Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: Tim Hinds, Liz McMillan, PagerDuty Blog, Kareen Kircher, Robert Reeves

Related Topics: Linux Containers

Linux Containers: Article

Ion a not-too minimalist window manager

Ion does everything it needs to do to become my favorite window manager

(LinuxWorld) -- All right, I lied. In my last article, I promised to cover file managers you can add to window managers. Immediately afterward, I discovered another window manager that won me over in just minutes. It's called ion.

The minimalist

Ion is a minimalist window manager. Minimalist window managers refuse to rely on things like icons, title bars, window buttons, launch pads, and the like. I happen to like these kinds of window managers because they try to take the attitude that the window manager should be managing the windows, not the user. That's one of the biggest problems with desktop environments like Windows, KDE, GNOME, and others like them. They're pretty, but they expect you to do all the work of arranging windows, minimizing applications, clicking on icons, and so on.

Unfortunately, none of the minimalist window managers did everything I wanted them to do in a way that was easy enough to grasp, but powerful enough to let me work the way I like. That is, until now. So far, Ion has delivered everything I like in a window manager.

For example, one of the things I liked about a minimalist window manager I mentioned in a previous article, larswm, is that it automatically tiled the windows of open applications. This made good use of desktop real estate without having to deal with issues like icons or taskbars. The problem with larswm is that it tiled too many windows. It even tiled the current application when a pop-up dialog appeared, and the pop-up dialog took up the main portion of the screen. larswm eventually solved this problem, but in a way that was so confusing, difficult to configure, and with keystrokes so difficult to remember that it became a burden to use. I've concluded that auto-tiling just doesn't work, because you have to work too hard to compensate for the windows you don't want to be tiled automatically.

I also like tabbed window managers like pwm and fluxbox. These two let you group open windows into one tabbed window, and let you switch between applications by clicking on the tabs. This is the same kind of tabbed switching you can do between open windows in Mozilla, Opera, and Galeon, only instead of tabbed access to windows within one application, you get tabbed access to multiple applications.

What I don't like about pwm and fluxbox is that you still have to manage these windows yourself. You can't just open up a new application within a tabbed group. You have to open the application and then drag it into the group where you want it attached. Again, this is the work the window manager should do, not the user.

Ion breed

Then I discovered Ion. Ion is based on pwm, and combines the best of pwm, fluxbox and larswm into a single window manager. When you start up Ion, you get a single frame. Press F2 and it starts up a terminal. Press F3 and it prompts you for an application you want to start. You could type mozilla, for example, and start up the browser. Now you have two applications open in the same frame, with tabs you can click on to switch between the two. (You could also use the keystroke combination Alt-K-N to switch between them.) That solves the pwm and fluxbox problem. You don't need to take the extra step of adding applications to a group. It's done automatically.

As I worked on this article, I found myself switching back and forth between OpenOffice (the application I am using to write this column) and an open terminal displaying the manual page for Ion. You can use the Alt-K-K key sequence to switch between the two most recently used applications to do this. However, if you switch around to other open applications, you'll have to jump through many windows to get Alt-K-K to work for you again.

Here is a nicer trick than using Alt-K-K. Just go to OpenOffice and press Alt-F9. This will open a new workspace (a new frame in a new work area) and move OpenOffice to that new location. In this case, it will be workspace 2. Then go to the terminal with the Ion man page and press Alt-F9 again, and it will create workspace 3 and put it there. Now you can switch between these two workspaces with Alt-2 and Alt-3.

Ion also lets you do things like split frames vertically or horizontally, start new applications within the new frames, and resize frames. I haven't found these features useful yet, but perhaps they will come in handy at some point. If it does, this will provide the feature of tiling that larswm provides without the hassle of autotiling windows you don't want tiled.

Key differences

The more minimalist a window manager is, the less fluff you have on the screen. The less fluff you have on the screen, the less you can click with your mouse. That's not necessarily a bad thing. However, it means you have to remember the keystrokes required to resize windows, open new applications, switch between applications, and so on. As you can see from the examples above, some of the keystrokes are hardly intuitive, such as Alt-K-K. Do you even remember what that does? I wouldn't.

This brings me to a rant. I realize that everyone has their own taste and ability when it comes to things like this, but as far as I'm concerned, it should be against the law to use the words "key" and "sequence" together. That's one reason why I hate emacs and everything that behaves like it. There's no reason on earth anyone should have to type Control-X, and then Control-Anything-Else to get work done. If I can't do something in one keystroke or one key combination, either the task is not worth doing or the application isn't worth using. That goes for WordStar-based editors, too. Control-K-B and Control-K K? Not on your life.

