Monday, June 18, 2007

Gnome Desktop Configuration For Visually Impaired Person

Gnome Desktop Configuration For Visually Impaired Person

When I installed CentOS 4.4 on my ThinkPad, I opted to install both the available desktops, KDE (which stands for the K Desktop Environment) and Gnome.

Having taken a good look at both, I have decided to go with the Gnome desktop. My reasons for this all relate to the fact that my eyesight is trashed, so the visual usability of the desktop is, for me, key.

With respect to KDE, it is not possible to enlarge the mouse cursor, but the Gnome desktop allows you to make the cursor larger. Additionally, with the Gnome desktop I was able to find a good high contrast theme, shown in the screenshot.

With KDE, I could not find a theme which offered the same high contrast. Additionally, with KDE the terminal was hard to see, whereas with Gnome the terminal was, without being tweaked, very easy to see.

The screenshot shows the Gnome desktop on a ThinkPad where the LCD screen has been set to display at 800 x 600. The screen is capable of a much higher resolution, but opting for a lower resolution is, in effect, a simple way of magnifying the whole screen.

By default, the Gnome desktop which comes with CentOS 4.4 has two panels, one at the top of the screen and one at the bottom. I have deleted the one at the bottom and have enlarged the one at the top.

The on-screen fonts have also been enlarged, and I have opted for "best contrast" rather than the default, which is "best shapes."

I have deleted the volume control icon which comes with the top panel, since the volume control buttons on my ThinkPad keyboard work just fine, so I have no need to mouse around the screen to raise or lower the volume.

The white box shown on the screen is the terminal, which is functionally equivalent to a DOS prompt. That is to say, it allows you to copy, rename or modify files and the like. It also allows you to work on the innards of the operating system, and tweak it to your satisfaction.

The text in the terminal is probably impossible to see, but what is being displayed is "man man."

Linux comes with its own manual, and, once you open the terminal, you can invoke the manual by using the command "man" followed by the name of the item on which you want information. If you don't know how to use the manual, you can get started by typing in the command "man man" then hitting ENTER. This opens up the manual's file explaining how to use the manual itself.

In addition to the resources provided by the manual, each program comes with its own very clear, helpful, easy-to-use help files. When I started using Windows XP, I very soon abandoned the use of the so-called "help" which came with it, because trying to use to get help was an exercise in time-wasting frustration. But I anticipate using the Gnome help much more.

Looking at the panel from left to right, we see APPLICATIONS, which opens up a menu of available programs. We also see ACTIONS, one being to log out.

You can customize the panel as you wish, adding or deleting items at will. You can also move them from left to right.

Looking from left to right, the icons that are displayed are:

1. an icon which clears all windows from the desktop, exactly the same as the handy "Show Desktop" icon which comes with Windows.

2. A file browser, which fills the screen with a view of the folders in your home directory, which in my case is the directory accessed by the icon shown on the desktop labeled "hwgc's home."

3. This icon is for the browser, which is Firefox. Not my favorite browser, since it is a little clumsy when it comes to resizing the screen display, so I plan to get and install the latest version of Mozilla, which these days goes under the name of SeaMonkey. Mozilla / SeaMonkey allows you to change from, say, 100% to 200% at a single click, rather than trying to increase or decrease the font by increments, which is the method used in Firefox.

4. This is for OpenOffice Writer, a word processor which includes a spell checker, which for me is a vital tool, as I am a writer, and my primary use for a computer is to use it as a writing machine. The programs that come with the installation include the gedit text editor, which has a nice tabbed interface, allowing you to have a number of files open at the same time, and to switch between them easily.

5. This is a drawer, into which you can add other things. I haven't figured out how to do this yet, but, years ago, when I was running Red Hat Linux 6, I used to put things in drawers, so presumably I can figure out how this is done. The idea is that the drawer pops open and you can have extra icons inside the drawer. The drawer itself you can close with a click. I remember that in my initial enthusiasm for Red Hat Linux 6 I went a bit drawer-crazy, and had drawers sprouting all over the place.

6. An icon for taking screenshots, which are saved in png format, ie portable network graphics format. The screenshot I took was 139,264 bytes, and so small enough to fit on a floppy disk, a floppy disk being, for the moment, the only way I have to transfer data between my Windows box and my Linux machine, unless I want to use the Internet to swap data from one computer to another, which is possible but a little cumbersome.

7. An icon for opening the terminal.

8. An icon for easily opening the log out dialog.

Moving on, there is a button relating to updates, which I haven't investigated. Then there is the clock, which, in the screenshot, is set to 24-hour time. If you click on the clock then you pop open a calendar.

What is missing from the panel - I seem to have deleted it, without noticing it - is a little four-pane panel which allows you to click between the four virtual desktops which come with the default Gnome installation.

If you want, you can have a different set of windows open on each of the four virtual desktops, and click between them at will. However, my plan is to keep things really, really simple, and just go with a single desktop.

My main reason for this is that, in addition to working with damaged eyesight, I am working with a damaged brain, my mental function having taken a fairly hefty hit as a consequence of the impact of brain cancer and the associated brain surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. My ability to handle complexity is severely degraded, so I think I'll stick to just the one desktop, thank you very much.

The setup I've gone for is austere to the point of being spartan, but that's what I want. I want a clean, clear, utilitarian interface, not an overload of eye candy. Candy I can get any time from the chocolate section in the supermarket.

The selection of wallpapers that come with Gnome is limited, and from that selection I've chosen Earth as seen from space. You can, of course, add additional images to your wallpaper collection if you so wish.

By default, the Gnome installation locks the screen and demands a password if there is no keyboard activity for ten minutes. This is a little short for me, so I have reset the time to 30 minutes.

To simplify things for my damaged brain, I opted to choose the same password for both my user password and my root password (that is to say, my administrator or superuser password.) In security terms, this is bad practice, but, in this case, I choose to bend to what is suggested by my mental limitations.

If you want a screensaver, you have quite a big choice, including the choice of a random screensaver. Most of them are pretty busy, so, after hunting around, I finally settled on the one which goes by the name of Engine, which is pretty slow, like the Pipes screensaver which I have on my Windows box.

On installation, pretty much everything worked straight out of the box, except suspension/hibernation. If you close the lid of the ThinkPad, it will not suspend. Instead, it will hum away with the LCD screen blazing.

I think it is probably possible to fix this, but doing so is not a priority for me. The setup that I have already works well enough for my purposes, though ideally I would like to be able to tweak it so it plays mp3s (by default it only plays music files in the ogg format) and so it can play DVDs.

I believe that both those things are possible, but I will leave that for the future. My next move has to be to figure out this thing called yum, some kind of system for updating your installation and helping with the installation of new software.

I have already downloaded the relevant Wikipedia page for yum, but haven't yet had the time to get around to reading it. A research project awaits me, and I suspect that it may not be a short one.


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