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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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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 Network Security Group (NSG) of the Central IT Services (Informatikdienste) at ETH Zurich.

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