Updated: January 23, 2012
Several people asked me to review Razor-qt. This is the name of an advanced, easy to use, and fast desktop environment based on Qt technologies. It has been tailored for users who value simplicity, speed, and an intuitive interface. Unlike most desktop environments, Razor-qt also works fine with weak machines. So the brochure says.
Now, I'm intrigued. Could the menu live up to the actual course? And what's with the weird title, you may ask. Well, there's so much pun there, it's stunning. Think about it carefully, you might figure it out. Now, Razor-qt. I do think it could perhaps be what Trinity isn't. Let's see.
I tested Razor-qt on Fedora 16 KDE. To actually install the desktop environment, you will need to enable the QtDesktop repository. Now, this step might be a tiny bit tricky.
First, you will need to click the relevant link on the homepage. If you choose either openSUSE or Fedora, you will be taken to the same page, a directory listing with all available versions for quite a few systems, including also Debian, Mandriva and Ubuntu. Then, you will need to select the desired sub-directory and display the file reading home:TI_Eugene:QtDesktop.repo. This is the actual repository information. Do not be confused by the baseurl field either, as the repository is hosted on opensuse.org, regardless of what target system you choose.
On Fedora, copy & paste the contents into a file named QtDesktop.repo under /etc/yum.d/, then run yum search razor to get the full listing of available choices, in case you're unsure what the full name of the package is, and finally install with yum install razorqt.
name=Qt-based applications (Fedora_16)
Once the desktop environment is installed, log out and in the session menu, choose the appropriate entry. You can use Razor with kwin, which is meant to mimic KDE, and openbox, which lets you get an alternative framework for Openbox.
Razor-qt desktop is simple and serene and feels a bit Xfce in nature. You have a large analog clock widget in the right corner, a single desktop icon for konsole, and the bottom panel that does not display much information. The digital version of the clock is tucked into the right corner of this panel.
At first glance, you might feel a little helpless as there's little you can do. Seemingly, there seems to be no way to add new icons to the desktop space, shuffle panel items or make changes. Now, not to worry, there is some freedom, although it is hidden. And remember, this is still an early project.
Anyhow, right-click anywhere on the wallpaper and select Edit desktop. This will open the edit mode, allowing you to shuffle and resize existing objects. For example, you may want to move the analog clock around or make it smaller, or bigger. You may want to resize the icons field, which is somewhat similar to KDE plasma spaces. Finally, you can add new shortcuts by clicking on the menu, selecting the right entry and then drag & dropping it to its place into the Icon View.
This is a somewhat cumbersome way of handling things, I must admit. It feels rather unnatural, especially if you've used other desktop for a while. But then, you slowly get the hang of things. However, it is frustrating arranging your desktop this way, as you won't really get what you see. For instance, I tried to change the clock size. It looked great in the Edit mode, but then it simply overflowed into infinity once I switched back to normal view.
Now, an even bigger problem is how you stack your icons. The Icon View can be resized both horizontally and vertically, but the icons positions are not relative to its size. Thus, if you happen to place icons first, which are stacked vertically by default and then resize the container, you will end with a scrollbar on top of your desktop! This looks so monumentally ugly I literally had to take a break before continuing with the review.
Some degree of customization is possible via right-click. If you click on the Razor Configuration option, this will open a rather bleak, rather empty menu with four so-called configurators, which let you tweak some aspects of your desktop. The Desktop settings option seems somewhat redundant given the Edit mode, and the Appearance utility bears a spelling mistake, as it's written with one p missing.
Overall, it is not that easy using the options, as you need to be fairly familiar with the visual workings of your desktop to get any meaningful results. Moreover, because of the spartan layout, some actions seems counterintuitive and there's no help available to guide you through. In comparison, the KDE settings menu is far more user-friendly, there's a natural order to the flow of things.
There's also some theme inconsistency, as certain parts of the desktop did not render with all the expected beauty of Qt. I might be mistaken, but the contrast, size and font of the text in the buttons for the desktop background settings does not align well with the window title. Feels like what used to happen to Gnome 2 when Metacity would break.
Now, you may have noticed a yellow icon in the bottom panel that resembles the ABRT coming to life due to an error in one of the screenshots earlier. Indeed, while fiddling with the environment in the Edit mode, ABRT jumped and presented me with an error report. Razor crashed, signal 11, which means a bug somewhere in the code. Not nice.
At the moment, Razor-qt is not mature enough to be taken seriously. The project is young and ripe with bugs and inconsistencies. Now, focusing on the aesthetic elements, it looks nice. I like the clean and airy design, although there's much more work to be done before it can be declared production ready, plus things might yet change. Among many items observed, there's the theme consistency, icon interaction, ease of customization, accessibility, workflow principles, and other elements. So indeed, sharp objects, be warned. I guess, 5/10 for now.
Soon, we will take a look at Cinnamon, the new Gnome Shell based desktop environment designed as an alternative to Gnome 3, more sort of like Gnome 2 and MATE, compatible with whatever is going on in the Gnome and Unity worlds. This one comes from the House of Mint, so it ought to be a decent and useful product. Stay tuned for updates.