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Wednesday·21·November·2012

Suggestions for the GNOME Team //at 23:01 //by abe

from the trying-to-stay-constructive dept.

Thanks to Erich Schubert’s blog posting on Planet Debian I became aware of the 2012 GNOME User Survey at Phoronix.

Like back in 2006 I still use some GNOME applications, so I do consider myself as “GNOME user” in the widest sense and hence I filled out that survey. Additionally I have to live with GNOME 3 as a system administrator of workstations, and that’s some kind of usage, too. ;-)

The last question in the survey was Do you have any comments or suggestions for the GNOME team? — Sure I have. And since I tried to give constructive feedback instead of only ranting, here’s my answer to that question as I submitted it in the survey, too, just spiced up with some hyperlinks and highlighting:

Don’t try to change the users. Give the users more possibilities to change GNOME if they don’t agree with your own preferences and decisions. (The trend to castrate the user was already starting with GNOME 2 and GNOME 3 made that worse IMHO.)

If you really think that you need less configurability because some non-power-users are confused or challenged by too many choices, then please give the other users at least the chance to enable more configuration options. A very good example in that hindsight was Kazehakase (RIP) who offered several user interfaces (novice, intermediate and power user or such). The popular text-mode web browser Lynx does the same, too, btw.

GNOME lost me mostly with the change to GNOME 2. The switch from Galeon 1.2 to 1.3/2.0 was horrible and the later switch to Epiphany made things even worse on the browser side. My short trip to GNOME as desktop environment ended with moving back to FVWM (configurable without tons of clicking, especially after moving to some other computer) and for the browser I moved on to Kazehakase back then. Nowadays I’m living very well with Awesome and Ratpoison as window managers, Conkeror as web browser (which are all very configurable) and a few selected GNOME applications like Liferea (luckily still quite configurable despite I miss Gecko’s about:config since the switch to WebKit), GUCharmap and Gnumeric.

For people switching from Windows I nowadays recommend XFCE or maybe LXDE on low-end computers. I likely would recommend GNOME 2, too, if it still would exist. With regards to MATE I’m skeptical about its persistance and future, but I’m glad it exists as it solves a lot of problems and brings in just a few new ones. Cinnamon as well as SolusOS are based on the current GNOME libraries and are very likely the more persistent projects, but also very likely have the very same multi-head issues we’re all barfing about at work with Ubuntu Precise. (Heck, am I glad that I use Awesome at work, too, and all four screens work perfectly as they did with FVWM before.)

Thanks to Dirk Deimeke for his (German written) pointer to Marcus Moeller’s interview with Ikey Doherty (in German, too) about his Debian-/GNOME-based distribution SolusOS.

Tuesday·26·October·2010

ratpoison and focus follows mouse //at 00:22 //by abe

from the Wild-Hack dept.

I use ratpoison as window manager on my ASUS EeePC netbook “nemo” for more than two years now. But although I’m very happy with ratpoison in the EeePC, there are two feature wishes which have been refused by upstream: One is more flexibel window name matching for the unmanage command. The other one is “focus follows mouse” between ratpoison frames.

Well, I always guessed that it was possible, but it took until now to find outhow to implement “focus follows mouse” for ratpoison.

There’s an ancient but still useful tool called Not a Window Manager (nawm) which is a small awk-like interpreter offering mostly window handling functions.

The following .nawmrc implements “focus follows mouse” in nawm:

window newwin;  # stores window to raise
window lastwin; # stores previous window to prevent race conditions
leave {
    lastwin = currentwindow;
}
enter {
    newwin = pointerwindow();
    if (name(newwin) != "" && newwin != lastwin) {
        raise newwin;
        sync;
    }
}

The leave hook is necessary to prevent flapping between two windows if switched between them via ratpoison’s commands.

I also had to add the following hook to my .ratpoisonrc to work around some cases where ratpoison’s own window switching didn’t work anymore. Only happened with more than one frame — with one frame banishing the mouse cursor was annoying, so I filtered that case:

addhook switchwin exec if [ `ratpoison -c fdump|fgrep -o frame|wc -l` -gt 1 ]; then ratpoison -c banish; fi

Unfortunately nawm has been removed from Debian Sid about a year ago due to being buggy and orphaned. There was not upstream development for seven years or so either.

