Article from Issue 220/2019

This month, Graham discovered the spontaneous knotting of an agitated string while trying to untangle the mess of wires behind his PC and quickly gave up.

Hacker desktop


We admit this choice is mostly for the eye candy rather than the functionality. But this has to be one of the best looking and most original desktop replacements you can use on your Linux box. Its appearance is surely what we all imagined computer interfaces would look in the same year that Blade Runner was set – a combination of 1980s retro vectors with a touch interface, and waveforms for no other reason than they just look good. eDEX-UI is all of this and more. It calls itself a "desktop application resembling a sci-fi computer interface," and it has taken more than naming inspiration from the DEX-UI interface in the Tron: Legacy film sequel to the original Tron. If you've not seen the film, the user interface (UI) feels a lot like something from the XCOM: Enemy Unknown game or the famous touch interface in Minority Report. Back on Linux, the launch animation is a faux-retro boot sequence that ironically looks just like a booting Linux box. You then get a personalized welcome message, also uncanny, before the main application appears in its high-DPI vector glory.

The functional part of the UI is a terminal placed in top center of the full-screen display. This is your default terminal, and you can switch between various tabs using the buttons above. As this really is your default terminal, it's perfectly possible to do real work here and forget that the terminal is really embedded within a selection of constantly moving and updating panes. On first glance, these panes look like graphical frippery, but they turn out to be both useful and interesting. In the top left, for example, is the time and details about your uptime, date, and CPU usage. Beneath these is a graphical memory map showing which sections of your computer's memory are being used. Over on the right is a vectorized rotating 3D image of Earth with small pins placed in specific geographical locations; these turn out to be the endpoints of your current Internet connections. We were able to connect to servers where we know their geographical location and confirm the accuracy. It's surprisingly useful to see to where your computer is currently connected. Something like this would be useful outside of eDEX-UI, especially if you're concerned about what servers are being accessed by your various services.

The lower third of the display contains a graphical file manager and a keyboard. The keys on the keyboard light up as you type, but you can also use the mouse to click on the keyboard to generate input. The keyboard is comprehensive enough to include the cursors and function keys and works perfectly if you're using a touch screen or VNC to Android. The file browser does exactly what you'd expect and lets you click around your local files and folders just as you might with Dolphin. It currently lacks integration with the command line, but it's useful for viewing your current working directory's contents. The whole application actually feels very effective. While it's currently a CPU hog on a high-resolution display, we'd love to see a less resource-hungry version that could potentially replace the desktop completely.

Project Website

1 Local details: Time, date, and charge state, above CPU usage charts. 2  Terminal: Your default terminal appears here. 3 Terminal instances: Use these buttons to switch between different terminal tabs. 4 Network: Reports your status, connection speed, IP address, and ping. 5 Geolocation: See your location, and the physical location of your connections, on a rotating vector globe. 6 Network traffic: Tracks both the data coming in and the data leaving your computer. 7 Touch keyboard: Use a touch screen or mouse to type without a physical keyboard. 8 File manager: Browse your local filesystem. 9 Task monitor: See which processes are taking the most resources, and visualize how much memory is being used.

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