Modern desktop environments like GNOME and KDE involving a lot of mousing around and I much prefer using the keyboard where I can. This is why I switched to the Ion tiling window manager back when I interned at Net Integration Technologies and kept using it until I noticed it had been removed from Debian.
After experimenting with awesome for 2 years and briefly considering xmonad , I finally found a replacement I like in i3. Here is how I customized it and made it play nice with the GNOME and KDE applications I use every day.
As soon as I log into my desktop, my startup script starts a few programs, including:
- gnome-settings-daemon: makes GTK applications look nice by applying my preferred theme amongst other things
- gnome-keyring-daemon: remembers ssh public keys for the duration of my session
- gnome-screensaver: locks the screen when I'm not around
- nm-applet: handles wifi and VPN connections
- git-annex: keeps my folders synchronized between machines
Because of a bug in gnome-settings-daemon which makes the mouse cursor disappear as soon as gnome-settings-daemon is started, I had to run the following to disable the offending gnome-settings-daemon plugin:
dconf write /org/gnome/settings-daemon/plugins/cursor/active false
In addition, gnome-screensaver didn't automatically lock my screen, so I installed xautolock and added it to my startup script:
xautolock -time 30 -locker "gnome-screensaver-command --lock" &
to lock the screen using gnome-screensaver after 30 minutes of inactivity.
I can also trigger it manually using the following shortcut defined in my
bindsym Ctrl+Mod1+l exec xautolock -locknow
While keyboard shortcuts can be configured in GNOME, they don't work within i3, so I added a few more bindings to my
# volume control bindsym XF86AudioLowerVolume exec /usr/bin/pactl set-sink-volume @DEFAULT_SINK@ '-5%' bindsym XF86AudioRaiseVolume exec /usr/bin/pactl set-sink-volume @DEFAULT_SINK@ '+5%' bindsym XF86AudioMute exec /usr/bin/pactl set-sink-mute @DEFAULT_SINK@ toggle # brightness control bindsym XF86MonBrightnessDown exec xbacklight -steps 1 -time 0 -dec 5 bindsym XF86MonBrightnessUp exec xbacklight -steps 1 -time 0 -inc 10 # show battery stats bindsym XF86Battery exec gnome-power-statistics
to make volume control, screen brightness and battery status buttons work as expected on my laptop.
These bindings require the following packages:
Keyboard layout switcher
Another thing that used to work with GNOME and had to re-create in i3 is the ability to quickly toggle between two keyboard layouts using the keyboard.
To make it work, I wrote a simple shell script and assigned a keyboard shortcut to it in
bindsym $mod+u exec /home/francois/bin/toggle-xkbmap
Since I run lots of things in the background, I have set my laptop to avoid suspending when the lid is closed by putting the following in
Instead, when I want to suspend to ram, I use the following keyboard shortcut:
bindsym Ctrl+Mod1+s exec /home/francois/bin/s2ram
To avoid having to type my sudo password every time pm-suspend is invoked, I added the following line to
francois ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD: /usr/sbin/pm-suspend
Window and workspace placement hacks
While tiling window managers promise to manage windows for you so that you can focus on more important things, you will most likely want to customize window placement to fit your needs better.
Working around misbehaving applications
A few applications make too many assumptions about window placement and are just plain broken in tiling mode. Here's how to automatically switch them to floating mode:
for_window [class="VidyoDesktop"] floating enable
You can get the Xorg class of the offending application by running this command:
xprop | grep WM_CLASS
before clicking on the window.
Keeping IM windows on the first workspace
I run Pidgin on my first workspace and I have the following rule to keep any new window that pops up (e.g. in response to a new incoming message) on the same workspace:
assign [class="Pidgin"] 1
Automatically moving workspaces when docking
Here's a neat configuration blurb which automatically moves my workspaces (and their contents) from the laptop screen (
eDP1) to the external monitor (
DP2) when I dock my laptop:
# bind workspaces to the right monitors workspace 1 output DP2 workspace 2 output DP2 workspace 3 output DP2 workspace 4 output DP2 workspace 5 output DP2 workspace 6 output eDP1
You can get these output names by running:
xrandr --display :0 | grep " connected"
Finally, because X sometimes fail to detect my external monitor when docking/undocking, I also wrote a script to set the displays properly and bound it to the appropriate key on my laptop:
bindsym XF86Display exec /home/francois/bin/external-monitor