A Few Days With XGL

As my computer friends may know, I’m always looking for eye candy. Back in the day I was using Enlightenment (come to think of it I think they are still at the same version number as back in 1999….. smirk), love theming, and if I see a nice looking font/icon theme/whatever I’ll happily grab it to see what it’s like and give it a test drive. Checking out the latest in accelarated X11 technology in the form of XGL (see last entry for the screenshot and links to video goodness) was a given.

After spending about a week with it full time on my linux box, I’m ready to declare it “belpha”. Or is it “alpheta”? It’s…. well, it’s close. The technology is there, it’s the polish and UI that’s still needed. Read on for more…

My computer, beyond being a standard DIY whitebox:

  • Barton XP 2600+
  • 1G ram
  • nVidia FX5700LE with 128M memory
  • Dual 19″ CRT monitors
  • OS: Gentoo linux, using layman and the portage-xgl overlay on a mostly stable x86 system (with a lot of ~x86 gnome apps).

The technology seems solid. I haven’t had any XGL related crashes, and the ability for the system to create in-memory views of what’s happening on the screen (or whatever it does) and then warp them, wobble them, map them on a cube, shrink them, zoom them or overlay them with fake rain seems to work without a hitch, and have no issues working with dual monitors.

The issue comes when you get into two parts. Performance and UI. First the performance.

I’ve noticed 3 main areas of performance degredation. The first is my memory load is higher than before. Not overly surprising given I’m running a non-stable X-Windows server. Currently XGL (after running for a few days) is taking up 197m of virtual memory (175m res). Not bad, not great. I don’t have any figures for standard Xorg, but I know it’s a bit lower than that.

Second is playing movies fullscreen in mplayer. For some reason it seems that running in a maximized window makes it faster than using the ‘f’ key to put it fullscreen. Something in the way that the hardware acceleration works maybe?

Third is simply overall performance… the system “feels” sluggier. This gets more specific when there’s lots going on and the system is under load as it is…. the cube rotation when you switch virtual desktops is slower to startup, alt-tabbing to windows isn’t the instantanious thing I’m used to. When there’s no load on the system or it’s freshly rebooted it is more a vauge idea that somethings a bit slower, maybe in the scrolling down a window or the opening of a application…. hard to pin it down. Again, this is to be expected.

The main thing that continues to bug me is some of the details lacking in the polish and UI. I’ll be relatively brief.

  • Alt-Tabbing looks way nicer, but is visually disorienting if you’re used to the way that GNOME’s alt-tab normally works, as it raises windows temporarily as you alt-tab through them.
  • Multimedia keys on my MS keyboard don’t work anymore for pause/play/fwd/rew
  • Alt-space no long words to pull down the window menu (so a quick alt-space-m doesn’t minimize… see below for more on this)
  • Maximized windows ignore the bottom gnome panel I have and maximize underneath it.
  • I can no longer move windows so their bottom is “below” the bottom of the screen.
  • Wobbly windows seem to work on everything, even my tooltips and menus wobble when they appear!
  • Restoring a minimized window restores it to the virtual desktop it was on, not where you are now.
  • You lose a bunch of the pre-set GNOME keyboard shortcuts, IE: alt-1, alt-2, etc to move through your virtual desktops (luckily these can be gotten back by using the gset-compiz utility to set shortcut keys for the ‘rotate’ plugin)

I’m sure there are a few others, and most of them are along those lines… little niggly bits where the XGL enhanced GNOME desktop is not the GNOME desktop with fancy effects, it’s the GNOME desktop with some missing features and warts, with fancy effects.

So am I going to keep using it? As I say above, there’s really no compelling reason not to. The little niggly bugs will end up in a bug tracking system eventually, and unless things start breaking horribly, the eyecandy factor still outweighs the currently bitches I have with it.

5 Comments on “A Few Days With XGL”

  1. Hey Arc, long time no see 🙂
    I don’t have any experience with XGL with Gentoo but my experience with Ubuntu has been excellent.
    My system is as follows:
    AMD64 3700+ San Diego
    Dual Nvidia 6600GT 128MB PCI-E (SLI Capable)
    2GB DDR400 RAM
    I am running the following versions:
    xserver-xgl 7.0.0+cvs20060625
    compiz 0.0.13-0quinn26
    cgwd 0.9
    I find I am using roughly 20-30% less RAM than I was with xorg (even though xgl sits on top of xorg??) with current usage around 600MB as opposed to usage around 1GB with just xorg.
    I haven’t noticed any slow downs between interacting with the system either, although some people with lower system specs have reported that quinn13 is a little slower than quinn12.
    Also, again I have no experience with Gentoo, but in Ubuntu I solved my keyboard issues by going into gnome-keyboard-properties and resetting my specific keyboard in the Layouts section (which had been set to a generic 102 key when I installed xgl+compiz etc.).
    I have a screenshot on HERE and plan to make many more in the future and hopefully a video too.
    I am addicted to XGL+Compiz it brings the desktop into the present instead of lagging behind with the same old styles and interactions of the last millenium.
    Great to see you blogging, would be great to see you in #userfriendly again sometime too. Take it easy man (now I am gonna go check out your xgl screenshots etc.)
    Paladine from #Userfriendly

  2. BF – my system is good enough I’m sure, the main part is the video card, needs probably at least 128mb of ram and OpenGL capabilities.

  3. The problem with the maximized windows ignoring the bottom dock is because you have the dual monitor thing going. XGL/Compiz doesn’t officially support multimon yet, but I’ve noticed it works mostly fine using nVidia’s Twinview (not Xinerama). The only thing that changed for me was the annoying maximizing windows bug, and overall slight performance degradation.
    Someone else mentioned system requirements…I have XGL running on a PIII, with a geForce 4 with 64MB RAM, and it only ever slows down with video (which it did BEFORE XGL). This is amazingly resource light eye-candy.