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Re: Emacs as a desktop environment

From: Ken Raeburn
Subject: Re: Emacs as a desktop environment
Date: Wed, 25 May 2011 12:33:55 -0400

On May 24, 2011, at 21:05, Ted Zlatanov wrote:
> I've been very frustrated lately with the memory and resource use of
> gnome-panel, XFCE, and the new Unity UI in Ubuntu 11.04.  They use
> multiple megabytes of memory for trivial things; they are slow, and they
> make a machine with 3 GB of RAM feel slow just doing trivial things.
> I think GNU Emacs, at least on GNU/Linux systems, can provide much of
> the desktop environment functionality, so Emacs + a window manager like
> XMonad is a full desktop experience:

I've been experimenting with doing more inside Emacs at work, since I've been 
coming back to more Linux desktop use but had grown unfamiliar with the latest 
flavors of various apps and document/file viewers in the latest desktop 
environments.  I'd like to move more in that direction, too.  Some of the stuff 
I've found handy for this with modern Emacs:

* Basic spreadsheet application: ses mode

* Screen (or VNC, sort of): emacsclient and daemon mode (but don't build for 

* Remote login windows: ssh mode, though it could use some updates for ssh 
multiplexing and better tramp interaction

* Log monitoring window ("tail -f"): auto-revert-mode

* Chat program: emacs-jabber mode

* image viewer: C-x C-f

The emacs-jabber mode was already packaged and installed at work; ssh mode I 
found via Google.

I still go to external programs for lots of tasks, though:

* viewing .doc files, editing/viewing spreadsheets from others, making 
presentation slides (OpenOffice); not very common, so not a big deal

* PDF viewing (??? whatever the desktop manager launches for these); Emacs can 
do it by converting to images, but AFAIK it doesn't support links within the 
document (click on this entry in the table of contents to jump to that page), 
and sometimes when I'm skimming documents I want to zip through the pages 
*really* fast, getting glimpses of each as I go (e.g., so I can see where I am 
in the alphabetically ordered reference section by the titles), and Emacs isn't 
fast enough

* general web browsing (firefox/iceweasel); yes, there's w3 mode, and I haven't 
looked at it in a long time, but the last update to the git repo on gnu.org was 
three years ago, and it seems like it'd be insufficient these days unless it's 
got Java and Javascript and Flash and TLS and certificate management and video 
and (etc); well, maybe not video or Flash much for work specifically

* email, shared calendar, address book (Zimbra server, via iceweasel)
  ** email via Gnus IMAP support is okay, but there's a timeout problem in 
23.3, probably fixed in the trunk
  ** calendar interface supports some network protocols (e.g., for Apple's iCal)
  ** meeting scheduling seems to involve getting email and then clicking 
"accept" or "decline" in the webmail view, and then the calendar is updated; it 
may be doable through calendar protocols alone
  ** address book I don't care about too much, so far, but it'd be a plus

* long CLI-oriented sessions (gnome-terminal, but I should look at comint's 
support for automatic truncation)

* bug tracking (Jira server, via iceweasel); and whaddaya know, Google points 
me to the JiraMode node at EmacsWiki, hmm...

Usually iceweasel turns out to be the memory pig on my system, but I wind up 
needing it for a bunch of things.

Multithreading in Emacs is sorely lacking; really, having my log viewer and ssh 
windows freeze, because my spreadsheet is being recomputed or I'm loading a 
really big file from a slow file server, just isn't acceptable behavior for a 
desktop environment.  Neither is confining everything I do to one core's worth 
of processing power on modern multicore systems.

So I suspect I'm going to be stuck with at least OO, iceweasel, and 
gnome-terminal for a while yet.

> - load indicators (CPU, memory, network load, etc.): can be done with SVG

Ooh, this sounds interesting...


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