More about window managers

As a response to my last post, it seems that I have found a way to save just a
few more of my desktop pixels, specifically by removing the title bar of my
windows.

The Ubuntu Netbook Remix is a collection of packages that, together, creates a
desktop environment more suitable for small screens. These packages can,
however, be used out of their intended context to make the title bar
unnecessary.

Specifically, by installing the packages window-picker-applet and
maximus, I can get the characteristic maximized windows without title
bar, as well as the title bar in my gnome panel.

maximus is a small program that forces windows to be maximized and (I
guess) removes their title bar in the process. window-picker-applet is
the gnome panel applet that shows the open windows as icons, as well as the
title of the current focused program.

For those interested, the application launcher that replaces the usual desktop
is provided by the package netbook-launcher, and the whole remix can
be installed with the package ubuntu-netbook-remix.

A small note on the launcher: It competes with nautilus in drawing the desktop, so
anyone looking to use this (I don’t use it) will want to prevent nautilus from
drawing the desktop by setting /apps/nautilus/preferences/show_desktop to false in their
gnome configuration, either using gconf-editor or one of the command-line tools.

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On Window Managers and File System Browsers

My main work pc is a Lenovo X61 tablet running Ubuntu 9.10 (right now…).
This poses some restrictions on my choice of desktop environment. First of
all, I don’t want to spend too much of my 12.1″ screen on cruft.
Furthermore, as the system isn’t the fastest in the world, I need to be a bit
careful about how i spend my clock cycles and ram.
Finally, the computer being a tablet laptop, I tend to rotate the screen often.

The result is that I want a fast, light-weight window manager that can handle changes
in desktop dimensions dynamically, and I’ve tried a few, but I always return to
the Gnome desktop environment, but with the old Metacity window manager instead
of the new, fancy, Compiz-fusion.

I was using fluxbox for a while, and generally liked it. Configuring it wasn’t
too hard, but it took a while getting used to. However, it had trouble coping
with a rotating screen, and had to be restarted to cope with a change in
desktop dimensions. Not too much of a problem, though, as fluxbox supports
restarting without restarting X, which means that the running applications are
kept running.

Recently, I tried e17, and that too appealed to me. Configuration was even
easier than fluxbox, and it looks great. However, it kept crashing on me. This
might be because I was experimenting with a lot of modules, but it looked like
e17 really wanted me to use composition, which is a no-go due to hardware
limitations.

File System Browser

But the thing that really keeps me coming back to Gnome is Nautilus, the file
system browser. And yes, I know I can use Nautilus with both Fluxbox and e17,
but there are a caveat to that. Nautilus has a preference for drawing a desktop
background and desktop icons on the desktop, which clashes somewhat with
the general consensus among alternative window managers that the main menu
should be accessed by a click on the desktop.

And yes, I know I can just run Nautilus with the --no-desktop
parameter, but it isn’t the same. I want Nautilus to draw the desktop
icons. So far, it has done the best job of it, compared to other solutions,
like the EFM module in e17 or custom icon applications for Fluxbox.

Some of the things I think Nautilus does better than EFM or Thunar (the
alternative window manager file browser of choice), is the context menu for
files. It presents the options I might want. All of them. And it allows me to
edit Samba shares right there in the GUI.

Some might call this (GUI) blasphemy, especially used in a Linux context, but
there is a reason for its popularity. It is easy! If I want to browse file
shares, doing it in a gui is a lot easer than digging around in command line
tools. Similar, if I want to set up a folder for sharing, clicking a few times
is easier than editing /etc/samba/smb.conf and restarting samba
manually. It is not that I don’t know how to mount a share on the command line,
it’s just not worth it.

Conclusion

So, in the end, I must accept that I cannot have fancy graphics on my laptop
due to hardware restrictions, and that I’m just too much in love with Nautilus
to replace it with Thunar.
BUT! If I should ever get around to run linux on a desktop computer, I would
love to experiment with especially Enlightenment again, as it shows a lot of
promise, perhaps configuring it so I could easily access Nautilus without it
capturing the desktop. Right now, however, I stick to my Gnome setup.