First a bit of background
I had been playing around with Debian in the hope of creating a simple and light-weight respin focused on internet and web use. Initially I looked into creating something based on lxlauncher, but eventually settled on an Openbox desktop with an fbpanel acting as a launcher. I only installed the bare minimum that people would need to get onto the Net and do web-related tasks. I called the project Sword-OS (Simple Web-oriented Desktop Operating System). However a number of things have made me give up on that idea:
- Separation of web and desktop is not that simple. A web user requires a number of ‘desktop’ apps to get full use of the web ie media players, photo viewers, editors…
- Debian is a bit of a pain to work with as there are 3 branches – stable, testing and unstable. Stable (Lenny) provides a solid base, but many out of date apps. Combining apps from different branches usually results in unwanted side-effects.
- Remastering Debian is technically fairly tricky. Even though there is a Remastersys script (actually derived from Remasterme/Mklivecd) as the kernels aren’t always pre-compiled with aufs and squashfs support. There is also no installer as such.
To make matters worse, a great distribution that is light and fast and blurs the boundaries very nicely between web and desktop has been released – Peppermint.
However, I haven’t given up on working with fbpanel and Openbox just yet. Whilst the LXDE project is making a great job of creating an integrated light weight desktop environment, they are taking it down a fairly standard path. They forked fbpanel to create lxpanel and with it lost some of its flexibility, but they have given back improved plugins and GUI editors.
I have decided to come back to what I know best. I first learnt Linux using PCLinuxOS and am familiar with the Mandriva/RPM way of doing things. The Unity Linux project is ideal as it is designed to be a base for repsins, or branches as they call them. I’ll certainly not be hiding the Unity base and intend to keep much of the branding.
What I want to do is to create a series of desktop skins (themes if you like) using a range of available softwares to show that light-weight can still mean innovative in appearance and usage. So I will be working with Openbox, Lxpanel and others to create a respin with desktop themes based on existing GUIs, plus hopefully come up with a few ideas eg a gnome-look, Mac OSX look, Windows 7, mobile phone-like interfaces, iPhone/iPad…
- Firstly because I enjoy tinkering with the look and feel of the desktop. I am starting to get a feel for how you can hack/create simple pyGTK apps to provide bespoke functionality.
- Lots of people have older computers available and might want to create a useable, but familiar look. For example, they might have Ubuntu on the main box and then use a Gnome-like desktop theme on an Openbox session to bring an old PC back to life.
- I have a personal mission to revive an old Toshiba Satellite Pro laptop that only has 224MB RAM. I want it look like a modern laptop, even if it would struggle to run full Gnome, KDE, Windows or Mac.
- Unity is the perfect project for a base and of course provides access to the control centre, so whatever the desktop, the end-user has full GUI configuration over their setup.
- To give back to the community. This might be in the form of artwork, icon themes, bespoke applications/scripts…
What will it look like?
It will look like whichever skin you choose! I have already started work on a couple of skins/themes, not all with 100% success, but it’s coming on. I hope to have a very rough alpha released soon.
What is the end goal?
An ISO that fits on a live CD. There isn’t a strict size limit, but I would like to keep it as small as possible by choosing applications that have few libraries, that use up less system resources when running but provide the necessary functionality given that many web-apps can take the place of desktop apps.
The user will log into an Openbox session which will provide a default desktop layout which is easy and intuitive to use. This will be a bespoke look and feel as yet to be decided. There will then be a script that can change the theme at the press of a button/menu entry to transform the entire desktop eg panels, icon theme, mouse theme, gtk theme, openbox theme. So today I might want a gnome style desktop, tomorrow an uncluttered openbox desktop, the next something Mac-ish.
How you can help?
- Ideas and discussion. Help to formulate ideas about what to include and how it should look and behave.
- Testing. Test alpha and beta ISOs.
- Development. Develop a desktop theme – either one on the list or create your own. Develop simple scripts to automate various aspects of the OS, or even better write PyGTK scripts to create bespoke solutions to problems (I’m thinking volume control, battery monitor).
- Research. Find great looking icon themes, gtk themes, wallpapers, mouse themes etc…
- RPMs. Help to create RPMs. fbpanel isn’t in the Unity repo – I had to install from source. Icon themes might need rolling into an RPM or metapackage etc…
I put this out in the hope that some people might want to work with me on this project. It doesn’t have to be technical work. I myself am not the most technical. I have a self-taught, passable knowledge of Bash scripting, very little knowledge of Python, but I am now very familiar with the syntax of lxpanel and openbox config files. I can hack existing code, which is my normal course of action. Most of all, if you enjoy tinkering without delving too far into the base system, this is the project for you!