Whenever I try out a new editor, the first thing I do is figure out how easy it is to reassign all the functions I tend to use. If I can set them to single keystrokes or single combinations, I'm happy. For example, I'll change the WordStar begin block sequence Control-K-B to Control-B. If I can't reassign all the functions I use to simple keystrokes, or if it's just too hard to figure out how, I don't use that editor. It's as simple as that. That's one reason I use the editor called "Joe" (Joe's Own Editor). It was easy to reconfigure, and now it's easy to use.

By the way, this is also one reason I had a hard time getting used to Linux at first. It was bad enough that many applications refuse to acknowledge certain key combinations (such as shift-arrow key). Every X11 terminal, console, and whatnot seems to interpret the keystrokes they do recognize differently than the other terminals. For example, if you run Eterm, the HOME key generates the keycodes ^[[7~, but if you run Xterm, it generates ^[[H. This can make it a nightmare to configure editors that work by keycodes. When you look at the history of Unix, all of this makes perfect sense, since there was no such thing as a standard terminal or keyboard. But to a person who comes from a DOS or Windows PC environment where an IBM PC keyboard is basically the same on every machine, it's annoying as heck.

In the case of Ion, it was not only easy to reconfigure to use my preferred keystrokes; it even respects the odd combinations like Shift-arrow. So I am now switching between tabbed windows with shift-arrow, the way I'm used to working with KDE's Konsole tabbed terminal application. I use Alt-Tab to switch between the most recently used applications. I use the arrow keys to resize frames (the defaults are "S" and "V"). I eliminated all of the key sequences for functions I'd use. I had it all done in less than 5 minutes.

Last words

So far, I only have one complaint about Ion. There are times when I open up a new terminal window and the applications I use within that window don't realize they have lots of columns and rows to work with. For example, I'll start up the Mutt e-mail client, and it will only use the upper left-hand corner of the open window. There may be an easier way to solve this problem, but I solve it by splitting the window or just resizing it. That seems to inform the terminal or the application (or both) of the true size of the window, and the application starts to behave properly.

Other than that, Ion does everything it needs to do to become my favorite window manager. I'm fickle about such things, so I may be back to KDE in a week. So far, Ion has kept me happier than a clam. I strongly recommend it to those of you who like minimalist window managers.

More Stories By Nicholas Petreley

Nicholas Petreley is a computer consultant and author in Asheville, NC.

Comments (2) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
Daniel Brockman 01/06/04 03:53:30 AM EST

Putting `resize` (those are backticks) in your shell startup script should reduce the pain of malfunctioning terminals.

Ryan 12/09/03 04:29:56 PM EST

In many unix applications the Control-L key will redraw the screen, you can use this in mutt and i believe it will adjust to the new size.

