A few weeks ago, I revived my six year old acer aspire, and set it as my default computer at home. But, for a year, my only machine had being a nice thinkpad that my employer, www.uady.mx kindly offered me. One of the most useful features on my thinkpad is that next to the up arrow, there are two buttons conveniently configured to go back and forward in the browser.
I don’t know why, but the folks in acer thought that it would be most convenient to have an euro and dollar sign next to the up arrow, which I don’t really use.
So, every time I wanted to go back in chrome, I was disapointed for such a bad choice on my laptop. Being a linux guy, instead of been frustrated, I decided to solve this issue. Here is what I did:
As the arch linux wiki explains [*], there are two concepts to learn first:
- The scancode is the most basic way of identifying a key in linux. This is an hexadecimal code the kernel assigns to each key it recognizes.
- The keycode is analogous to the scancode, but on a higher level. To every scancode there should be a keycode in order for the key to be useful.
Finally, the X server translates those keycodes into symbols that it understand. Some of those symbols are usual characters to be print as text. But there are a few symbols which are special. In my case, the symbols that make the browser go back and forth are named XF86Back and XF86Forward (no surprises here, uh?)
- Figure out the scancode of the buttons next to the up arrow.
- Find out what is the keycode that should assign to XF86(Back/Forward).
For the first task, I just have to open the file located at /usr/lib/udev/keymaps/acer and it contained the info. (It said that in my laptop those special buttons euro, and dollar where bound to the scancodes 0xB3 and 0xB4). I suppose for other machines there should be a simmilar file if udev is installed.
I have been a happy linux user for many years, and as most experienced users know, it is almost imposible to have a linux box without having to write some scripts from time to time. To me, it was quite natural to start coding in a day to day basis. My first programs were really basic. Mostly bash scripts, and tons of python code. But, as my programming skills were growing up, I started learning to build compiled programs: C, C++, Java, Vala… you name it, and it’s very probable that I have tried it.
- Bamf: This is a small library which maps applications running to its correspondent desktop files.
- Indicators: These are the small icons which appear on the top bar of ubuntu’s unity. Developers say that indicators exist because the system tray specification is messy. I’m not expert in this area, so I just trusted what they say and compiled/installed this to get my desktop environment working 😉
- Contractor is a library easing interprocess operation and the modular design of pantheon.
- Plank is the project’s dock. As I understand, this is a fork of docky, and only have the most basic functionality of the later.
- pantheon-wallpaper: Its only job is to paint the wallpaper.
- Gala: This is pantheon’s window manager, derived from mutter. It works smooth and gives nice eye candy without compromising windows resources.
And that’s it, besides the basic libraries, everything is optional in pantheon, so I have other applications from the project, but they are not needed to have a basic environment:
- Slingshot: This is an application launcher, no more, no less.
- Switchboard: This is the equivalent to Ubuntu’s topbar, but I could not get the indicators that should go in the bar working, so I don’t really use it.
- Cerbere: Small application whose only job is restart the main components (window manager, dock, launcher, etc) each time they died. I installed this reasoning that pantheon is beta and designed from Ubuntu, so, being an arch guy, it could happen that its components crashed a lot. However, that did not happen, and I could prescind from it without any fuss.
- Scratch is a text editor with good support for vala.
- Noise is a media player. I used it for two days, but lost interest on it, solely because I listen to music from youtube most of the time.
- pantheon-files is a file manager, which reminds me dolphin in KDE (in fact, in some older blogs, I have found that people refers to it as marlin, so, this is another fishy file manager). It’s simple and just works, without many dependencies, so I use it in a regular basis.
- pantheon-terminal: This one is my de facto terminal emulator. It’s interface is simple. Supports some candy (transparent background), and, as the other components, just works! =)
On the developer side, I find pantheon’s code clean and easy to understand. These guys decided to use cmake as building tool, and I really like it. My previous experience with gnome-shell and cinnamon (both use autotools for the task) showed me the relevance of separating the source code from the building process, and cmake allowed to resolve the few dependencies that had to strip fairly easy.
In conclusion, my favorite desktop environment to this day is pantheon. It offers a good mix of eyecandy, performance and simplicity, and as a developer, its clean, modular code, makes it easy to hack and port to other distributions from its original Ubuntu. Certainly, it’s still beta, and there are other most heavily tested desktop environment, but I think this one is worth to try, and if you are a developer who is interested in tuning its DE, this is an easy one to hack.