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Linux Technology Previews – 3D Desktop and XGL (X Windows on OpenGL)

Recently I’ve had been playing with a couple of Linux LiveCDs which demonstrate some potential improvements in the Linux operating system. These are on the 3D desktop (courtesy of Looking Glass Live CD from Sun), and X Windows running on OpenGL (using the Kororaa Live CD).

These are in their early stages and I would not recommend using them for anything serious, but they give a taste of what may be coming in the future. Both of these CDs had some kind of problem depending upon the computer they were loaded on, and neither are particularly stable at the moment. As both of these are available as Live CDs (A complete Operating System that can be run directly off the CD) they do not need loading onto the computer and so don’t carry any risk. Just burn the CD, put it in a bootable CD-ROM / DVD drive on your computer and reboot.

Looking Glass 3D (lg3d) Linux Live CD – 3D Desktop

The 3D desktop provided by Looking Glass provides a 3 dimensional workspace. For example if you move a window to the side of the screen, rather than part of it disappearing, it bends away from you. This means that the window does not occupy as much space on the screen, but you can still see some of the content of the window.

It also provides semi-transparent windows so that you can see through to other windows. The launch menu is very cool, and it can show the running applications across the menu. Although some are claiming this to be the next big thing in operating system design, personally I’m not so sure. I have to admit it looks good though.

Your success may vary with this. I works on my desktop PC, but

XGL Kororaa Live Linux CD – X Windows on OpenGL

XGL is X running on OpenGL. X (or X Windows), is the basis of the graphical screen normally used on a Linux desktop. By running this using the OpenGL standard then it shifts much of the application processing to the graphics card rather than rendering the screen in the main CPU. This allows some good special effects that would otherwise be very processor hungry.

Some of the features that are enabled (using compris) on the Kororaa CD are:

  • Cube desktop changer (change the desktops as a cube moving around, this can been seen by clicking on an alternative desktop in the bottom right, or using CTRL-ALT and LEFT or RIGHT)
  • xgl-cool (Semi-transparent Matrix style screensaver, which keeps running while you work)
  • Wobbly windows (Windows wobble when they move, e.g. swaying effect)
  • Application Switcher (CTRL-ALT TAB)
  • Rain Drops on your desktop (SHIFT F9)
  • Zoom in (useful for those with sight impairments SUPER* and Right Mouse Button)

Whilst most of these are gimicky features, the real difference is in the flexibility available to the desktop, and the fact that this is available with minimal impact to the performance of the computer.

When I first booted from the CD on my desktop computer the screen was very wavy. This was due to the resolution that was selected was higher than my screen was able to handle. The Operating System had chosen the highest resolution my graphics card had, missing the fact that the screen is quite an old screen without the same resolution. This was quickly fixed when loaded by launching:
Desktop -> Preferences -> Screen Resolution
and choosing the next lower screen resolution.
The CD failed to load the OpenGL drivers on an older laptop, but did work on a recent Dell laptop. The range of video cards support seam to be a little better than Looking Glass supports.

You can change the settings of the features using the Configuration Editor, which is under Applications -> System Tools. The effects are created by plug-ins for the compriz application, which can be reached from /apps/compriz/plugins

One thing you may like to set is a transparency setting on moving windows. This means that windows are semi-transparent when moving so that you can see what other applications are being hidden by them. This is set using the configuration editor by changing the value of /apps/compriz/plugins/move/screen0/options/opacity (for example setting it to 50%).

Kororaa Project Website

* Super Key is the key used to initiate the application launcher menu, this normally has either a Linux or Windows Logo depending upon the keyboard.

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