Pick a Free OS

A look at Helix GNOME

Ten years ago, most PC users believed that UNIX was the domain of hackers and

caffeine drowsed programmers. UNIX and even Linux machines tend to conjure up

images of reams and reams of green colored text pouring out of an 80x25

resolution text mode! While many newbies unknowingly continue to remain in the

dark ages of the text mode, most Linux users can today confidently setup the

free XFree86 environment to provide a user-friendly graphical interface to the

once arcane world of Linux.

Unfortunately 'user friendly' takes up a new meaning in the world of Linux. If

Microsoft did one thing right, it must have been to keep things simple in

whatever they built. A typical setup of the XWindows system in Linux is not

only about setting up the video adapter but also editing weird files like

xinitrc, running a window manager, loading a desktop, a GUI template and what

not. The process of setup may seem trivial (perhaps only adding a symlink or

editing a file to insert a call to the window manager), but for most newbies

and normal users, the problem arises in setting up any software. Imagine if

people weren't able to setup a simple Windowing system that can cater to their

needs (after which they would like to use applications!) -- even if Linux has

the coolest GUI and the best OS kernel, Linux would certainly fail to appeal

to the masses.

Meet Miguel de Icaza, a man who has realized that computing is not just about

the cleverest software techniques, but also about reaching out to the general

public. Helix code, Miguel's company, quite aptly, intends to 'deliver

intelligence' through its products. Helix GNOME is the first software package

released by the company.

GNOME and KDE are popular examples of desktop environments. A desktop

environment provides the general look and style of windows, scroll bars,

buttons and other standard widgets necessary in a GUI. Sometimes the desktop

environment additionally includes a window manager. A window manager refers to

software that creates an interface to control software and run applications

inside a desktop environment. KDE usually was both a desktop environment and a

window manager, albeit a very slow one. In Linux, it is always possible to use

a different window manager in any desktop environment. In addition to window

managers and desktop environments, one can install software that specifically

takes advantage of the desktop environments. For example, if you wanted to run