iconbar - alpha test - release notes

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iconbar - alpha test - release notes

Unread postby squeen » Wed Jul 30, 2003 8:57 am


I've been working on a small desktop application called iconbar which I hope could become a replacement for the 4dwm's (mwm's) iconbox application. This effort was mostly inspired by finding the Nekochan.net site and performing the Nekochan "transformation" on my desktop. By that I mean: installing a background image, adding aterm transparency, changing the desktop boarders, nixieclock, etc. It seem to me a better icon management utility was also required to complete the make over. Another catalyst was a discussion here in the forum that stated that SGI has pretty much given up on it's desktop development. While initially a depressing thought, I also felt empowered by all the knowledgeable folks here who were compiling and writing their own freeware. I also wanted to contribute to this community and help keep IRIX alive.


I had some experience with Motif programming, but had no idea how to access the icons of other applications...in fact I didn't quite understand the distinction between the X server and the window manager. I went on a massive web search for info on how to do this and emailed all of the established X gurus, several of which were kind enough to reply, but the universal answer was the icon pixmap of one application cannot be retrieved by another. The one exception to that was Antony Fountain who provide me a sneaky way to intercept the data but I held it in reserve since I felt it was too system intrusive and might put some folks off. So I resorted to doing a cheesy screen capture of the 4dwm icon window in order to get something up and running. (I also tried re-parenting the icon window, but that too was messy). The main draw back to the screen capture approach was that a "quick" minimize of each application was necessary in order to copy the pixmap which induced a "flicker" in each application at startup. By the way, "flicker" and "quick" are relative measures since if depends on the speed of the display's X server and if done too fast resulted in a garbled copy of pixels. Anyway, I had that version running on my machine for a few weeks but felt it was too kludgey for release. What I did learn was that even is this intrusive and unstable state -- the iconbar was nice to have around. Even when it crashed a few times a day, I kept restarting it because I missed the convenience it provided. I hope you all agree.

Meanwhile I got some books on X from the library and concentrated on understanding how a window manager works under X. I learned a ton -- chiefly that a window manager is just like any other X client with one exception: it does substructure redirection on the root window in order to intercept the layout info for the other children of the root window (i.e. all top windows). Unfortunately for me, only ONE client at a time can ask for substructure redirection on a particular window and since I wanted to cooperate with 4dwm not replace it, I thought I was stuck.

Instead I turned to the other source for icon pixmaps that 4dwm uses, the RGB images in /usr/lib/images (actually it first looks in $HOME/.icons). I figure I could force users who cared about the screen capture "flicker" could duplicate the icons' pixmaps manually and place them in one of the search directories. The problem here was how to read SGI's RBG image format. You may have seen my post at http://www.nekochan.net/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=738 which details some of my frustration and eventual success -- in short I looked for a conversion library and out of disgust with the C interface of SGI's IFL manually wrote a routine (By the way, I do like the RGB format).

In parallel, my late night reading paid off. I found that the icon pixmap is sent to the window manager one of two ways: as an icon window hint or as a pixmap hint. The O'Reilly X books showed me how to read those hints and I was off! (Actually, so far I've only implemented the latter which seems to be a much more commonly used method -- a notable exception is SGI's mailbox application). I am very proud of have implemented this, precisely because it does what I was told from the beginning could not be done.

An unexpected payoff occurred with the gnome applications that have long given me trouble on my Octane2 with V6 graphics (see http://www.nekochan.net/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=761) -- the absent/garbled icons are caused by the gnome application telling the window manager that it's icon pixmap has a depth of 30 bits (i.e. the best visual for the system) instead of the correct 24 bits. I could plainly see the numeric difference in the WMHint property run on a system with Vpro graphics versus an older system with SE graphics. Mystery solved but problem not fixed!

One last piece to the story. Motif expert Antony Fountain of "Ask Antony" fame pointed out that the big SGI icons are probably a bit dated in appearance and that today's users would prefer something smaller. I was also thinking along these lines having seen (but not used) the Mac OS X solution. Antony show me how to scale XImages, so the magnification/demagnification of the icons is rightfully credited to him.


