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btilly (5037)

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Journal of btilly (5037)

Sunday May 09, 2004
01:59 AM

Today's accomplishment - get annoyed at Linux

[ #18678 ]

It is a Saturday. A day for relaxation. And for tidying up loose ends that I don't get time for during the week.

So what did I accomplish? I got some sleep. I did laundry. And I launched into my computer configuration problems.

Let's take the optimistic and factual view. After several hours and much assistance from an extremely competent friend, I managed to switch to grub, fix some obscure XFree86 problems (I'm now off of imwheel), upgrade my kernel (while breaking sound - I'm now on an older kernel) upgrade multiple packages, and finally make my window manager not be in a fairly badly broken state.

When I reached the end, I find out that the cause of my grief appears to have been due to upgrades in GNOME causing conflicts with other things. Luckily due to Debian's very well maintained policy, I had a straightforward upgrade path, and aside from the complexity of switching to grub with a somewhat complex machine (where automatic tools did not quite cut it), Debian mostly did The Right Thing in terms of keeping me running.

Unfortunately one of the upgrades was a major switch in how my window manager of choice worked, and I have a lot of work ahead in figuring out how to customize it to behave like I want.

OK, now for background on all of this.

I don't really care about desktops. What I want is simple - lots of screen space, easy navigation, convenient access to menus, and no wasted space, menu bars, and the like. Eye candy is wasted on me - I want convenience. The old fvwm2 was pretty much perfect from my point of view. Simple, sweet, and effective.

However other people care about it, and create complex desktop environments. Which then want to integrate into everything else and take over. Somewhere in this process both thought that if imwheel was going to run, then either both or neither was going to run it. And if either couldn't, then it was going to break badly. This resulted in constant GNOME errors, breaking Galeon (so I went back to Mozilla), breaking the launching of any window manager (I had complex workarounds) and making fvwm2 run into worse and worse problems. At least fvwm2 could run, the window managers with "better" integration couldn't. (Except one configuration of Sawfish. With no menus accessible either. Luckily it launched with a couple of xterms from which I could get to fvwm2 by typing. And now you know my workaround.)

So here's my experience.

I have a fairly simple setup. I like to keep it relatively up to date. Somewhere in there, something broke, badly. Something I didn't care about. But now I've wasted a lot of time, and gotten someone with serious talent to waste a bunch of his, just to fix this crap. And it is still not fixed! I wanted the old fvwm2. That is not available. I'm not looking for massive improvements. Just the same functionality that I've been using since 1997.

I'm on fvwm now, with ugly colours without a window decoration to close the window, without the easy grab and resize a window, without the Alt-arrow_key combinations to navigate pages, with a pager about 5x as large as I want because it now has crap that I'm not interested in, and with menu where I have to go one layer deeper for everything than I did before.

I can use it, I'm good at making do. Eventually I'll figure out how to fix it. But I'm not happy about that. After a lot of effort applied, my box isn't as usable as it was just a few months ago. And the wounds appear self-inflicted. This stuff Just Worked for years. Why break it?

When people talk about Linux for home use, I laugh. Bitterly. There is no way that casual home users can or will handle this kind of crap. Yes, let them use the system with a competent sysadmin around. But they're not going to be their own sysadmins.

The sad part is that I still believe that Linux, for all of its flaws, is causing me less pain than Windows would.

Oh, did I mention? I'm painfully aware that when I have cause to upgrade my machine at work, it is going to have the same problems. So I'd better figure out how to get fvwm working to my satisfaction, because I'm going to have to make it work again. :-(

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  • Have you tried openbox? I use openbox-3 with gnome-panel ( take a look []) and have found this setup to be as or more efficient than anything else. Borders are minimal, frills are minimal. My terminals don't even have scroll bars -- that's what a mouse wheel and shift-page-{up,down} are for, right?

    Anyway, I suggest you apt-get install openbox obconf, try it out, run obconf to configure it, and see if it eases the pain.

    qw(Ian Langworth)
    • Is gnome-panel that big ugly thing on the bottom? I like doing without any such decorations. Also how do you launch programs? I'm used to being able to grab any blank piece of real estate (flip to another page if I need to find one) and have a menu right there.

      What about access to multiple desktops? I'm used to having a 9x9 panel of them (called "pages" in fvwm terminology) that I could flip through easily. I noticed that there was something going on using the mouse wheel, but I'd find that too easy t
      • No problem, I just try to find possible solutions :)

        Yeah, gnome-panel is the big ugly thing. However, I've since made it smaller, making the quick-launch bar two rows of tiny icons (the applet is called "quicklounge" or something). I also had a gnome applet running on there that would execute whatever i typed into it -- sort of like a one-line terminal. I never found it useful, though. Other than that, I usually open applications from a new terminal: I open a new term, do pre-application tasks, and run the
        qw(Ian Langworth)
        • I've got fvwm mostly figured out.

          I found that if I move ~/.fvwm away and start fvwm then it gives me a menu. Item 3 on that menu is a configuration utility. That fairly easily gave me a good deal of what I was looking for out of the box. I figured out how to get rid of silly decorations through playing with the menu. To get the Debian Programs menu I had to copy a file to a new name in /etc/X11/fvwm. It isn't in front of me, but I think that the change was some kind of inithook file to Debian Menu. I