So for the moment you can get nawm either from Debian Lenny or from snapshot.debian.org.

But I had to fix a segfault in nawm when calling name() on a window without name to be able to use it at all, so you will probably have to rebuild it anyway with the following patch:

diff -u nawm-0.0.20030130/builtins.c nawm-0.0.20030130-patched/builtins.c
--- nawm-0.0.20030130/builtins.c        2010-10-25 06:00:02.000000000 +0200
+++ nawm-0.0.20030130-patched/builtins.c        2010-10-25 04:15:25.000000000 +0200
@@ -546,8 +546,12 @@
     *name = gcstrdup("");
   else
     {
-      *name = gcstrdup((char *)nm);
-      XFree(nm);
+      if ((char *)nm) {
+        *name = gcstrdup((char *)nm);
+        XFree(nm);
+      } else {
+        *name = gcstrdup("");
+      }
     }
 }

And yes, I’m thinking about adopting and reintroducing the nawm package into Debian Sid.

But I’d prefer if anyone could give me a hint how to do this with more current and still maintained tools (or a patch against ratpoison :-). I looked into suckless-tools, but I haven’t found anything in there which provides hooks on X events. And the Perl module Tk seems to be able to set X event hooks, but only within the application being written itself.

Thursday·21·October·2010

New upstream versions of xrootconsole and keynav in Debian Experimental //at 16:45 //by abe

from the There-are-X-worlds-other-than-GNOME,-KDE,-XFCE-and-LXDE dept.

I recently uploaded new upstream versions of two neat small X tools to Debian Experimental:

  • xrootconsole displays on a transparent or shaded layer on the root window what it gets as input on STDIN, from a FIFO or from a file, and
  • keynav, a way to control your mouse cursor efficiently with the keyboard.

Both packages introduce several new features and I’d be happy if users of these packages in Debian Sid or Debian Sid users curious about them could test the versions in Debian Experimental.

xrootconsole 0.6 + patches

xrootconsole saw no love since 2006 with the last maintainer upload having been in 2002. Nevertheless it never got kicked out of Debian just because of this. The package had been forcibly orphaned just less than a year ago. So it’s no big wonder that this new upstream version I packaged was released already back in 2004. :-)

But besides packaging a new upstream version, bumping Standards-Version and debhelper compatibility, fixing tons of lintian warnings and some bugs, I also added two patches which add new features not (yet) available upstream:

  • UTF-8 support: Upstream xrootconsole just drops all bytes where the 8th bit is set which only allows ASCII. Miroslav Jezbera submitted a patch to allow at least displaying localized text containing single byte 8 bit characters as used in all ISO-Latin encodings. Inspired by the patch to add UTF-8 support to ratmenu, I wrote a patch to add UTF-8 support for xrootconsole, too.
  • ANSI color support: Last year, Julien Viard de Galbert, who is also active in Debian, posted a patch in his blog to support ANSI colors as produced by many log colorizers like e.g. loco (RIP), colortail, lwatch, or ccze. (Didn’t get colortail and lwatch to work with xrootconsole yet, though.) I included this patch and made it compatible with my UTF-8 support patch. The patch raises the memory consumption per displayed character by one byte, but effectively I just saw an overall memory usage increase of about 25% which seems acceptable.

Of course I informed upstream about these feature patches, but I haven’t got any feedback yet.

But I got feedback from Julien Viard de Galbert, and he’ll join me in packaging xrootconsole as co-maintainer.

keynav 0.20101014.3067

I adopted the Debian package of keynav recently, subscribed to the keynav mailing list (well, it’s a Google group), got a nice welcome mail from the very friendly upstream developer Jordan Sissel who offered to help with any keynav issues.

I told him what features I’d like to see in keynav to fit better the setup where I’m using it. And just a few days later there was a new upstream release including both features I suggested, some more neat new features, and one bug fix. Jordan Sissel writes in the upstream changelog (emphasis and italic text by me):

  • Added ‘restart’ command. Makes keynav restart. Useful for binding a key to reload the config.
  • Added ‘loadconfig’ command. This lets you include additional config files to load on the command line or in one of the default keynavrc files. (requested by Axel Beckert) … and already in use here.
  • keynav will now restart if it receives SIGHUP or SIGUSR1
  • Map ‘Enter’ by default to ‘warp,click 1,end’ (requested by Axel Beckert)
  • Fix a bug causing the point under the mouse cursor to not click through the keynav window in certain conditions. Reported via mailing list by Eric Van Dewoestine and Krister Svanlund.

