Chad Perrin: SOB

5 January 2008

Head to Head: Aero Glass, Aqua, and Compiz Fusion videos

Filed under: Geek — apotheon @ 12:40

On Thursday, I posted an entry here at SOB about closed source OS vendors and their strategies for future battles to maintain market dominance against the encroaching threat of open source OSes. I titled it Closed-source glitz — missing the point.

In that entry, I commented on the relative strengths of MS Windows Vista, MacOS X, and open source Unix-like systems, in terms of the shiny bells-and-whistles eye candy capabilities of their GUI environments. I made some statements about which are laden with the more impressive eye candy, in my opinion at least:

. . . open source systems are currently better at glitz and glamour than Microsoft and Apple systems. The order of stylish, shiny eye candy from best to worst goes something like: Compiz Fusion (window manager for the X Window System); Aqua (the MacOS X GUI); Aero Glass (the MS Windows Vista GUI); A bunch of other X Window System window managers like Enlightenment; Whatever Microsoft calls the “no Aero Glass for Home Basic” GUI interface.

I spent some time yesterday going through YouTube videos that showcase the eye candy and fancy functionality of Compiz Fusion, Aqua, and Aero Glass. I ended up finding one for each such that they all used essentially the same format for displaying their features, dead silent without any voice-overs, just visual displays of the eye-candy in action. They also avoid showing features of additional applications, sticking to the impressive bells and whistles of the GUI environments themselves. I think I did a pretty good job of coming up with fair representations of the three for a head-to-head comparison. I guess you will have to be the final judge of that, though.

Aero Glass

First in alphabetical order is MS Windows Vista’s much-vaunted, heavily marketed Aero Glass 3D windowing environment.

  1. In my opinion, the Live Preview is probably the most useful feature shown.

  2. The Flip 3D feature is probably the most impressive in a completely useless “Lookie what 3D can do!” way.


Next in alphabetical order comes MacOS X’s Aqua interface.

  1. The Stacks feature (where you can click on an icon in the taskbar to bring up a group of applications, displayed as a curved list or a rectangular array depending on how many there are) is actually pretty impressive in its usefulness and exceptional usability design. It’s kind of a surprise, in retrospect, that it has taken this long for a taskbar-oriented GUI environment to feature this well-designed a means of application grouping. In general, I find that the more surprising something is that nobody’s come up with it before, the better it is. Apple definitely deserves some kudos for this feature.

  2. The most (unnecessarily) visually impressive thing I saw in the Aqua demonstration was the view of the Quick Look feature being displayed via the Time Machine’s functionality. It’s rare that I use the word “intuitive” to describe a GUI feature without irony these days, but I’m really tempted in this case, to say nothing of how damned slick it looks.

Compiz Fusion

Last in alphabetical order, Compiz Fusion is what happened when Beryl was re-merged with Compiz. This is really the crown jewel of X Window System window managers right now, using the XGL 3D windowing framework. In this demonstration, you might notice that the Compiz Fusion window manager is being used with KDE, instead of KDE’s default window manager.

  1. I think the most useful feature displayed is a toss-up between the ability to switch workspaces (faces of the “cube”) while keeping a specific application centered and the demonstrated ability to do quick application rearrangements according to preset, commonly useful patterns.

  2. For unnecessary but visually impressive features, I found the way that video displays interacted with all the rest of the features pretty incredible — including the wobbly window capability, which warped the video very convincingly without causing any problems for video playback. Obviously, this depends somewhat on your hardware, but the fact the software didn’t have any problems with it was notable. The Matrix-style characters raining on the desktop, visible through a wobbly translucent video and a beveled analog clock in the upper-right of the desktop, is a nice touch — especially when the user sets the rain of characters rotating so that the angle gradually changes.


After going through all of these, I find my opinion of which GUI environment does the best job of just looking impressive confirmed. Opinions?


Missing Aero Glass Feature

I’ve seen some videos showing off Aero Glass Alt+Tab functionality, which looks pretty good considering its minimal improvement over previous incarnations and the fact that Flip 3D looks so much better. In the Compiz Fusion demonstration, a roughly identical Alt+Tab display is shown, so you can just imagine that this visual interface feature was in the Aero Glass video as well.

Video URLs

If you have any trouble with the embedded Flash videos here (such as on a system where you have to use youtube-dl to access the videos rather than a browser Flash plugin), you might have better luck with the YouTube URLs:

  1. Aero Glass
  2. Aqua
  3. Compiz Fusion


  1. Those were some slick demo’s, although I’m truly impressed by the Compiz Fusion. WOW is all I have to say. I seriously need to get back into using Linux.

