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I'd like to run a program in full screen mode without the overhead of a desktop environment but simply on a xserver instance.

This is fairly easy by running:

startx <program>

Trouble is that that program gets placed in the upper left corner and I have no clue how to let it use the full screen height and width.

Any hints?

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Most X programs will accept the option "geometry" to state both window placement and size. This can also be set as an X resource. Usually the man page for the program will tell you which X resources you can set, or otherwise how to specify placement etc.

Other programs, such as Midori, will have a fullscreen option as an argument to the program:

midori -e Fullscreen

There is more information about options to Midori at the midori website.

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Thanks for the answer but unfortunately midori does not support the geometry option. – hennr Jun 13 '13 at 8:17
It would have helped a lot if you'd said which program you were talking about from the start... I've now added information specific to Midori. – Jenny D Jun 13 '13 at 8:19
Well, which program I run doesn't matter too much. I've tried running midori -e Fullscreen without any success already, these options don't count if running a bare xserver without a desktop environment. The -geometry option was a good idea though, but midori doesn't implement it. – hennr Jun 13 '13 at 9:31
It would have mattered to me, as it would have saved me the time I spent writing an answer that does not apply to your situation. But I understand that this may not be of concern to you. – Jenny D Jun 13 '13 at 9:34
I appreciate your time and help. "-geometry" could have been a correct answer. So please let's don't make this a flame war. – hennr Jun 13 '13 at 9:52

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