I have made a tardist of the alpha test version for use with the IRIX Software Manager. By default it selects a mips4, Motif 2.1 version of the software (I built it under 6.5.20f using the MIPSPro 7.3 C compiler). Folks with machines that predate the R10000 and/or do not have the feature stream with Motif 2.1 loaded can optionally select a mips3, Motif 1.2 binary executable instead.

down load it from: http://www.nekochan.net/wiki/downloads/iconbar-alpha.tardist

After install, just type (with /usr/local/bin in the execute path) iconbar to run, or iconbar -help for a list of options. It's a good idea to turn off the 4dwm iconbox application first which can be done from the toolchest (Desktop->
Customize->Windows->Display Windows Overview[uncheck]).

To use iconbar, bring the pointer down to the 1-pixel thick line at the bottom center of the screen. It should like like this after it pops up:

http://www.nekochan.net/wiki/gallery/album36 ... crn?full=1

You get a pop-up menu by right clicking on an icon.

This is an alpha test version so don't expect too much. I'm hoping a few interested individuals will install this and help me to debug and improve it. I know for a fact that it crashes - I'm just interested in when. I also know that some icons get garbled (see CAVEATS below) just tell me which applications. I'm also VERY interest in how you would like the interface modified.

I'm thinking for now, this thread in the forum is good place to post bugs, issues and ideas and since it is public, might eliminate some duplication of effort.


I plan to issue the beta test release with source code, once I've had a chance to clean it up some. Also, the popping up and down of the magnified icon windows needs an overhaul since it clearly is generating too many expose events that slow the whole thing down. Finally, the main engine for finding/removing icons is a search of the root window's descendant tree. This search is triggered by a timer (right now set for 200 ms) but I feel that this is inefficient and CPU costly. It should be X event driven, but that means modifying the default Xt event loop. That is the next project I will probably tackle but it may take some time. I will probably will not have any significant free time to work on this project for at least another month. So don't expect a beta release before then.

Here's a few other idea that I'd like to explore some time in the future:
    - anti-aliasing of the demagnified icon images
    - a mailbox notifier
    - options for the location and size of the bar (not just bottom center)
    - a means of specifying which applications to exclude (e.g. your desktop clock)
    - a means of specifying a preferred sorting (i.e. I like the Mozilla icon in the first slot when it open)
    - variable icon widths
    - a hook into the toolchest
    - some transparency effects
    - multiple desktop (desks) handling (i.e. different bars on different desks)
    - stacking icons vertically that are of the same class (i.e. all the Nedit icons collected together with a pop-up sub-bar)

Let me know what else you all would like to see. After the source is available, perhaps a CVS server could be set up, although I have no idea where or how.


Iconbar will crash. When it does, you may have to restart the window manger by System->Utilities->Restart Window Manager.
    Multiple windows opening an closing can cause a core dump: Because of the timer driven structure, I believe that window hierarchy data becomes obsolete while the program is trying to use it. It needs better error handling and/or an event driven model as discussed above.

    Icon image garbled: when the program does not find an icon first by searching the Window Manager Pixmap hint, next by searching $HOME/icons directory and last be searching the /usr/lib/images directory -- it defaults to the old screen capture method which only works some of the time. Incidentally, this sequence of searching for the icon image could be changed from the 4dwm default so that the existence of a user icon file over rides the one the application sends to the window manager. I would like some input regarding this design decision - the down side of switching order is the manual (user) maintenance of the icon image file (i.e. updating).

    Animated icons don't: For now, I have ignored the method by which an application supplies an icon window under it control for animation (e.g. SGI mailbox).

    Missing applications: I have explicitly told the program to ignore the following named applications for now: ToolChest, iconbox, iconbar, nixieclock, gr_osview, xeyes, Desks Overview, top, bottom and xbiff.

    Multiple desks: I haven't looked into it's performance with multiple desk at all, it on the to do list.

Sorry about the long message. Thanks and I hope you all find this little utility useful.

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