Technology Tales

Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology

About workspaces…

16th November 2007

One of the nice things about the world of Linux and UNIX is the availability of multiple workspaces. In Window, you only ever get one and the likes of me can easily fill up that task bar. So the idea of parceling off different applications to different screens is useful from a housekeeping point of view so long as icons only appear in the task bar foe the open workspace; Ubuntu respects this but openSUSE doesn’t, a possible source of irritation.

However, a case can be made that UNIX/Linux needs workspaces more than Windows because of the multi-window interfaces of some of the software applications. The trouble with each of these sub-windows is that an entry appears in the task bar for each of this, creating a mess very quickly. And it can also be an issue working out which window closes the lot.

Examples of the above that come to my mind include GIMP, XSane and SAS. The Windows version of the latter’s DMS is confined to a single application window while the UNIX incarnation is composed of a window each for individual components like program editor, log, output, etc. Typing "bye" in the command line of the program editor is enough to dispatch the GUI. With GIMP, Ctrl+Q will close it down in any window apart from the "Tip of the Day" one that pops up when GIMP is first started. The same sort of behaviour also seems to dispatch XSane too.

Switching form one workspace to another is as easy as clicking the relevant icon in the task bar in all of the UNIX variants that I have used. Switching an application from one workspace to another has another common thread: finding the required entry in the application window menu.

In Ubuntu, I have seen other ways of working with workspaces. In the interface with visual effects turned off, hovering over the workspace icons in the task bar allows you to move from one to another with the wheel of your mouse. Moving an application between workspaces can be done as simply as dragging boxes from one task bar icon to another. Turning on the visual effects changes things, though. It might appear that the original functionality still works but that seems not to be the case: a matter for Canonical to resolve, perhaps?

The visual effects do provide other ways around this though. Keeping all your application windows minimised means that you can run through workspaces themselves with your wheel mouse. Moving applications between workspaces becomes as simple as grabbing the title bar and pulling the window left or right until it changes workspace. Be careful that you do the job fully though or you could have an application sitting astride two workspaces. It would appear that ideas from the sharing of a desktop across multiple monitors have percolated through to workspace behaviour.

Aside (regarding Ubuntu visual effects): I don’t know who came up with the idea of having windows wobble when they’re being moved around but it certainly is unusual, as is seeing what happens when you try prising a docked window from its mooring (particularly when you’re pulling it up from the bottom task bar). The sharper font display and bevelled screen furniture make more sense to me though; they certainly make a UI more appealing and modern.

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