Beryl, Compiz, And Metisse - The 3D Desktop on Mandriva Linux 2007 Spring

After having included the AIGLX, Xgl and Compiz 3D desktop technologies in Mandriva Linux 2007, Mandriva has added all the latest 3D desktop updates in Mandriva Linux 2007 Spring, like Metisse and Beryl.



Metisse is a pioneering French research project to improve human-computer interfaces. It is not exactly a 3D desktop, but a windowing environment which makes possible new interactions with windows.

For example, Metisse allows you to reduce considerably the number of required clicks to copy and paste from one window to another: if a window masks an area where a user interacts, Metisse will “roll” these windows to make this area visible.

Instead of a 3D cube to represent a virtual desktop, an overview is available, a 'bird's eye view'. All virtual desktops are displayed as if on a table, and this view enables you to switch from one virtual desk to another. This view allows you to select another window, or move from a desktop to another. This is a great alternative to the display functionalities available in Compiz. To use this function press the meta key + d or use the mouse wheel while you press the meta key. On most keyboards, the meta key is to the Windows key.

Window interactions can be frequent in Metisse, as windows can be distorted in various ways: You can rotate, resize, make them bigger to zoom in, or duplicate them. To do these kind of operations, just click the left button on the title bar or on its border, then move the cursor. Clicking the right button on this area display a summary of the available operations. Clicking the middle button cancels all transformations. After the window is transformed you still can work in it!

In a more advanced use of Metisse, the interfaces contained in the windows can also be modified, by creating "façades". It is possible to copy buttons and menus to create your own interface: to create a personalized tool palette in image processing software like The GIMP, for example. To get a clear idea of how this works, check out this video.



Compiz is a window manager that uses the 3D acceleration features of your graphics card to apply transformations and effects to the desktop. The most noticeable feature is the display of virtual desktops as a 3D cube. As well as so-called 'eye candy', Compiz has a lot of features that can improve the efficiency and convenience of desktop use.

Just switch from one virtual desktop to another to see what '3D desktop' really means. Press Ctrl+Alt+left arrow and Ctrl+Alt+right arrow. You can rotate the cube freely by holding Ctrl+Alt, holding down the left mouse button, and moving the mouse.

The 'scale' functionality (similar to Apple Mac OS X's 'Exposé') offers a view of all open windows (by using miniatures), to let you switch between several windows while being able to see what is being displayed in each. It is activated by moving the mouse to the top right-hand corner of the screen, or by pressing Ctrl+Alt. Compiz also offers a live view of the contents of each window in the application selector (Alt+Tab), instead of a simple static icon.



Beryl is a 'fork' of the Compiz project. In other words, Beryl is based on Compiz's code but is now developed and maintained by another development team. The Compiz and Beryl projects are likely to merge again, and the next Mandriva Linux edition will probably include a unified version of the two projects.

Beryl is very similar to Compiz and has most of the same features, like the 3D cube and the 'scale' window display. Where Beryl differs from Compiz is in offering a wide range of plug-ins enabling more features. For example, there is a Beryl plug-in which displays a window miniature for each window in the task bar when you hover the mouse over that task bar entry.

Moreover, a wider range of configuration tools developed by Beryl community is available. The beryl-manager applet simplifies 3D desktop management by presenting a convenient menu of tools and settings in the system tray. You can also find a preferences manager, beryl-settings, which allows you to choose plug-ins and modify each plug-in's settings.


Configuration tools

To make it easier to try out and switch between all these 3D desktop technologies, Mandriva has developed a tool available in the Mandriva Control Center and directly from the login screen. This tool offers the choice between a Metisse desktop, a '3D Cube' desktop or no 3D desktop. For expert users, advanced options exist for the '3D Cube' desktop, allowing you to manually choose Compiz or Beryl and set whether the AIGLX or Xgl underlying server technology is used.

This tool can also be launched from the command line to disactivate 3D desktop, useful in case of any problems with the 3D desktop. To do this, just run the command


as root.


Desktop environment adaptation

Recent Compiz and Beryl versions include window decorators for several desktop environments, and thanks to Mandriva configuration tools, you can easily adapt Compiz and Beryl to the desktop you prefer.

Compiz already had the gtk-window-decorator in Mandriva Linux 2007, enhanced for the GNOME environment, but generic enough to be used in "alternate" environments like Xfce. In Mandriva Linux 2007 Spring, it includes improved support for Metacity themes (the default window manager of GNOME), which improves integration with the "Ia Ora" desktop theme developed by Mandriva, and means that Compiz will properly respect any window theme you choose manually in GNOME.

In Mandriva Linux 2007 Spring, a new kde-window-decorator is available. Compiz is now better integrated with the KDE environment, using the KDE window theme ("Ia Ora", or your own manual choice), and also using KDE default keyboard shortcuts (like Alt+F2 to display a command prompt).

The Beryl project offers a larger range of window decorators. The Emerald decorator acts as generic window decorator and has its own theme format. There is even a theme editor to ease the customization of Emerald. Like Compiz, Beryl also has window decorators adapted to the common desktop environments. Heliodor is a GTK+ window decorator which re-uses the Metacity themes, like gtk-window-decorator. Aquamarine is a KDE window decorator, and is similar to Compiz's kde-window-decorator.

The drak3d configuration tool will automatically install window decorator packages adapted to the currently used window manager, in harmony with the desktop environments installed. For example, if Compiz is selected and KDE is running on the system, the tool will install compiz-decorator-kde.

Mandriva's Compiz and Beryl packages include compiz-window-decorator and beryl-window-decorator scripts, which offer an abstraction layer for the window decorators: they detect the best decorator to be used, according to the available ones and the current desktop. For example, in an KDE environment, compiz-window-decorator will launch kde-window-decorator if it is available, and if not, it will fall back on gtk-window-decorator.


Advanced configuration

Mandriva is not only a distribution for beginners. The Mandriva 3D desktop configuration system was made to be easily modifiable by an experienced user, while also being compatible with the graphical configuration tool.

In the file /etc/sysconfig/compositing-wm, the value {yes|no} of COMPOSITING_WM_START indicates whether a 3D desktop window manager must be launched, and COMPOSITING_WM contains the name of the window manager to launched (Compiz, Beryl, or metisse-start-fvwm).

In the same way, in the /etc/sysconfig/compositing-server file, COMPOSITING_SERVER_START indicates if an additional graphic server should be used, and the variable COMPOSITING_SERVER contains the server name to launch (Xgl or Xmetisse).

Other variables can be modified, like the window decorator (with COMPOSTING_WINDOW_DECORATOR), or the arguments to the windows manager (COMPOSITING_WM_ARGS).

The default values of these variables are in the files /usr/share/compositing-wm/{wm}.defaults (where {wm} is compiz, beryl or metisse-start-fvwm) and /usr/share/compositing-server/{server}.defaults (where {server} is Xgl or Xmetisse).

In Mandriva Linux 2007 Spring, the 3d desktops can also be configured per-user as well as for the whole system, using the files ~/.compositing-wm and ~/.compositing-server (which work just like the system-wide versions).

For more information, visit these pages:

Written by Olivier 'blino' Blin, Mandriva under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Translated by Caroline Garlatti.

Proofed by Adam Williamson.

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