Metisse — you thought you knew what 3D was?

[ Wednesday, 7 March 2007, paulina ]

On Tuesday, January 25th Mandriva introduced a new project: Metisse LiveCD. In this article we are going to investigate the features offered by this promising project and see if Metisse can compete with the popular desktops in terms of ergonomics and ease of use.

Author: Paulina Budzoń
Translated by: Dominik Sarnowski

What is Metisse?

Metisse is a graphical environment created as part of the In Situ project. It offers innovative interaction between windows and you are only limited by your imagination in how you can manipulate windows. Metisse seems to be a 3D desktop like Compiz or Beryl, but it’s different — a unique concept in the design of human-computer interfaces. Metisse does not require a 3d-accelerated desktop to work. It is not necessary to have a supercomputer to use it. Metisse performs reasonably even on elderly computers. You can download it as a LiveCD with Mandriva One 2007 and GNOME (KDE will be added later — with version 4). It is also available standalone, to be used in any other GNU/Linux distribution.

Pic.1 Metisse desktop

A LiveCD… what is that?

Just put the CD into your CDROM. Restart the computer. The system will run automatically. Wait a few seconds… and you will see the standard orange wallpaper of Mandriva One and the progress bar at the bottom of your screen. If you want to see a black screen with some white letters moving around (yes, the standard Linux booting procedure) just press the Esc key. After that you will have to wait another few seconds. Meanwhile there will be some things on the screen, eg. a terminal with a prompt for your username, but nothing to worry about, it will be gone in another few seconds without you doing a thing. If everything goes well (it should!), you will see a nice, slightly sleepy blue background and a small window where you can choose the preferred language, country, agree with the licence, and then choose a keyboard layout, a timezone, current time and date (if you wish you can choose the NTP server which is used to synchronize your local time with the official one over the Internet). Now click on the button “Next” and wait for a while again… :) You should see the eye-friendly orange wallpaper of Mandriva One, a “table” with the virtual desktops in the right bottom corner (read: the grey rectangle divided on 9), scroll-bars at the top and on the bottom (default settings) and icons on the desktop. This means that you finally got Mandriva One 2007 with Metisse running. Congratulations!

OK, so.. where are all these great things?

Where? Right here! Here are some basic features of Metisse desktop:

  1. The virtual desktops table — this is the grey rectangle divided into 9 parts in the corner of the screen. In order to move to another desktop you simply click on the appropriate part. The one you are currently in should be highlighted. To move between desktops you can use the combination Ctrl+Alt+(any of the arrow keys). When you want to move a window from one desktop to another you click on the left side of titlebar and choose the right place to drop it.

  2. Pic.2 “Bird’s eye view”

  3. The “bird’s eye view” – place the cursor over the “table” and scroll the mouse-wheel. There are your 9 desktops (of course you can change the number if needed). You can easily move between these desktops. To switch to a selected desktop just scroll the mouse-wheel when the pointer is over the desktop you want. Clicking on the grey area results in changing the current wallpaper to the wonderful orange one. Sometimes it is necessary to hold the “Super” key (alternatively “Windows/Linux” key) when touching the mouse-wheel.
  4. Windows transformation – this is what makes Metisse much better than any 3D desktop. You can freely rotate windows in all three dimensions, set transparency level, overlay them or even make them round (well, the last option isn’t very useful in normal work, but it’s a nice trick).

    Pic.3 Playing with Metisse

    For instance if you rotate a window at an angle, you can always return to its previous state by clicking the mouse-wheel on the titlebar. Clicking again will turn the window back to the transformed state. All options needed for the transformations are located in the context menu, which is available by clicking the left mouse-button on the window or the right mouse-button on its titlebar. There are basic and advanced options. The first six (Move, Resize, Iconify, (Un)Stick, Raise/Lower, (Un)On Top) are quite obvious, but I suggest you test them all yourself. An interesting transformation is “Duplicate”. You can duplicate windows as many times as you want. Any changes made in one of the views will be visible in all others. This way you can watch one website in many different views, depending on how you set up the duplicates.

