Click here to close now.


Linux Containers Authors: Carmen Gonzalez, AppDynamics Blog, Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan

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
The Internet of Everything is re-shaping technology trends–moving away from “request/response” architecture to an “always-on” Streaming Web where data is in constant motion and secure, reliable communication is an absolute necessity. As more and more THINGS go online, the challenges that developers will need to address will only increase exponentially. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Todd Greene, Founder & CEO of PubNub, will explore the current state of IoT connectivity and review key trends and technology requirements that will drive the Internet of Things from hype to reality.
Today air travel is a minefield of delays, hassles and customer disappointment. Airlines struggle to revitalize the experience. GE and M2Mi will demonstrate practical examples of how IoT solutions are helping airlines bring back personalization, reduce trip time and improve reliability. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect with GE, and Dr. Sarah Cooper, M2Mi's VP Business Development and Engineering, will explore the IoT cloud-based platform technologies driving this change including privacy controls, data transparency and integration of real time context w...
The buzz continues for cloud, data analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT) and their collective impact across all industries. But a new conversation is emerging - how do companies use industry disruption and technology enablers to lead in markets undergoing change, uncertainty and ambiguity? Organizations of all sizes need to evolve and transform, often under massive pressure, as industry lines blur and merge and traditional business models are assaulted and turned upside down. In this new data-driven world, marketplaces reign supreme while interoperability, APIs and applications deliver un...
The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing rapidly by extending current technologies, products and networks. By 2020, Cisco estimates there will be 50 billion connected devices. Gartner has forecast revenues of over $300 billion, just to IoT suppliers. Now is the time to figure out how you’ll make money – not just create innovative products. With hundreds of new products and companies jumping into the IoT fray every month, there’s no shortage of innovation. Despite this, McKinsey/VisionMobile data shows "less than 10 percent of IoT developers are making enough to support a reasonably sized team....
Electric power utilities face relentless pressure on their financial performance, and reducing distribution grid losses is one of the last untapped opportunities to meet their business goals. Combining IoT-enabled sensors and cloud-based data analytics, utilities now are able to find, quantify and reduce losses faster – and with a smaller IT footprint. Solutions exist using Internet-enabled sensors deployed temporarily at strategic locations within the distribution grid to measure actual line loads.
Too often with compelling new technologies market participants become overly enamored with that attractiveness of the technology and neglect underlying business drivers. This tendency, what some call the “newest shiny object syndrome,” is understandable given that virtually all of us are heavily engaged in technology. But it is also mistaken. Without concrete business cases driving its deployment, IoT, like many other technologies before it, will fade into obscurity.
You have your devices and your data, but what about the rest of your Internet of Things story? Two popular classes of technologies that nicely handle the Big Data analytics for Internet of Things are Apache Hadoop and NoSQL. Hadoop is designed for parallelizing analytical work across many servers and is ideal for the massive data volumes you create with IoT devices. NoSQL databases such as Apache HBase are ideal for storing and retrieving IoT data as “time series data.”
The IoT market is on track to hit $7.1 trillion in 2020. The reality is that only a handful of companies are ready for this massive demand. There are a lot of barriers, paint points, traps, and hidden roadblocks. How can we deal with these issues and challenges? The paradigm has changed. Old-style ad-hoc trial-and-error ways will certainly lead you to the dead end. What is mandatory is an overarching and adaptive approach to effectively handle the rapid changes and exponential growth.
Today’s connected world is moving from devices towards things, what this means is that by using increasingly low cost sensors embedded in devices we can create many new use cases. These span across use cases in cities, vehicles, home, offices, factories, retail environments, worksites, health, logistics, and health. These use cases rely on ubiquitous connectivity and generate massive amounts of data at scale. These technologies enable new business opportunities, ways to optimize and automate, along with new ways to engage with users.
The IoT is upon us, but today’s databases, built on 30-year-old math, require multiple platforms to create a single solution. Data demands of the IoT require Big Data systems that can handle ingest, transactions and analytics concurrently adapting to varied situations as they occur, with speed at scale. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chad Jones, chief strategy officer at Deep Information Sciences, will look differently at IoT data so enterprises can fully leverage their IoT potential. He’ll share tips on how to speed up business initiatives, harness Big Data and remain one step ahead by apply...
There will be 20 billion IoT devices connected to the Internet soon. What if we could control these devices with our voice, mind, or gestures? What if we could teach these devices how to talk to each other? What if these devices could learn how to interact with us (and each other) to make our lives better? What if Jarvis was real? How can I gain these super powers? In his session at 17th Cloud Expo, Chris Matthieu, co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, will show you!
SYS-CON Events announced today that ProfitBricks, the provider of painless cloud infrastructure, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. ProfitBricks is the IaaS provider that offers a painless cloud experience for all IT users, with no learning curve. ProfitBricks boasts flexible cloud servers and networking, an integrated Data Center Designer tool for visual control over the cloud and the best price/performance value available. ProfitBricks was named one of the coolest Clo...
As a company adopts a DevOps approach to software development, what are key things that both the Dev and Ops side of the business must keep in mind to ensure effective continuous delivery? In his session at DevOps Summit, Mark Hydar, Head of DevOps, Ericsson TV Platforms, will share best practices and provide helpful tips for Ops teams to adopt an open line of communication with the development side of the house to ensure success between the two sides.
SYS-CON Events announced today that IBM Cloud Data Services has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 17th Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. IBM Cloud Data Services offers a portfolio of integrated, best-of-breed cloud data services for developers focused on mobile computing and analytics use cases.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Sandy Carter, IBM General Manager Cloud Ecosystem and Developers, and a Social Business Evangelist, will keynote at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Developing software for the Internet of Things (IoT) comes with its own set of challenges. Security, privacy, and unified standards are a few key issues. In addition, each IoT product is comprised of at least three separate application components: the software embedded in the device, the backend big-data service, and the mobile application for the end user's controls. Each component is developed by a different team, using different technologies and practices, and deployed to a different stack/target - this makes the integration of these separate pipelines and the coordination of software upd...
Mobile messaging has been a popular communication channel for more than 20 years. Finnish engineer Matti Makkonen invented the idea for SMS (Short Message Service) in 1984, making his vision a reality on December 3, 1992 by sending the first message ("Happy Christmas") from a PC to a cell phone. Since then, the technology has evolved immensely, from both a technology standpoint, and in our everyday uses for it. Originally used for person-to-person (P2P) communication, i.e., Sally sends a text message to Betty – mobile messaging now offers tremendous value to businesses for customer and empl...
"Matrix is an ambitious open standard and implementation that's set up to break down the fragmentation problems that exist in IP messaging and VoIP communication," explained John Woolf, Technical Evangelist at Matrix, in this interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
WebRTC converts the entire network into a ubiquitous communications cloud thereby connecting anytime, anywhere through any point. In his session at WebRTC Summit,, Mark Castleman, EIR at Bell Labs and Head of Future X Labs, will discuss how the transformational nature of communications is achieved through the democratizing force of WebRTC. WebRTC is doing for voice what HTML did for web content.
The broad selection of hardware, the rapid evolution of operating systems and the time-to-market for mobile apps has been so rapid that new challenges for developers and engineers arise every day. Security, testing, hosting, and other metrics have to be considered through the process. In his session at Big Data Expo, Walter Maguire, Chief Field Technologist, HP Big Data Group, at Hewlett-Packard, will discuss the challenges faced by developers and a composite Big Data applications builder, focusing on how to help solve the problems that developers are continuously battling.