Both packages will be reuploaded to Debian Sid (Unstable) after the release of Debian Squeeze (currently “testing”).

Wednesday·11·February·2009

Favourite Linux Desktop Applications //at 15:01 //by abe

from the GUI dept.

foosel tagged me, whatever that means. Perhaps it’s the English word for “Stöckchen” (German for “small stick”) of which I always wondered how the English blogging part of the blogosphere is calling that kind of coercing blog posts… ;-)

So these are the rules:

  1. blog a list with your favorite desktop Linux software (as many or few you want)
  2. add links to the software project’s websites
  3. post these rules
  4. tag three other Linux using bloggers

Interestingly splitbrain, who started the thing just calls it “Meme”, but to me memes are the same thing just without duress. ;-)

So you want to know about what Linux desktop software I like and use, hmm? Desktop means GUI, doesn’t it? There are only a few GUI application I really use often since, as you probably know, X is primarily a terminal multiplexer and screen resolutions are compared by how many 80×25 xterms with fixed font you can get on one screen without overlapping. ;-)

But to be honest: Although I’m more the command line guy hacking cryptic lines into windows with small fonts, there are a few thing where I don’t want to miss X and the GUI applications: For all things web – that means web browser, feed reader, etc. But then there is also a bunch of GUI software I use occasionally or as alternative tool to some text mode or command line software.

Web

  • Liferea – My favuorite feed reader although it takes ages to start and since a few days also starts crashing, probably since I have configured it to cache up to 1000 items per feed and have subscribed to several hundred feeds.

    I do not read them all though, but I use them togther with Liferea’s “search all feeds” feature as a Google News replacement. ;-) I though read a lot of feeds in it, since I use it for news, blogs, webcomics and to read missed tweets on Twitter. It organizes the feeds in a tree structure so I can easily group different types of content together.

  • Opera – I’m back using Opera as my primary web browser since they offer alpha versions for 64-bit Linux.

    Initally I started using Opera with version 3.60 on Windows 95 somewhere about 10 years ago and I’ve always come back to it when no current free browser fits my needs.

    Although it hasn’t an AddOn possibility as Firefox has, I still prefer it over the bloaty and leaky and quite unstable Firefox 2, since it offers nearly every functionality I need (mainly mouse gestures and a flexible tab management), is fast, needs less RAM and is quite stable for an alpha version. And Firefox only offers those features I need via Addons which are often the cause for leaking or crashing. Haven’t tested Firefox 3 yet, but it’s said to be be less bloaty…

  • Kazehakase – Formerly I used kazehakase as my primary web browser since I really like its user interface, but the version in Etch is quite slow and seems to have memory leaks. It’s currently the second browser I have always open. But since my browsers always have uptimes in terms of months I don’t need web browsers that are leaking, so I’m thinking about replacing it with something more stable.

  • Conkeror – A Gecko 1.9 (i.e. Firefox 3) based web browser completely controllable with the keyboard. And the key bindings are those from Emacs and partially also from the classic text-mode browser Lynx. Will be available in Debian Experimental soon.

  • Netsurf looks very promising as it’s a simple and fast browser with it’s own rendering engine and originating on RISC OS. But since I’m a heavy tab user (60 tabs in one window are not really seldom), a browser (yet) without tabs isn’t really that useful for me. But I hope it will get tabs soon.

  • Midori – The other upcoming new browser in the Linux world is using Apple’s WebKit (which itself is based on KDE’s KHTML) underneath. Only in Experimental yet (form a Debian point of view :-). Use it on my Debian Sid machine to play around with it.

  • Twitux – A simple GTK Twitter client which doesn’t clutter the screen with unnecessary icons or buttons. Just a small menu bar, status bar and the tweets.

  • Azureus – In the seldom case where I need to download files via Bittorrent I either use Opera’s builtin client or Azureus. The nice thing about Azureus is that you can get nice graphical as well as textual statistics about all aspects of your downloads.

X / Desktop Environment

  • FVWM – My favourite window manager for normal, big or multiple screens. I use it since more than 10 years (twm and tvtwm were its predecessors) and its configuration has evolved since then quite a bit to tinted transparent window frames and title bars, etc.

    I tried other window managers in between (e.g. Sawfish and GNOME’s own Metacity, each for a month or so and both together GNOME, also played around with KDE on one machine) and I always came back to FVWM. No other window manager is so fast and configurable in regards of keybindings. Handles multiple screen very well and out of the box, too.

  • ratpoison – My favourite window manager for small screens (less than about 1024×768, e.g. on my EeePC, on the 8” touchscreen connected to my MicroClient Jr. or on my 1996 ThinkPad 760ED with 133 MHz Pentium 1) since it doesn’t waste screen space for window borders or title bars. It just maximizes all windows by default to screen resolution. You then can manage (split, resize, switch, close, kill) windows as you are used to manage shells and text-mode applications with screen(1). Doesn’t work that well with multiple xrandr managed screens though if they don’t have the same size.

  • FLWM – The Fast and Light Window Manager. My favourite low-end but still DAU compatible window manager. Use that on demo and guest accounts, especially on low end machines.

  • Synergy – connects displays of other computers (not only X but also even Mac or Windows) with your mouse and keyboard similar to a KVM switch. I use it at work to add my laptop as fourth monitor. ;-)

  • trayer – A desktop environmen independend system tray developed by the FVWM Crystal Project. Since I changed from manually editing /etc/network/interface on my laptop each time I came into a new wireless LAN to using GNOME’s Network Manager, I needed a system tray for the nm-applet. Trayer is quite easy to configure using command line options and can handle tinted transparency as I use with FVWM and ATerms. So it fits in perfectly.

  • ratmenu and dmenu – For showing generated menus together with ratpoison, I use ratmenu (e.g. as replacement for ratpoison’s non-interactive window list) and dmenu (e.g. as application menu using my own wrapper which generates the menu from some config file). Probably will publish that code once it proved itself stable.

  • xtrlock – the simplest tool to lock you desktop: The mouse turns into a lock and it only goes away if you enter the right password. No screen saver included though and everyone can see what’s on your desk. I like it though. Use it on low-end machines.

  • XScreenSaver and Really Slick Screensavers (GLX Port) – Configurable and command controllable screen saver daemon. Favourite modes: GLMatrix and Substrate from XScreenSaver and Lattice Sky Rocket and Hufo’s Smoke from RSS GLX.

  • xosview – my favourite system monitor since more than a decade.

Terminals

  • xterm – there is no better X terminal emulator than the original xterm. I found no other terminal which is so fast, has no problems with text-mode applications (aterms break aptitude’s display), no problems with character set encodings, which can be embedded into other applications and which has a fully working classic Unix cut & paste.

  • aterm – When I need a fancy transparent terminal for showing a fancy desktop, I use the AfterStep Terminal Emulator aterm. In that case, the system tray, the window borders, the window’s title bar and the terminal on my desktop have the same fancy tinted transparency.

  • yeahconsole – A wrapper around xterm which works like the pulldown console in quake. Good for the short shell usage inbetween. ;-)

    The other similar pull down consoles I know (KDEish yakuake and GNOMEish tilda) had some issues with focus and keybindings while yeahconsole works just out of the box and showed no problems until now.

Audio and Video

  • XMMS and Audacious – If I want to play a single list of files of the same file format or single stream, I usually use the command line tools mpg123 and ogg123. But if I need anything more fancy or more flexible, I prefer the WinAMP clones. Formerly XMMS, nowadays Audacious. Both with some old skin which I use since more than a decade and which I initially used with WinAMP 2 on Windows 95.

  • mplayer – no fancy GUI, easily controllable with the keyboard, plays most video file formats I can remember. ;-)

Editing and Developing

  • GNU Emacs – I’ve been raised with GNU Emacs and Lisp at university, so I’m quite sticked to that. I usually only start one Emacs instance and connect to it using emacsclient. I also like TRAMP for editing remote files. but I don’t need it that often.

    On machines, where I don’t want a full blown Emacs installation or under root I prefer GNU Emacs’ little brother GNU Zile (Zile Is a Lossy Emacs), but that’s text-mode and no GUI software.

  • OpenOffice.org – I think it’s a really great software, but I use it quite seldom, usually only when I have to open some file in a Microsoft file format. For writing letters, articles, presentations and so I have LaTeX.

  • Gnumeric – My preferred spreadsheet application. Although for some purposes I use the OpenOffice.org spreadsheet, usually when Gnumeric has not all necessary features.

Graphics

  • xv – Yet another tool I use since more than a decade: No other image viewer is so fast and yet so easy to use with both keyboard and mouse. Open source, but unfortunately not (yet?) free software.

  • keyjnote – fancy PDF presenter with a lot of interactive features.

  • pdfcube – PDF presenter turning pages as a cube as compiz or Macs do with the desktop.

Chat

  • Pidgin – I usually use irssi inside a screen for IRC as well as Jabber and ICQ (via Bitlbee), but I also often have a local Jabber client running which then is Pidgin (formerly known as GAIM).

Other Tools

  • Unison – I use it to synchonise the cache and state of my feed reader between laptop and workstation. And I do indeed prefer the GUI version over the text-mode version. I use the text-mode only if I use it from some remote location.

  • XKeyCaps – The ideal tool to wreck you keyboard layout. ;-)

  • XGnokii – Used it to backup my former Nokia mobile phones, the 6130, the 6210i and the 6310i. Doesn’t work anymore with my new E51, though.

  • Sunbird / Iceowl – Not really using it yet, but I plan to use it as my primary calendar tool.

  • QEMU / KVM / KQEMU – My favourite desktop hardware emulator. (For servers, I prefer Xen for virtualization.)

Games

Non-Desktop Applications

In case someone wonders about my mail client, Jabber client, IRC client, ICQ client, file manager, notes taking application, shell and versioning system – they’re all command line or text-mode applications:

Who’s next?

That’s difficult:

  • maol would be interesting, but since a while he just blogs in Jeopardy style, so he would need pack all those programs into the subject of his blog post… No, not a good idea.
  • Venty! No, has no active blog anymore.
  • Dieter! No, no Linux user.

Hmmm, I think I have to look in a different corner of my circle of friends. Hmm. Ah, now I know:

  • dyfa – not really a Linux user, but I guess FreeBSD is ok, too. :-)
  • nion – this will be really interesting. He even uses more strange software than I do. ;-)
  • alphascorpii – no idea what she prefers (except that it will be available as Debian package ;-)

And no, I don’t expect posts as comprehensive as mine. :-)

Tuesday·20·January·2009

How I use my virtual desktops //at 00:29 //by abe

from the when-individualism-becomes-a-habit dept.

Many months ago I stumbled upon this German written meme about how users use their virtual desktops. I use virtual desktops since my very early Unix times (tvtwm on Sun Sparc SLC/ELC/IPX with greyscale screens running SunOS 4.x), so in the meantime I use them nearly everywhere the same way.

Short Summary

3x5, no overlapping windows, either tiling or fullscreen, keyboard navigation, xterms, yeahconsole, FVWM, panel for systray.

Window Manager of Choice

My window manager of choice is FVWM since more than a decade. I tried others like Sawfish, Metacity and Compiz, but I couldn’t get them behave like the FVWM I got used to, so I always came back.

Since I hate overlapping windows, I use FVWM a lot like a tiling window manager. FVWM has this nice function to maximize windows so that they occupy as much space as available, but do not overlap other windows. This function was also often missing when I tried other window managers. I though do not want to use real tiling window managers since I have a few sticky windows around (e.g. the panner with the virtual desktops and xosview) and they shouldn’t be overlapped either.

Virtual Desktops

Switching between virtual desktops is done with the keyboard only – with Ctrl-Shift as modifier and the cursor keys. The cursor keys are usually pressed with thumb, ring and small finger of the right hand. Which hand presses Ctrl and Shift depend on the situation and keyboard layout, but it’s usually either ring and small finger of the left hand, or pointer and middle finger of the right hand. So I’m able to switch the virtual desktop with only one hand.

I have always three rows of virtual desktops and usually four or five columns.

The top row is usually occupied with xterms. It’s my work space. The top left workspace usually contains at least one xterms with a shell and one with mutt, my favourite e-mail client since nearly a decade. At home the second left virtual desktop in the top row usually contains a full-screen Liferea (my preferred feed reader) while at work it contains the GNU Emacs main window besides two xterms. Emacs and the emacs server are automatically started at login.

This also means that I switch the virtual desktops when I switch between mutt and Emacs for typing the content of an e-mail. Did this already during my studies. (At home mutt runs inside a screen, so there I just switch the virtual terminal with Ctrl-A Ctrl-A instead of the virtual desktop. Not that big difference ;-)

The other virtual desktops of the the top row get filled with xterms as needed. Usually one virtual desktop per task.

The middle row is for web browsers. One full screen browser (usually Conkeror or Opera) per virtual desktop, often opened with many tabs (tabs in Opera, buffers in Conkeror) related to the task I’m accomplishing in the xterms in the virtual deskop directly above.

The third row usually contains root shells for maintenance tasks, either permanently open ones on machines I need an administrate often (e.g. daily updates of Debian testing or Debian unstable machines), or for temporary mass administration (Linux workstations on the job, all Xen DomUs of one Xen server, etc.) using pconsole.

yeahconsole

Additionally I have a sticky yeahconsole running, an xterm which slides down from the top like the console in Quake. (It’s the only overlapping thing I use. :-) My yeahconsole can be activated on every virtual desktop by pressing Ctrl-Alt-Z (with QWERTY layout, Ctrl-Alt-Y with QWERTZ layout). It’s the terminal for those one-line jobs then and when, e.g. calling ccal, translate, wget or clive.

Changes over time

Of course the desktop usage changes from time to time:

At work I have more than one monitor, so in the meanwhile the second row with the web browsers “moved” to the second screen – with independent virtual desktops (multiple X servers, no Xinerama). The second row on the main screen at work is now used the same way as the third row with a slight preference for the permanently open shells while the third row is more used for mass administration with pconsole.

At home I used XMMS respective Audacious for a long time (my FVWM panner and xosview are exactly as wide as WinAmp2/XMMS/Audacious, guess why:-) which usually was sticky the same way as the panner and xosview are. But when I started using last.fm recently, I moved to Rhythmbox (after testing some other music players like e.g. Amarok) which I use in fullscreen as I do with web browsers and the feed reader. So it occupies a complete virtual desktop, usually the second one in the middle row – below the feed reader because I don’t need a corresponding web browser for the feed reader. (Just found out that there is a last.fm player for text-mode, so maybe that will change again. :-)

Another thing which changed my virtual desktop usage was the switch from a classical tabbed web browser (Galeon, Kazehakase, Opera) to the buffer oriented Conkeror. With a tabbed web browser I have either no overview over all open tabs (one row tab bar or truncated tab menu) or they occupy too much space of the browser window. That was another reason for more than one browser window and therefore more than one virtual desktop with fullscreen web browser windows. With Conkeror tabs are optional (and not even enabled by default), Conkeror uses buffer like Emacs and if you want to switch to another buffer, you press C-x b and then start typing parts of the buffer’s name (e.g. parts of the URL or the web page title) to narrow down the list of buffers until only one is left or until you have spotted the wanted buffer in the list and choose it with the cursor keys. So the need for more than one browser window is gone.

For a long time I didn’t need any task/menu/start/whatever bar on my desktop. But since neither NetworkManager nor wicd have a comand-line interface (yet) and bluetooth seems also easier handled from the system tray my laptops also use either gnome-panel (big screen, long sessions with FVWM) or lxpanel (formerly used trayer; use it on small screen, short sessions with ratpoison or matchbox) on my laptops. It’s sticky and always visible. (No overlapping, remember? ;-)

The panel is usually at the bottom on the screen as by default with Windows or KDE, not at top as with GNOME and MacOS. Only on the OpenMoko, I have the panel at the top to be close to what I’m used from Nokia mobile phones.

