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.
First in alphabetical order is MS Windows Vista’s much-vaunted, heavily marketed Aero Glass 3D windowing environment.
In my opinion, the Live Preview is probably the most useful feature shown.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: