The Pandora GUI: What it was, is, and will be.

August 18, 2009
Posted by: gruso


“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Last week we heard that Matchbox may be superseded by E17, as Pandora’s default window manager.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.

The bloodline

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.



  1. Are matchbox and E17 easily interchangeable from application point of view? Or do you need a application to be adjusted specific for one of those 2?

  2. Applications downloaded from the official file archive (as .pnd files) should run no matter which menu or desktop environment you’re using. (Is that what you’re asking?)

  3. Gruso, that is an excellent article and has certainly cleared up a lot for a Linux novice like myself. Thank you!

  4. thank you Gruso. The beginners as me need articles like this to learn what pandora can offer us…

  5. Just FYI, the latest version of gOS which you have a screenshot of is GNOME based. Early versions used E17, but v2 switched to GNOME. Otherwise, nice little article…

  6. Oh damn! Thanks for the quick save, picture replaced.

  7. This is awesome, cant wait for pandora to get to the market, I will sell my Wiz and buy a pandora as soon as I see people working happily on it, I find it amazing… and I think its the best portable laptop too, lol, for simple tasks, yes, but awesome anyways.

  8. Excellent article. I learned about the Pandora early this year, and pre-ordered 3 months later, but I didn’t know a lot that you revealed on the ‘crabby bus tour’. This has cleared up a lot that I had heard the names of for a while, but hadn’t heard what they were all about.

    Again, an Excellent article, well done!

  9. Good article. I will try to find a WM that looks ‘OK’ but still is leightweight and easy on the memory and cpu(not that the WM will be using the CPU much once everything is loaded).

    I think XFCE will be my choice. I never been much into eyecandy stuff that E offers.

  10. Article didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know, but it was still a very interesting read and an invaluable source of info for the noobs.

    Cheers for the run down Gruso 🙂

  11. Great article Gruso. This really cleared up the options for me. Kudos!

  12. Great article, thanks

  13. Really great work Gruso. Thanks very much!

  14. Begging again, PLEASE NO MATCHBOX.

    The reason Pandora peeked my interest is the promise of a full desktop experience. Whimping out with something like matchbox is the complete wrong direction.

    Hopefully E17 will be the winner. If your not supporting anything but matchbox, I might as well get another Nokia device. Personally I was looking forward to running KDE without having to compile it myself as I do on the Nokia devices.

    Cmon guys matchbox BLAHHHHHHHHH

  15. Just to echo what has already been said, well done Gruso a very good article. I only wish i knew enough about Linux that i could correct you about some detail or something 😉

  16. penguinbait: If many people want KDE it won’t take long before official or unofficial sources compile a .pnd file.

  17. That was an awesome read 🙂

    I hope E17 is the choice for full desktop. As for the minimal GUI, Pmenu seems awesome. Can’t wait to see a vid of the new Pangea.

    Too bad there are going to be more choices, choices and choices in the future…

  18. Choices, choices and more choices are the entire point of an -Open- handheld.

  19. Didn’t ED or Craig say recently that they were (or were considering) going with E17 over Matchbox?

    Also, _technically_, it should be “Enlightenment, also known as E17”, as E17 is the version name, and Enlightenment is the real name. 😉

  20. C’mon, guys, Fluxbox is the one and only usable environment. 😀

  21. I like the look of that Gos. If the Pandora came with that or I could install it myself I’d be more than happy. It looks great http://www.thinkgos.com/gos/index.html

  22. “Questions, comments, and excruciatingly detailed technical corrections are encouraged.”

    OK, so here I go:

    “If you’re not a Linux person, it’s only a matter of time ’til someone packages up a .pnd that will change the face of your Pandora.”

    Actually, no, that’s impossible with the current PND format. You have to do it via IPKG at the moment. That’s partly how the discussion about additions to it started.

  23. How is the operating system going to be installed and will this be done after they are assembled.

  24. @Dflemstr – That wasn’t too excruciating. How about I change “package up a .PND” to “Pand up an IPKG”? 😛

    @Vorporeal – I was deliberately light on words there, but I might make it less ambiguous.

    @Scott – Installing the OS should be a part of the test & assemble process. I’m not sure how they’ll be doing it. 4,000 installs from SD would be fun.

    @Everyone else – Thanks for all the comments!

  25. Thanks Gruso! As someone who’s never used Linux in his life, this cleared up a few things.

  26. I really dig E17

  27. Question: If E17 is chosen, why would matchbox not be chosen. i.e. are their flaws with matchbox or is it just a case of the FULL environment as opposed to a MINI environment or the EYE CANDY factor? Thanks.

  28. E17 definitely has the eye candy factor, but it might be a feature thing too. AFAIK there are no technical issues with Matchbox, it’s running beautifully – and if they go with E17, you’ll still be able to grab Matchbox from the Angstrom repo.

    I’ll raise your question in the forums. 🙂

  29. Does anybody know if FVWM has been compiled for arm? FVWM would work beautifully with the pandora.

  30. What E17 brings to the party is PC like performance using as little as 100kb in under 64mb of ram. I don’t know where everybody gets this eye candy shit from, well maybe because it’s the most beautiful desktop there is but you would be a fool to load those modules in that small a space. E17 is the tiniest, lightest and fastest there is available and extremely modular. Don’t want it, don’t need it, don’t load it period. It’s a winner all the way.

  31. “Didn’t ED or Craig say recently that they were (or were considering) going with E17 over Matchbox?”

    Yes – I suspect that was one of the major prompts for this article (nicely done Gruso, though I’d have preferred a longer deeper article myself). That’s why E17 can be said to now be “a contender”. It’s in contension with Matchbox for the role, and looks to be winning.

    “Also, _technically_, it should be “Enlightenment, also known as E17″, as E17 is the version name, and Enlightenment is the real name.”

    If it’s “also known as” E17, why is “E17” not accurate enough a moniker? For example, there’s a reason we don’t say “Marion Mitchell Morrison, also known as John Wayne” when talking about a certain movie star/director from days gone by – “John Wayne” is what he is(was?) popularly known as..

  32. Great article, just I miss more information about other alternatives like Pandea like photos and videos.

    Anymay, I hope some status update about Pangea appears soon: http://www.gp32x.com/board/index.php?/topic/45631-pangea-alternative-gui-to-gmenu/page__st__60

  33. Really waving the flag aren’t you. 😉 Efegea seems to have some good things in store for Pangea. I would have posted some of the old stuff, but he told me that the new icnarnation is quite different, and he didn’t have anything new to share at this stage. But his earlier work received really good feedback, and you can rest assured he’ll get plenty of exposure when he unveils the new version.

    @Monk: In depth is good, but I can only go so far before an expert needs to be called in! In response to Middo’s post above, I started a thread in the forums. Anyone wanting to know more about Matchbox vs E17 should check it out.


    I’ve learned a bunch of things already. Give it a day or so and we might have some input from Pandora devs as well.

  34. I also remember some time ago there being a zLib frontend or something that I was very intrigued by. Can anyone tell me where that’s at?

    Also, thanks for the overview, I’ve needed to play Catchup with Pandora news for some time now. 🙂

  35. @Gruso
    If you’re looking for corrections, Windows has more than one WM, it’s just only one WM (Explorer) is developed by Microsoft.

    Well done on seeing a need for this article and providing it, I’m actually a little surprised anyone with more than a passing interest in Linux was unaware of the myriad of WM choices available (or rather unaware of how the WM doesn’t determine what software you can run on your system). We’ve all got to start somewhere I suppose.

  36. @ClassicTeam
    Are you referring to ZiB, the emulator front end?

  37. @Zeno
    Explorer isn’t a WM, it’s a shell. Those are two different things.

    I could say that a shell on Windows is equivalent to a DE on Linux. So, in Linux, you have at least 2 shells/desktop environments: GNOME and KDE. However, GNOME uses the Metacity window manager and KDE uses the KWin window manager.

    In Windows, you have one shell that’s being developed by MS (Explorer) and only one window manager that cannot be changed. The window manager for XP is called Luna and the one in Vista is called Aero (as you probably know).

  38. Here’s a fast translation of efegea’s reply based on Google Translate:

    I can’t show anything right now, I’m redoing the interface and the internal code and now I have nothing to show. I’m sure when I have something good enough to show, you’ll like it.

