller window that button is changed to a maximize button that looks different. That particular Kwin theme does that by itself! Maybe only people like myself notice that, but after a while it becomes really obvious how many releases Kwin is ahead of Metacity.

With Kwin you are able to make non-focused windows transparent:

Notice how the calculator and terminal are made translucent automatically when the focus is on another application (Firefox). Blends right into the Ubuntu desktop.

Yet after a while making entire windows translucent is not as cool as it seems. Some may disagree, but it got on my nerves after a while. Microsoft discovered this exact problem while making Vista- not all bling is a good thing. This is why I never messed with scripts that allowed for Xcompmgr to do such things.

Luckily Kwin can go one step further. In its options you can chose:

“Apply translucency only to decoration”

With this option checked, only the window borders are translucent. I prefer this for day to day use. I make my focused window non-translucent but make it so when I move windows or when they are not in focus they are translucent. Helps a lot with keeping track of many windows...and it's also very close to the “Aeroglass” effect that Microsoft will announce to the world as “true innovation” later this year when Vista (maybe) releases. Well here is Kwin doing its best Aeroglass imitation before Aeroglass exists:

Nice huh? Yep, I can't do without Kwin now.

Once you use it for a while, Kwin also shows gives many other benefits that Metacity can never provide. Like what you ask? Customizations. Within its many options, Kwin lets you:

1.Set edge flipping exactly how you want (edge flipping is when you move off the screen onto another virtual desktop- you need the program called Brightside to do this with Gnome)
2.Set edge resistance- very helpful for a two screen setup like mine
3.Configure the exact window actions and focus settings to an amazing degree
4.Have themes that are customizable to an amazing degree

And more. All by right clicking the titlebar and choosing the “Configure Window Behavior” option. This combined with overall less resource use (even with the compositor in Kwin off for a couple days I could tell that is it uses way less CPU than Metacity) and the fact that the horrible “draw black crap all over you screen” minimize effect from Metacity is taken away makes me recommend replacing Kwin with Metacity even for those who are not interesting in things like drop shadows and translucency.

Until Dapper comes I see no good reason to use Metacity.

Of course like most things in life replacing Metacity with Kwin will bring sacrifices. First thing is that the “run dialog” shortcut won't work- even if you add it to the gnome panel! This is painful for me, but this solution was found:

Another problem is that sometimes Kwin's compositor will have visual bugs. This is no big deal if you use xcompmgr as you are used to it. Here is a screenshot of a Kwin visual bug:

See how the right side of the window is cut off? Well...that is the worst problem you will find with this set up.

But its not the end of the world. Just grab that window by the titlebar (or where the titlebar should be) and shake it around some. That cures 99% of visual composite bugs.

Heck, even my sister's Powerbook with OSX Tiger sometimes shows me things that are definitely composite bugs:

These visual composite bugs will exist in Linuxland for a VERY long time I think (composite is a hard animal to tame) so it's better just to learn to deal with them I say. Others might think differently.

With the newest Nvidia drivers the worst Kwin has given me is these few visual bugs. No major Xserver crashes! That alone is worth throwing a party for. Here is the guide to get the newest Nvidia drivers:

So in the end I suggest everyone who likes Gnome and eye candy switch from Metacity to Kwin. Finally, here is my guide to tell you how to do all this:

Please leaves comments in that thread, in my email box, or on my blog if you have problems. Its worth a shot at least.

Some might notice it looks a lot like my old Enlightened Gnome guide:

So I might as well say now that I advise using Kwin over E17 or E16. E16 is far too primitive to be using in 2006, and E17 does not play well with Gnome. This is why I never updated this guide for Breezy. The Knome Guide is the newest fun trick on the block, so that is where the new party is. You are welcome to try it if you want.

Now for some other issues before I end this blog entry. First of all I found a screenshot showing work done to move OSX Dashboard widgets to Gnome:

I think thats pretty cool myself. The code can be found here:

Its worth messing with for those that like those sorts of things. For those of us who prefer a Gnome solution, Gdesklets had an update:

This update seems to bring bugfixes- and we all know that the last version of gdesklets needed plenty of that! So its well worth trying out.

