Progress update

Hello all

I am still plodding on, though work on the new Beta is slow just now as I have started a new job and am in way over my head at the moment!

I have just finished writing a liveusb installation script for Unity Linux that will find it’s way into the next release, but can be downloaded soon from the testing repo. The script is called gliveusb and can create a running live system on a USB stick with persistency.

On a slight tangent, I have just installed Qimo for my son on a spare laptop. He is 3 and loves Tuxpaint! Qimo has some nice touches, but it’s just a standard xubuntu install with child-friendly apps. The interface is standard XFCE. It made me think about creating a kids skin for ChameleonOS, just to see how it might be designed to make it easier for really young infants to navigate the filesystem.

Back to business. The devs at Unity are just working on a new stable snapshot ISO and interestingly also a CLI ISO. It seems to make sense to use one of these as the base for the next beta, so that will be my target.

Finally, thanks to Mark who posted a comment with a link to a review of ChameleonOS by sneekylinux on YouTube: The review is pretty positive, though he doesn’t seem to like to Gnome skin, so I may work on that for the next release.

Posted in progress update | 4 Comments

Featured in UK Linux Format

As a few of you have commented, ChameleonOS has been ‘featured’ in the UK November edition of Linux Format magazine (LX137).

It’s a small feature in the Distrowatch section, but it’s very positive and has really made my week :). The article title is Blending in, ChameleonOS: Disguise your Linux box to look like Windows or a Mac. I shouldn’t copy the entire article, but to summarise, the articles states:

There’s a new distro in town and it’s one of the most intersting in years… It’s a simple idea but one that no one has really done before… we’ve never seen a distribution ship with the mechanism to change its appearance so completely with just the click of a button… It seems functional and loads of fun… Keep your eye on this one.”

Then there’s a screenshot of the Apple-bite skin. Thanks Linux Format!

Posted in publicity | 4 Comments

ChameleonOS Desktop Control Panel is here

One of the problems with the minimal desktop based on Openbox is the distinct lack of GUIs for common system admin. Luckily ChameleonOS has the Unity Linux Control Center (basically the famous Mandriva Control Center) which is great for configuring hardware, networking and users. However, it doesn’t help with your day to day desktop settings much.

To this end, I have developed the ChameleonOS Desktop Control Panel. It’s a simple PyGTK window that provides links to GUIs that will help you control every aspect of your desktop appearance and experience (plus a few other goodies to boot). Thanks to Adcomp for his work creating GUIs for Openbox  just about everything is taken care of.

Here’s an early screenshot:
ChameleonOS Desktop Control Panel ver 0.1

Posted in Openbox, projects, scripts | 1 Comment

Things are coming together slowly

It’s slow developing a distro/branch when you’re a one-man show – thankfully the base system is pretty solid and most of the packages I need are included so hats off to the Unity Linux development team.

Anyway, I am making steady progress, but I really want the next release to be just about perfect – certainly in terms of features. As the base system is minimal (Openbox/LXPanel), I am busily working on GUIs and testing software that I think will bring everything together. For instance I am currently working on a Control Centre style window written in pygtk which will pull together all the GUI tools for complete control of the desktop experience (a bit like the XFCE Setting Panel). I want to make it easy for a user to customize the desktop without having to manually edit files.

I have also been experimenting with different techniques for displaying desktop icons and looking at the memory consumption involved. It will come as no surprise to see that the lightest combination is idesk, with PCManFM second and that Xfdesktop uses the most memory. However, the differences are really not that great and each bring strengths and weaknesses to the table:

Pros: lightweight and good looking icons with a good level of control over mouse over and mouse click events eg you can set a double-right-click command.  You can also use a range of icon sizes and drag icons into new positions and/or lock in place.
Cons: difficult to configure and create new icons. Does not provide a true desktop, ie doesn’t show contents of ~/Desktop folder. Icons have to manually created (although I am working on a script to automate this). Most GUIs are out of date and don’t work properly.