    Comment by Joseph A Nagy Jr — 5 January 2008 @ 01:22

  2. I agree, the Compiz Fusion demo is indeed quite pretty. I also agree with the assessment regarding Aero Glass. It’s a bit pretty, but overall I am not terribly impressed; the really cool stuff like the Dreamscenes make so little sense to me… if I am working or using the PC, I don’t see the desktop itself, so why bother sucking up 5% – 10% of CPU generating video all over it?

    A lot of the stuff in Aero (and C.F.) is useless and often has low usability, but luckily, none of it actively gets in the way. Aero’s Flip 3D is so insanely useless, but at least I never have to use it. Likewise for CF’s “cubed” desktop. 3D interface metaphors are so detrimental to usability it is not funny… but again, it is uo to the user if they want to use it.

    Overall, I will say that the CF desktop definitely wins in the looks department. Without touching it, of course, I can’t say too much about the usability or utility overall.


    Comment by Justin James — 5 January 2008 @ 02:51

  3. The cube in CF is just a visual metaphor for multiple workspaces. From my limited experience using it and the opinions I’ve gathered from others who use CF (or have used Beryl before it), they find that it’s actually a pretty good productivity enhancer. Apparently, the way one interacts with the cube is considerably less hassle than the usual point-and-click means of interacting with multiple workspaces using window managers like KDE’s default.

    My preference is for pure keyboard shortcut operation to work with workspaces, without any visual representation, but I understand that there are those who are helped by a visual metaphor to better keep things straight in their heads. That being the case, I haven’t seen anything that makes the operation of workspaces more visually clear than the CF cube. Those stupid little squares you see on the taskbar in, say, IceWM, and even the little arrow thingies on the clip in WindowMaker, just don’t measure up. They’re too linear in concept, and may have the effect for visually-oriented people of hampering their ability to think nonlinearly in terms of workspace management.

    There’s little that gets visually oriented people thinking outside of a one-dimensional model the way an in-your-face, well-designed, easy-to-use 3D model can.

    Comment by apotheon — 6 January 2008 @ 12:48

  4. Too true. I only wish I had a comp powerful enough to run something like Compiz Fusion (even with the historically low resource usage of Linux DMs and environments, that would take a pretty sweet graphics card to pull off).

    Comment by Joseph A Nagy Jr — 7 January 2008 @ 10:05

  5. Not necessarily. I’ve run across some comments online that suggest it runs with less than top of the line graphics cards. You definitely need something that does 3D acceleration, of course, but that doesn’t mean you need the latest and greatest. As long as you have a graphics adapter that does 3D acceleration, it may be worth trying it out.

    It certainly doesn’t require anything near as bad-ass a graphics adapter as Aero Glass requires.

    Comment by apotheon — 7 January 2008 @ 10:24

  6. True, and I do have a Nvidia GeForce in the Dell box and an ATI Rage 2600 in my other tower (currently powerless). Definitely worth checking out.

    Comment by Joseph A Nagy Jr — 8 January 2008 @ 01:42

  7. Joe, I tried the cube back when it was called 3d desktop, using a rage 128 video card. it worked just fine, though I’m also a minimalist in ui eye candy, as Chad is.

    I find that the shortcut keys are far faster than grabbing a mouse to switch workspaces… or for anything else for that matter.

    I still prefer the minimal ui of enlightenment v16 over GNOME or KDE. I’ve never liked the look and feel of the Macos ui, so gnome just doesn’t appeal to me, being modeled on it. even a basic ui setting in kde is more garbage on screen than I like.

    Comment by Jaqui — 8 January 2008 @ 08:08

  8. I still prefer the minimal ui of enlightenment v16 over GNOME or KDE.

    While Enlightenment is “minimal” in comparison with GNOME or KDE, I find it hugely bloated for my tastes. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

    . . . but yeah, regarding the eye candy itself, there isn’t much in-your-face glitz that comes with Enlightenment unless you consciously choose to have it.

    Comment by apotheon — 8 January 2008 @ 10:08

  9. I remember a LONG time ago, when Enlightenment was still not quite released, seeing screenshots of it. It had 500 times more eye candy than the default CDE config on the Sun X Terminal I was using. For one thing, it seemed to have more than 2 fonts, and at least one of them wasn’t monospaced… :)


    Comment by Justin James — 8 January 2008 @ 10:34

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