By Kristian Ki▀ling
Makagiga is a handy collection of tools bundled into what you might call a desktop for the desktop. According to the project's FAQ, Makagiga  is a "kind of cake made with caramel, honey, poppy, nuts" - an interesting mix to say the least.
In this article, I explain how the Makagiga interface works and how to subscribe to and retrieve RSS feeds, post messages on the bulletin board, and install plugins.
Makagiga unites this mix under a Java umbrella. The Makagiga family includes an RSS reader, a to-do manager, a calendar, a simple drawing tool, a text editor, a notebook, and an image viewer (Figure 1). Makagiga is also extensible via plugins and widgets.
The first step is to make friends with the interface, which takes some getting used to and time to discover all of Makagiga's many features. For example, to use the software for project management, you would create a separate Makagiga folder for each project. Then you can use the to-do manager to schedule your tasks and keep track of their progress. Important tasks or ideas can be posted on the virtual bulletin board, and RSS feeds keep you up to date with the latest developments in your field. When you close Makagiga, all of your interim results are automatically saved in the project folder, with no need to launch multiple programs to find the results of your work.
Although desktops like Gnome and KDE include all the components that Makagiga offers, KDE 4 is the only desktop thus far to offer content linking via evaluations and keywords - and this feature is still at a fairly early stage of development. Makagiga's internal structure does make sense, although it departs from accepted desktop conventions.
Makagiga is best installed from the standard RPM and DEB packages. Before you start, you will need to install Sun's Java version 6: The matching package for Ubuntu 8 is sun-java6-jre, and the openSUSE 11 version is java-1_6_0-sun.
On Ubuntu 8, simply copy the DEB package to your hard disk and double-click. This launches the GDebi Installer, which will set up the software in the normal way. After the installation, you will find the software below Office | Makagiga in your start menu.
On openSUSE 11 save the RPM package locally and double-click to tell YaST to install it. Makagiga is in Applications | Utilities | Desktop.
Alternatively, press Alt+F2 and type makagiga to launch the software. The tool collects its internal data in a hidden .makagiga folder below the current user's home folder.
After launching, Makagiga shows you the standard interface with an empty bulletin board on the right (Figure 1). Any folders and RSS feeds you add will be displayed to the left of this. Originally, you just have a default folder called Files and Folders; Feeds includes a couple of feeds pre-subscribed by Makagiga. Below this is the trash, where you can retrieve any content you have accidentally deleted.
The interface really does act as a desktop on the desktop: View | Full Screen, or F11, extends the main window to cover the whole of the desktop. Bottom left in Makagiga is a search field that lets you search your entire Makagiga content, with three buttons labeled Tree, Summary, and Designer. The top button displays the feeds and folders view on the left. The middle button lists your current tasks, as generated with reference to the to-do list. The Designer button takes you to the controls for the individual components. For example, to create a new drawing, just click Designer. A menu on the left is displayed where you can change the drawing color and paintbrush size (Figure 2).
The bulletin board is easily identified by virtue of its light blue background; it covers the most space in Makagiga, although it does share this space with all the other Makagiga applications, such as the text editor, the drawing tool, or the to-do list. In fact, the bulletin board normally hides behind them; to reveal it, click the Show Widgets in the top right-hand corner. Add Widgets, on the bottom right, lets you drop new widgets onto the bulletin board, such as Notes or a Calendar.
The same menu lets you tell Makagiga to Get more Widgets, in which case it runs off to the Makagiga website and offers you, say, the Picture widget from the still fairly meager selection. Clicking Install tells Makagiga to install the new widget. After the installation, you will need to restart Makagiga to display the new widget. Changing the settings also necessitates a restart.
But what can you do with the widgets? The calendar, for example, lets you click a day and then select Show information for this day from the drop-down. The software then opens a Wikipedia page that lists everything that's happened on the same date. This Makagiga idea is fairly weird: Although it's nice, don't ask whether it makes sense, especially when you consider that clicking News takes you to the BBC website - without historic references. Add a new task for this day helps you specify tasks and plan appointments for the day. On the bulletin board, you can color highlight notices and fill them with text, to which you can apply font styles.
