Eee 701 Planetoid

2012/01/26

My Eee Desktop – January 2012

Filed under: Desktops — Tags: , , , — Tim @ 21:56

I wasn’t sure whether I would post a screenshot for this month, as I thought it most likely that I’d be using a setup more or less unchanged from my second screenshot in October last year (“TheGrid” theme). However, it didn’t quite turn out that way…

Screenshot of my netbook's desktop

My Eee Desktop - January 2012

If you’ve read the last post I wrote on this blog, you will be aware that I am eagerly awaiting the launch of the Raspberry Pi (an ultra-low-cost computer on a circuit board the size of a credit card, running on an ARM processor). To cut a long story short, I’m already thinking of software I could run under Linux on the machine, and the Fluxbox window manager (which I use on my Eee 701) is one possibility I have been considering.

With the above in mind, I thought I would try creating a Fluxbox “style” (theme) based on the Raspberry Pi logo and its colours. Not only would the theme aim to reflect this identity, but I wanted a Fluxbox style which would be clear, minimalist and uncluttered, and be usable and readable at a wide selection of screen resolutions (up to and including full HD (1920×1280), which the “RasPi” is apparently more than capable of).

This month’s “My Eee Desktop” shows where I have reached with the Raspberry Pi style. I created the wallpaper image in Inkscape—the RasPi logo has been made available as an SVG vector image, so I took this and placed it over a gradient-filled circle (to give the “halo” effect) on a black background.

The wallpaper image is set at 800×480 resolution (that of the Eee 701), but if a higher resolution is used, the image is centred on the screen and the background around it is also black, so the style is very adaptable. As I would envisage connecting a RasPi to an HD TV, I chose black as the most suitable background colour for looking at over a lengthy period (just in case!). The menu and window fonts are set a little larger than normal for my Fluxbox styles, to make them more readable at high resolutions, whilst still not taking up too much space on an 800×480 display.

The only other point to note (particularly for longer-term readers here), is the addition of a GKrellM plugin to add an analogue clock. This takes up slightly less vertical space than a WindowMaker dockapp (as do most of GKrellM’s “monitors”), which on a screen with only 480 vertical rows of pixels, makes plenty of difference!

That’s all for this month—see you in February with another desktop 🙂

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2011/12/01

My Eee Desktop – December 2011

Filed under: Desktops — Tags: , , , , — Tim @ 17:39

With the festive season bearing down on us like Santa and his reindeer in a round-the-world race, and Christmas is ho-ho-hoving into view [that’s enough awful metaphors and puns, Tim – Ed.], it’s time to wheel out my suitably seasonal Eee desktop screenshot for December 2011:

Desktop screenshot with Christmas theme

My Eee Desktop - December 2011

Actually, I’m already thinking about revamping this setup, at least with regard to the wallpaper, which I feel is a bit “busy” (especially as Conky is being displayed on top of it). Otherwise, I think it captures the mood of this time of year pretty well…

You may have noticed that Cairo Composite Manager is still running—I was wondering recently if it was possible to run Conky, xsnow and Cairo at the same time, but I haven’t found a way at time of writing, so I’ve decided to leave xsnow on the sidelines for the moment.

Not much else to report here, except to explain the white square in the “slit” on the right-hand side: it’s supposed to be the XMMS spectrum analyser dockapp, but for some reason it didn’t show up in this screenshot.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed this month’s My Eee Desktop, and if that’s not enough festive fun for you, try checking out  the December 2009 and December 2010 entries 🙂

2011/11/15

cairo-compmgr, Conky AND xsnow: is it possible?

Filed under: Desktops, Software — Tags: , , , , — Tim @ 18:14

I don’t often ask you good readers for help on this blog (sorry about that!), but I was hoping that someone reading this might be able to dig me out of a metaphorical snowdrift…

At the moment, I am trying to assemble a suitably Christmassy instalment of “My Eee Desktop” for next month, but I’ve run into a small problem. At the moment, I am running Cairo Composite Manager on top of Fluxbox, and for the most part it works fine, providing various desktop effects (translucent windows, animations, etc.). At the same time, I also run Conky, with the “own window” setting enabled so that it will appear when cairo-compmgr is operational.

For my Christmas Eee desktop, I’d like to add the old X favourite xsnow… but there’s a problem: xsnow draws to the “root window” (i.e. desktop), as does cairo-compmgr. In other words: if the latter is running, you can’t see xsnow. (This has been a known problem with desktop environments like GNOME and KDE for years, as they too use the root desktop to draw folders, icons and so on.)

Basically, if I turn off Cairo, I can get xsnow and Conky running together, due to the latter’s “own window” setting, but Conky “blocks” the view of xsnow (as Conky is running in its own window, on top of xsnow). There are solutions for running xsnow with GNOME and KDE, but neither seems to work with cairo-compmgr—I would’ve thought there was a way to add some kind of “exception” in Cairo for xsnow, but I haven’t yet found it.

So, in short: can anyone think of a way to run xsnow with cairo-compmgr?

(Also, I’d be interested to hear if anyone knows of any other “festive” Linux applications, such as “strings of blinking lights across the top of the screen” and that sort of thing—frankly, the cheesier the better 🙂 )

Thanks in advance for any help, and I’ll be glad to reveal the results in a few weeks’ time…

2011/11/02

Adding visual effects to Fluxbox with Cairo Composite Manager

Filed under: Desktops, Linux, Software — Tags: , , , , — Tim @ 17:30

(or “My Eee Desktop – November 2011” 🙂 )

The other day, I was skimming through the Wikipedia article on the Fluxbox window manager (which I use on my Eee), and a sentence which I hadn’t spotted before, caught my eye:

Effects managers such as xcompmgr, cairo-compmgr and transset-df (deprecated) can add true transparency to desktop elements and windows.

In (relatively) plain English, it seemed to be saying: if you use Fluxbox, you can now add desktop “eye candy” such as translucent windows, fades, slides, etc. to your slimline desktop.

This came as a surprise to me. I’d always believed that you couldn’t add “compositing” effects to Fluxbox, because the leading compositing effects managers like Compiz used their own window manager—in other words, if you want the whizz-bang visuals, it was “bye-bye Fluxbox”.

In fact, there is a composite manager which works with the window manager of your choice (including Fluxbox): Cairo Composite Manager.

The article on Cairo in the Arch Linux Wiki tells you how simple it is to install from the Arch community package repository (sudo pacman -S cairo-compmgr), and from there you can test it by running cairo-compmgr & from the terminal. If you like what you see, and want the manager to start with your X session, you just add cairo-compmgr & to your .xinitrc file.

Image of Fluxbox desktop with Cairo Composite Manager

Fluxbox desktop with cairo-compmgr (note the transparent terminal window)

For me, it really was as simple as that, and here is the obligatory screenshot to prove it 🙂 The main indicator that cairo-compmgr is running, is the truly-translucent XFCE Terminal window in the middle—I could’ve experimented a bit more with the translucency effects, but at present I haven’t had time to do much more than use the default settings. I’d like to see if the Fluxbox “slit” (dock) can exhibit true transparency/translucency, and I’ll probably try that out when I put together the December (Christmas) instalment of “My Eee Desktop”. (Yes, that time is coming around again…)

I would’ve liked to add a video as well, to show off some of the animated desktop effects, but am not sure that the screen-capture solutions available would display them to best effect. I’d probably end up pointing a camcorder at the Eee’s screen!

Oh, and in case anyone wondered: the only different addition to the desktop since last month aside from Cairo, is the XMMS Spectrum analyzer dockapp I found in the AUR. It installs as an XMMS plugin, and I thought it might make a change to add this to the slit this time around.

One small tweak I had to make as a result of Cairo’s arrival, was to my Conky setup file (.conkyrc). When I activated Cairo, my Conky display disappeared—a quick Google revealed that this was basically Cairo and Conky disagreeing about which program could draw to the root window. This is similar to how Conky works with the GNOME desktop (Nautilus grabs the root desktop for itself), so the solution is to add some lines like this to your .conkyrc:

own_window yes
own_window_type desktop
own_window_transparent yes

As ever, you may have to experiment if you try this for yourself, but it fixed the Conky issue for me.

I haven’t noticed Cairo making the Eee work much harder, although clearly there will be an impact on the system (even if it is a small one). Until (if?) I notice anything untoward, I’m content to keep this app running, simply because it adds some polish to an already lean and functional desktop—I’ll be sure to come back here and update you, should this change.

In the meantime, if you’re running a lightweight desktop or window manager, but still crave some of that composited eye-candy goodness, you may find Cairo Composite Manager fits the bill nicely.

2011/10/03

My Eee Desktop – October 2011

Filed under: Desktops, Software — Tags: , , — Tim @ 12:20

For this month’s “My Eee Desktop”, I’ve a special treat for you: not one, but two screenshots, both taken within the last two weeks…

Screenshot of desktop

My Eee Desktop - October 2011 (modified WinSpace)

Here is the first, and let’s start with the “theme”: it’s a modified version of the Windows 95-influenced “WinSpace”, one of a set of themes created for Fluxbox’s predecessor Blackbox. I needed to make a few adjustments, mainly to the fonts (to adapt to the Eee’s 800×480 screen), but also to make the window borders match the background colour for the main feature…

The apps in the “slit” on the right-hand side here, have changed quite a bit even since the last desktop shot from a few weeks ago. Two apps have remained (wmdrawer at the top, with the Arch Linux logo, and wmvolman (the one with the disk icon)), but the other dockapps have “gone on holiday”, to be replaced by two others.

In the bottom-right is wmbinclock, a binary clock display (check out the app’s home page to find out how to tell the time from it). This app is not even in the Arch User Repository (AUR), so I had to compile it from the source code—still, it scores me a few points on the “geek scale”…

Sandwiched inbetween the dockapps, is another old fave: the venerable GKrellM system monitor, here using the “Hardware” “skin”. The slit has “pseudo-transparency” switched on, mainly to show off the GKrellM design.

Call the above the cartoon before the main feature…

Screenshot image of "TheGrid" Fluxbox theme

My Eee Desktop - October 2011 (TheGrid)

Here is my current desktop setup, which I can see myself sticking with for a while. I have to say I’m quite pleased with my latest Fluxbox theme here, which I modified heavily from an earlier one of mine. I was going for a “TRON”-influenced look—all cyan-neon text and lines—and call this theme “TheGrid”. The background isn’t an image, but a gradient-fill defined in the theme file—the computer world in the original “TRON” always seemed to have that “just before dawn” look, which inspired my choice of background.

The “slit” has been reworked again, and I’ve added a couple of new monitors to the GKrellM stack (still experimenting on that front; since this shot was taken, I’ve replaced the CPU graph with a “photo frame” plugin). The GKrellM “skin” is called “CoplandOS”, and I think it blends quite well with the rest of the theme. Note the XMMS plugin in the GKrellM stack—that’s quite handy, and can almost replace the main XMMS interface (but for me, not quite).

Only two dockapps remain: wmdrawer at the top (with a new Arch Linux logo image for the “button”—I have also activated the drawer in this shot), and wmvolman at the bottom (I haven’t yet found a GKrellM plugin which does the same job with automounted volumes).

