Language Selection

English French German Italian Portuguese Spanish

Alternative GUIs: SymphonyOS

Filed under
Linux

Notes:

  • This is the first of two articles; the second one will take a look at GoblinX.
  • SymphonyOS was originally reviewed on this site in May, 2006, and again in December, 2006. Since then, SymphonyOS suffered through some financial problems, but seems to be alive and well today.

We're all familiar with the "big two" desktops for Linux — KDE and GNOME. Of course, there are many more to choose from. If you asked a group of Linux users, "Which one is best?", the ensuing debate would likely take on religious overtones. Some would even argue that a desktop like KDE is too hard for newbies to use.

One of the things that can be difficult for Windows users to understand is how Linux users have a choice of graphical user interfaces (GUIs). Even though Windows itself used to be a graphical shell running on top of DOS, until the advent of Windows NT and beyond, Windows users just get one choice of GUI.

It's a safe bet that most Linux users don't stray too far away from those "big two," KDE and GNOME. So it's especially interesting to look at some innovative alternatives.

SymphonyOS

SymphonyOS is a departure from the normal desktop interface. Since the distro is still in beta, it's not ready for mass consumption by any stretch. I wanted to take a look at the just-released version 2007.06. The reason I used version 2006-12 for this overview is that the hard disk installer in version 2007.06 simply didn't work. (Installing 2006-12 wasn't exactly easy, either — more on that below.) Hopefully they'll iron out the bugs, because users new to Linux might well appreciate SymphonyOS' simplicity.

The SymphonyOS desktop (named "mezzo") seems to be a marriage of the fvwm window manager with Mozilla's scriptable layout engine, Gecko. On the desktop, there are areas with links in them (known as "desklets" and "launchers"). When clicked, the links can bring up Web pages or programs. In the four corners of the desktop, there are hotspots that bring up what are referred to as "menus," which are actually full-page views of four specific functional areas: Computer (settings); Files; Programs; and Trash. In the top center of the main page, there's a hotspot containing the clock, that also works as the way to refresh the desktop after the desktop background image has been changed through SymphonyOS' Desktop Manager.

SymphonyOS comes as a live Linux CD, and uses ROX-Filer as its default file manager, and also includes Firefox; Thunderbird; Gaim (for instant messaging); and the VLC media player (the latter didn't work until it was reinstalled).


SymphonyOS login screen

Once logged in, the user is presented with the main screen, which has an area for favorite programs on the left, an area for favorite directories on the right, a bunch of news feeds, and a Google search box. On the whole, it has the feel of Web page, but one that gives you access to programs and directories as well.

  

The Desktop Manager allows you (in theory, at least) to change the contents of the desklets and launchers, as well as to change the desktop's background image.

   

The Desktop Manager

When you click on the hotspot in the upper left-hand corner, it brings you to the "Computer" page, offering you access to your partitions, various settings, and "tasks" such as shutting down the computer.

   

The Computer menu

The hotspot in the lower left-hand corner brings up the "Programs" page, with launchers for favorite programs; all programs; and tasks (such as installing software).

   

The Programs menu

The hotspots in the upper right-hand corner and lower right-hand corner bring up the "Files" page and the "Trash" page, respectively. At this point, they don't seem to do a lot. (Perhaps you'll be able to "drag-and-drop" in future editions.)

   

The Files menu and Trash menu

I'm looking forward to SymphonyOS' continued success and development. It's an innovative and novel concept.

On a personal level, it passed the "wife test" — she praised its ease-of-use. (Since I've been trying to get her to allow me to put Linux on her computer, but only (so far) managed to get her hooked on playing Shisen-Sho (a game that comes with KDE) on my computer, this may eventually be the distro for her.)

One could also easily imagine a SymphonyOS-like desktop operating completely within a web browser. The trend seems to be pointing that way already. It's not hard to imagine the day you'll be able to start up a Web browser on a Windows-based computer in a library someplace, and have something very similar to SymphonyOS come up with your files and settings, ready to go.

Boring Technical Stuff

This version of SymphonyOS (2006-12) is based on Debian Etch. The new version (2007.06) is Ubuntu-based. Either way, it would seem that you could install other desktops (like GNOME) if you wanted to. Note how it offers "Mezzo" as a choice among login sessions in the following gdm ("GNOME Display Manager") screenshot.

As noted above, the installer for version 2007.06 simply didn't work.

There were multiple problems with installing version 2006-12. It didn't install GRUB, like it said it would — not a big deal, since an openSUSE installation already controls GRUB on my test box — but it also didn't install a kernel to boot from ("vmlinuz") or an initial RAM disk ("initrd") in /boot. I had to copy those off the live CD. The next problem was that the "initrd.gz" I copied over went with the live CD (which, for 2006-12, is based on the Slax subsystem), not with the actual installation, so it went looking for the live CD and its loadable modules upon boot. Fortunately, that didn't ultimately stop it from booting. Once installed, it was easy enough to create a compatible "initrd" by installing and using normal Debian-based tools.

Another problem I encountered was that the live CD (of version 2006-12) didn't properly configure my display's resolution or sync rates. I had to use the vi editor to configure /etc/X11/xorg.conf. Yikes! (However, the newest version did.)

Finally, here's something to ponder: Will the developers of this system create tools to change desktop elements that are as easy-to-use as the OS itself, or will the desktop user need to turn to someone with a knowlege of scripting in order to make changes? Arthur C. Clarke is quoted as saying, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." How well will SymphonyOS succeed at making its magic accessible to the end user?


