Dropline Gnome 2.4.x is purely a desktop replacement for the standard Slackware 9.x Gnome desktop. So you might ask why you would need a package that is only a desktop distribution. Well there are plenty of reasons to do this.
Desktops are complex. It has taken twelve years for Linux distributions to reach the stage that their desktop features are starting to chip away at the Microsoft stranglehold on graphical usability and functionality. Graphical software is also quite CPU intensive. Look at the hardware required to support Windows XP.
Not all desktops are created equal
Linux distributions usually cater for the lowest practical common denominator in hardware. At this time, it means that they are usually built for i486 processors. Slackware 9.1 is built to run on at least i486-based systems. So you sacrifice features of later model CPUs. Depending on your usage, you may or may not notice the performance difference.
I noticed that Dropline does not get the jerky performance the standard Slackware desktop can develop when running with quite a few applications and windows open. Since quite often I can be compiling some Java modules in one window, editing the code in NetBeans, running JBoss in the background, playing a CD and checking something in Galeon, I get a bit sensitive to screen and mouse lag. Dropline Gnome uses i686 optimized builds. So you get the best use of your i686 investment. But how noticeable it is depends on your usage.
Dropline Gnome has better font rendering than the standard Slackware desktop. The fonts are smooth, readable and in my opinion as good as Microsoft Windows. And the Gnome 2.4 themes and features really do make the system as pleasant a working environment as Microsoft Windows. Some people would find that reason enough to install Dropline. The themes include Geramik Mac – a mixture of Geramik and MacOS X; and Wasp – a BeOS-like style. I prefer Gorilla.
Also packaged up are i686 optimized ALSA drivers for the sound experience.
More than the look and feel
Aside from these improvements, Dropline developers focus on desktop applications and their integration with Gnome 2.4. – currently at Gnome 2.4.1. The application suite added to the desktop is the real reason for deploying Dropline Gnome. Dropline supplies many packages that do not come with Slackware and these packages are well integrated with the desktop.
At the risk of sounding boring, I’ll provide a brief list of the major applications and what they provide, as well as summaries for other groups:
On-screen keyboard and assistive technologies for the visually impaired.
* archive manager – similar in functionality to winzip
* dictionary – lookup words and spellings online
* nmapfe – Graphical front end for nmap
* text editor – gedit
* Unicode character map – like the Microsoft character map
Controls your desktop look and feel, such as themes, mouse controls, screen resolution and so on. Also allows configuration for the in-built Palm conduit and the synchronization of your Palm device with Ximian Evolution.
Games such as FreeCell, Mines and Mahjongg.
* Advanced image editor – The GIMP 1.2.5
* Image collection viewer – gThumb 2.1.9
* Image viewer – Eye of Gnome 2.4.1
* PDF viewer – Gnome PDF viewer 0.111
* Postscript viewer – Gnome Ghostview 184.108.40.206
* FTP – gFTP 2.0.16, like cuteFTP
* HTML editor – Gnome Bluefish 0.10
* ICQ Messenger – Gnome ICU 0.99
* Instant Messenger – Gaim
* Internet Relay Chat – X-Chat 2.0.5
* Live Journal – Drivel 0.9.1
* Mozilla – Mozilla 1.5 browser
* News Reader – PAN 0.14.2
* Video conferencing – GnomeMeeting 0.98.5
* Epiphany – Epiphany browser 1.0.6
* Audio player – XMMS 1.2.8
* CD Player – Gnome CD Player 220.127.116.11
* Movie Player – Totem 0.99.8; Xine-based multimedia player
* Sound recorder – Gnome sound recorder 18.104.22.168
* Volume control – Gnome volume control 22.214.171.124
* Volume control for ALSA – Gnome ALSA mixer 0.9.6
* Webcam manager – Vanity
* Diagram editor – Dia 0.92.2; same functionality as Visio
* Project management – Gnome MrProject 0.10, similar to MS Project
* Spreadsheets – Gnumeric 1.2.1, MS Excel-like
* Word processor – AbiWord 2.0.1, MS Word-like
* Ximian Evolution – Evolution 1.4.5, MS Outlook-like
Glade Gnome/GTK designer, distributed compilation monitor and a hex editor.
