Ever since the development team behind GNOME went ahead with their plans for GNOME 3, people have been scrambling to find the new favorite desktop environment. Although there are plenty of choices available (such as other GNOME-based ones, KDE, Xfce, and LXDE), you might still be looking for something else that is easy to use, relatively lightweight, powerful, and good looking. If none of those previously mentioned desktop environments tickle your fancy, then you may be interested in a unique desktop environment named Enlightenment.
Enlightenment, or simply “E”, is a desktop environment that has actually been around since 1997 but hasn’t celebrated much popularity in recent years. The developers behind it describe Enlightenment as “the original eye-candy window manager”, and with the latest release (E17 at time of writing) that’s very much apparent. Enlightenment is available for installation on a number of distributions, but it’s only officially supported and configured on a handful of distributions. One of them is Bodhi Linux, which we reviewed a while back, which I used to test out Enlightenment.
When you first launch the Live environment from the Bodhi ISO, you can choose between a number of different configurations. They range from the most bare choices to a “fancy” choice that offers plenty of gadgets and eye-candy. There are even laptop-specific and tiling options. I chose the regular “Desktop” option, which was the second heaviest out of the four total choices. Afterwards, I could also choose between several themes, but I simply went with the default.
At first glance, the desktop looks pretty straightforward. There’s not much going on, and the panel along the bottom only has a few, large elements. However, you’ll start noticing that Enlightenment is actually a lot more powerful than it seems.
The menu, which can be launched from the bottom left corner as well as left-clicking on any empty area on the desktop, offers just about all of the features available in Enlightenment – in other words, the desktop environment is primarily controlled via this menu. From this menu, you can launch installed applications, navigate to various folders, take a screenshot, change special desktop settings (like gadgets, virtual desktops, and shelves), switch between open windows, and access the system settings.
Gadgets and Shelves
Besides the menu, the desktop environment has two other cool features: gadgets and shelves. The gadgets are conceptually similar to the widgets found on KDE, but I don’t think they’re nearly as powerful. There’s also fewer of them available, and one even made the system crash. Generally speaking they’re a cool thing to have, but I personally wouldn’t see myself using them much on the desktop.
Shelves are essentially panels, of which you can have several placed along the edges of your screen. The panels can be populated with the same gadgets that you can add to the desktop. This is a better place to put them (in my opinion), but allowing gadgets to be placed on the desktop itself or in a shelf is a great way to keep things flexible and customizable for the user.
Enlightenment is known for its fancier looking themes, and it comes with a handful of them. You can always look for more, but here are some screenshots of those that come with Enlightenment (at least in Bodhi Linux):
As you can see, the themes can alter your desktop quite a bit to give it the look you’re wanting.
Enlightenment is surprisingly configurable. You can find all available settings under the Settings section of the menu. There are plenty of categories here, as seen above.
The array of settings available is plentiful, but also a bit confusing. The developers try to organize the possibilities as best as they can, but it might still take some practice to figure out where certain settings are. Not a big issue as long as the settings you want are available, but it can still be a slight inconvenience. Otherwise, I’m happy that there are so many options to configure.
Looks and System Resources
Enlightenment looks great, as is evident by the attention to detail on windows and menus. Even the terminal seems to have a slight futuristic look with the default theme.
Despite its good looks, the desktop environment is still on the lower end of system resource usage. Although it depends on what choices you’ve made earlier, you can expect a ballpark figure of 250MB of RAM usage by Enlightenment. This isn’t quite as lightweight as Xfce or LXDE, but it’s around the same usage as GNOME, but with possibly better looks (depending on how you see it).
I think Enlightenment deserves a little more attention because it’s a worthy desktop environment that could fit the needs of many people. Sadly, it’s hard to find a properly configured distribution, but Bodhi Linux is a good choice as it’s based on Ubuntu (about which we have an informative guide). In any case, it’s definitely worth a try to see if it could be your next desktop environment.
What desktop environment do you use? What’s your favorite desktop environment that isn’t GNOME, KDE, Xfce, or LXDE? Let us know in the comments!