January 5, 2007

Desktop Data Manager: Promising, but not there yet

Author: Bruce Byfield

Being mainly a GNOME user on the desktop, I have been waiting for two main utilities I can find in KDE: a font installer comparable to the one in the KDE Control Center, and a multiple item clipboard comparable to Klipper. I'm still waiting for the font installer, but Desktop Data Manager (DDM) may eventually be a Klipper replacement. In fact, DDM is more than that, since it also includes a screen capture program and provisions for other plugins, but a lack of stability and one or two key features makes it very much a work in progress.

Written by Lukas Einkemmer, DDM is currently at version 0.85. However, this version number is too liberal for the actual state of the software. Such a relatively high version number implies basic functionality, but in my testing, images inserted from DDM into OpenOffice.org consistently crashed when I clicked on them later for editing. At times, too, running DDM seemed to freeze the entire desktop, particularly when the maximum number of items were contained in the clipboard -- no matter how high or low that maximum is set.

In addition, the Debian package neither resolved its Mono dependencies nor -- once I satisfied the dependencies manually -- installed a workable version of the software on a Debian testing system. I eventually installed the package on Ubuntu 6.10-1, which includes Mono as a standard part of GNOME 2.16.1, but, if my experience is any indication, you may want to think twice about DDM on earlier versions of the desktop.

The multiple clipboard is an applet whose icon sits in the Notification Area of the GNOME panel. DDM collects both text and graphics when you perform copy or cut functions, and displays them when you click the icon. Unlike the standard GNOME clipboard, DDM also retains its contents between sessions, unless you specifically clear it. To insert a clipboard item, you select it from the DDM icon, then use a program's normal paste function. Insertion is slow but reliable for text, which keeps its formatting when pasted, even though the formatting is not displayed by DDM.

In other words, DDM closely resembles Klipper in design and actions. Its main advantage is that it displays thumbnails of graphics in the clipboard. However, Klipper is more versatile in configuration options for default behaviors and actions, as well as for keyboard shortcuts.

Because of the instability of graphics inserted from the clipboard, the screen capture program is currently the more useful of the DDM plugins. Available from either the Accessories menu or the right-click menu of the Notification Area icon, DDM Screenshot allows you to take a shot of a region, a window, or the entire desktop. The utility gives a preview, and includes an option for copying the shot automatically to the clipboard. Unlike the GIMP's screen capture utility, DDM Screenshot also has the virtue of staying open until specifically closed. In general, it compares well with existing screenshot programs, apart from suffering from trails of phantom frames when minimizing as a shot is taken, and a lack of options for including the mouse or window decorations.

In addition to the current instability and incompleteness problems, my main reservation about DDM is its reliance on Mono -- not because of any prejudice about C#, but because installing Mono means taking on a relatively high amount of overhead for the advantage of running minor applications like DDM or Tomboy. Still, taken on its own merits, DDM seems a promising application, even if it's not quite ready for serious use. For now, DDM won't become a permanent part of my desktop, but I'll try it again once it reaches its 1.0 release.

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for NewsForge, Linux.com, and IT Manager's Journal.

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