@ThingsExpo Stories
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Klein, CEO and Co-founder of Rachio, will discuss next generation communities that are using IoT to create more sustainable, intelligent communities. One example is Sterling Ranch, a 10,000 home development that – with the help of Siemens – will integrate IoT technology into the community to provide residents with energy and water savings as well as intelligent security. Everything from stop lights to sprinkler systems to building infrastructures will run ef...
Manufacturers are embracing the Industrial Internet the same way consumers are leveraging Fitbits – to improve overall health and wellness. Both can provide consistent measurement, visibility, and suggest performance improvements customized to help reach goals. Fitbit users can view real-time data and make adjustments to increase their activity. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mark Bernardo Professional Services Leader, Americas, at GE Digital, will discuss how leveraging the Industrial Interne...
The increasing popularity of the Internet of Things necessitates that our physical and cognitive relationship with wearable technology will change rapidly in the near future. This advent means logging has become a thing of the past. Before, it was on us to track our own data, but now that data is automatically available. What does this mean for mHealth and the "connected" body? In her session at @ThingsExpo, Lisa Calkins, CEO and co-founder of Amadeus Consulting, will discuss the impact of wea...
Whether your IoT service is connecting cars, homes, appliances, wearable, cameras or other devices, one question hangs in the balance – how do you actually make money from this service? The ability to turn your IoT service into profit requires the ability to create a monetization strategy that is flexible, scalable and working for you in real-time. It must be a transparent, smoothly implemented strategy that all stakeholders – from customers to the board – will be able to understand and comprehe...
Increasing IoT connectivity is forcing enterprises to find elegant solutions to organize and visualize all incoming data from these connected devices with re-configurable dashboard widgets to effectively allow rapid decision-making for everything from immediate actions in tactical situations to strategic analysis and reporting. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Shikhir Singh, Senior Developer Relations Manager at Sencha, will discuss how to create HTML5 dashboards that interact with IoT devic...
Artificial Intelligence has the potential to massively disrupt IoT. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, AJ Abdallat, CEO of Beyond AI, will discuss what the five main drivers are in Artificial Intelligence that could shape the future of the Internet of Things. AJ Abdallat is CEO of Beyond AI. He has over 20 years of management experience in the fields of artificial intelligence, sensors, instruments, devices and software for telecommunications, life sciences, environmental monitoring, process...
The demand for organizations to expand their infrastructure to multiple IT environments like the cloud, on-premise, mobile, bring your own device (BYOD) and the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to grow. As this hybrid infrastructure increases, the challenge to monitor the security of these systems increases in volume and complexity. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Stephen Coty, Chief Security Evangelist at Alert Logic, will show how properly configured and managed security architecture can...
We’ve worked with dozens of early adopters across numerous industries and will debunk common misperceptions, which starts with understanding that many of the connected products we’ll use over the next 5 years are already products, they’re just not yet connected. With an IoT product, time-in-market provides much more essential feedback than ever before. Innovation comes from what you do with the data that the connected product provides in order to enhance the customer experience and optimize busi...
A critical component of any IoT project is the back-end systems that capture data from remote IoT devices and structure it in a way to answer useful questions. Traditional data warehouse and analytical systems are mature technologies that can be used to handle large data sets, but they are not well suited to many IoT-scale products and the need for real-time insights. At Fuze, we have developed a backend platform as part of our mobility-oriented cloud service that uses Big Data-based approache...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Ericsson has been named “Gold Sponsor” of SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York, New York. Ericsson is a world leader in the rapidly changing environment of communications technology – providing equipment, software and services to enable transformation through mobility. Some 40 percent of global mobile traffic runs through networks we have supplied. More than 1 billion subscribers around the world re...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Peak 10, Inc., a national IT infrastructure and cloud services provider, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Peak 10 provides reliable, tailored data center and network services, cloud and managed services. Its solutions are designed to scale and adapt to customers’ changing business needs, enabling them to lower costs, improve performance and focus inter...
We're entering the post-smartphone era, where wearable gadgets from watches and fitness bands to glasses and health aids will power the next technological revolution. With mass adoption of wearable devices comes a new data ecosystem that must be protected. Wearables open new pathways that facilitate the tracking, sharing and storing of consumers’ personal health, location and daily activity data. Consumers have some idea of the data these devices capture, but most don’t realize how revealing and...
The IoTs will challenge the status quo of how IT and development organizations operate. Or will it? Certainly the fog layer of IoT requires special insights about data ontology, security and transactional integrity. But the developmental challenges are the same: People, Process and Platform. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Craig Sproule, CEO of Metavine, will demonstrate how to move beyond today's coding paradigm and share the must-have mindsets for removing complexity from the development proc...
trust and privacy in their ecosystem. Assurance and protection of device identity, secure data encryption and authentication are the key security challenges organizations are trying to address when integrating IoT devices. This holds true for IoT applications in a wide range of industries, for example, healthcare, consumer devices, and manufacturing. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Lancen LaChance, vice president of product management, IoT solutions at GlobalSign, will teach IoT developers how t...
There is an ever-growing explosion of new devices that are connected to the Internet using “cloud” solutions. This rapid growth is creating a massive new demand for efficient access to data. And it’s not just about connecting to that data anymore. This new demand is bringing new issues and challenges and it is important for companies to scale for the coming growth. And with that scaling comes the need for greater security, gathering and data analysis, storage, connectivity and, of course, the...
So, you bought into the current machine learning craze and went on to collect millions/billions of records from this promising new data source. Now, what do you do with them? Too often, the abundance of data quickly turns into an abundance of problems. How do you extract that "magic essence" from your data without falling into the common pitfalls? In her session at @ThingsExpo, Natalia Ponomareva, Software Engineer at Google, will provide tips on how to be successful in large scale machine lear...
Digital payments using wearable devices such as smart watches, fitness trackers, and payment wristbands are an increasing area of focus for industry participants, and consumer acceptance from early trials and deployments has encouraged some of the biggest names in technology and banking to continue their push to drive growth in this nascent market. Wearable payment systems may utilize near field communication (NFC), radio frequency identification (RFID), or quick response (QR) codes and barcodes...
You think you know what’s in your data. But do you? Most organizations are now aware of the business intelligence represented by their data. Data science stands to take this to a level you never thought of – literally. The techniques of data science, when used with the capabilities of Big Data technologies, can make connections you had not yet imagined, helping you discover new insights and ask new questions of your data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sarbjit Sarkaria, data science team lead ...
The IETF draft standard for M2M certificates is a security solution specifically designed for the demanding needs of IoT/M2M applications. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Brian Romansky, VP of Strategic Technology at TrustPoint Innovation, will explain how M2M certificates can efficiently enable confidentiality, integrity, and authenticity on highly constrained devices.
You deployed your app with the Bluemix PaaS and it's gaining some serious traction, so it's time to make some tweaks. Did you design your application in a way that it can scale in the cloud? Were you even thinking about the cloud when you built the app? If not, chances are your app is going to break. Check out this webcast to learn various techniques for designing applications that will scale successfully in Bluemix, for the confidence you need to take your apps to the next level and beyond.