    Pic.4 Still playing with Metisse…

    Copy-Paste has never been so easy! Windows unbend automatically when you select some text on the window under them (without clicking on that window!). Selected text will can pasted by clicking the mouse-wheel somewhere else. So…to copy something you need to click only twice! See the official video: Copy-Pasting made simple [avi]

  5. No more clicking — using Metisse you don’t need to click on a window to activate it. Just put the cursor over it. It simplifies many things, eg. when writing two documents you move the mouse cursor between the windows and the other one is activated, even if it is partly under the current window :)
  6. Mouse + keyboard — all context menu functions have one or more shortcuts. Using only mouse and keyboard you can handle any of them. The full description is available in /usr/share/metisse/doc/using.html or on Mandriva website.

Pic.5 Metisse.. isn’t it boring?

Is Metisse only good for playing with windows?

Of course not! However in the current version (that comes with Mandriva One) not much more can be done. Naturally we have a lot of apps available just like in regular Mandriva. Graphical apps (GIMP, XSane, image viewers), Internet apps (Mozilla FireFox, Epiphany, Evolution, Gaim, Ekiga), multimedia tools (movie players, RealPlayer), office applications as OpenOffice 2.0.4 are available. I wonder why there are CD burning tools on the Live CD, but I probably we will be able to use them when Metisse is released as a part of a “normal” OS.

Can I install Metisse??

Yes, it is one of the options in Mandriva One. Personally I don’t recommend installing Metisse (Mandriva does not recommend it either). The LiveCD was released only for testing purposes, not for regular work. There can be a lot of different problems when Metisse is your default desktop. Still if you insist on installing Metisse on HDD with together with other OS, please backup Lilo/Grub, because it may potentially cause many problems with the OS you already have installed. In order to install just type in the console window: /usr/sbin/draklive-install. The nice graphical interface will appear. Just follow the instructions.

Will Metisse be ever available in a distribution which is easy to install and safe to use? The Mandriva officials said – yes, Metisse will be an optional desktop in Mandriva Spring which is expected to be released this April. This is if nothing bad happens. So stay tuned :)

More information

This article has been first published in Dragonia Magazine, a Polish online magazine about Free and Open-Source Software.

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fold this thread Roy Schestowitz  Thursday, 8 March 2007 o godz. 2:08 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0
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fold this thread Hez  Thursday, 8 March 2007 o godz. 8:00 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Are you sure about the no 3D acceleration required thing? I tried running the Metisse live CD on my laptop (Pentium M 1.7ghz, 32mb ATI 9200) and it was slow enough to be unusable.

But if there is a way to make it quicker I’d love to know! It seems like a fantastic concept.

Thanks for the quick (re|pre)view!

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fold this thread Craig  Thursday, 8 March 2007 o godz. 8:23 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Hez – required is a general term. It will be done via software if you don’t have 3D acceleration and still work. Doesn’t mean it will be usable.

Though with an ATI 9200 you _should_ have 3D acceleration (so long as you have the proper drivers).

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fold this thread satai  Thursday, 8 March 2007 o godz. 8:31 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Does it give me an advantage? Or an other eye-candy?
Could you show some real-life scenarios to demonstrate, why is this solution useful?

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fold this thread Helba  Thursday, 8 March 2007 o godz. 8:57 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

This rocks!

I can’t wait to take it for a spin. It looks great.

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fold this thread jpkotta  Thursday, 8 March 2007 o godz. 9:31 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

This is where I first heard of Metisse. The thing has been around for years, and I tried to compile it a couple of times, but I never got it working. I think I’ll give this live CD a shot. Hurrah for FVWM!

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fold this thread paulina  Thursday, 8 March 2007 o godz. 9:54 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

satai – it’s an eye-candy and it’s very useful (maybe not so far, but it will be in future, when we’ll get it in “normal” distribution (I mean Mandriva Spring). The bird-eye view and divided dekstops are really helpful in work, you just have to get usted to them :)

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fold this thread Yoweigh  Friday, 9 March 2007 o godz. 2:34 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

^”it’s an eye-candy and it’s very useful (maybe not so far…)”

It’s eyecandy, and it’s not very useful.