Purchase a 2007-06 CD from On-Disk.com.



StumbleUpon

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Great review

It's nice to see the very latest and greatest of Mezzo, especially after SymphonyOS threw out and begged for a lifeline in their Web site. With a solid Ubuntu base, they could have a lot to offer. Where's Ulteo BTW?

More in Tux Machines

Red Hat and Fedora Leftovers

Devices: Beelink S1 Mini PC, Aaeon’s SBC, Kobo and LEDE

  • Beelink S1 Mini PC and Linux – Comedy Gold
    The Beelink S1 is a small, silent mini PC released in August 2017 retailing for around 300 dollars (250 euros). It’s produced by Shenzhen AZW Technology Co Ltd, a Chinese company that focuses on Android smart TV boxes, Intel mini PCs, and home cloud TV boxes. The S1 ships with an activated copy of Windows 10. But what makes this mini PC interesting? For starters, it purports to run Ubuntu. Combined with a quad core Celeron CPU, dual monitor support (HDMI and VGA), 4K video, expansion options, together with a raft of other features, the machine looks a mouthwatering prospect compared to many other mini PCs.
  • Kaby Lake Pico-ITX SBC features dual M.2 slots
    Aaeon’s “PICO-KBU1” SBC is built on Intel 7th Gen U-series CPUs with up to 16GB DDR4, dual GbE ports, and M.2 B-key and E-Key expansion. The PICO-KBU1 SBC is equipped with Intel’s dual-core, 15W TDP 7th Gen U-series CPUs from the latest Kaby Lake generation. Other 100 x 72mm Pico-ITX boards that run Kaby Lake U-Series processors include Axiomtek’s PICO512. As usual with Aaeon, no OS support is listed.
  • Kobo firmware 4.6.9995 mega update (KSM, nickel patch, ssh, fonts)
    It has been ages that I haven’t updated the MegaUpdate package for Kobo. Now that a new and seemingly rather bug-free and quick firmware release (4.6.9995) has been released, I finally took the time to update the whole package to the latest releases of all the included items. The update includes all my favorite patches and features: Kobo Start Menu, koreader, coolreader, pbchess, ssh access, custom dictionaries, and some side-loaded fonts.
  • LEDE v17.01.4 service release
    Version 17.01.4 of the LEDE router distribution is available with a number of important fixes. "While this release includes fixes for the bugs in the WPA Protocol disclosed earlier this week, these fixes do not fix the problem on the client-side. You still need to update all your client devices. As some client devices might never receive an update, an optional AP-side workaround was introduced in hostapd to complicate these attacks, slowing them down."

Samsung Leftovers

OSS Leftovers

  • FOSDEM 2018 Real-Time Communications Call for Participation
  • Top Bank, Legal and Software Industry Executives to Keynote at the Open Source Strategy Forum
  • Copyleft is Dead. Long live Copyleft!
    As you may have noticed, we recently re-licensed mgmt from the AGPL (Affero General Public License) to the regular GPL. This is a post explaining the decision and which hopefully includes some insights at the intersection of technology and legal issues.
  • Crowdsourcing the way to a more flexible strategic plan
    Trust the community. Opening a feedback platform to anyone on campus seems risky, but in hindsight I'd do it again in a heartbeat. The responses we received were very constructive; in fact, I rarely received negative and unproductive remarks. When people learned about our honest efforts at improving the community, they responded with kindness and support. By giving the community a voice—by really democratizing the effort—we achieved a surprising amount of campus-wide buy-in in a short period of time. Transparency is best. By keeping as many of our efforts as public as possible, we demonstrated that we were truly listening to our customers and understanding the effects of the outdated technology policies and decisions that were keeping them from doing their best work. I've always been a proponent of the idea that everyone is an agent of innovation; we just needed a tool that allowed everyone to make suggestions. Iterate, iterate, iterate. Crowdsourcing our first-year IT initiatives helped us create the most flexible and customer-centric plan we possibly could. The pressure to move quickly and lay down a comprehensive strategic plan is very real; however, by delaying that work and focusing on the evolving set of data flowing from our community, we were actually able to better demonstrate our commitment to our customers. That helped us build critical reputational capital, which paid off when we did eventually present a long-term strategic plan—because people already knew we could achieve results. It also helped us recruit strong allies and learn who we could trust to advance more complicated initiatives.
  • Reform is a DIY, modular, portable computer (work in progress)
    Want a fully functional laptop that works out of the box? There are plenty to choose from. Want a model that you can upgrade? That’s a bit tougher to find: some modern laptops don’t even let you replace the RAM. Then there’s the Reform. It’s a new DIY, modular laptop that’s designed to be easy to upgrade and modify. The CAD designs will even be available if you want to 3D print your own parts rather than buying a kit. You can’t buy a Reform computer yet. But developer Lukas Hartmann and designer Ana Dantes have developed a prototype and are soliciting feedback on the concept.
  • New neural network teaches itself Go, spanks the pros
    While artificial intelligence software has made huge strides recently, in many cases, it has only been automating things that humans already do well. If you want an AI to identify the Higgs boson in a spray of particles, for example, you have to train it on collisions that humans have already identified as containing a Higgs. If you want it to identify pictures of cats, you have to train it on a database of photos in which the cats have already been identified.