What is it?
What platforms does it run on?
Linux, Unix and Mac OS X. Basically, anything vaguely Unix-like which can run GTK applications. It can also run on Windows systems, under Cygwin. See the installation instructions for details.
A desktop based around the filer
Traditionally, Unix users have always based their activities around the file system. Just about everything that's anything appears as a file: regular files, hardware devices, and even processes on many systems (for example, inside the /proc filesystem on Linux).
However, recent desktop efforts (such as KDE and GNOME) seem to be following the Windows approach of trying to hide the filesystem and get users to do things via a Start-menu or similar. Modern desktop users, on Windows or Unix, often have no idea where their programs are installed, or even where their data files are saved. This leads to a feeling of not being in control, and a poor understanding of how the system works.
The ROX Desktop, however, is based around the file system. Its core component is ROX-Filer, a powerful graphical file manager which, in addition to being a popular filer in its own right, provides a couple of extra features which allow it to solve the above problems...
Applications are directories
The first of these features is support for Application Directories. An application directory is a directory which contains an entire application -- its documentation, binaries, source code and so on. When you open an application directory in the filer the application is run. This has some interesting implications:
- Installing an application is the same as copying a directory. No need for special setup programs (or root access). For example, let's suppose that your friend has the latest version of ROX-Filer and you want it. She simply copies the directory onto a floppy disk and hands it to you. You can run the program directory from the floppy if you want, or you can drag it onto your hard disk to `install' it.
- Uninstalling is the same as deleting a directory.
- Want to install two different versions of the same application? Just copy them to different directories on your hard disk.
- To read an application's help usually involves hunting around for man-pages, info pages, directories in /usr/doc and so on. With an application directory the help is inside it. Just choose Help from the filer menu to see it (all this does is to open a subdirectory inside the application called 'Help' -- simple, eh?).
- There is no need for a separate filer and application launcher. The filer does both, and you always know where your programs are.
- Because applications are self-contained, no installation rules are necessary. Thus, systems like Zero Install are possible, where there is no need to install software at all.
Here's a screenshot of my ~/Apps directory, where I keep my applications. I use the filer to run them, rather than needing a special launcher program, and I can move, delete and rename them just like my other files and directories.
The second unusual feature is drag-and-drop saving. You've probably already seen DND loading (dragging a file from the filer to an application) but ROX takes this one step further: you can save by dragging the file back from the application into the filer.
This may seem a bit strange at first (especially if you've been using Windows) but you'll quickly start to wish that all applications supported it!
For example, imagine that you're producing a report. All the resources you're using are in /home/fred/Work/July/Report.
You create images in one program, graphs in another, and write the text in a third program. Every time you want to save you have to renavigate to the directory using that program's mini-filer (each one is slightly different, of course). This is annoying! With DND saving you could just keep the directory open and drag files into it from each application. This has the additional advantage that after you've saved an image from the Gimp you already have the directory open ready to drag the image straight into Lyx. Assuming that both programs supported DND.
Both of these features are taken from an operating system called RISC OS (ROX stands for `RISC OS on X') which has had them for years. They proved very popular among the users, although the operating system itself had some other short-comings and never enjoyed much commercial success.
ROX-Filer is released under the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL).