Edit: Unfortunately, the images originally included in this post are gone, because of hosting problems in late 2009. My apologies.
A day after building lxpanel, PCManFM and GPicView on my OLPC XO, I’m still of the mind that GTK2 applications just run too slow on it. I’ve used both Crux and Arch on it now (but with the OLPC kernel, etc., of course), but in both cases I can see screen redraws and there is a visible lag when dragging windows around.
It’s definitely not the fault of the software — this is an issue I pin firmly on the hardware. For a standard, more-or-less normal desktop system, I find the XO’s video and processor to be slightly underpowered. And that’s underscored when by the fact that it’s working with what is a technically huge screen — 1200×900, even at 16-bit depth.
(Mentally I try to compare the XO’s graphics and processor with what I had back in 1998 — a 450Mhz Pentium II with a Matrox Millenium II graphics card. I think it would have struggled at those dimensions, although later I had a Voodoo3 card, and I think it would have handled the challenge better.)
I also have to take into account that my “normal” systems are running from the USB drive, which I have come to recognize as slightly slower than the internal flash.
It does answer the question why Sugar (with Matchbox, as I understand it) seems sluggish as well. It’s not a huge margin, but my IceWM/GTK1.2 system is more snappy than Sugar, even if I am working off the USB drive.
I don’t fault the machine or the OLPC designers at all though: This isn’t a normal, standard desktop system and expecting it to behave like one is a faulty judgment.
In any case, lowering the bar makes all the difference for me. I find that GTK1.2-, FOX- or even X-based applications are improvements. IceWM handles things as well as Openbox for that machine (and is sometimes easier to configure, honestly), and once I get past the funny Windows-esque feel of things, I find that a system like this is not unacceptable.
For the record, the software that seems the most appealing on an XO running Arch, for me at least, is Xfe and its subsidiary programs (Xfi, Xfv, etc.), XMMS, dillo-i18n (out of the archlinuxfr repository), Xpaint and Xpdf. I do have things like xfontsel and xcalc installed as well, to round out the desktop a little more. Siag is an acceptable office suite, or just Ted or Beaver (Beaver is prettier than Ted) work as extended text editors.
So while I don’t prefer GTK1.2 and the like, it is possible for me to use my XO in a “normal” desktop and not suffer sub-par performance.
Edit: Odd. I dropped a sentence in there, and didn’t notice it for two days.