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.

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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