23 March 2008

#63. World Ruler and Window Manager

Things keep hopping at the Tool Bar & Grill, even while I sweep Louise away for a beach resort weekend. After I describe my latest utility discoveries, Linux rabble-rouser Mark Lautman explains the wonders of window managers.

Where’s a Ruler When You Need One?

Sometimes the little things drive you crazy. And sometimes it’s the big things. Heaven knows that sitting at home on Saturday nights and watching me write my blog could have sent the lovely, long-suffering Louise to the brink of madness, if she were not so patient. In fact, as you can see here, Louise really did reach the end of her tether this weekend:

Another little thing that can make you nuts is measuring things on your computer screen. Measurements can be crucial when you’re laying out a brochure or newsletter, designing a Web site, or creating fine art on your computer. Many’s the time I held a wooden ruler up to my monitor.

Now comes JR Screen Ruler from Spadix Software to save your sanity. This simple, absolutely free utility displays a ruler on your screen.

Drag it next to whatever you want to measure. Its simplicity belies the Screen Ruler’s versatility. You can adjust the ruler’s size with the slider, and you can flip it to vertical. You can measure in inches, centimeters, picas, or pixels (and specify the number of pixels per inch), and mark the center point.

The paid version, JR Ruler Pro, offers even greater capabilities.

Special Offer: Titan Backup Business for Free!

As you may know, my pick for the best shareware local backup program is Titan Backup (see post #40, 7 October 2007). Titan Backup has a big brother, Titan Backup Business. This backup solution provides both central server and client workstation software for securing the data on multiple desktop and laptop computers over the Internet, regardless of location. Based on the publisher’s description and my experience with the single-user version, it appears to offer impressive functionality at a reasonable price.

I can’t recommend this program personally, because I have not yet had a chance to try it out for myself (though I plan to soon). Meanwhile, however, Titan publisher Neobyte Solutions has made a generous offer to Tool Bar readers only. I have five free keys for Titan Backup Business, each good for up to 10 workstations.

All you have to do to get one of these five free registration keys is to write to me at jonathanstoolbar@gmail.com and explain why you need one, and how many computers you are responsible for. If I pick your request, I will send you the registration keys and the download location – and I also will ask you to report your impressions of the software back to me after a few weeks of use. Your reports will form the basis of my future review of this program. (Please don’t bother asking if you don’t manage several computers at least.)

So get the ball rolling. Write to me now for your free copy of Titan Backup Business, courtesy of Neobyte Solutions.

And now for Mark’s amusing explication of Linux window managers…

Window Shopping

by Mark Lautman

Apathy. It's everywhere. To test how apathetic the customers in the Linux Room are, I tried to start a riot. “From now on,” I declared, “nobody can say anything here without submitting their words in writing first to me.” Everyone kept talking. “Excuse me, is anyone paying attention? I said, all discussions must be approved by my censor.” No reaction. “Not only that, but I have wiretapped all of your phones at home with live feeds into criminal prosecutors.” Nobody flinched.

Geez, do I have to do everything myself around here? I went outside and picked up a rock. “Oh yeah?” I yelled. “Well, the Tool Bar isn't going to take away my freedom of speech!” I tossed the rock through the window, shattering it and my reputation into shards of glass.

So now I have to go look for a new glass window. While I'm shopping for windows, I might as well shop for some Linux windows as well.

First, a few words about windowing. There are several layers between what you see on the screen and what goes on inside the computer. There is the video hardware. On top of that there is a window server that gives commands to the hardware. On top of that there is the window manager, which gives the appearance and behavior to the desktop. On top of that you have the desktop environment, which is a collection of programs. All this is transparent to Windows and Mac users, but it is all unashamedly exposed in Linux.

Most Ubuntu installations have the two popular desktop environments: Gnome or K. (The screen shots from my postings are mostly from Gnome.) These are great, but they are bloated and work slowly on machines with limited memory. The alternative window managers do a good job of letting you pick and choose the features you want. The fewer features you enable, the faster you machine works. I find the same works for my own brain.

Xwinman has a list of links to an enormous number of Linux window managers. The leanest window manager is Fluxbox. With Fluxbox you can fully configure the windows' behavior: shortcut keys, mouse-overs, transparencies, and decorations.

When you install and run Fluxbox, you get the following:

A lot of adjectives come to mind when you see Fluxbox for the first time, and “useful” isn't one of them. Nevertheless, when you invest some time into the configuration files, you can create some impressive effects. Here is what the Fluxbox desktops in the Linux Room look like:

Note the completely transparent terminal in the upper left-hand corner.

Windows users can also take advantage of Linux-looking desktops by using Blackbox For Windows. Because this utility runs on top of Windows, you won't see much improvement in performance, but the behavior and the appearance of the desktop is much more impressive.

Mark Lautman

Thank you all for visiting the Tool Bar & Grill and the Linux Room. I’ll look forward to seeing you back here for more great utility reviews every week. Please feel free to share your thoughts by clicking on “comments” below or writing to jonathanstoolbar@gmail.com.


  1. Hi Jonathan,

    Why did you send your wife Louise at the Beach Resort? Did she bring her own computer with her? How does she like working at the Tool Bar & Grill as a computer waitress? I hope that she is always more important than your own computer... ;-)

  2. Thanks for writing in, Anonymous, and for reading my blog! I guess I need to clarify: Louise had long dreamed of parasailing, and I was happy to make that happen for her, and to stay on the boat to take the pictures. I would have liked to parasail too, but there wasn't much wind, and with my bulk, I was concerned I would just skip across the surface of the water rather than take off into the air. :-)

    Louise is much smarter than I am; she doesn't work in the Tool Bar & Grill in any capacity. And yes, she is more important than my computer. Well, certainly more than my old computer. I really am very fond of my new ThinkPad - but no, Louise is still more important... usually...

  3. Hi Jonathan,

    Thank you for your answer, I was only "half joking" ;-), I just wanted to help you realize that human beings, and all God's creatures in Nature, which are a real marvel of complexity, are far more important than computers (i.e. God is far more intelligent than Bill Gates/Steve Jobs/Steve Ballmer [the "Monkey Boy"]... ;-) ). I am very much fond of computers myself, but I cannot help but realize that the living beings that surround us (even a pet you may have at home) are far more complex in brain organization, than human creations, such as computers.

    God Bless You, your friends and family.

    A loyal, and somehow philosophical reader ;-)

  4. Thanks for writing back, Anon. Yes, I recognized your humorous slant, and responded with some lame humor of my own. I appreciate your sharing your worthy ideas with all of us.