Everything in it’s Right Place 5: Toggles or Now you see it, now you don’t

This is the fifth and final post in a series on achieving an orderly desktop environment in GNOME 3, using no add-ons, only old school hacks. See also the first, second, third, and fourth post in the series.

So far we’ve covered static workspaces, windows spawning on designated workspaces and starting and moving between the windows on your workspaces. As I said in the introduction I think there are certain applications that do not require your undivided attention. These applications we simply want to appear briefly on top of other windows – what is the name of that song playing, is so-and-so online yet, etc. – and then dispense with. We wish to assign a single keyboard shortcut for toggling this window on and off so as to make this procedure as quick and easy as possible.


Why GNOME keybindings silently resist customization

Note: This relates GNOME Shell 3.10 in Ubuntu 14.04. Other versions may differ and YMMV.

The keybindings of GNOME Shell can be changed using the system settings windows (All settings | Keyboard | Shortcuts). However, I have at times run into the feeling that these settings were only superficially customizable. Some keybindings would keep working the old way despite having their functionality set to another keybinding and some would seemingly ignore being disabled. GNOME keybindings seemed haunted by a ghost.

I’ve tracked down the ghost and the name of it is multiple keybindings. One functionality is often given to multiple key combos in the bowels of the system, not just one. The System settings window, however, only shows one, the first in the list. This means that if the keybinding you wish to assign to functionality A is secretly assigned to functionality B , the secret binding may overrule your attempts to use the keybinding. Only you won’t be asked to reassign the keybinding in system settings as that only checks the first, user-editable keybinding. A bug or a feature? You never really know with the GNOME development team.


Everything in it’s Right Place 3: Setting dedicated workspaces with devil’s pie

This is the third post in a series on achieving an orderly desktop environment in GNOME 3, using no add-ons, only old school hacks. See also the first and the second post in the series.

Dedicated workspaces is a term – possibly – of my own invention. Possibly not. The basic idea was outlined in the first post: “Certain windows belong on certain workspaces”. With multiple workspaces you easily get windows randomly strewn across the workspaces. A browser there, a file manager here, a text editor over there. Because I am pretty goddamn anal this kind of thing bugs me. For my peace of mind as well as for windows being easy to find I need them to be in their proper place. So I devise some sort of order that groups the various types of windows into themes and hierarchies. I tend to group windows into categories like browsers, editors, viewers etc. but the exact nature of my chosen order is not the subject here. The point is that each window has one and just one workspace where it should spawn and where it should stay. It may have that workspace to itself (more easily accomplished with a grid of workspaces) or it may share it with other, similar windows. The technique is the same and utilises just one tool, devil’s pie.


Everything in it’s Right Place 2: Setting static workspaces

This is the second post in a series on achieving an orderly desktop environment in GNOME 3, using no add-ons, only old school hacks. See also the first post in the series.

In the previous post I laid out the requirements for my ideal desktop. In the following I’m going to explain how I go about achieving this within the confines of Gnome Shell. Which immediately begs the question: Why Gnome Shell? There is a ton of alternative desktop environments and window managers out there, many of which may be more amenable to what I intend to do. I will not go into the whole desktop choice debate here. Suffice to say that I still believe that Gnome Shell can be made into a decent desktop environment with the hacks detailed in these posts.

Here’s the plan: First we’ll set static workspaces with Gnome tweak tool (alternatively dconf), then we’ll make various windows adhere to a specific workspace using devilspie and then we’ll set up a way to switch between applications using wmctrl and xbindkeys. This post will focus on getting static workspaces to work.


Everything In It’s Right Place 1: My idea of a proper desktop

I’m working on polishing a collection of minor desktop hacks that will transform my Gnome Shell experience into something more palatable than vanilla. In preparation for an article on how best to achieve these goals I wrote down the following as a sort of vision and mission statement for the project. The how-tos will appear over the following weeks months under the everything in it’s right place tag.

My desktop philosophy is that everything has it’s place. Yes, it’s very anal but I’ll take that as a compliment. Browsers here, Terminals there. The desktop metaphor is apt: I have books on my desk. They belong in the upper right corner. I have a keyboard. It’s place is in the center in front of the display. Etc. That is where I expect them to be and that is where my eye automatically goes when I need them. Certain kinds of things, like pencils, should be pulled in to wherever I need them and then ideally disappear into another dimension until I need them again. Of course real life pencils don’t do that. But surely that would be a more ideal office than one in which pencils are lying about all over the place simply because you never know when or where you might need one.

So much for metaphor. This is how it translates into virtual space.


Gnome Shell: Three years on

The big battle of GNOME Shell has beeen pretty much fought out by now. I think the general consensus is that GNOME Shell lost but that there’s no clear winner, since Canonical’s Unity hasn’t won anybody over but themselves (even if that does represent a sizeable chunk of linux desktop users).

So when this piece showed up in my feed reader, I could empathize. I also liked the idea of Gnome Shell, I also liked the look of Gnome Shell. But since the reality of Gnome Shell was above all buggy, uncustomizable and marked by the developers’ we-know-best attitude, I also left in search of pastures new. And also came up short.