My three sorts of (Linux) desktops

June 16, 2011

To kind of expand on a comment I made on an earlier entry, I broadly have three sorts of Linux desktops.

On machines I don't use very much and thus don't really care about I use whatever the default environment is, sometimes slightly customized if it's easy enough and I'm using the system more than once. All I really care about on these machines is getting to a terminal emulator (so that I can run ssh) and sometimes being able to run a browser. Oh, and actually connecting to the network.

On machines that I use enough to want to be productive on, I make some or many of my standard Gnome customizations (also). I still only really care about ssh and a browser, but now I want the whole process to be convenient and not too annoying.

(This assumes that these machines run Gnome as their standard environment. My EEEPc didn't, so I wound up customizing its environment instead of trying to build a Gnome environment on it. My general attitude on these machines is that it's not worth fighting the defaults, but it is worth customizing things.)

On my primary machines, the machines I sit in front of all of the time (either at work or at home), I run my full custom desktop environment. My desktop is a lot of work to set up but it's what I'm used to and it's highly tuned to work just the way I want it to. This environment has basically nothing to do with Gnome except sometimes using some Gnome applets or running some Gnome programs to do specific things.

(There's a very hard line between the second and the third sort of desktop, but the line between the first and the second is of course fuzzy.)

Since I only use Gnome on machines that I don't really use that often or care that much about, I'm pretty indifferent to what horrors the Gnome developers do to the Gnome environment provided that they don't hide the terminal application or the web browser (or make them very inconvenient to use). Gnome could make itself very irritating on the second sort of machine by eliminating both the sshmenu applet (which Gnome 3 sort of has) and the mini-commander (which it doesn't seem to have yet), but this wouldn't necessarily be fatal for my ability to use Gnome productively; I could live with starting shells and typing 'ssh whatever' myself if I had to.

Sidebar: the other reason to be lazy about Gnome on laptops

My strong impression is that an ever-increasing amount of things that you need to work on a laptop basically require a full Gnome environment (or far too much hacking). I'm thinking of things like useful wireless networking, dynamic networking in general, and automatically suspending and unsuspending as the lid is closed and opened. Letting Gnome worry about all of this magic is certainly the easy approach to dealing with it.

It is thus not terribly surprising that my work laptop runs Gnome. My time is too limited to spend it working out how to do wireless by hand.

(Working out how to do dynamic mounting of removable media was annoying enough.)

Comments on this page:

From at 2011-06-16 08:02:23:

Why not just have your configs in version-control somewhere and check them out on any machines you want to use (that also don't have a shared homedir)? I tend to do that as I am just too used to my window manager setup to cope with using Gnome at all...

I agree on the laptop thing though, wireless does seem to be a bit annoying without NetworkManager (which I loathe). USB mounting of devices is excellently straightforward with `usbmount' installed though, so I don't mind that at all :)

(I've been meaning to try `wicd' for the various network configs, but haven't done so yet so I can't comment on that.)

By cks at 2011-06-16 11:33:22:

There's a number of reasons, enough that answering this properly is an entry in and of itself. Part of it is that machines on which I use the first two sorts of desktops simply aren't used enough to be worth the time of setting up my full environment on.

From at 2011-06-16 17:57:27:

I seem to remember that you are an fvwm user (for your non-gnome machines). I use fvwm, including on laptops. The answer to how to get wireless networking to work on a laptop is fairly simple:

1. Install and run stalonetray (part of the standard repos for Fedora and Ubuntu).

2. Run nm-applet.

The nm-applet initially in Fedora 15 seemed to have some issues running in that context. But an update or two later, it is much better.

By gsauthof at 2011-07-03 11:15:51:

Yes, on laptops you almost have to use gnome (or kde) to get all the features one expects to work by default (e.g. suspend-to-ram on lid-close).

For example with suspend-to-ram-on-lid-close you have to figure out which daemon to configure (udevd, hald, acpid or foo-kit?), which workaround to use and so on.

I am surprised that there is a tendency to implement system-wide services like this not at system level but at a desktop level. S2R-on-lid-close should also work when not using X ... See also this comment thread.

At leat for networking there is nm-applet which also works with other window managers that support a tray bar.

Written on 16 June 2011.
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