Above the bulletin board is a search bar that googles by default - although you can tell it to use any other search engine - and then displays the results in an external browser after you have told the software which browser you prefer. To do so, click Edit | Settings, then click Advanced in the General tab. Now type your preferred browser in the top line - say, firefox (Figure 3). After doing so, Makagiga will pass external content to the Firefox browser in future.
Files and folders are managed in the aptly named Files and Folders component. The best approach is to decide up front how you want to organize your drawings, texts, and notes. If several people will be working with Makagiga, it makes sense to set up a folder for each of them. If you will be the only one using Makagiga, you could name folders for the current date. This would drop all your drawings, text, and to-do lists from March 24 into the folder 03_24. Right-clicking Files and Folders and selecting New | New Folder lets you create and name a directory.
To start the day with a sketch, right-click 03_24 and select New | Image in the drop-down list. Entering an intuitive name for the drawing brings up an empty drawing workspace in a separate tab with your choice of name. The Designer button, bottom left, displays a menu in the program workspace, allowing you to set the brush size, color, and outline for the drawing (Figure 4). If you drag the mouse over the tab with the drawing workspace name, the mouse cursor becomes a cross, and left-clicking closes the drawing. The nice thing is that you don't need to save the image; it is moved automatically to the 03_24 folder.
To create a to-do list instead of a drawing, right-click 03_24 and select New | To-do. Now you can Add a new task in the form of a Summary. The task then appears in the large area below. Clicking Priority, Complete, or Due Date/Time opens a pop-up menu in which you can add more detail for the characteristic. Complete lets you specify the percentage of the task you have finished, with a progress indicator to help you visualize it.
More options are available in the menu. For example, you can display Statistics of completed and open tasks. Delete completed lets you remove tasks you have finished. Clicking the Summary button in the middle, bottom left, takes you to a status list for all your tasks, assuming they have a completion date. Tasks due today are listed under the Due Date/Time list. When closed, the to-do list is also saved in your 03_24 folder.
To keep abreast of the news, Makagiga includes an integrated RSS reader. In the drop-down list, right-click and select Delete to remove the pre-installed feeds. Then select File | Import | Import Feed List to import an existing list of RSS feeds into the program. Here you can select Edit | Preferences and then use the slider in the Feeds tab to set the Keep for date for the content and automatically remove obsolete articles that are, say, more than a day old. Unfortunately, this feature did not work in our lab.
When you select a feed in the tree view, the feed updates and displays a color-highlighted list of articles. Clicking an article changes its color while displaying a summary of the RSS entry with a matching link. If you follow the link, the page appears in your preset browser.
If you right-click the empty space below the link instead of left-clicking the link, a drop-down appears that lets you copy the content from the feed to a note and post it on your bulletin board. This means that you can quickly create a note about an important feed article. Unfortunately, the feed reader has one disadvantage: If you collect several similar feeds in a folder, in contrast to many other feed readers, clicking the folder will not display all the articles.
Because I don't have enough space to look at all the other features in depth, a quick overview will have to suffice. Tools | Plugins lets you add more functions to your version of Makagiga by downloading plugins off the Internet . For example, one extension adds YouTube searching to the search field. Clicking Get More Plugins at the bottom of the window takes you to a list of extensions available off the Internet and lets you point and click to set them up. Other tools in the same menu are Delete private data, which lets you delete your cookies and logfiles, and Backup, which lets you create an archive of any files and folders you have created previously. Then you could burn the results to a DVD for safekeeping, for example.
Makagiga includes its own miniature software universe and is well worth investigating. The software is not just for Linux fans that need to organize their lives or for lateral thinkers, it is also useful for newcomers and anybody involved in a learning process.
 Makagiga homepage: http://makagiga.sourceforge.net
 Plugin overview: http://makagiga.sourceforge.net/plugins.php