I may not present a desktop post next month, but if not, I’ll treat you to something suitably festive for December 🙂

2011/09/06

My Eee Desktop – September 2011

Filed under: Desktops, Software — Tags: , , , — Tim @ 19:23

I’m back from my late summer break, and as autumn hoves into view, it feels like time to share my current Eee desktop:

Desktop screenshot image

My Eee Desktop - September 2011

You can see from the screenshot, that I have a new Fluxbox theme which I have knocked together: I call it “Pugin“, after the Victorian “Gothic Revival” designer perhaps best known for the interiors of the Houses of Parliament in London. I created the tiled wallpaper at BgPatterns, using the wine-red and deep gold colours which are often associated with Pugin’s designs, and also applied these to the various Fluxbox window decorations (apologies for forgetting to include the Fluxbox menu in this shot).
(A word of caution about BgPatterns: it’s highly addictive, especially if you have a penchant for tiled desktop patterns, so I wouldn’t visit if you don’t have time to kill 😉 )

The main apps visible are “top” (running in XFCE Terminal), XMMS and xfontsel. For the “dockapps” down the right-hand side, you can refer to the last desktop article to find out the purpose of most of them—Conky is also running on the root desktop, but it is mostly obscured here by the other application windows.

Until next month…

2011/07/29

My Eee Desktop – July 2011

Filed under: Desktops, Linux — Tags: , , , , — Tim @ 17:39

If you’re new to this blog, you may not have seen “My Eee Desktop”—basically, a monthly “feature” where I post a screenshot of how my 701SD’s desktop looks at that point in time. My last entry was in December 2010, but now I have started putting together a new OS setup on my Eee (based around Arch Linux), I reckoned it was time to resurrect the series 🙂

Screenshot of computer desktop

My Eee Desktop - July 2011

And here we are, with My Eee Desktop for July 2011 (just in time!). If you compare this view with the screenshot I posted about this time last week, you will probably spot quite a few differences as I’ve done a fair amount of customisation work in seven days.

The Fluxbox theme is based on “Operation” (I think), and I’m still working on my own version, which I’m calling “DeepSea”. I used this wallpaper with the old Eeebuntu setup on my 701, and always rather liked it, so resurrected it for this theme. (The wallpaper came from this forum post, as did quite a few others that I have adapted and used on my Eee.)

The dockapps on the right are the same as last week’s view, with one new addition:

  • wmdrawer—this sends out a “fly-out” menu (shown) with fourteen quick-launch icons for commonly-used apps (I added the Arch logo on the front, from this icon set by “gabriela2400”)
  • bubblemon—an animated water/bubbles/rubber duck display, which shows CPU, memory and system stats
  • wmnd—a network interface monitor
  • wmvolman (new)—displays mounted storage volumes (e.g. USB mass storage devices like flash and hard drives), and allows you to umount them
  • wmix—a volume and sound mixer control
  • wmsystemtray—acts like the system tray in GNOME/KDE; here showing wicd, Jupiter, Blueman and Dropbox (note: “wmsystemtray” is not to be confused with “wmsystray”, which kept crashing and (IMHO) didn’t “blend in” as well)
  • wmcalclock—nice time/date display

I’m currently looking at a script which should give me a system tray icon for managing removable storage (and free up an extra space in the Fluxbox “slit”, currently taken by wmvolman), so that’s one to watch for next month (or the one after that).

Anything else? Well, there’s Conky (the system stats display) on the desktop as ever—note the weather and “now playing in XMMS” sections—and a new arrival, the virtual desktop display IPager (note the orange blocks in the bottom-left).

I expect that the next instalment will show some progression from this—hope you enjoyed this month’s Desktop, and that you’ll join me for the next one 🙂

2011/07/23

Arch Linux and the Eee 701: first steps

Filed under: Desktops, Linux, Software — Tags: , , — Tim @ 09:43

So, if you read my last post about moving on from Eeebuntu, you can infer from the title of this entry, that I made a decision on the Linux distro for my Eee 🙂

Yes, I plumped for Arch Linux in the end—partly as I like to “tinker” with settings and the like, but mostly because I think Arch is simply the “right” distribution for a machine like the Eee 701. Arch isn’t necessarily a good choice for all potential Linux users—it can be complex, and the system doesn’t come “out of the box” like, say, Ubuntu—but Arch’s “roll your own system” philosophy comes into its own with a computer like the Eee 701, which has very specific “needs” (low-powered processor, small solid-state storage and screen, etc.) which aren’t ideally best served by a “full-fat” distro like Ubuntu.