Also someone was nice enough to make an Xgl guide for Breezy:

I have not tried it (shock!) as I am waiting for the release of the new compositor related to it in February to try it out. Xgl without a compositor to take advantage of it is a waste for someone like me that changes video cards in a blink of an eye to get better eye candy (the benefit of Xgl to others is that with it stable more people could get eye candy as long as their driver has decent Opengl support)....the glxcompositor does exist in the wild but it needs CVS Xserver to work with a patch to mesa, so that's out. The first month of the year is almost over, I can wait. If you can't then start compiling and tell me how it goes!

Finally I want to point out some Firefox eye candy. I recently ran across this extension:

Which takes the most innovative thing Internet Explorer 7 will do in the future when it is released and adds it to Firefox. Poor IE- it can never win at being the best with a disadvantage like that! Luckily it has other advantages (similar to why a stone rolling down a hill does not stop) that means that it does not need to be the best to succeed.

This extension even gives a tutorial on its first use. I recommend it even for the most timid of users. Note that you need the newest Firefox release (1.5) for it to work well. Use Automatix to get that in Ubuntu if you lack it.

Well that is all for this entry. Enjoy freedom from the city of Meta, and stay tuned for my next rant///////blog entry!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Drivers Wanted

I recently got a really good email with a very good question that I wanted to share with all my readers. I hope you all enjoy.


first of all I want to say I like your blog about eye candy. Really nice to know there is someone who really gives useful tips and is there to represent eye-candy.

While reading you're blog I noticed that you really believe opensource drivers for cards from nVidia and ATI are needed. I never knew that was needed and trusted on the company's, I thought the closed source drivers did their work good enough. Apparantly they don't do enough to get the maximum out of their hardware.

But why wouldn't these company's make their drivers open source? The money is after all made with selling the hardware. Is it because they have to release specs of the cards they don't want to be know by the competition? Or is there a whole other reason? And if big studios are starting to use blender and the linux desktop, can't there be some pressure coming from those studios towards the card manufacturers? Maybe there should be an action group for this that makes clear to the manufacturers how much better it would be to open source their drivers. With constructive criticism and reasons for opensourcing their drivers...

Just wanted to know you're thaught about this

Kindley regards

Meulemeester Jan Dante

btw: keep up the great work!"

This is my response:

Thanks for the compliments. You are very kind.

There are many reasons why Nvidia and ATI refuse to open source all of their drivers (or even give away the specs so drivers can be made without reverse engineering). I will list a few:

- Some suspect that both Nvidia and ATI currently use technology in their closed drivers that is owned by another company. Basically they don't have full legal right to their drivers, so they can't free them. This alone does not explain why they do not work with open driver creators more though.

-Linux/Open Source is not a big enough market yet. A high end market (blender), but not a large one (Desktop use). When that changes, attitudes might change.

-It takes a lot of work to make good drivers….and labor is limited. It seems like they don't want to do the work of maintaining a "community," even if that is minimal... Also I think they do not trust such a situation (open drivers) with high end customers (blender) so I don't think they see that as a benefit (as they should).

-Some (I think Nvidia at least) seem to believe they can do a better job. And sometimes its hard to argue. The Nvidia closed source driver is the best driver (performance and featurewise) in the entire Linux landscape. Nvidia made a kind of EXA a year before open source driver makes did. Desktop *nix is a niche so there are not THAT many Xorg hackers….so Nvidia (and ATI if they would use them) seems to have more resources to make a better driver. Plus they make the hardware to make a better driver. So they continue to call the shots.

-They don't "get it." They don't know why open sourcing the drivers is such a big deal. ATI is better with this, as I hear they kinda help with reverse engineering the high end cards. The ATI 9250 is the best open source card because ATI released the specs for it. But overall they don't get it.

It's an interesting situation. Because of the state of things I have a Nvidia card. It what allows for the best eye candy. But one day soon I will buy a 9250 to play with. Yet….the Nvidia drivers do SO much that many of the open drivers can't do (which is kinda bad because Nvidia uses specific Xorg.conf extensions that no other driver uses…so a GUI to configure the Xorg.conf is almost impossible to make). Its give and take.

