My first Linux experiences came through Knoppix and Mandrake, which send you to the KDE desktop by default. I used KDE at first, but I wanted to experiment with other less Windowsesque environments. The first one I installed was Enlightenment 16, which I must confess I had first heard of in Neal Stephenson’s essay “In The Beginning There Was the Command Line.” In that essay he said Enlightenment “may be the hippest single technology product I have ever seen” and that “it looks amazingly cool.” Since these sentiments were written in 1999, plenty of rivals have emerged for the title of “hippest tech.”
Once I had Enlightenment installed on my laptop there was no going back. I tried out a few other window managers, but the efficiency of E16 was hard to beat. My only complaints were that Enlightenment seemed a bit short on conveniences such as launchers, so I ended up running GNOME stripped down to one panel and the main menu with E16 as the window manager. Meanwhile, I read the descriptions of the new “desktop shell” that the Enlightenment crew was working on, dubbed Enlightenment DR17 (or E17, as I’ll refer to it from here on) and thought it sounded like exactly what I wanted.
I should mention that “window manager” isn’t quite the right term for E17. The developers call it a desktop shell, intending it to fill in the space between a simple window manager like the original Enlightenment and a full-featured desktop environment like GNOME. In other words, they were setting out to create a desktop not unlike my own E16/GNOME hybrid. In this respect it does not disappoint.
In creating E17 the Enlightenment crew have created a set of shared libraries (the Enlightenment Foundation Libraries) with the goal of building a complete set of applications to create an integrated environment where all files and programs are readily available that remains fast and non-resource-intensive. Essentially, E17 breaks down a desktop environment into its essential components (window manager, file manager, launcher, main menu, etc.) and offers them as a completely customizable package, where the user chooses which elements to use at any time.
When I started using E17 back in early May, I had already been a regular user of E16 for a while. My first impressions were that E17 sported some neat features, but configuring the menus (by making all those damn eapp files, E17’s special icon format — read on for more details) was a hassle, plus E17 was missing many of the small features, such as edge-flipping or icon boxes, that I liked in E16. But I stuck
with it, updating it on a regular basis and reading the continually updated user guide at Get-E.org, and usability has steadily increased. Also, a number of the features I had been missing were added (like
edge-flipping) or had been there all along (turns out there is an icon box module called ibox, which is disabled by default). A graphical eap creator and other additions like a run command, alt-tab window switching (complete with a well designed display) and, for those who use sloppy or mouse focus, automatic placement of the cursor in the newly selected window have improved general usability.