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All right, I've been messing around with various linux distros and a variety of window managers (I seem to change operating systems like most people change their pants), and I've gotten to the point where I know what I want but I'm not sure the best way to set it up. Here's what I want out of my programming machine:

  1. I don't want a status bar. I don't want a menu bar. When there are no windows open, the screen should show my desktop background and nothing else. I'll use alt+f2 to run things, and my shell prompt will tell me my battery life and the time. I'll open network controls and volume controls when I need them, no need for them to pollute the screen all the time.

  2. I want a good, simple terminal emulator. I'll be using it with tmux. It should have no title bar and, if possible, no app frame. It's ok if I have to run it in full screen mode to remove the app frame, but only if it still plays nicely with alt-tab and workspaces.

  3. I want a dirt-simple window manager. It needs to support transparency: I don't have a lot of screen real-estate and I often overlay the terminal on the browser and type out commands. I don't want a tiling-only system, for the above reason. Bonus points for tiling and overlaying.

  4. I'd like multiple workspaces. I prefer to have one gui per workspace. If I could 'pin' the terminal emulator to always show up in each workspace, that's bonus points. If not, I can have a terminal emulator in each workspace attached to the same tmux instance.

  5. I'd like a way to set up a keypress that always takes me to the current open terminal emulator. Currently, 90% of the time I only have two windows open: the terminal emulator and something else. In this scenario, alt-tab works like a toggle between the two. If I have another gui open (like a developer window with a web browser), this throws a wrench in my workflow. I'd like a way to assign, for example, 'super-T' to switch to the first open terminal emulator. Bonus points if I can also assign 'super-B' (or whatever) to switch to the first open browser.

So far I've been messing around with gnome and tweaking it heavily to match my preferences, but that seems like overkill and I can never get it quite right. I've toyed with xmonad, but it's more for handling many windows, and I usually only have the two.

and am considering fluxbox, but I was wondering if any of your minimalists out there had suggestions that might better match my workflow. I'm sick of fighting the window manager, I just want it to get out of my way.

Edit: To make things clear, I am not considering switching to a mac/windows environment. I find programming in windows to be a bore, and I have no interest in buying new (read: mac) hardware.

Thanks!

-Nate

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Sounds a lot like OS X 10.7 with fullscreen apps… –  Daniel Beck Nov 11 '11 at 19:52
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1) okay; 2) any - title bars are a function of the window manager; 3) Openbox, Metacity; 4) Openbox, Metacity. –  grawity Nov 11 '11 at 19:57
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Openbox is great, and can do just about everything he wants, for sure. You could probably set something up in the rc.xml for switching to an open window, too, but I haven't tried. It's simple enough to hide all decorations, and adding hotkeys is easy too. –  Rob Nov 11 '11 at 22:46

4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I don't want a status bar. I don't want a menu bar. When there are no windows open, the screen should show my desktop background and nothing else. I'll use alt+f2 to run things, and my shell prompt will tell me my battery life and the time. I'll open network controls and volume controls when I need them, no need for them to pollute the screen all the time.

Fluxbox or Openbox window manager.

I want a good, simple terminal emulator. I'll be using it with tmux. It should have no title bar and, if possible, no app frame. It's ok if I have to run it in full screen mode to remove the app frame, but only if it still plays nicely with alt-tab and workspaces.

I'd say xterm.

I want a dirt-simple window manager. It needs to support transparency: I don't have a lot of screen real-estate and I often overlay the terminal on the browser and type out commands. I don't want a tiling-only system, for the above reason. Bonus points for tiling and overlaying.

I don't know if Fluxbox and Openbox support all of those, but I'm pretty sure most of the features you requested are in one of them (sorry, I've worked with both of them, but I forgot wich one was Fluxbox and wich one was Openbox).

I'd like multiple workspaces. I prefer to have one gui per workspace. If I could 'pin' the terminal emulator to always show up in each workspace, that's bonus points. If not, I can have a terminal emulator in each workspace attached to the same tmux instance.

Once again, Fluxbox or Openbox :p

I'd like a way to set up a keypress that always takes me to the current open terminal emulator. Currently, 90% of the time I only have two windows open: the terminal emulator and something else. In this scenario, alt-tab works like a toggle between the two. If I have another gui open (like a developer window with a web browser), this throws a wrench in my workflow. I'd like a way to assign, for example, 'super-T' to switch to the first open terminal emulator. Bonus points if I can also assign 'super-B' (or whatever) to switch to the first open browser.

I'm pretty sure it's possible, but I don't think there's an out-of-the-box solution available for that.


Seems that what you're looking for is a minimalistic distro on top of wich you can add the applications you want by yourself.
My suggestion would be that you installed a distro with basic functionality (Arch Linux if you've got time and want to customize everything, otherwise Debian-stable), installed the Fluxbox/Openbox windowmanager on it (you can configure them to get rid of the panel one of them comes with by default), get rid of the default (if one) desktop environment (and, if any, unneeded clutter and applications), reboot, and login to your new session.

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A debian netinstall is great for building exactly what you want, not what someone else has put together. –  Rob Nov 11 '11 at 23:41

I would use windows 7 and autohotkey for most of your problems... You can size windows so that their "superfluous" bars are hidden off your screen (but still exist if you decide you want them), and you can set up your workspace using a ahk script, you can swap windows, you can go to most recently opened terminal or first activated, whichever. I think you can do all this with windows 7 and ahk. Workspaces would simply be keypresses that minimize some windows and activate others again with ahk. The only thing this doesn't answer is that ... well it's not linux, it's windows 7.

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I think you missed the part where I'm setting up a 'minimalist linux environment'. :) I think it would be hard to get a good terminal emulator and tmux running satisfactorily on windows, for starters. This is my programming machine, and there are a whole world of programs that I use that would be no fun in a windows environment. –  So8res Nov 11 '11 at 20:07
    
Ah, well I wasn't aware there were programs on linux that weren't offered on Windows. Sorry--I mis-read your first line as "I'm willing ot change operating systems" haha –  victoroux Nov 11 '11 at 20:09
    
I can see how it could be misconstrued. I meant that I hop between distros, and occasionally from Linux to BSD. Mac, being BSD-based, wouldn't be out of the question, but I'm quite attached to by *nix command line. –  So8res Nov 11 '11 at 20:13

Also consider the "awesome" window manager - not sure it does all you want, but it is configurable via a turing-complete language (lua) so your more sophisticated keystroke-commands ought to be achievable.

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Build it yourself.. sort of. I used to run a setup VERY similar to this ages ago

  1. openbox as a base WM, though you can replace this with whatever you want

  2. xcompmgr + transet for transparency and setting window transparency - this will work to add transparency to WMs that don't

  3. tilda for your terminal emulator (its lighter than guake, and iirc lacks a title bar.

I can't remember the multiple workspaces bit, i hardly used them

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