Just about everything you need to graphically manage Slackware and Gnome 2.4 – this is essentially the Gnome system tools collection. It includes System Monitor that allows process monitoring like in Windows. However, my favorite is the GKrellM System Monitor that sits as a nice visual monitor of disks, processes, CPU, memory, network activity and incoming mail. GKrellM also has plenty of plugins that you can obtain from the Internet.
On top of this, you’ve also got the Control Center, just like the Windows Control Panel and Network Servers, which allows you to connect to network shares, including Samba services.
Working in the Dropline Gnome environment
Dropline Gnome provides just about all the functionality you would expect in a Windows environment, if you were doing office type work. Supplement Dropline with Open Office 1.1, and you can work as you did in Windows, albeit without using Microsoft Windows software.
I use the Galeon browser by preference as it was inherited from my Slackware Gnome installation and had many of my logins for sites such as NYT and so on. As yet, Dropline hasn’t upgraded to Galeon 1.3.10. I built a custom one without gtkhtml support. This is better than the Slackware version only because it seems the gtkhtml renders the fonts too small on my laptop screen. I also built an i686-optimized Xine front-end as it looks better than Totem and has better DVD controls – that is just a preference when playing DVDs. Other than that, I haven’t strayed from the standard Dropline package builds.
I’ve switched from Sylpheed to Evolution. It has all the features of Sylpheed but with a very polished Outlook-like interface. The summary folder gives me feeds to all the latest news, including Linux Universe. The advantage Evolution has over Sylpheed is that there is an appointments manager, a task manager and a full contacts manager. The Palm synchronization gives you the functionality you might otherwise miss if abandoning Microsoft/Outlook and you have a Palm device. Evolution also has LDAP integration which is why Dropline ships OpenLDAP as part of the packages. I haven’t had a chance to play with the LDAP integration at the time of this review.
With Open Office and Dropline’s Diagram Editor and Project Manager, you have the same capabilities as a user running the Microsoft Office suite. And I can have a document open, the diagram editor with a UML schema, a performance spreadsheet open and a JBoss web service running in the background without the laptop becoming resource bound.
The other bit of polish that the Dropline developers have added is the file associations for the Dropline bundled applications. As in Microsoft Windows, you can double click on a file from Nautilus and the file, if recognized, will be opened in the associated application. Nautilus has been configured to also preview/display known graphics files such as JPEGs and PNGs. You can also preview sound clips. And File Roller, the archive manager acts like Winzip so you can double click on a jar, tar, tar.gz, or zip, view the contents and then unpack them.
Dropline provides an installer that helps keep the desktop environment and applications up to date. Using swaret to manage the core Slackware upgrades and dropline-installer to manage Dropline upgrades makes maintenance very simple. You even have a Dropline panel applet to monitor for updates. So there is little reason not to have Dropline installed on your Slackware system and plenty of reasons you should have it installed.
Dropline enhances the desktop experience. Desktops are complex things. While the standard Slackware distribution provides an adequate desktop, the real strength in Slackware is the effort the developers put into making sure the underlying OS is rock-solid. The Dropline overlay provides a desktop configuration that is an environment capable of rivalling the Microsoft graphical environment.
The Dropline developers devote their efforts to making sure the desktop is well integrated and the desktop provides the necessary functionality for an office user/developer. So if you were thinking of taking the plunge into a non-Microsoft working environment, Dropline might be worth a trial. I’ve been working without Windows for three months now and there is little I miss in terms of document and office functionality.
* Remember to do a thorough assessment of your needs, including what you must have, and what you can live without before making the transition to a full Linux desktop environment. And have a fall back strategy if you find you are still unsure after determining your requirements and decide to try it anyway.