One good thing is that Intel "gets it." They open source their video drivers, and they are the largest seller of graphics cards. All on the low end….but hey, it's the best hope of the open source world. Intel mostly "gets it." Really. I think part of it is that they have a huge problem with MS recently.

Why? Because MS stopped releasing Operating Systems every two years (that often times required a computer upgrade) like in the good old days and because MS (well…the market really…but MS nailed the coffin shut) picked AMD's 64bit extensions over the Itanium in the long term. Plus if computer customers spend on software then they might spend more on hardware. For these reasons and more Intel is a great ally of open source for now….

Of course, I could be wrong about the entire thing...

I hope I answered your question well enough, and I hope you have a nice day.


Friday, January 06, 2006

As Seen On A Linux Box Near You

Hello eye candy lovers! This is an exciting time of year for our sport with all the huge code releases recently so I have been REALLY busy trying to play with everything I can.

I gave up trying to compile the newly released Xgl code- I decided to wait until it hits the CVS. Apparently a lot of cleanups will come with that migration. Plus when it’s in the CVS maybe we can bug Daniel Stone again and get him to package it for Ubuntu.

I HAVE played with the glxcompmgr some….but its hard to get working too. Here is a screenshot of my using xcompmgr in Xgl for those who love screenshots:

But lets talk about some stuff we ALL can use! But first I must admit something to you all. Recently I after some soul searching I realized that most of my ideas for eye candy to play with in Linux were things that tried to copy stunts I use on OSX (my sister has a Powerbook). Since OSX is the top eye candy OS right now its tempting to see them as king of the mountain, but then I would miss some Linux exclusive tricks that even OSX can’t (that I know of) do!

So today’s entry focuses on Linux only eye candy. So basically what I should have been blogging about the whole time!

First up is an application that I have known about for some time: xdesktopwaves. This is a REALLY cool little application that places a pan of virtual water on your desktop.

Here is a description from the author:

" xdesktopwaves is a cellular automata setting the background of your X Windows desktop under water. Windows and mouse are like ships on the sea. Each movement of these ends up in moving water waves. You can even have rain and/or storm stirring up the water."

Sounds neat eh? It is. Here is some screenshots:

It seems to work ok in Gnome AND KDE (but not Enlightenment). If you want this neat trick just go to the home page and install it the old fashioned way:

Or install it with apt-get in Ubuntu/Debian or portage in Gentoo. Here is a guide I made just for the blog:

That explains how to use it and gives a cool script to easily turn it off and on. This eye candy eats up some CPU power (at a quality of 9 it completely pegged one of the two cores in my 3800+ X2) but at a setting of 7 or 8 its not that bad but looks nice.

Best part about it is that it’s stable!!!! Which is rare with eye candy. In fact it plays well with other kinds of eye candy like compositors and such. There is really nothing to lose except some time, so I hope everyone can try it out. It’s a great way to WOW your Windows friends (I know we should be above that but its SOOO fun to do sometimes).

Yet when it comes to wowing Windows users AND OSX users nothing beats this next trick: 3ddesktop. I’m sure many readers of this blog know of it, but I have to mention it because I think it’s the coolest eye candy we have now that does not rely on experimental stuff. It makes use of the thing us Linux users have by default that the other OSes lack- multiple desktops.

Basically this trick presents the multiple desktops in a 3D mode. I have to show a screenshot since explaining is hard:

That page also has a cool video to show off the effect. This little program is a GREAT way to show new Linux users what a virtual desktop actually IS (since it can be confusing if you have never seen it before). Most distros have it in their repositories. Here is a guide to install and use it in Ubuntu:

One problem you will find is that it gives you grey desktops the first time you use it. Follow the advice in this post to get around that problem:

Armed with this knowledge you can now switch desktops like a pro! I have found that this piece of eye candy above all others is the best for making Windows friends jealous (again I know we should not care but if you can’t have fun in life why live?). And unlike most other eye candies its useful.

I find it to be pretty stable by itself and I personally can get it to work with xcompmgr without problems but I hear from others that the two do not work so well together for them. I know it DOES require some form of hardware acceleration so make sure that your computer can do some Opengl before you try. If it does not work for you this is most likely the reason….now that I think of it I have only gotten it to work on ATI and Nvidia cards with the official drivers. But I can’t say that’s all it will work on- try and see.

So there you have it- the best of Linux exclusive candy. I mean…besides that one March Ubuntu Calendar from last year:

I want to finish today with a short story from my vacation. Over my break I was able to convert two users to Ubuntu- my mom and my cousin. In order to get them to switch I had to convince them that Ubuntu was better and so I tried many angles. Funny thing is that the same thing hooked them both.

So what switched them?

The lack of security problems? No, but that might have been a bonus. The free (both kinds) software? No, they didn’t mind paying for software. The famous Ubuntu community? No, they will never get on the forums or on IRC. The ease of use? No, the both just basically needed a Firefox/Thunderbird box and Windows can do that. So what switched them then?

The Gdesklets Starterbar. I am not joking. Both of them upon seeing the little icon jump when you click on it on that bar demanded that they be able to use Ubuntu that instant. Everything else was just a bonus. The freaking gdesklets starterbar (and any of you who know how gimmicky it is are probably laughing right now) was THE killer Linux app:

Yes. THAT starterbar. The one that copies the dock from OSX badly. That is what switched them. This taught me three things.:

1. Eye Candy matters to normal people FAR more than most distro makers will admit (many are still in the “Linux is serious, Linux is for the server” mode).

2. Never hate on an eye candy program (I have been known to rant in the past about how gdesklets is bloatware) because for someone else that might be THE most important application.

2. Maybe the lag behind the desktops of OSX and Vista are not that big of deal. Sure we might not be able to use our 3D cards to render our entire desktop for a few years after these other OSes can do it but that might not matter. What matters is what the user can actually see. Give a new Linux user 3ddesktop and far as they are concerned the Linux Desktop IS 3D. It makes me have more faith in the hacks I often like to use (skippy comes to mind).

Here is a guide for more gdesklets information:

One last small note: with the new Nvidia drivers xcompmgr is stable for me. And in it does not crash unless I do something I new beforehand will make it crash (like moving a playing Xine video under the Gnome Panel). No more random crashes for me and many on the Ubuntu Forums. So if you have been waiting to try it again….now is the time!

Well…that’s it for today. Till next time Linuxland!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Happy GNU Year

I just got back from my annual vacation to my home town (New Orleans) where I was incredibly busy either looking at the destruction or fixing computers. My grandmother's house (she is ok) was only two blocks away from the largest levee breach, and the scene of destruction in her house and around her neighborhood was the exact opposite of "eye candy." After that experiance I was glad to come home and resume the fun hacking upon my Linux box again.

And the welcome party had exactly what I wanted for the Holidays- a new version of Xgl! This is the coolest code release in the eye candy world of Linux for a while. When Aaron Siego of KDE originally complained about the closed nature of Xgl my greatest hope is that it would lead to the release of the Xgl code. The Xgl (in case you do not know) is a dependent ( as in it needs the old xserver to help it) server that will allow the Linux desktop to use Opengl to (eventually) draw the desktop using 3D hardware. Eventually it could get to the point that the Xgl has a later independent version that can draw the entire desktop using the 3D hardware of modern graphics cards. This will make it all faster and will lead to pretty effects like OSX has and Vista will have.

And now upon my return I find that my wishes were granted and David Reveman has released the newest code.

And what code it is.
Listen to the changes:

"Compared to the xserver module code in freedesktop CVS a lot have
changed. The new code contains an uncounted number of bug fixes, some
major restructuring and a few additional features.

Sounds tasty. I have tried for hours and I cannot get it to compile yet, but I'm sure that after its soon merged with the CVS then most distro will have packages of it (Dapper already has an older Xgl in the repos so its not a big deal for Daniel Stone to upgrade it). I will keep trying and I really want to try it with all the composite manager.

But no matter what this is a big deal. This is the future. The reward of a modular Xorg.

Of course, its not ready yet. And its not the end solution. But this is a HUGE jump and the first real positive news on the Xgl in a long time.

Now I know some people are saying "show me the money" so here is all the Xgl goodies I can find. Here is a GREAT video of it:

And an older video:

And here is a few screenshots of
Xgl in action:

Its Amazing Stuff. Hope to have my own screenshots soon.