2012-01-12

Review: Razor-Qt 0.4.0 (via Ubuntu Razor-Qt Remix)


Razor-Qt: Main Screen + Right-Click Menu
It seems like the recent discontent over GNOME 3 and Unity has caused a renaissance in DEs that act more traditionally. Xfce is gaining popularity as it basically replicates GNOME 2.X and can do even more now, while KDE is winning over users attracted to its shininess and power. LXDE is also gaining attention as a DE that pushes the limit of how stripped-down a DE can be before it is just a WM again, while Enlightenment seems to be gaining renewed interest thanks to Bodhi Linux. Linux Mint has modified GNOME 3 through MGSE, and now it is replacing GNOME 3/Shell with GNOME 3/Cinnamon. Yet only one of these alternatives (KDE) uses the Qt toolkit; save Enlightenment, which uses the E17 toolkit, all the others use GTK+. Until now.

There's a new kid on the DE block, and it's called Razor-Qt. It aims to be a lightweight, traditional-style DE, sort of like KDE, Xfce, and LXDE. The best way to put it is that it aims to be to KDE what LXDE has been to GNOME; it is stripped-down and manages the desktop in a more minimalistic way, but it is still compatible with KDE and Qt applications, just as LXDE can still take GNOME and GTK+ applications just fine.

I am trying Razor-Qt as a MultiSystem-made live USB in the form of Ubuntu Razor-Qt Remix. Follow the jump to see what it's like.

After the boot menu and a blank boot splash, I was greeted by the KDM login screen. Although this is a particular implementation of Razor-Qt in a distribution and won't apply to Razor-Qt as a whole, it's good that the developer used a nice login manager rather than something like a terminal login screen. After that I was greeted by the desktop.

Razor-Qt: Razor Desktop Edit Mode
The desktop really does look like a stripped-down KDE. There are no icons present on the desktop. There is an analog clock widget on the desktop that comes straight from KDE's Plasma widget layer, but considering that Plasma isn't even present, it looks like the clock has been rewritten to work with Razor-Qt and not hog resources. There is a panel on the bottom whose theme and thickness are reminiscent of the stock Plasma panel from KDE 4. From left to right, present are a main menu, a desktop switcher, a task switcher (with very large buttons, though this and other settings can be reconfigured), a system tray, and a digital clock. In addition, there seems to be a fully-fledged right-click menu on the desktop, much like the one in Openbox. In fact, I think Razor-Qt uses code from Openbox to manage that menu, and I have read that Razor-Qt can use Openbox as an underlying WM. The window and icon themes are both Oxygen, as is standard with KDE, which reinforces the notion that Razor-Qt is like a KDE-lite. Overall, the desktop seems to look pretty nice.

There are two problems though. One is big: the desktop switching applet on the panel seems to be completely broken, in that using it (though switching virtual desktops using other means works fine) causes the whole desktop to disappear save for the desktop background (which for some reason changes from the default selection that is first seen upon logging in to the default pick for KDE 4.6). There is no recourse; twice I made this mistake, and my only options were either switching to a different terminal using 'CTRL+ALT+F1' or forcing a cold shutdown by holding down the power button.
Razor-Qt: Razor Tools + Razor Panel Menu
The other is far more minor. That is that the right-click menu on the desktop looks really pretty and well-integrated with the KDE window and widget style, but the main menu on the panel looks really blocky as if it came from Microsoft Windows 95. I'm not sure what's with the inconsistency, but I hope it gets fixed soon.

The big deal about Razor-Qt seems to be the tools, called Razor Tools, used to configure it. I'll go through them one by one.

The first tool I saw was to set the desktop background. This is a tool that seems to have been written specifically for Razor-Qt, and it's really simple and minimal, but it works fine.

The second was to edit the desktop. This makes the words  "Razor Desktop Edit Mode" appear on the screen in big blue letters, though it is possible to continue using other applications in the meantime (as I am doing as I write this). This shows blocks representing the different widgets that can be configured or removed from the desktop, and there is a menu to add new widgets, though there aren't many widgets available in all. Unfortunately, configuring the widget requires the importation of already-made configuration text files, meaning that sort of like Openbox, if the user wants to configure Razor-Qt beyond the extremely shallow tools given, coding of text files is required. Also, I had to manually right-click and uncheck "Edit Desktop" to get back to the normal desktop view, which is slightly cumbersome.

KWin: Dolphin + Desktop Cube
The KDE System Settings program is still available, because at least in Ubuntu Razor-Qt Remix, KWin still manages windows, so it can be configured to use the same desktop effects, tabbed windowing, and other features present in KDE 4. The Razor-Qt developers have done a decent job stripping out some of the configuration options relating to Plasma, as that is irrelevant in Razor-Qt, but there are still some options that have no place in Razor-Qt. In any case, things like desktop effects worked great, which is always a nice surprise. This could be the first "lightweight" DE in which desktop effects are so easy to turn on and configure, thanks to a higher degree of compatibility with KDE than, say, Xfce or LXDE have with GNOME.

