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The Emerging Elementary Experience: Plank, Slingshot, Wingpanel

Today saw ‘Slingshot’ – a new application launcher project headed up by the elementary team – leak in to the wild. But just what is it and what does it form part of?

Something rather special, it turns out.

Slingshot in Ubuntu

Not just a a’theme team’

To some the elementary project is seen as little more than a ‘team’ of themers. Having first established the project around a GTK+ theme and icon set this isn’t an entirely unjust view to have.

But when looking much closer you soon see that it couldn’t be further from the truth. With their own batch of applications (contacts app Dexter, e-mail client Postler, Noise music player, Marlin) either released already, currently cooking in development or, for some, tried and abandoned the question asked is simple: why so much work and what’s it all for?

To answer this we’ll start with a look at ‘Slingshot’.

Slingshot: A better way to launch applications

"Slingshot brings search and browsing together in an attractive package for both advanced and basic users" Slingshot developer and elementary project member Allen Lowe put rather succinctly when I asked about the project earlier.

But why the need for an entirely new launcher?

"There isn’t any good way to launch apps: menus are cumbersome and they’ve been tried over and over" Said Dan Rabbit.

"A lot of people like Gnome-Do and Synapse; they like the searching, the intelligent suggestions but my mom could never use Synapse – she wouldn’t know what to do. Searching in slingshot should be just as productive as Gnome-Do or Synapse"

Launching Slingshot with Wingpanel is easy: you just hit the apps button and your apps and the launcher catapults  into view.

A notable difference in Slingshot, when compared to Unity’s application places for example, is the use of pages instead of scrolling for listing applications. This, the elementary team say, is better for muscle memory.

All I know is that it’s easier on my eyes!

Early Days

The code for Slingshot is at a very early stage with lots of features and functions that will prove essential to the project missing. Features planned for development over the coming months include: -

  • Drag and Drop apps from Slingshot to dock
  • Application Categories
  • Animations
  • Zeitgeist integration

Slingshot – when available – will even be usable with the traditional GNOME Panel.

Plank: The Dock. Simplified.

Next up is Plank – the ‘new’ dock application that will also form part of the new elementary experience.

Plank: elementary's new dock

Plank is not a new dock at all in many respects – but more so Docky rewritten in Vala. Much of the team is the same, much of the code is the same.

But one thing is not the same: the features.

Simples

Plank is all about simplicity. You won’t find distracting docklets or complex configuration windows: it’s just there to manage your windows and provide a home for commonly launched items.

And it has a crazy low memory footprint, to boot.

Early Days

The code for Plank is not yet ready for proper use.   Features planned for development over the coming months include: -

  • Drag and Drop apps
  • Intellihide
  • ‘Pin’ applications to dock
  • Simple animations on removing launchers
  • Badges and labels for launcher icons (e.g. unread count on email app icon)

WingPanel

The rejigging of the ‘simplified’ desktop panel we covered earlier today. It has a clock in the middle and a ‘slingshot’ launcher on the far left… and well, is a panel.

And so… Pantheon

Slingshot, along with the re-worked WingPanel and Plank all form part of a new ‘desktop experience’ from the elementary project codenamed ‘Pantheon’.

Unlike other "all-in-one" environments, such as GNOME-Shell or Unity, Pantheon was made to be modular and lightweight. Don’t like the launcher?  Replace it was something else. Hate the file browser? No problem. With Pantheon you are able to replace any piece you want with something else.

It is unlikely that Slingshot or Plank will makes an appearance in Jupiter – the first release of elementary OS – coming this spring. But they are being developed, and that’s the important thing.

If you’re tempted to try any of the applications out let me remind you that there’s a reason nothing is yet packaged in a PPA or available to download…

Also see: elementary project home page