January 21, 2008

Brightside extends GNOME window manager

Author: Bruce Byfield

Brightside is a small utility for extending the functionality of Metacity, the default window manager for the GNOME desktop. Now at version 1.4.0, it currently offers two mutually exclusive functions: corner actions that are activated when the mouse cursor moves to one of the desktop's corners, and scrolling with the mouse between desktops.

Although its home page has been down recently, Brightside is widely available in the repositories of major distributions. A wiki for the project has been registered with SourceForge.net -- although no content or contact information has been added yet -- so the project may be in the process of moving.

Meanwhile, Brightside comes with with neither man pages nor any other form of online help. Moreover, on a Debian system, at least, it does not install an item on any of the menus. However, a Web search quickly reveals that you can configure Brightside by entering the command brightside-properties. Then, if you want Brightside's extended functionality available automatically when you log in, you can add the command brightside to System -> Preferences -> Sessions -> Startup Program or the equivalent in your distribution.

One advantage of Brightside is that configuration changes take effect immediately, requiring not even the clicking of an Apply or OK button. This responsiveness allows you to try out functionality if you are unsure what it does or whether it is for you before you commit to it.

Corner actions

Brightside's corner actions are reminiscent of those in Symphony OS. The main differences are that Symphony OS marks the corners with icons, while Brightside doesn't, and, in Brightside, the corner actions are configurable. In Brightside's property window, each corner can be configured to activate one of seven preconfigured commands: mute volume, prevent screensaver starting, start screensaver, enter DPMS standby mode, enter DPMS suspend mode, enter DPMS off mode, and toggle showing desktop, which is the equivalent of the Show Desktop panel applet.

Alternatively, you can configure a custom action for each corner, entering a command to start when the mouse cursor moves to it, and another action when the cursor leaves the corner. The command for leaving can be to terminate the first command, or it can be a separate one.

Workspace scrolling

Workspace scrolling is available with a number of window managers, but not with GNOME's default, Metacity. Brightspace offers two versions. The first is "switch to diagonally adjacent workspace." Given that Metacity's Workspace Switcher panel applet displays workspaces side by side, this concept may seem somewhat confusing at first, but all it means is that you switch workspaces by moving the mouse cursor in a diagonal motion towards the top or bottom of the screen. The second choice is to switch between workspaces when the cursor touches the edge of a screen.

The two choices are not mutually exclusive, although why you would want both is unclear. In both cases, you can set the speed of the scrolling, making it happen with a noticeable pause of a couple of seconds, or so quickly that the change is almost imperceptible on a fast machine.

Both also respond to the option to wrap edges, so that, with the last workspace, you return to the first one. Without this option, you can only move from the last workspace to the first by moving to the left through all the workspaces in between.

Another limitation is that neither choice allows you to drag a window with the mouse; any attempt to do so leaves the window stranded half off its original workspace. Perhaps even more importantly, activating either form of scrolling deactivates the corner actions, since corner actions, like workspace scrolling, require moving the cursor to the edge of the screen.

Is it for you?

Whether Brightside is worth adding to your desktop depends on your work habits. Although Brightside's functions assume that you prefer a mouse, and require little precision -- just a movement of the mouse in a particular direction -- some mouse users may prefer clicking custom desktop or panel icons. Moreover, in the case of corner actions, users may conclude that the main reason why corners aren't used in GNOME by default is that they are a long way from where the cursor usually rests. Other users may prefer keyboard shortcuts to using the mouse for these functions, or a window manager that, unlike Metacity, has one or both of Brightside's functions already.

For others, the unavailability of Brightside's home page may make them wonder if they are taking on an orphaned project. However, even if the unavailability is not temporary, one advantage of free software is that nothing is ever lost. If the original project has closed down, its code might be revived in another form, perhaps even as an official part of GNOME. Meanwhile, if Brightside fits your mindset, you may as well try it.


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