I'm considering building a custom laptop environment

June 15, 2013

Back in this entry I talked about how my work laptop was still running Fedora 14 and going to stick there, and that what was important about my Fedora 14 Gnome 2 environment was sshmenu plus my customizations for the Gnome 'Command Line' applet. This is all well and good and my logic is still impeccable, but the whole Fedora 14 situation is becoming less and less tenable. It's not just the lack of security updates or even updates for Firefox and Chrome updates; it's also the lack of modern software, including modern support for, say, wireless networks using WPA2 Enterprise authentication (guess what we have one of on campus).

The bad news is that I see no signs that any standard desktop environment will ever have what I want. The good news is that I already have an even better replacement for the command line applet and I can either use sshmenu straight or bash together some sort of alternate. All I would need to do is put together a custom window manager environment that had all of the necessary functionality. This is not trivial but I already have some experience with it.

I don't think that my usual window manager would really work on a laptop; it relies on a lot of chorded mouse actions that are easy with a separate mouse but would probably be very awkward with a trackpad. The broad strokes of the Gnome 2 environment are perfectly fine, which basically means an area for necessary applets and then some buttons to launch programs (and scripts) that I care about. I would need to find an applet container program, assuming that the window manager I pick doesn't already come with one. As far as I know, things like NetworkManager (pretty much essential for a laptop in my view), power management, and so on are still available in applet or standalone form (and so I will not have to write anything to, for example, suspend the system when the laptop lid is closed).

(While it's tempting to reuse fvwm and just write a different configuration I'm not certain that it's the right approach. On the other hand the simple window managers that everyone talks about tend to be tiling window managers and I don't think that would work on a small laptop screen.)

This would be a certain amount of up-front work. On the other hand I'd get to update to current Fedora and I'd also fix my laptop environment issues for good; I'd probably be fine no matter what the various Fedora desktops did in future releases. On the whole it's actually pretty tempting, especially when I tell myself I'm going to have to do this someday and it's just a question of when I do the work.

(I admit that it bugs me to have the laptop stuck on such an old Fedora release. Getting to something modern is a pretty attractive idea all by itself.)

Comments on this page:

From at 2013-06-15 03:02:29:

What you are suggesting doesn't seem very custom to me. There's a lot of choice in terms of desktops for Fedora these days (ironically, the Gnome 3 fiasco has led to a wider range of options). If you want to stick with your Gnome 2 habits, MATE (the Gnome 2 continuity project) is part of Fedora 18 (though the packages are an optional install).

Personally, I run fvwm under Fedora on my laptop (currently Fedora 18), as everywhere else. This is somewhat custom (i.e. a custom .xsession script), but there's not that much to it. The list of basic things that need to run for stuff to work is gnome-settings-daemon, polkit-gnome-authentication-agent-1 and pulseaudio. stalonetray hosts applets, and nm-applet has always been well-behaved. In Gnome 3, gnome-power-manager went away and gnome-settings-daemon provides the power applet instead. I don't think I've needed to change my .xsession scripts since the transition to Gnome 3 a couple of years ago.

From at 2013-06-15 09:15:13:

The benefit of creating a fvwmrc even now is that you don't need to change it for the next five years (assuming Fedora sticks to X11 for that time).

From at 2013-06-15 13:35:55:

a switch to wayland during the next five years seems likely, although X11 will probably run fine on top of that. is there any desktop environment on any platform that is programmable in a useful way?

By cks at 2013-06-15 17:56:46:

I was initially very enthused about MATE, but it turns out the developers made a terrible mistake that makes MATE useless in practice, at least to me.

By KDE user at 2015-05-10 11:23:21:

It's KDE time.

By cks at 2015-05-10 15:40:08:

The last time I looked at KDE I was not particularly enthused for my own peculiar reasons, but I admit that I haven't looked for a few years. In the end I wound up using Cinnamon, and since it works well enough (and can be customized in a way that I like very much), I have little motivation to try out yet another desktop environment.

Written on 15 June 2013.
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