Is XGL a step in the right direction?

I have XGL installed on both of my Linux systems – both Gentoo, my distribution par excellence. Since it is extremely beta and buggy software, take everything I’m saying here with a grain of salt. I’ve had the chance to try it out, see how it responds, reacts, and so on and so forth. I’ve also had a chance to see how it fits into my life.

What is XGL? Wikipedia explains it best… actually, scratch that. In layman’s terms, XGL is a set of modules that sits on top of the window server, known as X11 or X.org, and provides new ways to interact with the desktop with plugin functionality. If I want my virtual desktops to be the faces of a cube and switch through them by rotating the cube, XGL makes that possible If I want to pretend my desktop is a pond and use my cursor to splash ripples through it, XGL makes that possible. If I want to see my windows bounce with a spring-like friction as I move them around the screen, XGL makes that possibe. If I instantly want all my windows visible to me at a key command, scurrying across the desktop to their proper places so I can choose which one has focus like the Queen’s cards in Alice and the Looking Glass, XGL makes that possible.

Clearly from that list, many things it does do actually sound helpful. Many things it does sound like the kind of things programmers write when they want to show off. In other words, a standard project in the exciting world of open source. It slams open a lot of doors, often without asking, and marches proudly into the future. But is it worth installing and dealing with?

Well, I’ve used it. I’ve seen the videos. I’ve played with the configuration options. One of the good/bad things about it is that every minor detail of the configuration of its plugins is manageable – windows have friction coefficients and spring constants so you can very precisely get the behavior you want in the wobbling windows and zoom effects. This is a good thing for me, because it appeals to my love of customization. This is a bad thing for me, and for others, because these options are only accessable through a very archaic (think Windows Registry) system of schemes in Gnome’s gconf-editor. A better interface and a more explicit set of documentation about the plugins and what they do would be very useful and helpful overall.

KDE working on top of XGL is horrendous. XGL, for the most part, is DE-neutral – except for a big part of the process, called gnome-window-decorator. It handles drawing the new window borders around each of your apps (your old customization will be gone) and works, acts, and reacts as if it’s in a Gnome environment, which is a bad thing for KDE users. As far as I can tell, it breaks the shortcuts that allow me to resize my window via Alt+Right Click, as well as the ‘mouse-over-focus’ model I’ve currently set up in KDE.

This doesn’t feel related to gnome-window-decorator, but it breaks nonetheless. If any window demands attention in the tray, it never stops demanding attention, even if you focus on the window, click on it, anything. This is perfect functionality out of KDE that’s somehow broken by XGL. For instant messengers and the like, this is almost a deal-breaker.

Another major complaint for me is that half of the shortcuts provided by XGL – the ones that involve the Alt and Super keys – don’t work whatsoever. I know those keys work – I spent an hour making sure my xkbmap is updated with the right model, variant, and layout. I have yet to try XGL in Gnome – its ‘native’ environment at the moment – but chances are this is a global thing, and the keymappings won’t be there, regardless of what DE I’m in. I’ve Googled around but haven’t found any other complaints, so chances are it’s a fault of the implementation I’m using: compiz-quinnstorm instead of compiz-vanilla. I may revert to compiz-vanilla just so I can see if the issue persists.

So my final thoughts? XGL breaks things. It doesn’t work in the environment I prefer using. It’s eye-candy, but that’s not a bad thing until it starts interfering with functionality, and XGL is walking a very fine line in that department. If a user-friendly interface were provided that allowed the average user to understand the various physics settings and what they would do to the eye-candy, then perhaps it wouldn’t be a completely lost cause. (Novell, does something like this exist?) KDE support needs to exist. It is a huge user base. I wish I could help other than complaining and filing bug reports, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin. So here are my complaints.

Additionally, feel free to let me know if any of my complaints are out of date. My version of compiz is from June 26, and we all know how fast development flies when you’re not paying attention.

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