Things I tried …

… but didn’t survive in my setup:

  • Desktop icons – nearly always covered if you use a tiling window manager. (I though use root window menus – mostly for starting applications later occupying that space where I clicked. ;-)
  • A button to minimize all windows. Only sissies without virtual deskops need that. ;-)
  • Automatically scrolling logfile content on the desktop (root-tail, root-portal, etc) – the space was too precious to not use it for xterms or web browsers. ;-)

Systems without Virtual Desktops

Anyway, there are systems where I don’t use virtual desktops at all. On systems with a screen resolution so small that there’s not enough space for two non-overlapping, fixed font 80x25 xterms on the screen (e.g. on my MicroClient with 8” touch screen, the 7” EeePC or the OpenMoko) I do not use virtual desktops at all. On such systems I use all applications in fullscreen, so switching between applications is like switching virtual desktops anyway. My window managers of choice for such systems are ratpoison for systems with keyboard and matchbox for system without keyboard. With ratpoison you treat windows like terminals in GNU screen, so there are no new keybindings to learn if you’re already used to screen (which I use nearly daily since more than a decade).

Wednesday·18·June·2008

How to get Network Manager working with ratpoison //at 23:53 //by abe

from the Hacking-the-desktop dept.

Using GNOME Network Manager is a neat way to connect to wireless or virtual private networks from a laptop running Debian Lenny, Sid, Etch with Backports or any of the *buntu distributions. You can control everything from the system tray. But not all window managers have a system tray. And with some window managers it’s not obvious how to make them work with one of those lean third party trays and panels.

Especially my favourite window manager for small displays as on the EeePCratpoison – insolently puts any panel or tray in the middle of the screen by default. It took me a moment to find out how to make ratpoison work with my favourite third party system tray trayer (which can handle transparency and is only a system tray, no taskbar).

First we need to make ratpoison ignore the trayer on the one hand and and reserve space for it on the screen. Fiddling around with preconfigured frames didn’t work well and the following way is also more straight forward:

  1. trayer always has “panel” as window title, so adding the following line to your .ratpoisonrc makes ratpoison ignore trayer:
    unmanage panel
  2. Now all windows overlap the trayer, so we need to configure the space for it. Trayer in the default configuration shows up at the bottom and has a height of 26 pixels, so we tell ratpoison to add a padding of 26 pixels at the bottom of the screen by adding the following line to the .ratpoisonrc:
    set padding 0 0 0 26

Now we are confronted with the problem that these settings only apply to new windows, not ones which were already running when ratpoison starts. I usually start my X session using an .xinitrc or an .Xsession which calls the window manager using exec at the end.

We can start the trayer later though by spawning a subshell in the background with a sleep at the beginning. Also the Network Manager applet (nm-applet) can be started that way. In my case the end of the .Xsession looks like this:

( sleep 1; \
  trayer --align right --edge bottom --distance 0 \
	 --expand true \
	 --transparent true --alpha 128 --tint 0 \
	 --SetDockType true --SetPartialStrut true & 
  nm-applet & ) &

exec ratpoison

The result could look like this:

My EeePC desktop with ratpoison, trayer and two aterms

The other programs in the system tray are from right to left: nm-applet (GNOME Network Manager), Twitux (GTK Twitter Client), Audacious, Opera, Pidgin (formerly known as GAIM), Icedove (unbranded Mozilla Thunderbird). The clock on the bottom left is from the package osdclock.

Oh, and although I’m fine with trayer: if anybody knows a possibility to control the GNOME Network Manager without the need for a system tray, I would be very happy if you could tell me. :-)

Update 18-June-2008 23:45:

Matto Fransen used my howto to get ratpoison and nm-applet working together on Ubuntu. He also explains in his blog post, what may be necessary to get nm-applet working as intended in the first place — things I already had forgotten when I wrote this posting initally. :-)

Sunday·22·October·2006

The mouseless side of X //at 00:48 //by abe

from the Think-Emacs!-Think-screen! dept.

Although I like the idea of a tiling and completely keyboard focused window manager, I never fell in love with Ion because the default keybindings weren’t really intuïtive (to me). A few months ago I noticed, that ratpoison is also a tiling and completely keyboard focused window manager, only with much more intuitive usage: If you know screen and it’s keybindings, you also know ratpoison and it’s keybindings: Just exchange Ctrl-A with Ctrl-T. This sounds perfect for usage on my low performance laptops, where I have small screens and usually also no virtual desktops in use.

