I have a boring desktop and I think I'm okay with that

May 15, 2018

Every so often I wind up either reading about or looking at pictures of beautifully customized Unix desktops. These are from people who have carefully picked colors and themes, often set up a highly customized window manager environment, set up all sorts of panels and information widgets, and so on (one endless source of these is on reddit). Sometimes this involves using a tiling window manager with various extension programs. I look at these things partly because there's something in me that feels drawn to them and that envies those setups.

My desktop is unconventional, but within that it's boring. It has colours that are either mismatched or at best vaguely matched, various font choices picked somewhat at random, and assorted decorations and so on that are there mostly because they're what's easy to do in the plain old standby of fvwm. There's very little design and very little use of interesting programs; I mean, I still use xclock and xload, and I don't think fvwm is considered an interesting window manager these days.

(Fvwm certainly has limitations in terms of what you can easily do in it. A dedicated person could expand fvwm's capabilities by use of modern X programs like wmutils and wmctrl, but I'm not such a person.)

I wound up thinking about this when I was recently reading another article about this (via, itself via), and this time around I came to a straightforward realization, one that I could have arrived at years ago: I'm not that dedicated and I don't care that much. My mismatched, assorted desktop is boring, but it works okay for me, and I've become the kind of pragmatic person that is okay with that.

I wouldn't mind a nicer desktop and every so often I make a little stab in that direction (I recently added some fvwm key bindings that were inspired by Cinnamon), but I'm never going to do the kind of work that's required to build a coherent custom desktop or make the kind of sacrifices required. Tiling window managers, programmable window managers, highly custom status bars, all of that stuff is neat to read about and look at, but it's not something for me. The best I'm likely to ever do is minor changes around the edges (at least until Wayland forces me to start over from scratch). And so my desktop is always going to be boring. I think I'm finally okay with that.

(There's a freedom in giving up in this sense. One way to put it is that I can stop feeling slightly guilty about not having a nicer, more coherent desktop environment, or in having something that's the kind of advanced environment you might expect a serious Unix person to have. I know this is an irrational feeling, but no one said feelings are rational.)

PS: This also means that I can give up thinking about switching to another window manager. It's quite unlikely I could find one that I want to use other than fvwm (fvwm's icon manager is extremely important to me), but I've long had the thought that there might be a better one out there somewhere. Maybe there is, but even if there is, it's probably way too much effort to switch.


Comments on this page:

By Opk at 2018-05-16 06:52:32:

Does it concern you at all that Wayland may force change on you? It may be a good few years away yet and perhaps fvwm will be ported.

I'd consider my desktop to be more boring now with i3 than it was years back when I used fvwm. Having things not change over time does a lot more for productivity than the latest eye-candy. Fortunately, there's sway on Wayland so I won't need to change much from i3.

By Blau Engel at 2018-05-18 12:38:58:

After years of Eye-Candy I moved to lxde/openbox. It is simple,fast no bells or whistles. Looks traditional like a windows XP (nice start menu). At least I have all the RAM for my work rather than desktop environment

By cks at 2018-05-18 16:08:25:

Belatedly: I am worried about Wayland, but I've accepted that there's nothing I can do about it (I wrote this up as an entry here). Things are also so fluid around Wayland that there doesn't seem to be any point in trying to prepare for it; I'm sure the situation around Wayland window managers and applications will be much different in a few years.

(As Opk notes, people who use i3 and i3-alikes are already in good shape, given Sway.)

Written on 15 May 2018.
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