The Pandora GUI: What it was, is, and will be.August 18, 2009
“Menus. Launchers. Desktop environments. Window managers. Pmenu! Pangea! Matchbox! E17! What’s going on?!”
Last week we heard that Matchbox may be superseded by E17, as Pandora’s default window manager. Today, we’ve seen new footage of Pmenu. So what does it all mean? What’s going to greet us on that screen when we first flip the lid? If you’re feeling a little in the dark, this article aims to bring the light. We’ll start with a brief description of Pandora’s operating system, then we’ll get into the GUIs. If you’re a seasoned Linux user, and you’re easily offended by gross simplifications (which all Linux users are), feel free to skip the first bit.
Linux in a nutshell. A tiny, tiny nutshell.
Linux is kind of modular, like Lego. You just snap together the bits you want. Instead of being stuck with one GUI (as you are with say, MS Windows) you can choose from all manner of desktop environments, fancy graphical menus, or just the command line. It’s this versatility that has Linux running on everything from desktop computers to domestic cats.
Pandora runs Ångström, a flavour of Linux developed especially for portable/embedded devices. (You can just call it Angstrom if you like, but it doesn’t answer to Armstrong, ok?). Over time we’ve been shown a number of GUI options for Pandora including Gmenu, Pmenu, Pangea, Matchbox, and soon, E17. You’d be forgiven for asking why team Pandora can’t just decide on one operating system, right? The answer to that, is that they’ve been using the one operating system all along. All these graphical front ends are powered by Ångström; one operating system, many faces.
Back in 2005, GPH began shipping the GP2X. What does this have to do with Pandora’s GUI? Very little. But we’re all about lineage in these parts, and you’re on the bus and we’re not stopping. The GP2X ran Linux, with a custom GUI developed by GPH. The original F100 interface was reasonably geek friendly, but somewhat inflexible. Customisation was non-existent; you got eight icons, and launched your apps from the file explorer.
A few moons later, the F200 – with its new touch screen interface – took inflexibility to a new level.
Thankfully, something cool had happened in the meantime: Gmenu2x, by Ryo.
Gmenu2x brought to the table a tabbed, fully customisable app launcher with access to more settings than an F14 Tomcat. RAM timings, overclocking, custom icons, skinning, it was all there. To this day, if your GP2X isn’t running Gmenu, you’ve barely arrived at the party.
So when it came time to find a GUI for Pandora, Gmenu was the obvious choice. Newcomers lured into the forums by Pandora may not have been wowed by it, but to the old scenesters, Gmenu was home turf. Work commenced on the port, and before long we were shown a video.
Sadly, it wasn’t to be. Adapting the Gmenu code to a multitasking environment proved difficult, and the port was abandoned. Pandora was now GUI free, and looking for a Gmenu substitute. Once again it was community talent to the rescue, with Cpasjuste and Efegea both starting work on their own graphical launchers. We’ll call these the “minimal” menus.
The “minimal” menus
As announced by EvilDragon last week, Cpasjuste’s Pmenu is likely to be pre-installed on Pandora, as the default minimal menu option. The most recent Pmenu video, demonstrating Pandora’s .pnd packaging system in action, can be found in our previous post.
There’s another menu option in the wings too: Pangea, by Efegea. We’ve seen a couple of Pangea videos in the past, but Efegea advises that they’re not worth revisiting, as Pangea has become a whole new monster. It’s said to be taking advantage of the latest QT visuals, which is enticing to say the least.
Both of these launchers carry on the Gmenu2x legacy, while adding a new generation of magic tricks and eye candy to the mix. But GUIs of this style aren’t enough for everyone. Early in Pandora’s development, people were looking at the QWERTY keyboard and seeing more than a cool way to play classic games. Especially once the RAM was doubled…
Gaming console, UMPC, or netbook? Yes.
At its core, Pandora will always be a gaming console. But when you’ve got a keyboard, wifi, bluetooth, SD slots, and some horses under the hood, people start asking if they can run a full desktop environment. The answer of course, is yes. The Matchbox desktop – lightweight and nonsense free – was chosen for the task. We’ve seen several videos of Matchbox in action, generally accompanied by the soothing commentary of EvilDragon.
This version of Matchbox, typically a rather plain desktop environment, has come a long way thanks to MDave’s visual tweaks. But now there’s a new contender in the ring. A smooth as silk desktop environment known as E17, the latest incarnation of Enlightenment. You might recognise the stylings of E17 from such Linux distributions as gOS, shown here running on PC:
E17 is not yet confirmed as the default Pandora desktop, but it sure looks the part. According to EvilDragon, most of the developers are already running it on their hardware, which bodes well for its suitability on the small screen.
Pandora will ship with two GUI options. Pmenu will be the minimal menu, with the full desktop option being either Matchbox or E17 (here’s hoping for an announcement soon). You’ll be able to switch between minimal and full desktop modes on a whim.
But what if you don’t like either of the default options? No problem. On the minimal front, if Pmenu doesn’t push your buttons, Pangea could be the alternative you’re after. On the desktop front – well, if you’re a Linux user, you already know that the options are plenty. KDE, XFCE, LXDE, any number of acronyms are out there waiting to be ported. If you’re not a Linux person, it’s only a matter of time ’til someone ponies up a package that will change the face of your Pandora.
Questions, comments, and excruciatingly detailed technical corrections are encouraged.
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