Sunday, 8 February 2009

Awn Window Navigator

I follow development of the awn window navigator closely ever since it was first announced on Launchpad.

Awn window navigator is an Apple dock mimic. Under Gnome it acts a a panel on steriods. It lets you collect your favorite apps in a dock, supports drag-and-drop and gives nice visual feedback about the state of the application - Apple like.

Is it pretty? Yes,

Is it usefull? I'm not quite sure any more.

A shortcut collection of items makes sense if:
  • the set of common applications remains static most of the time
  • the set of apps is limited to a few (10 - 15 apps). Otherwise the dock will be overloaded and at the most exceed screen limits
  • the main screen is big enough for the extra space used by the dock
  • applications are hidden behind a cumbersome access path (like menues on Windows or folders on Macs)
Technically speaking, awn is working fine. It allows for customization, adding applications is straightforward, the tool is sufficiently responsive and graphically appealing.

So why do I doubt the usefullness of it?

Basically Ubuntu comes with some shortcuts in the main panel. This dock-like panel can be populated with additional apps. It does not provide visual feedback like awn. On the other hand, it does not use extra screen space (the dock is there anyway).

Ubuntu is reduced to some essential applications. The main menu is organized in logical compartments and can be adjusted to personal preferences using the menu editor. All of this makes Ubuntu easy to use and navigate.

It is because of the combination of just providing the essential applications and the option to add ones favorite applications as shortcuts to the top panel that makes awn redundant on Ubuntu (at least in my eyes).

My recommendation: If you want to mimic Apple, use awn. If you want to work, use the panel instead.


Brot said...

And I would suggest "Gnome-Do" if you really want to be productive.

biga said...

While i do agree with your opinion that awn is redundant as a place to launch apps from its true usefulness lies as a place to keep track of & switch between open applications. I chose to run without a lower panel and use awn in its place. While keyboard shortcuts are better and faster for keyboard centric tasks when im working on several presentations and adding notes to hard copies the keyboard is actually a slower method- and with more then 10 or so windows open flipping through them get annoying...

Lionel Martin said...

If you want to quickly work with a lot of stuff (panels are ok for only a few icons), use gnome-do !!

Wolf Rogner said...

@biga: I use the window list panel applet in the top panel. Enable the trash on the desktop and delete the bottom panel and you saved some 32px screen space.

@brot, Lionel: gnome-do is a nice concept. Currently I get GCompris if entering dis. But I presume it will become more versatile (there will be a dock coming with it in a forthcoming release)

Anonymous said...

This AWN thing has an awful list of gnome dependencies.

I thought I could use it with another window manager, but it depends too much on gnome libs and takes too much space on my disk for what it does.

Mark said...

Hi, I'm a developer for Awn/Awn Extras.

For what it's worth, the dock is called "Avant Window Navigator"; we don't have the recursive acronym disease. :)

Although I'm obviously biased, I'd like to argue that this dock is more than just an OSX dock clone.

Perhaps the most unique feature of Awn is that it supports applets written in a variety of different programming languages. We currently support C, Vala, and Python applets, with more on the way as the GObject Introspection project matures. I hope to be able to write applets in JavaScript in the near future!

For developers, writing applets for Awn is easier than writing applets for the GNOME panel - you don't have to deal with overbearing libraries such as Bonobo. This is one of the reasons why we have a ever-growing applet developer community, with around 50 applets in Awn Extras and more posted in our forums.

With regards to taking up space, there is a bar height option in the preferences dialog that you can tweak. "Taking up space" is something we take seriously - in the next major version, it will be possible to position the dock on any edge of the screen. This will make it easier for people with widescreen monitors to use our dock. There is also an option to only see the open applications on the active workspace. I use this in combination with the Shiny Switcher applet to switch between different tasks.

Additionally, Gnome Do already has a dock released in 0.8. I'm not going to comment on whether it's better or worse than Awn, as they serve different purposes.

Thanks for blogging about Awn!

Mark said...


It's true that the packages for Awn are built with GNOME dependencies; however, it's possible to build Awn without any GNOME dependencies whatsoever, apart from GTK+. (If you don't like that...well, I can't really help you.)

For the next major version of Awn, I'm working on a library that will move these desktop-specific dependencies from build-time to run-time (via modules).

-malept (Awn/Awn Extras developer)