    I have also been caught in an operating system change. Now I use macosx and I had to install Kubuntu in a virtual machine, but I still need to tune up.


  39. @dflemstr
    Maybe I was wrong to call Explorer a WM, but my general point still stands, as you can customise the appearance and operation of Windows almost as much as Linux, with everything from WindowsBlinds and EmergeDesktop on the GUI side, to many service and registry tweaks on the operation side.

    Would you immediately think you were running Windows if you saw this screen for example:

  40. Woohoo, only two more months from today!!

  41. Explorere isn’t a shell, that’s like saying Konqueror or Nautilus are shells. Bash, csh, and the like are shells. I’d even accept xterm (or equivalents for various WMs). For Windows, you have cmd.exe, and I hear there’s a newer one in Vista/7, but I haven’t used it.

  42. Look on Wikipedia if you want to know what a shell is. There are CLI shells, and there are GUI shells.

  43. Excellent writing, as always, Gruso.

  44. Just to make things simple:
    It works like this

    > Linux Kernel
    > Run-time environment (bunches of daemons, ‘TSR’, and so on)
    > a Terminal (well really a emulator of…)
    > a ‘Shell’ (which could be one of dozens) [yes, think COMMAND.COM – but not braindead…]
    Then from that point you would usually run:
    > a X11 (which is one of Free86x or XOrg or … something else)
    -This provides the basic support for a graphical interface, the cake without the icing (or nuts, fruit topping or really anything)
    > a Window Manager (Xfce, KDE, GNOME, Enlightenment, and many others)
    -This provides …. Icing. (you name it in terms of gui widgets…)

    Its very possible to run apps that are intended to used in ‘other’ WM with the right support libraries.

    In short…. stop worrying about the GUI. All software can be changed.

    Worry more about the keyboard or something (or the D-Pad…).

  45. @Zeno Arrow

    ya, that’s the one. Do you know where that’s at in development?


  46. > Would you immediately think you were running
    > Windows if you saw this screen for example:
    > http://img42.imageshack.us/img42/4835/emergedesktop.jpg

    For me: no
    But! If it’s windows… wow… what a horrible font rendering!

    I mean, look at the “ALTERNATIVE DESKTOP SHELL” sentence, its clear so it surly is a unscaled desktop screenshot. Now let’s look at the program-menu: “File Edit View …” and all the other non-bitmap fonts, zoom in! Argh… I can’t even read it…

  47. Really helpful for someone who doesn’t really understand what anyone’s talking about!

    Cleared a lot of things up. Thanks.

  48. The best thing about this article is that until it came along the only way to get any information was to fumble through the forums, and while forums are great for discussion or recent information, they’re a lot worse for trying to get an overview, or specific long-running information.

    Since it looks like we’re getting towards the end of the production process, I’d really like to see more articles like this one, taking a big look at what all has happened in the project’s history and distilling the forum entries in to cohesive timelines/narratives on various subjects.

    And Gruso, they seriously need to give you a free Pandora with all the extras for all the work you’ve put in to this site.

  49. @Grusi yup I’ve been following the on-forum discussion.

    I think what I liked about your post was the clarity – we don’t get confusion and disagreement about terms until we get to the comments 😉 but it’d still be nice to try and produce a nice “visual” of how they all come together… perhaps with a glossary including what abbreviations mean (e.g. is “DE” a “Desktop Environment”?). I can almost see a tree view showing each layer with numerous examples of what can be used at that level, interchangeably… and and oh, there must be a gazllion “How Linux is struxtured” sites 😦

  50. Maybe this can serve as a general guide?

    Sorry for the bad quality, drew it in a hurry.

  51. > http://img210.imageshack.us/img210/9601/linuxoverview.png

    Quality is fine. Design follows function 🙂

    But I think many things are wrong. This is only an incomplete abstract:
    – The line between terminal emulators and vt terminals should be between terminal emulators and the shell.
    – the x server can run on a framebuffer, but usually it runs directly via some hardware driver (i.e.: xservergraphics card)
    – the deamons and services run in userspace
    – the green thing is a big nonempty cloud 😉
    – many things are missing

  52. Sorry guys, but i’m gonna stick up for Matchbox again. I’ve been using it on my Jornada rather the alternative IceWM. I’ve had no problems with it at all – it runs quickly, does fullscreen apps with no problem at all. Seriously, whats with the hate?

