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24 January 2007

Beryl accelerated window manager for linux

For the last three weeks, I've been using Beryl [wikipedia], the hardware accelerated window manager for Linux.

Let me say it is brilliant when seen from several different perspectives:

  • Features beautiful window manager effects: zoom, fade, transparencies, wobbly windows, lots of effects for different events, etc;
  • Places the typical 4 desktops in 4 faces of a cube, so to switch between them, the cube rotates (something similar to what Mac OS X does when switching users);
  • Did I mention the cube? It rotates freely, can be translucid when rotating, windows can be "bent" between two sides of the cube and still work well;
  • New task switcher; Fades everything else, windows that show non-static content continue to do so when appearing in the task switcher (like Mac OS X or windows vista);
  • Method to view all active windows much like Mac OS X's exposé;
  • Highly flexible look; bitmapped borders, transparencies, shadows, etc;
  • Lots of GPL'd themes and a usable theme fetching interface;

All these features sum up what I would call a 'brilliant prototype of the next Linux desktop'. It is waaaaaay better than that vista thing, it feels beautifully smooth, it is very very stable (for its age, plus when it crashes, beryl-manager reverts automatically to the previous manager like kwin, metacity or xfce). The effects are great, the cube is awesome and it has the ability to impress friends and people at work (even microsoft addicts).

Wait, did I say "prototype"? Yes, I'm afraid so. You see, all these pretty smooth effects tend to tire the user and eventually waste his/her time. In my case and for all ATi owners, it can also be a resource hog, but that's another story (one for the next paragraph).

Beryl started by being a fork of compiz [wikipedia] - the first compositing window manager that takes advantage of openGL graphics acceleration, written by Novell to work with a new version of David Reveman's open source Xgl [wikipedia] X server architecture.

Currently there are two (or three) different ways to get hardware accelerated X servers with composition window managers: Xgl, AIGLX (and a proprietary nvidia extension of which I don't know anything about).
Xgl itself is a X server that runs below Xorg and uses it as its only display window. However, it consumes much more resources than what I find acceptable. AIGLX is the elegant and open source way - it is a native Xorg extension.

ATi owners have a choice of three drivers: radeon (no 3d acceleration, beryl cannot be used), fglrx (ATi proprietary driver with 3d acceleration) and r300 (open source reverse engineered driver with 3d acceleration). Up until version 8.33.6, fglrx lacks the GLX_EXT_texture_from_pixmap extension necessary for AIGLX. This means that AIGLX will not work with the fglrx driver, and people that want to use it due to superior performance have to stick with Xgl and less resources. r300, on the other hand, does supporte that particular extension and some users have reported working configurations of r300+AIGLX.

It is not very useful to post screenshots as the beauty of Beryl lies in its animations and fluidity, so a quick search for 'beryl' in youtube reveals many good demonstrations. Below I've selected 3 of those demnostrations, but there are many other and as Beryl is being developed with a fast paced, these are quickly outdated.
So, there it is - Linux, Xorg and Beryl are by far the best window desktop in the world!

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