Pros: A good all-round solution to having a resource light desktop manager and file manager. Follows contents of ~/Desktop folder. Option to show window manager menu on right-click. The default app in LXDE.
Cons: Cannot move or sort desktop icons. Icons automatically sorted on creation date.

Pros: Follows contents of ~/Desktop folder. Icons can be moved anywhere on desktop. Right-click menu provides conventional applications menu. Integrates well with Thunar if using as default file-manager.
Cons: If using Thunar-volman, uses 15-20MB more RAM than others. No option to show window manager menu (though I have a Thunar custom action for this).

I am seriously considering including all 3 in the next release so that users can use what they feel the most comfortable with…

And finally, just come across a wonderfully simple and fast file manager – xfe. Xfe is written in C using the Fox toolkit (which is the only dependency). As such it doesn’t tie in with your GTK theme, but there are some pre-included themes for a Gnome or KDE3 look. Xfe supports dual-pane browsing with a 3rd tree pane (much like the *commander interfaces) and can sync across panes. It includes a built in image viewer and text editor, though you can set preferences to use other apps. If you are doing some serious file management/moving tasks, I can’t recommend this highly enough. Just see how quickly it will display the contents of a large directory like /usr/bin. The only drawback is that it does not show the contents of image files in place of the icon. Anyway, I think it’s going to make it into the next release.

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Related projects

As I have been working on ChameleonOS I have been discovering all sorts of related projects, usually small user-contributed scripts on various forums and other less-well-known applications. Some of these are truly excellent and will make it into future releases.

Where I haven’t been able to find something that does just what I need, I have been developing my own, mainly in bash but some in Python. The first of these is ready – battmon.

Battmon is a simple battery monitor system tray applet. It is written in bash/zenity and uses acpi to gather battery information and display an appropriate icon. Hover over the icon and a tooltip tells you the current charge and how long until it’s fully charged, or in the case of running on battery, how much charge and time is left.

It has command line options to change the delay between tooltip updates (default is 10 seconds), whether to beep on critical battery (5%) or whether to hibernate on critical battery (this uses pm-hibernate so pm-utils needs to be installed).

battmon can be downloaded from the new projects page and should work on any Linux system.

Posted in projects, scripts | 2 Comments

Not-quite weekly update

Well I guess starting a weekly update is a sure fire way of getting yourself behind schedule 🙂 So, this blog is not quite weekly, but I will endeavour to post regularly as I update and work on ChameleonOS. My family is expanding – I have a beautiful baby girl just 3 days old, so I am grabbing some quiet time while I can for an update.

First, sorry to anyone who has posted a comment and found it hasn’t appeared. Quite a few comments are getting caught in the spam filter and I don’t get email notifications. So, I have approved all pending comments and I will respond to you all here now, by saying, thanks very much for all your positive comments – they really help to keep me motivated.

Preparations towards the next release are going well, if not at break-neck speed. For the next release I want a more rounded working environment with fewer reasons for manual editing of text files to get things done. I have worked on a few simple GUIs and am gathering together useful additional applications that will help to make desktop appearance and use all the easier. I intend to pull these together in a control centre of some sort much like the KDE control center.

I have gratefully had permission to use a fantastic piece of artwork as the main background throughout, albeit with a small watermark by way of reference, but the artwork is so spectacular and ‘made for’ ChameleonOS it is worth it. I am now adapting it for the necessary bootsplash and login themes which will be included in the next release. More on this later…

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New Minimalist Skin

For those of you that just want Openbox and a simple panel, this skin is for you. There is a system tray on the panel should you need it, but all applets are disabled at start up to free up system RAM. There’s a clean and simple GTK (inverted) and icon theme (Classy_v2_alu-grey) and a striking desktop wallpaper.

The Openbox menu has been specifically modified so there’s an applications pipe menu providing the same menu as the standard Unity Linux menu. There’s also added entries to manage the desktop and workspaces. The panel is kept shorter than 100% so even if you are working in a maximized window, you can still use the bottom corners to open the Openbox menu.

Minimalist skin #1 Minimalist skin #2

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Weekly Update

Just finished the GUI for the ‘app store’ to allow simple installation of a range of applications, including applications not in the Unity repos eg Adobe Reader and Picasa:

Add more software GUI

I am now working on a GUI for LXSkins, similar to that of Nitrogen. I have something that works, but I would like a bit more functionality:


Finally, as requested on the Unity forums, I am investigating simple window compositing using xcompmgr and transset for desktop effects. The effects are nice, but a bit slow on my ageing laptop, however, I will probably make them available through a menu item or autostart script:

xcompmgr and transset desktop effects

Inspiration for all this comes from AdComp on the Crunchbang forums, who has created numerous gorgeous Python scripts. His website is well worth a visit, though it is French:

I notice that he has made a GUI for Openbox autostart configuration, so I’ll have to look into that as I was about to create one myself!

Posted in weekly update | 6 Comments

Weekly Update

There’s lots of activity going on behind the scenes to make the next release of ChameleonOS as feature-rich and complete as possible. As I’ve already mentioned, there will be a big hike in the number of preinstalled applications, so that hopefully there will be one decent, but light-weight (where available) application to cover most end-user needs.
I am currently working on a graphical Smart front-end to make the installation of common applications a simple one-click process (well maybe 3 altogether, but still). This will allow you to easily install things like Firefox, OpenOffice, GIMP, restricted codecs, Adobe Reader etc…
There will be a few behing the scenes updates to LXSkins like reducing repetition within the scripts. I am looking into developing a preview feature, similar to the Nitrogen wallpaper application as a user interface for LXSKins, though the Openbox menu will still be available.
I am reconfiguring the way that Openbox start-up is managed to make it easier for a user to pick and choose which applications they want to run on start-up eg smart-applet, net-applet, GVolwheel, battery monitor. If you are tight on memory and can do without these applets I want to give you an easy process to remove them. I also want to separate default start-up apps from additional apps that start up with the chosen skin eg idesk icons.
I am also working on application menu tweaks. I am not in love with the Mandriva method of ‘nested’ menus that Unity has inherited. I hate the ‘more’ menus and the fact that System Tools in nested in Tools. I am also creating manu shortcuts to common social networking and web apps and where appropriate, making use of the alternative interfaces provided for mobile devices such as the iPad.
As Chromium is the default browser and it uses the XDG Mime defaults for application opening, I will be striving to configure default applications for most common Mime-types so that when you download a file in Chromium, you can click Open or Open in Folder and the appropriate action will ensue.
Finally I am looking into pm-utils to provide suspend and hibernate functionality. As many of you probably know, suspend to RAM and suspend to disk in Linux can be flaky. pm-utils provides scripts that allow you to try it, though it will be at your own risk! On my desktop, both work fine. On my laptop, suspend to RAM doesn’t work, but suspend to disk (hibernate) does!

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Weekly Update

Just a quick update on progress since releasing the initial alpha build.

Response has been phenomenal since the listing on Distrowatch. We’re not on the database yet, but we have been noticed – over 5,000 website hits on the first day was great to see. I hope a few of you stay around long enough for the next release!

I am currently rebuilding ChameleonOS on the final and stable release of Unity – 2010.1. I will be creating customized bootsplash sequences to complete the branding and adding to the application selection with Guyadeque music player and library, Abiword and Pidgin amongst the more noticeable additions. I’ll also be tweaking some of the internals to get a more rounded finish especially menu categories and mime type associations.

I have nearly completed work on a battery monitor written in bash using Zenity to draw the status bar icon. It’s light-weight and uses acpi to gauge battery readings and notifies when levels drop below 20%, 10% and 5% respectively.

I will be tweaking LXSkins to reduce code repetition and add a facility to share skins with others. There are one or two inconsistencies and errors in the code that need sorting out too. I would really like the wider community to get involved in creating and sharing skins in future. I will include the ipad skin (ichameleon) and possibly a couple more.

Finally, I will be creating some menu entries for web-apps to popular sites eg GMail, Facebook and Twitter to give a hint of cloud support.

Posted in LXSkins, skins, weekly update | 1 Comment