Right now, the Razor Appearance Configuration dialog can only change the icon theme, and as far as I have seen, that change doesn't happen at all. That needs to be fixed soon.

The Razor Configuration Center is just a small program that acts as a gateway to the other Razor Tools. I feel that unless Razor-Qt really makes a commitment to remaining stripped-down, the Razor Configuration Center will contain more than just the 4 shortcuts it contains now.

The Razor Mouse Theme Configuration dialog is just a program to change the cursor theme. Confusingly, in the Razor Configuration Center, it is called the Razor Mouse Configurator, which initially led me to believe that it would actually configure the operation of the mouse, but then I remembered the presence of the KDE System Settings program to do that. I do hope that the developers make the naming a little more consistent, though thankfully the discrepancies are minor.

Unfortunately, at one point, opening a few of these at the same time caused a pretty major system slowdown. Thankfully after a minute or two this was resolved.

Razor-Qt: Dolphin + Tabbed Windows + Desktop Effects
The Razor Desktop Configuration program allows for configuration of how the rest of the desktop (i.e. the panel, menus, et cetera) should be controlled. By default, KWin controls the windows, window elements, desktop effects, and things like window tabbing, but Razor-Qt controls the menus (panel and desktop right-click) and panel. That can be changed to give KWin control of pretty much everything. The consequences of this are that the fully-fledged right-click desktop menu disappears and that the desktop background becomes black because in KDE KWin requires the desktop background to be a Plasma widget, and Plasma is not available in Razor-Qt. Thankfully, the Razor Desktop Configuration program has a desktop background picker if the rest of the desktop is being controlled by something other than Razor-Qt. Considering that giving control of the rest of the desktop to KWin gives up a little functionality (especially initially), and given that even when Razor-Qt is selected I can use KWin to enable things like desktop effects, window tabbing, and assigning windows to specific virtual desktops, I'm not sure I would use such a switcher. Then again, I can see its use for people who really want to use KWin completely but without needing Plasma.

The Razor Session Configuration program allows changing the WM behind Razor-Qt. In Ubuntu Razor-Qt Remix, the only available WM is KWin, so that's not much of an issue there. Also available are options to configure startup applications, defaults, and others.

In terms of being lightweight, Razor-Qt uses 220 MB of RAM at idle with no desktop effects. This is significantly less than fully-featured DEs like GNOME and KDE, comparable to Xfce, and a good deal more than LXDE, which I feel is its main competitor of sorts.

That's where my time with Razor-Qt ended. Although I only had a few problems in number, in scope they were pretty major. I definitely wouldn't recommend it for a newbie because it's still too new and too rough around the edges. (Maybe those edges can be razored off soon...? Hehheh. (OK, I'll stop.)) But for Linux users with a little experience troubleshooting problems and who can learn quickly enough to stay out of trouble (e.g. the problematic desktop switcher panel applet), I think this is a great new alternative DE that offers the power of KDE to people who may still be wary of the whole Plasma thing as well as of KDE's often-hefty resource requirements. I'm certainly going to keep an eye on this thing.
You can get it and find out more here.

13 comments:

  1. It does indeed look beautiful. It's nice that. somebody is using gnustep, extending it into a desktop environment.

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  2. 220 while being far less than KDE is a good deal more than LXDE and E17.

    Still more alternatives are good.

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  3. 220 MB? LXDE on Salix basic needs only 45, but it's still early days, hopefully it will come down. Thanks for the very detailed walkthrough. Your blog is still getting better, and it wasn't bad to begin with. Interesting. Cheers ~ Barnaby

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  4. Ok, why not KDE-lite?
    Is there a real need for yet-another-DE ?

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    1. Yes, there is!

      Cuz more is better!
      Go back to Windows, if you don't like alternatives!

      ;p

      __________________________


      I've been using LXDE with Compiz for about a year now (left Gnome BEFORE it became cool!!! (lol just kidding: left Gnome for personal reasons way before G3 and not because of it)), and haven't been using any KDE for a long time (8-10 yrs maybe) - but I heard of Razor-qt and had to try it: it's not really "mature" yet, but it's promising.
      For now, it needs some hard coding and the cumbersome KDE-"theming"-section to customize it, yet there are not that many apps for QT as are for GTK, so it takes time to customize a whole desktop in the way I like it...anyway, I'll stick with it for at least a week maybe, growing accustomed to it and then decide over it for now.
      But even if I might decide to not use it anymore, this doesn't mean, there is no need for Razor-qt....otherwise there would be no KDE (don't like the whole look and feel of it, esp the panel and the system settings...the plasma-panel seems to not have changed that in a way) , Gnome (tried g3 and the gnome-shell for 1-2 days and didn't like it) or XFCE (cheap copy of g2, why start it at all in the days of g2??^^), not to speak of all the window managers, ROX or E17.

