Using a custom window manager with Gnome / Ubuntu 11.04

I kinda expected that the upgrade to Natty Narwhal would be a bit bumpy, but it was pretty painless. Really all I use GNOME for is a way to get a system tray into my XMonad session with the least possible fuss. I also use a few GTK+Gnome oriented apps like evince and geeqie but have no real connexion to the old Gnome.

The only real bump that I have faced, is that overriding WINDOW_MANAGER and calling gnome-session is no longer enough to run GNOME with XMonad. Ubuntu 11.04 as of current update status, is overwriting this with compiz! Not even overriding the gconf key helps, it just gets reset to gnome-wm; which is what is *supposed* to be picking up the exported WINDOW_MANAGER variable from my X session file.

Solution? Found a helpful hint on the XMonad wiki. However rather than modify things at the system level (I am a BSD lover after all), I opted to instead setup a session file in $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/gnome-session/sessions/$LOGNAME.session. The default value for $XDG_CONFIG_HOME is ~/.config, $LOGNAME is another variable for $USER (your users’ login name).

[ terry@alice ]$ cat ~/.config/gnome-session/sessions/terry.session
[GNOME Session]
Name=Classic GNOME
[ terry@alice ]$

Then updated my X session to run this with commit 3e92fc91040573ba40ac20ad75a594d6eeef60b6. And for good measure, I unset the gconf key.

Now everything worky 🙂

Hmm, it seems that updating Xfce4 has borked the install—in so much as none of the panel plugins work. Xfce4 itself seems to be O.K. but I can’t even get the Xfce Menu to appear in the panel, after using the option to migrate my panel settings almost nothing works o/. Guess whoever it was on the Zenwalk mailing list was right about the new Xfce not being ready for the lime light.

Giving KDE 4.5.4 a clean shot, results in an almost two minute wait to load, before it finally crashes back out to my XDM screen. To be fair on a second run (after rm -rf ~/.kde && sudo reboot) it is closer to 1 minute >_>.

Next up, using GNOME. Less than 30 seconds for the *first* run and I had a usable desktop. At least, something in this world works. After rebooting, going from log in to a usable desktop was approximately the same time frame. That’s cool.

I have never been a big fan of the old GNOME but I will usually be the first to admit, it gets the fuck out of your way and lets you get shit done. But Xfce4 is faster!!!

So I guess for right now, the old GNOME is my defacto-standard desktop :-/. Hey, if it works. Hell, all I really use the “Desktop” for amounts to a system tray, wall paper, and a way to switch between windows. 90% of what I do, is done in an X Terminal anyway.

The thing that I do care about, is that It Just Works and Doesn’t Annoy Me Constantly.

O.K. this is definitely a double whammy of why I prefer FreeBSD.

A few days ago I installed KDE on Ubuntu, which added the Kubuntu boot splash. When I installed the *rest* of KDE via synaptic: on the next boot it broke GDM and my Gnome session until I did an apt-get remove followed by an apt-get install of the gdm and ubuntu-desktop packages. This is deffo one of the reasons why the distinction on BSD between /usr and /usr/local is a good thing ™.

This after noon I clicked through one of Gnomes settings bit for languages, and thought perhaps it would have a way to merge my preferences for U.S. and ISO formatting. It asked if I wanted to install a few dozen more language packs for English and German, since I had taken the liberty of adding the German language packs. Also told it to prefer the British English and standard German languages above standard English (rather than ignored); American English being the primary. Being American, you never have to worry until you start spelling in different dialects. That added export LANGUAGE=”en_US:en_GB:de:en” to the end of my .profile; which I moved to an /etc/profile.d script.

‘lo and behold on reboot, the entire Gnome desktop is in German…. and despite that being very different than my limited reading vocabulary, I still can figure out what the frig I’m looking at! Just don’t ask me to pronounce it properly lol.

open default browser

for KDE:

$> kfmclient exec

this will open the file with the default binding if at all it exists…i.e. any app that associates itself with .swf MIME type.

for GNOME:


^ open file in proper program.