Re: Compiz -- Discussion

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On Saturday 26 December 2009 17:49:17 William Case wrote:
> I just want to get some user thoughts and points on using Compiz.
> I tried it a couple of Fedora versions ago.  It was kind of cute using
> the spinning cube for workspaces and wobbly windows for a short while
> but I soon returned to using Metacity.  Now that Compiz is more mature
> and more people are using it, is there any advantages to trying it
> again.  Any preferred modes etc.
> I do include a 'fun' desktop amongst the possible advantages.

Ok, this is a looong post. Remember, you asked for it... ;-)

AFAIK, this sort of eye-candy first appeared on Macs. Windows didn't have it 
(and still doesn't in any serious form, AFAIK), and we Linux folks could not 
tolerate the idea that Mac users had something we don't. And so Compiz was 
born. (N.B. This is my subjective idea of how it all happened, not sure if it 
is true at all...)

It's all about eye-candy, user-convenience and ease of manipulating windows 
and other stuff on the screen. Given the emphasis on eye-candy, it is stupid to 
run Compiz alone --- if you have good hardware&software support for 3D 
graphics, I suggest you use:

(1) KDE4 desktop environment
(2) full-blown Compiz-Fusion (note: this is more than just Compiz)
(3) Emerald window decorator
(4) Cairo-dock
(5) Anything else I don't know about...

and turn on as many effects as your eyes can tolerate :-) ... I've been using 
this sort of setup since Fedora 9, on Intel graphics hardware (inferior to 
nVidia and ATI, but quite usable nevertheless). Of course, I don't turn on 
everything, but only things I like. And I change my taste for it from time to 
time, reconfigure it and play around etc. Before Fedora 9 times, I had quite 
inferior hardware, and used to work in quite minimalistic environment --- 
mainly runlevel 3, starting WindowMaker or twm when I needed X (no desktop 
environment whatsoever). So I am familiar with both extremes.

Globally, you can divide all people into those who like eye-candy and run the 
above (1-5) setup, those who don't like eye-candy and run twm or just runlevel 
3 terminal (and use lynx to browse the web), and those who cannot decide 
whether they like eye-candy or not, and thus run some DE&window manager that 
looks nice but not _that_ nice (and simultaneously ugly but not _that_ ugly). 
I've been in all three camps.

Ok, so why have all that stuff on the display? Pro's and con's from my point of 


* Enjoyable graphical experience. Using a computer for everyday work looks 
less dull and more like a video-game. I almost wish that all those effects have 
appropriate audio background, with a zwizz-fluff-bang-click audio effects when I 
switch a workspace and the octagon (8 workspaces) "cylinder" rotates around, 
windows get detached in 3D, gears rotate in the center and the picture of 
Orion constellation is moved around on the skydome behind. While all this is 
reflected on an invisible glass-like surface below the cube, with 30% 
translucency... Come on, it looks great! :-)

* Enhanced functionality for manipulating windows. Setting alt-tab to use the 
ring-switcher (across all workspaces) beats any other method of switching to 
another window --- you can see a thumbnail of every window in the ring, and it 
is updated live: you can see the movie being played in mplayer inside the 
thumbnail while switching. Folding the maximized window like a sheet of paper 
to see what is behind --- by simply grabbing it to the edge and pulling, a 
beautiful feature of Emerald (haven't seen it anywhere else). Simply hitting 
the top-left corner with a mouse to initiate "scale" and display all windows 
as thumbnails floating around waiting to be clicked on. Simply hitting left or 
right screen edge initiates switching to the next workspace, with all the 
above octagon-cylinder-3D-skydome-gears-zwizz-bang stuff. Simply hitting top 
screen edge invokes the hidden KDE panel, while the bottom edge invokes the 
hiddel cairo-dock with it's own wealth of effects (haven't explored them all 
yet, there are too many to choose from...). Having Konsole window maximized 
with 25% translucency to see all the KDE4 widgets dimmed on the desktop behind 
and keep track of cpu&network usage while having the whole screen available 
for the shell.  Everything has a configurable mouse action and a configurable 
hotkey action, so one can use whatever one holds in the hands at the moment, 
for most convenient user interaction.

* Great for showcasing Linux and converting Windows users. When a Windows user 
is confronted with this level of eye-candy, Linux ceases to be an "aha" 
experience and becomes more of a "HOLY S**T !!!" kind of experience. ;-)


* Hardware&software requirements. You need 3D support, which typically does 
not work out of the box (unless you are lucky) and requires some time to set 
up. Might involve closed-source graphics drivers that don't exist for latest 
kernel and such problems.

* Moderate performance penalty. If you use the effects while utilising all 
1/2/4/8/n processor cores to do some serious math or such, the effect can get 
choked sometimes for a fraction of a second or so --- because not everything 
is done by the GPU. On my Intel Core2duo (1.5 GHz, 2GB RAM, GM965 graphics 
hardware) Compiz usually takes up 2% of cpu time when idle, peaking up to 20% 
in the middle of some complicated effect. That said, KDE4's plasma typically 
uses 4-6% in addition, so plain KDE has *bigger* penalties than compiz itself.

That would be it, in a three-page "nutshell".

Finally, there is one more very important thing to comment on. One notable 
misconception that is typically put forward by opponents of eye-candy is that 
all those effects take time to execute and thus slow you down when using the 
computer. This is *FUD* and *utter* *bullshit*. Every human has a natural time 
lag between performing actions (you cannot type and move the mouse faster than 
your muscles allow you to) and perceptory lag (some time goes by between eyes 
seeing an image on the screen and brain understanding the contents of it). On 
today's modern hardware, all those compiz effects can be configured to be 
executed *faster* than any such human lag, so the system appears completely 
responsive while doing all that eye-candy stuff. Compiz can be configured to be 
fast enough not to slow me down in any way, while slow enough to let me enjoy 
the effects visually. Being 31 years old, I consider myself an "average human" 
in that respect, and guess that it can be configured to work at speeds good 
enough for anyone (other than Keanu Reeves maybe). :-)

This post is already way too long... ;-)

HTH, :-)

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