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.

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