There’s only one thing which annoys me in ratpoison: If I use a mostly mouse driven application like e.g. a webbrowser with ratpoison, I have no problems to click on links, even if the webbrowser is not in the so called “current frame”. But if e.g. click into an input field, I usually notice much too late that while the mouse works fine in the browser, keyboard focus is still in some other window. Currently they all use flwm, the Fast and Lite Window Manager.

So what I would need is a tiling and keyboard focused window manager but with “focus follows mouse” politics. And since the laptops on which I intend to use such a window manager, all have a touchpad or thumbstick, the mouse there counts as keyboard focused, too somehow, doesn’t it? :-) I wonder, if an ion3 could be configured to use the same keybindings as ratpoison. That would probably fulfil this desire.

On the other hand, there are browsers which are fine without mouse. lynx or links2 for example, so the focus problem I have with ratpoison wouldn’t occur. But what if I need or want a keyboard driven and full blown webbrowser? Ok, Firefox as well as Opera are not that bad in keyboard only use, but they still are focused on the mouse using user.

But Gecko wouldn’t be Gecko, if there wasn’t some Gecko based browser with this features: On the ratpoison website I found a link to a very interesting Firefox plugin which makes Firefox a complete new browser, a keyboard driven webbrowser named Conkeror. It has no toolbars at all, no (visible) tabs, no menus, no nothing — it shows only the website in fullscreen, a status line and a multipurpose command line — exactly like the mini-buffer of GNU Emacs.

But not only the layout, even the keybindings are very emacsish: C-x C-f opens an URL in a new buffer -eh- tab, C-x 5 C-f opens an URL in a new frame (window), C-x C-v opens a new URL in the current tab (buffer) with the current URL as editable default value, C-x b switches to another tab, C-x k kills -eh- closes a tab, C-x C-b lists all open tabs, l goes back (remember the Emacs info reader, eh?), C-g quits accidently requested dialogs or stops loading a web page, Ctrl-s and Ctrl-r give you forward and backward i-search, C-n, C-p, C-f and C-b scroll, etc. Even M-x works, e.g. will M-x revert-buffer reload the web page. (Unfortunately Esc-x doesn’t work. Yet.) And for vi freaks, there is even M-x use-vi-keys. There’s even one lynxish keybinding: \ lets you view the source.

And although it’s one of the strangest webbrowsers I saw yet, I somehow like it and also would like to see it in Debian as package, since it is the perfect companion for ion or ratpoison. Looking through apt’s package cache as well as the wnpp bugs, I haven’t found any hint on somebody already packaging it, so I’ll have a look on it and on how to to package a Firefox extension for Debian.

BTW: While looking through the wnpp bugs, I found bug #335459, which is the ITP flock, an also Gecko based browser with a lot of cool features for blogger who like social network tools.

Another nice thing I found today in Debian was the xfonts-artwiz package whose small fonts are very suitable for small resolution screens, especially if a tiling window manager is used with a e.g. 800×600 resolution. Unfortunately they aren’t available in a charset with German umlauts.

Apropos tiling window managers: Anyone tried pconsole with an automatically tiling and resizing window manager? I wonder if it’s usable. At least on MacOS X with its cascading window positioning algorithm, pconsole is a pain. — But even without cascading windows, MacOS X is a pain for keyboard users. Just think of its default behaviour when using the tab key inside a form mask: It will skip all buttons, all checkboxes, all radio buttons and all select boxes. Argh!

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Hackergotchi of Axel Beckert

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This is the blog or weblog of Axel Stefan Beckert (aka abe or XTaran) who thought, he would never start blogging... (He also once thought, that there is no reason to switch to this new ugly Netscape thing because Mosaïc works fine. That was about 1996.) Well, times change...

He was born 1975 at Villingen-Schwenningen, made his Abitur at Schwäbisch Hall, studied Computer Science with minor Biology at University of Saarland at Saarbrücken (Germany) and now lives in Zürich (Switzerland), working at the IT Support Group (ISG) of the Departement of Physics at ETH Zurich.

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