a life of coding

Friday, April 29, 2005

The Virtue of Desktop Management

Having used different flavors of Unix, one thing that have always felt was lacking from Mac OS X is a better application switcher. The best traits of the Dock is having your applicatino icons instantly visible while still being hideable, and scalable without losing information (via magnification). The worst ones are the reliance on using the mouse, the way icons move when magnified, screen real estate lost to a reasonably sized dock, and the annoyance of having to move the mouse away and back to hide a dock which has accidentally popped up.

What I really miss from CDE (a common cross-Unix desktop) is virtual desktops. I would say that I miss this from Linux, but my experience with desktop switching in Linux has been marred with inconsistent, poorly engineered, and overly complicated systems that never managed to make me more productive. So my chief requirement for a desktop switcher is simplicity: does it let me be more productive?

Virtue is an open source virtual desktop system that was mostly written by one person. In my experience with software (especially Mac vs Linux software), I have found that a single person can often produce a cleaner system than any horde of developers. Virtue is simple, yet it provides a lot of features. There is an Actions system that lets you bind any task to a keyboard shortcut or mouse shortcut (a la hot corners in Exposé). It includes graphic primatives to differentiate desktops, like tint (tint your wallpaper, or make it a solid color) and text (put labels in the corners of your screen). And most important of all, it has transitions (like Fast User Switching) between screens. This is important because I am a graphics whore, and I suspect many Mac users are.

Get Virtue, play with it, love it, if you are a programmer, add your favorite features to it. With any luck, Apple will rip this off too.


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