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fold this thread soco  Friday, 9 March 2007 o godz. 4:21 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  --1

The live CD starts up in GUI in an unsupported video mode. I can’t seem to get out of the GUI. I do a ctl+alt+Bksp killing the GUI and get 5 seconds of shell time before some type of timer makes the GUI come back up. Kill GUI, type type , gui pops back up, kill gui, etc….repeatedly, isn’t getting me anywhere.

I don’t know how to get to where I can adjust the resolution. Any help?

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fold this thread reg  Friday, 9 March 2007 o godz. 4:41 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

How about a real 3D desktop with icon cubes – a depth where running program icons are larger, (closer) and inactive programs are smaller (far away).

Icons are not 2d pictures – but actual rotating 3D cubes – with transparency so they could be footballs, diamonds, etc. – like the ‘power-ups’ seen in many 3D games.

Clicking an icon zooms it right into your face (opens program).

People keep talking about a 3D desktop , but all I see is 2D projected into 3D.

Lets get 3D folders that are thicker when more files are in them.
Open the folder and the files ‘spill out’ in thumbnails. touch a thumbnail and it gets bigger, click it – the app that it requires opens it. etc.

A real Directory TREE – that looks like a TREE in 3D.

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fold this thread dh  Friday, 9 March 2007 o godz. 4:50 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

You say matisse is available for other gnu/linux platforms but I don’t see any links at the metisse site.

Maybe this is another in the future thing?

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fold this thread Peder  Friday, 9 March 2007 o godz. 11:19 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

using Metisse you don’t need to click on a window to activate it. Just put the cursor over it

Hmm, Focus-follow-mouse and autoraise has been around in most WMs since forever.

- Peder

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fold this thread SuporteTecnicoID  Friday, 9 March 2007 o godz. 2:38 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

This resources 3D from metisse exist in our BigLinux long long time , is old from this distro brasileira by:

whats news?

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fold this thread michuk  Friday, 9 March 2007 o godz. 3:08 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

This resources 3D from metisse exist in our BigLinux long long time , is old from this distro brasileira by: whats news?

Well, Big Linux is an unknown distro. I see its website in Portugese only — I guess this is one of the reasons. Mandriva has much better recognized, so probably that’s why everyone is talking about it incorporating Metisse and nobody is mentioning Big Linux.

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fold this thread Sprogg2001  Friday, 9 March 2007 o godz. 6:13 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

I think its great! not the “minority report like UI” that most people expect to see but is progress if only one good idea from this project sticks on to become mainstream then its worth it, please appluad the devs for this work thinking outside the box is what the os industry needs more than ever!

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fold this thread robersonfox  Sunday, 11 March 2007 o godz. 5:21 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Very very Fantastic,
I’m think, when it will be ported to slackware,
rsrsrs…slackware user suffers…

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fold this thread Kynan  Sunday, 1 April 2007 o godz. 10:45 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

This is awesome, hopefully it will be available to ther distros such as ubuntu.

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fold this thread danix  Saturday, 28 April 2007 o godz. 12:03 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

I have made a package of metisse for my distro (slackware 11.0)… it will be available on the italian slackware community website ( asap…
it’s made of 2 parts, the nucleo package (you’ll need it to use metisse) and the metisse package… other dependancies are avahi, libjpeg, mdnsresponder and ffmpeg… there are the links if you want to try this nice wm:

you’ll download 2 tar archives containing the tgz package… I hope you’ll like it

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fold this thread michuk  Wednesday, 25 July 2007 o godz. 8:37 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

@danix: thanks a lot for your contribution!

fold this thread Ken  Saturday, 18 August 2007 o godz. 10:40 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Is matisse available for PCLOS2007?

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About the Author

Paulina Budzoń

Former Mandriva's translator, Dragonia Magazine's editor and great OpenSource fan. Lives in Warsaw, Poland.

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