Open Source: A GUI Minimalist Tries e17

… and likes it … well, mostly. Hopefully this article will help you if you are searching for that “just right for me” GUI on your Unix/Linux system. But be sure to give e17 a try yourself, do not just pass it over because of anything you may read on the web.

For years now I have been a die-hard GUI minimalist relying on light window managers / desktops such as fluxbox, Window Maker and XFCE4. As such, I was dismayed when the Mandriva Linux distribution decided to drop official support for all GUI options other than its in-house “ROSA” interface. When I found that information and added it to the other disappointing news coming from Mandriva I decided to move on along to Mageia Linux. After that move was completed I decided to take a look at the other desktop options available. While looking at these I saw e17 listed. This is e17 version 0.16.999.55225 for those of you who want to know version numbers. I had seen e17 listed in the package management system for Mandriva in the past, installed it and taken a brief look at it. But I had never decided to give it a real try. This time, I decided to use e17 for at least a month and not use any other desktop or window manager. That was around the middle of September 2011, it is now into the second week of December 2011 and I am still using e17 … for now. Following are my impressions, likes and dislikes regarding e17 so far:

e17 Impressions

  • Appears to take very few resources, which appeals to my GUI minimalist mind.
  • Seems a bit rough around the edges in a few places.
    • Auto-hide of the shelves stops working sometimes. Have to open the settings dialog for a shelf and save it again to “fix” this.
    • At times the Taskbar gadget running in a shelf mishandles / overlaps / truncates the items that it shows running on a desktop. Opening the shelf settings dialog and saving again “fixes” this.

e17 Likes

  • One can configure keyboard shortcuts for pretty much anything.
  • One can change the mouse context menus to match what one prefers, such as right click the desktop for the Main menu.
  • One can quickly switch workspaces just using ALT + Fn keys.
  • One can have multiple desktop background images on a per-workspace basis.
  • One can have multiple shelf objects and have them auto-hide to maximize the usable screen area.
  • All the e17 settings appear to be saved in the ~/.e directory. Making it easy to backup and restore custom settings.
  • Does not start out with a lot of garbage add-ons loaded that one then has to disable or remove to get a streamlined GUI.

e17 Dislikes

  • Binary configuration files?! What?!
    (This will be the reason I end up eventually abandoning e17. I truly loathe the use of binary configuration files under unix-like systems. That is just wrong. Use of plain text for configuration files and log files is one of the primary reasons I love unix-like systems as well as fluxbox, Window Maker and XFCE4. Being able to repair problems or tweak settings by hand in a plain text file from a command line is a big plus for me.)
  • Apparently e17 handles windows so differently from fluxbox, XFCE4, Window Maker, KDE and GNOME that my favorite screen capture tool, Shutter, cannot find windows of which to take snapshots. There is a screen capture application included for e17, but it has fewer options and functions than Shutter.
  • When my X sessions kept crashing due to a bad graphics card recently, e17 lost all my custom settings after one such crash. While this can be recovered from a backup of one’s /home/user directory while at a command line without e17 running, this is at minimum very annoying. Of course loss of all settings happened to me when I used some KDE4 applications for a while too. So this is not just an e17 problem.

As a GUI minimalist my concerns are not glitz, glitter, bells and whistles. I want function over form. If the GUI does what I want it to do with as little memory, CPU and GPU use as possible, which means less power consumption, then I could not care less about transparency, wobbly windows and fire burning up my closing windows. If the GUI is pretty as well, that is just a bonus.

Since Mageia did include e17 0.16.999.55225, which is a “work in progress” release, it is possible to probable that some of the problems I note here have been fixed in subsequent releases. The latest “snapshot” release of e17 as of the time if this article is 0.16.999.65643. As I do not go outside my distribution’s package management system for anything other than a few games I will just have to wait for Mageia to catch up with the latest release of e17 to see what is fixed and what is not.

For the most part, I am favorably impressed with e17. However, the use of binary configuration files is a serious enough personal problem for me that I will eventually move back to one of my favorite GUIs. Of course if the enlightenment desktop team changes course and begins to use plain text files to store configuration data, well, I may just decide to add enlightenment desktop to my small list of favorite GUIs. I am not going to hold my breath waiting for that though.

Custom PC from ERACC   Custom Notebook from ERACC


Published by

Gene A.

