Thoughts on Beryl

I’ve had a pretty hardcore day of getting a design doc done today. I started at 6:30am and went straight through until about 7pm. All day was spent slaving over my Thinkpad, with it’s shiny new Beryl window manager running. I have to say I am extremely impressed by the experience of using it.

I start off taking advantage of an empty office to duck into one of the conference rooms to make sure that my Thinkpad and Linux would play nicely on a projector. Unsurprisingly it wouldn’t and I couldn’t get the Fn-F7 combo to work. After a bit of googling and a check of the internal forums I found a solution involving aticonfig –force-monitor=crt1,lvds

With that sorted and the projector displaying I fired up a presentation and displayed it. I then had an epiphany and realised that for the first time, virtual desktops make sense to me thanks to Beryl. Previously I’ve found having to click on an icon somewhere or remember a keyboard shortcut a little too tiresome, and ended up piling things on one desktop. However with a simple Ctrl-Alt and the push of the mouse I can watch my virtual desktops swish past in an OS X Quartz Extreme cube effect. It is so powerful to use in presentations. For instance I can have the full screen presentation on one desktop whilst a demo is set up and ready to go on another. No longer do I have to Alt-tab or escape out of the presentation to get to the demo, just swish over to another virtual desktop whilst my audience gaze in wonder at the Beryl eye-candy. I’m now even more impatient for OS X Leopard and it’s Spaces virtual desktop concept to arrive, but it doesn’t look quite so funky.

Talking of OS X, the other invaluable part of Beryl which I found myself making extensive use of during the day was the Expose-like ability to see shrunk versions of every open window, then click on the one you want to work with. The way it can show all windows across virtual desktops or just the ones in the desktop you are in is way cool, and so is the automatic (and much faster than normal) flipping over to the desktop hosting the window.

All in all, on an intense days work I’ve been nothing but impressed by RHEL, the IBM Open Client and Beryl. It is certainly a league above Windows XP for being able to get things done productively, and as much as it hurts to say it, it gives OS X a good run for the money as well. It seemed to run fine on my T42p, 2GB RAM and 128MB ATI Mobility FireGL T2 as well.

Linux switcher

In my day-to-day role as a software engineer at IBM I spend most of my time working on design docs, code and a variety of other things which don’t particularly require me to use any one platform or operating system. As long as I have Eclipse, Word (or equivalent) and a variety of productivity tools including Lotus Notes and Sametime, I’ll be happy (along with the ability to VPN into work from home) The one thing I am limited to is hardware, which by default is a Lenovo/IBM Thinkpad. As such I can’t obtain my nirvana of doing my day-to-day work on a Mac (or at least I can’t without buying the hardware myself!)

So, the flexibility I have boils down to operating system. For the most part I’ve stuck to Windows XP, mainly through familiarity and laziness. I have a desktop machine which runs Linux, but aside from running a few services which I make use of in development (LDAP, Tivoli Access Manager, DB2 etc.) it remains untouched, happily running the World Community Grid.

Every so often I get the urge to get my hands dirty in the world of Unix, in an attempt not to lose forever the skills I gained long ago at University whilst working on Silicon Graphics workstations. This urge is partially sated by Mac OSX and it’s BSD underpinnings, but I recently came to the conclusion that if I am going to maintain and extend my knowledge of Unix, it would be best to do it on a full-time basis, so the only option was to use it for my day-to-day work. Hence why I am writing this entry on my Thinkpad which is now running Linux.

The decision was easy to make seen as all my primary needs in terms of development and productivity apps are now available in the form of Eclipse, the beta of Notes 8, Open Office and Sametime 7.5. Notes in particular has been a long time coming to the world of Linux. So it was that earlier this week, after backing up the stuff I wanted to keep, I trashed Windows and installed the IBM Linux Open Client.. This is an internal beta of the RHEL5 based client, which comes loaded with Notes, Sametime, IBM productivity tools and lots more. The goal of the open client initiative is to produce a consistent stack of software on top of a variety of operating systems. As such, I could have chosen to install it based on SLED 10 or even Ubuntu. I chose to go with Redhat as it is the distro I’m most familiar with.

So far I’ve been kicking the tyres and getting my development environments configured. Everything has gone pretty smoothly, and I’m happy to say that my knowledge of vi commands and shell scripting is slowly returning to the forefront of my brain. One thing I have done is to configure it to run Xgl/Beryl to get some nifty windowing and OSX-like cube effects. How long it will stay on depends on how much it slows down my aging T42p.

So, I’ve added another category to this blog to cover anything I might write about my new adventures in Linux. So far so good!