A Fresh Look with Metisse

What is a 2D desktop capable of doing? There is an overlooked area in the market right now that Metisse has bubbled back to the top to answer. Mandriva has packaged a Live CD running Metisse for anyone to try. I did exactly that, and I am going to show you a few tricks 2D still has up its sleve.

Scenario: Bob has two windows with significant overlap that he need to have viewable at the same time. A practical example is document comparison, or referencing a website for information:
Window Overlap

Bob doesn’t want to run at a nose-bleed resolution, and screen real estate is expensive so he doesn’t want to purchase a second monitor. Only a few solutions exist to this everyday problem. He can tediously resize the windows so they are side by side, he can alt+tab rapidly between them, or he can use Expose / Scale and seem them both in a zoomed out state. Metisse does something much more practical:

Side by Side Window comparison

A problem of the last 15 years of computing has just been solved – without 3D!

Scenario:  Dave wants to copy from one window, and paste into another. The previous solution to this problem was switching to the source window via alt-tab, or a mouse click, select the text, copy the text, then switching again to the destination window. Five steps for a problem that presents itself every 20 minutes. Using Metisse, this action is down to one step!

Copying text

Metisse will bend overlapping windows gracefully out of your way allowing you to copy text, but not loose focus of the destination window. The selected text is copied to the clipboard a la Linux, and once the mouse button is released, the windows flatten back to their original states – without 3D!

Copying text

Metisse operates as a massive desktop (your resolution times nine) then divides this area into nine quadrants that you are free to move between. It is like workspaces, but there is a more connected feeling between different areas. I can drag and drop, I can combined four quadrants and have a really big window, and I can interact with all of the elements in a zoomed out mode. Pressing the meta key and scrolling out scrolls our of your workspace view and into an overview. You can then leap frog into a different quadrant with a mouse click.  The entire process is animated, so spatial layout can be comprehended. It actually looks a lot like Apple’s new workspaces feature that will debut in Leapord:

Metisse Workspaces

I don’t see Metisse in its current state being able to stand on its own. Many of the controls are not intuitive enough to be understood without a reference manual. I do believe that Metisse has a lot of great solutions to everyday problems, and I would love to see windows managers incorporate these technologies so I can use them anytime I want.

Currently Metisse is running on Mandriva only, but it alone doesn’t justify the switch. I am confident that as this project gains attention, it will become available on many other Linux distributions. Another interesting point – the live CD is using ATI’s binary drivers to power the desktop. When I switch to “ati”, or “radeon”, the speed of the desktop takes a severe performance hit. It seems that Metisse is using 3D, but I understand what they meant.



  1. Johnathon says:

    Very interesting… I’m a bit confused though. Is it an entire OS, or just an OS plug-in? I tried to read some info on Google, but no one directly answered this question… I saw that they were including it in a distribution of Mandriva Linux… something I’d never heard of before. I guess that makes it a plug-in for an existing OS. So Windows users will never, ever see it. 🙂

    I hope you and Kristin are doing well, my friend. I also hope that we can hang out soon. Give me a call!


  2. Ben Simpson says:

    Well, Metisse is just some smart code acting as a window manager. Its current implementation is very limited to just Mandriva (which no one uses). This is an old project that has made a comeback recently now that attention has been given to this kind of work.

    We will most likely see this project ported to the major Linux distributions, since the window manager is just an abstracted layer in a GUI environment.

    Really though, if Microsoft releases an API, or enough documentation for the compositing manager in Vista, we could see this kind of functionality in Windows as soon as someone ports the code.


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