Gene is a "Unix Guy", network technologist, system trouble-shooter and IT generalist with over 20 years experience in the SOHO and SMB markets. He is familiar with and conversant in eComStation (a.k.a. OS/2), DOS (PC, MS and Free), Unix, Linux and those GUI based systems from Microsoft. Gene is also a follower of Jesus (forgiven, not perfect), and this does inform his world view.

12 thoughts on “Open Source: A GUI Minimalist Tries e17”

  1. Yes, our article site here at The ERACC Web Log has been down most of the day December 11th. Our web host had some problems with the MySQL back-end and some of our db tables were corrupted. I worked with their support to get things back to “normal”. They fixed the db corruption (Thank you Abby!) while I tried to make things work from my side. The final problem I found was with the permalinks. The db was expecting one thing and the install was doing something else. A simple re-save of the permalinks appears to have fixed that.

    If any of you notice weirdness, please feel free to send me a message from the contact form at

    If you want to comment on this article, but not here then try these:

  2. I tried E17 in Bodhi a while ago. Maybe things improved over time.
    Bodhi itself has some issues. But “no go” for me in E17 was the fact that multiple keyboard layout configuration was something that you describe as “binary configuration file”.

  3. “… are not glitz, glitter, bells and whistles. I want function over form”

    well if this is truly so, then use openbox.
    there’s nothing more stable, versatile or standards compliant in terms of window management out there today, if you must have floating/stacking, that is.
    plays well with everything, but it does eat up 9 MB RAM…

    1. Okay, I took a look at openbox today. Basically it looks like fluxbox without all my custom settings. Plus the ‘update-menus’ command for my distribution, Mageia 1, does not update the openbox menus. The office applications still show up as, and that has been gone since the switch to Mageia. Not updating the openbox menu is probably an oversight on Mageia’s part, but even so I’ll just stick with fluxbox.

  4. By the way. Some of you may wonder, “What is with this guy and his GUI minimalism?”, or something along those lines. I will explain. In my role as an independent consultant and systems maintenance contractor I do a great deal of remote work. Most of what I do remotely on unix-like systems is from the command line. However, in a few cases I need to connect to a remote X desktop over the internet to further connect to GUI based systems inside that client site. These cannot have a forwarded port in the router for direct access at the LAN/WAN border due to security rules given us by those clients. Sometimes the remote uplink bandwidth is very small. In those cases a minimal GUI on the remote X session is much desired.

    As a result of weeding out X based GUIs for remote work I came to rely on and like the ones I have chosen. I found they do everything I need and nothing I do not need. I see no compelling reason to run anything else. Any X GUI I look at has to meet my requirements, which may not be your requirements. 🙂

  5. I gave up on e17 for the same reason. My settings got messed up, and when I went to dig in to the config files to fix them . . . I found out they were binary. The only way to fix it was start over, configuring dozens of keybindings again . . . and then another crash ruined them again, and I gave up. Seems like a very un-Linuxy way to handle configs.

  6. I believe that it is the binary nature of E17’s resource files that gives it is speed. It is still in development and as such it is wise to have a backup of your config if that is important to you. I use E17 because, once configured it works exactly as I want and responds instantly. I also appreciate the lengths the developers goto to try get the design right i.e. the very modular nature of the system.

    The “run anything” box is cool

    1. In any well written program the configuration files should not be needed after start-up under regular use. Therefore, binary configuration files would make no difference on “speed”. They do, however, make a difference on one’s ability to fix a broken desktop when things go horribly awry. Having to rely on backups, instead of being able to fix a file by hand from the command line, is at minimum an irritant and only gets worse from there. Any tweaking that one wants to do under a binary type of configuration requires one to already have a working GUI.

      Sort of reminds me of needing to fix the binary registry under Microsoft’s wonderful GUI, but the GUI is broken because of a registry problem, the registry is not plain text and cannot be edited from the CLI using a plain text editor, the “reg” command line command is not a friendly editor and requires one to pretty much already know what is broken before one can fix it, so one nearly always cannot fix the registry from the CLI and get one’s GUI back. (How’s that for a run-on sentence?) Reinstall anyone?

      Plus, any desktop / window manager, once configured to one’s liking, should work exactly as one wants and respond instantly. For example, fluxbox does that for me just fine. So does XFCE4. So does Window Maker. Several X GUI window managers and desktops include a run anything sort of dialog box. In fluxbox one can choose “Run Command” from the pop-up main menu and … run anything.

  7. As of today, 2011.12.21, it is back to good ol’ fluxbox for me. Just to celebrate I updated my ~/.fluxbox/keys file with some new keyboard shortcuts. Edited by hand in vim of course. 😉

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