  53. @irgendwer heh, I didn’t have enough space for the daemons in Userspace so I just drew them in Kernelspace. I thought that the dashed (- – -) lines would somehow highlight that those squares really don’t belong there (yeah, weird logic, eh?)

    And of course, I just made a simplified diagram, of course things are missing and/or simplified. I didn’t want to draw the whole file structure, the IPKG system, the DBus, various graphics interfaces, the network subsystems and all of the other gazillion features of a Linux-based OS. It’s impossible to draw them all 😛

  54. The thing to hate about matchbox is the lack of right click natively. without needing libgtkstylus.so which only works in gtk applications. This was always a pain in maemo, please don’t make the same mistake as Nokia….

    Again, I have compiled and run Window Maker, XFCE, KDE, fluxbox, openbox, gnome, and every other WM on my nokia devices.

    ANYTHING, but matchbox

    I guess the main problem with Nokia was that since they used matchbox, they crippled the X server not to recognize right clicks either. I suppose as long as the X server is compiled and configured properly then replacing the WM is a breeze.

    Perhaps I am jumping to some wrong conclusions based on Nokia, but I still say a big FU to matchbox….

  55. Just being curious is the OS development complete and is there any work left.

  56. “Just being curious is the OS development complete and is there any work left.”

    Linux development will never be “complete”. They release a new kernel every 3-4 months.

    But I get your point. I’m also intrerrested in knowing about the status on the Angstrom build for the Pandora.

  57. So what is the status of the software for the pandora, it should be complete by now.

  58. Software is never complete. There will always be bugs. It’s impossible to write perfect code.

    I guess that you’re asking “Is the software for the Pandora usable or ready to be sent to customers?”

    Answer: Yes, and it has been so for quite some time.

  59. A complete program, no bugs:

    int main()
    return 0;

    Sorry, couldn’t resist.
    It is possible to write software without bugs, it’s just reallylly [sic] hard.

  60. ^ I ran the above program on a machine with 3 bytes of free memory and got a Segfault (well not really but you get my point).

  61. @irgendwer:
    >> Would you immediately think you were running
    >> Windows if you saw this screen for example:
    > If it’s windows… wow… what a horrible font rendering!

    Take a picture of your desktop at 1920×1200 resolution and save it as an 800 kb jpg. we’ll see how good your fonts look.

  62. It actually looks quite good if I may say so myself. Oh, and my resolution is 2960×1050 btw so it’s not quite the same.

  63. +@irgendwer: It’s more the font size, the weird font being used, and Windows font rendering that screws up that screenshot. The compression is fine.

  64. > In short…. stop worrying about the GUI. All software can be changed.

    > Worry more about the keyboard or something (or the D-Pad…).

    Thank you, series-8. You are absolutely right.

  65. When someone with a final-ish type of Pandora is going to make a new MAME-video again, could he possibly show off some vertical shooters while holding the Pandora turned 90 degrees and say a few words about how comfortable or possible this way of playing might be? There have been some discussions on the forums in the past speculating about this possibility, and a few hardcore shooting fans are pretty excited about this possible feature. For these people, good vertical playability would really make a difference and it would be one more solid advantage the Pandora had over the Wiz. So please look into it, especially if you’re going to do another MAME-video anyway.

    If the emulators don’t support screen turning at this point and you can find no home console games that support tate-mode, just play some horizontal shooters and pretend they were vertical ones. It is really more about the comfort, about which buttons you can reach with your right and actually press in time while your left is steering with the nub or the d-pad. Thank you very much.

  66. is this pandora KDE capable??:P

  67. My kingdom for some news, a post, anything…

  68. newsnewsnewsnewsnewsNEWSNEWSNEWS

  69. Who posts the news around here anyway?

  70. It’s the news fairy, dummy. 🙂

  71. That’s a funny name for a news fairy…

  72. So how will we switch between desktop and minimalist? An option on settings? Please clear this up for me please.

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