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    2. "Cuz more is better!" I absolutely not surprised that this is the 1st reaction. I cannot help myself but associate this to the fast food crowd. Sure more is better, but when would quality win vs quantity???
      I wish them good luck...

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    3. Fast food crowd?
      I definately have to associate this with anti-modern uniformism.
      I mean...what are we talking about? There's only 2 major and like 4 or 5 lesser DE's at all...and you wouldn't call your car dealer a "fast food dealer with an excessive count of car models", if he'd offer two different car models with a total of six different designs, would you?


      Despite that I think razor-qt really is, or at least has the potential for a good DE - even less-than-good projects can bring up good ideas and good code that advance other projects...so think before you write, Mr. Too-shy-to-say-my-name

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    4. Oh, No, I do not have a valid argument, that's why I am going to reserve to personal insults and "go back to Windows" trolling. Open Box - yes, Open Source - Yes, Open Mind - NOPE that does not exist.

      If you're still interested (and/or capable) to keep it clean and open-minded then think about the following:
      * "excessive count of car models" yet each model needs to sell and maintain X amount of customers to stay in production. Too many models to chose from is not good neither for customers nor for producers/resellers (in real world of course).

      * "anti-modern uniformism" Well, Apple sells only one OS with only one DE, and they charge quite a premium (and no, I don't have one). Yet, Apple's desktop market share is larger than all 500+ distributions of Linux combined. I could say the same about Android phones - one OS + one DE, and Droid is doing quite well on the market.

      * "There's only 2 major" DE's. How about 4? Besides the usual Gnome and KDE, there are Unity and Cinnamon. The popularity of Ubuntu and Mint puts those two into Major League almost instantly. You can argue that those are just different shells, but I see them as separate DE's.


      Do I object against a fat-free-Qt based desktop? No, I don't. But I don't see why it needs to separate itself from KDE either. KDE-lite and KDE-full pair is much easier to 'market' to potential Linux users (specially refugees from MS). If you like over-the-top desktop bling-bling and have the hardware for it go with KDE-full; if not KDE-lite is there for you. I like to keep it simple (in all the aspects).

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    5. @Anonymous: You completely missed the point. There's a smiley face (":p") under the comment saying "go back to Windows" indicating sarcasm. So please, just take it easy. Now, with regard to the rest of your comment, for one, Linux distribution developers are under no such obligation to remain profitable. Sure, many depend on donations to continue, but many others can keep going by just being a hobby. With regard to Android, that isn't quite true, because every phone manufacturer that ships Android customizes it at least a bit. HTC, Samsung, and others have their own unique Android interfaces. You're right about the separate DEs, so I won't argue over that. But finally, there already is a "KDE-lite". It's called "KDE Low-Fat Settings", so if you really want that, you can use that. Considering that Kubuntu seems to be the KDE distribution that takes marketing itself to new users (read: Microsoft Windows refugees) the most seriously, it does include KDE Low-Fat Settings, so your question has already been answered. I don't believe Razor-Qt is meant to target newbies; I think it's meant to target existing Linux users who want to use Qt 4 and similar KDE stuff but want to still avoid Plasma.

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  5. Im pretty sure it idles at a lot lower if you're using Openbox as your WM as LXDE does. Kwin is as bloated as KDE...

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  6. @Sell My Cell Phone: Wait, what?

    @Jeff Hoogland: I'm pretty sure I said something to that effect too.

    @Barnaby: I appreciate the support! I don't think the comparison is entirely fair, though, because it's pretty much guaranteed that even Ubuntu running without any graphical DE will use more RAM than a comparable other distribution also running without a DE.

    @Anonymous 1: Why not have another DE? Is that such a bad thing? If many people come to use it, the chances are higher that people will also donate money to keep the project going. If very few people use it, the project will either shut down due to a lack of funding or keep going just as a nice little hobby to scratch the developers' collective itch.

    @desm0tes: Yes, there will certainly be a use for Razor-Qt even if a few of us don't care for it. And I find it interesting that you've combined LXDE and Compiz.

    @Anonymous 2: How does Razor-Qt in and of itself say "quantity over quality"? That makes no sense.

    @Mark: I'm sure it does too, but Ubuntu Razor-Qt Remix only offers KWin for testing because it's built from Kubuntu. Maybe there should be another remix of Razor-Qt built from Lubuntu in order to use Openbox.

    (I'm replying like this rather than taking advantage of threading commenting so that I don't spam the comments section with my own replies and so that I can condense everything into one comment.) Thanks for the comments!

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  7. 220 mb is about double the RAM I use with Xfce at idle on Debian with compositing on and conky running.
    Most or all the Razor-Qt devs use Openbox.

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  8. @Anonymous: That would make sense considering that I was using the default KWin WM present in Ubuntu Razor-Qt Remix (as that is built from Kubuntu). Thanks for the comment!

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