Category Archives: The Penguin Says

Reviews of Linux desktop applications.

AfterStep 1.4

Introduction

Many people believe that wine gets better as it gets older. This, however, is only partly true. Some wines taste much better young and all go bad eventually.

What does this have to do with Linux software?

Well, AfterStep is my window manager of choice (see my review of BlackBox for a discussion on what a window manager is) but, more because of laziness than anything else, I’ve been using version 1.0. I never got around to upgrading, but since I was going to do a review I figured that I’d better move to release 1.4 — the latest stable version.

Perhaps I’m getting old; perhaps it’s inertia of some kind; perhaps I just haven’t given 1.4 a chance to prove itself; but I prefer good old 1.0.

What is AfterStep?

I’m getting ahead of myself here. What is AfterStep?

Fairly apparent from the title, it’s a window manager that tries to look and feel like NeXTstep, Steve Jobs rather fabulous follow-up to the Macintosh.

Version 1 took that quite literally. It had a dock (“wharf” in AfterStep-speak) to the right of the screen, pop-up menu’s and gradiated title bars just like the NeXT machine. The dock is a column of large coloured icons that can either launch applications, shrink an application such as xload to display useful information, or both. It’s now in a number of other window managers, notably WindowMaker, but AfterStep was there first. 1 had little else — simple but effective.

For later versions, the authors obviously thought they needed to add stuff. (They seem not to subscribe to the ‘perfection is not when you can add nothing, but when you can take nothing away’ school of thought.) 1.4 takes the basics and adds more docks, more furniture on the windows, themes and support applications.

Installation

You know me by now — basically capable, but lazy. Rather than grab the source, I downloaded an RPM file and upgraded from 1. I expected 1.4 to take all my current settings, but it didn’t quite work like that.

In fact, the first time I tried it didn’t work. XDM simply flashed out of existence for a second and then reappeared.

Okay, dive back in as root and read the documentation. What’s needed is a GNUstep directory that can be copied from a shared directory. It’s not difficult and it is documented, but why can’t AfterStep do it for you? And how much do I have to copy? My home directory now have loads of icons in it — don’t think /home can put up with so much detritus for long.

And copying lots of configuration data from a central location meant that all my setting from 1 were lost. I’d quite like my old settings back, please.

In Use

It took me a while to get AfterStep to how I like it. I wanted a single dock filled with my favorite apps, a clock, resource monitor and something to track my PPP connection to the Internet. It’s all in a configuration file (much like AS1 but in a different place) the basics of which are relatively simple. I think I’ll use the separately available configuration program for anything more complex.

1.4 seems to have a much greater emphasis on multiple desktops, so much so that in the default configuration there are 16 of them! It’s quite neat that they can be split into categories rather (the defaults are Work, WWW, Mail and Games), but I suspect that most people would run out of memory before they run out of desktops. Personally I’ve never got used to multiple desktops and usually just have one very busy one.

Overall

Much in the same way that people use Windows because they don’t know anything better exists, I’ve used AfterStep for well over a year. I thought doing this review would kick start me into using something newer and better.

It didn’t. In many objective ways the newer version is an improvement. It looks better, it’s more configurable and more easily configured and it’s more standard. But something is missing. It doesn’t seem to be a huge improvement over 1, yet has a much larger memory foot-print and popular support is waning in favour of WindowMaker which seems to be advancing much more quickly.

So, sorry guys, but I’m sticking with version 1 and am very tempted to take a look at some alternatives.