Moreover, as I wrote last time, the relatively few distributions which are customised for netbooks (and even fewer for the Eee 701), tend to be derivatives of Ubuntu or its family, run by small teams (or even individuals), where there is no guarantee that at some point, they won’t run out of time or resources and let the distro “wither on the vine”. I understand this—I have family and other commitments too—but at least with a distro like Arch, you can build a system tailored to your needs, and its “rolling” updates mean it should stay current for the foreseeable future. At least, I don’t think Arch is going away any time soon…

So, Arch it is, and I’ve been working in my spare moments this week to install and customise the new Arch setup on my 701. I am immensely grateful to the Arch community for providing a massively-comprehensive wiki for Arch users, which has helped me at almost every turn—in particular, the wiki’s dedicated page for the Eee 701 proved invaluable throughout my “journey” so far.

One overriding consideration for me with building the new system: wherever possible, I didn’t want GNOME, due to its size and “weight”. Instead, I wanted to return to an “old friend” for the machine’s desktop—the Fluxbox window manager—and to use more “lightweight” alternatives for applications, unless I really wanted or needed something specific. For instance, to manage wired and wireless network connections, instead of GNOME’s NetworkManager applet, I found wicd, which is lighter on resources whilst still (usually) working just as well.

Screenshot of Arch Linux (Fluxbox window manager)

Early screenshot of Arch Linux (Fluxbox window manager) on the Eee 701SD

You’re probably dying for a screenshot at this point, and who am I to stand in the way? Here is a first look at my Eee’s “new” Fluxbox desktop—it’s quite spartan at the moment, as I haven’t had time to get to work on a custom Fluxbox “style” (theme) yet. (Fear not: I’ll be restarting the “My Eee Desktop” monthly series again, once I’ve had time to really “tart up” the display 🙂 )

The main items to point out are the system stats on the desktop (that’s my old favourite, Conky, at work) and the array of “dockapps” in the Fluxbox “slit” along the right-hand edge. I have rather “retro” tastes when it comes to computer “desktops”, so I am quite partial to dockapps, some of which have origins as far back as the 1990s (whilst still being useful and not too demanding of screen real-estate). Most of the dockapps are not in the main Arch package repository, so I had to build the packages via the Arch User Repository (AUR), but they make it relatively easy to do this.

The apps—from the top down in the screenshot—are:

  • wmdrawer—this sends out a “fly-out” menu (not shown) with ten quick-launch icons for commonly-used apps (I added the Arch logo on the front, from this icon set by “gabriela2400”)
  • bubblemon—an animated water/bubbles/rubber duck display, which shows CPU, memory and system stats
  • wmnd—a network interface monitor
  • wmacpi—I use this mainly for displaying battery statistics
  • wmix—a volume and sound mixer control
  • wmsystemtray—acts like the system tray in GNOME/KDE; here showing wicd, Blueman and Dropbox (this is not to be confused with “wmsystray”, which kept crashing and (IMHO) didn’t “blend in” as well)
  • wmcalclock—nice time/date display

I wish I could report that I have already got everything working as I want it, but there is still a list of “to-dos” before me. A couple of samples:

  • Whilst wicd does a good job of replacing NetworkManager in most respects, it’s missing the ability to open and close VPN connections. It’s still necessary to edit various config files and scripts for PPTP (and I’m not touching OpenVPN yet), but I’ll be happy if I can get things running without much pain. Speaking of which…
  • …the main item which, frustratingly, I haven’t yet got working completely, is one that computer users in 2011 take for granted: automounting of USB mass storage devices (e.g. flash and hard disk drives). I’ve scoured the Arch wiki and Google for help, and ensured that the necessary services are running; so far, I have had limited success (it works, but only partly), but I think I’m on the right track. If nothing else, it shows you how much work the developers of Ubuntu and the like, have done to get USB automounting working as well as it does…

I think that will do as a first report 🙂 Stay tuned for further developments… and I suspect those could come quite quickly!

2010/12/20

My Eee Desktop – December 2010 (and a message)

Filed under: Desktops, Linux, Software — Tags: , , , , — Tim @ 21:35

With apologies for not bringing you an Eee 701 desktop pic for last month (and, for that matter, any other posts!), here’s my screenshot for December 2010:

Eeebuntu v3 (Linux) desktop on my Eee 701SD

My Eee Deskop - December 2010

Yes, I know, not exactly much of an evolution from October’s desktop (and more on that theme in a moment); in fact, it’s basically identical aside from the Christmassy wallpaper, which I picked up from the Free Christmas Wallpapers site.

It’s now just about twelve months (Christmas 2009)  since I installed Eeebuntu v3 , in the hope that the next iteration of the distribution (renamed AuroraOS) would be only a couple of months away. Unless the new system has been released via some back door, the world is still waiting as of December 2010, and whilst I have been happy in general with Eeebuntu, I feel the OS is starting to show its age. It’s based on Ubuntu Jaunty—released in April 2009, now almost two years ago—and frankly I’m getting a little annoyed at all the Ubuntu advances I read about at Web Upd8, which I can’t take advantage of as they usually require a more recent Ubuntu.

Quite simply, I feel I’m coming to a point where I am considering trying one of the new Ubuntu releases—possibly the “netbook” edition of Natty Narwhal, which is due in April (thus giving the Aurora team ample opportunity to get their OS out of the door 😉 ). To be fair, aside from a few niggles I can live with, Eeebuntu currently does pretty well everything I need in a netbook OS, so I can probably wait a few months before taking any radical steps.

Another reason I’m not in a massive hurry—and a factor in there not having been any posts here since October—is that I’m using my Eee a bit less than I used to, owing to my acquiring a Nokia N8 mobile phone in November. Especially when paired with a Bluetooth keyboard (and mouse, if you have one, which I don’t (yet)), and/or a HDMI-equipped TV or monitor, the N8 comes as close as any mobile device I’ve yet used, to providing an alternative to a netbook for mobile computing activities.

There’s a whole potential article I could write on this if I ever get the opportunity, but suffice it to say for now, that going forward, I am unlikely to be posting here on a regular basis. I started this blog almost as a “notepad” for my experiments with the Eee 701—partly for my own reference, but also in case my findings could be of help to any other 701 or Linux users. I hope that has been the case; whilst this is not “goodbye”, and whatever happens, this blog is likely to stay online indefinitely, I thought I should let you know that I don’t think there will be regular updates here from now on. You’re most welcome to keep this in your RSS reader, though, so that you’ll catch anything I do write 🙂

Happy Christmas, best wishes for 2011, and thanks for reading!

2010/10/14

My Eee Desktop – October 2010

Filed under: Desktops, Software — Tags: , — Tim @ 18:42

As the first anniversary of my acquiring my Eee 701 approaches, it’s time once again to show you how the machine’s desktop looks this month:

 

View of Eee 701 desktop

My Eee Desktop (Eeebuntu v3) - October 2010

 

Continuing the more speedy evolution of the past month or two, the main difference compared to last month’s desktop screenshot is not quite what it appears at first glance.

It might look as if I have finally ditched the top GNOME panel (with the “Applications” menu and so on), as I said I ultimately wanted to. However, I found I couldn’t quite get by without this yet (owing to the AWN dock applets not quite offering all the functionality I wanted), so I merely set the panel to “auto-hide”. This gives me the full screen-height for application windows, whilst still retaining the top panel in case I need it.

The wallpaper comes from this forum post; I merely resized it to 800×480, but I think it looks fine, not getting too much in the way of the Conky system stats display.

Barring the release of Aurora (the planned next-generation replacement for Eeebuntu) within the next few months, I don’t foresee many further changes to my Eee’s desktop in the short-term, aside from “cycling” the wallpaper every now and then.

Having said that, I’m always open to surprises; maybe it’s time for me to start tinkering with Fluxbox again…

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